as a weekly practice I listen to npr and do a little sketch on one of the stories. take a look, you can click on the illustration to make it bigger!

Friday, December 18, 2009

For Rural Adults, Health Care Is Wishful Thinking


My 19th birthday was a bittersweet occasion. That day, I officially aged out of Kentucky's insurance program for low-income youth.

As luck would have it, I developed a health problem almost immediately. Pain in my teeth spread to my head and neck. Headaches made it impossible to concentrate in my college classes. I couldn't see well enough to drive. Going to the doctor or dentist costs more than my weekly paycheck from a fast-food restaurant. I had to choose between oral surgery and textbooks that semester. Textbooks lost, but luckily I made it through that class.

When it comes to health care, I do have options — just not good ones. In the rural county where I grew up, it's not just youth who don't have insurance. Adults, unemployed or underemployed in minimum wage jobs, are also without coverage. You can get health care there if you're in a dire situation — say, if you're pregnant or recovering from drug addiction. I know a few girls who got pregnant just to afford a doctor's visit, or had another baby just to keep their health insurance.

I am not financially or emotionally ready to bring a child into this world. But I feel like I am being penalized for getting an education while others are rewarded for their reproductive capabilities.

A sick workforce only intensifies an already sick economy. It's hard to work when you can't afford eyeglasses for your astigmatism, dental work for your rotting teeth, or medicine for pneumonia.
My friend Willa Johnson is also in college and uninsured. Going to the doctor to check a cough is a luxury she can't afford. Last spring, she started feeling sick. By the time she went to the emergency room, she had full-blown pneumonia. A week later, Willa found herself in the emergency room again. She'd torn the muscles around her rib cage from coughing. Seven months later, Willa is not completely healed. Her cough is painful to hear. Still, she worries more about the bill collectors calling for those ER visits than her health.

Brittany Hunsaker, 22, is part of the Appalachian Media Institute. She grew up in Whitesburg, Ky., and currently attends the University of Kentucky in Lexington. Her essay was produced by Youth Radio.
My friend Brian Hobbs just graduated from college, and he's about to lose his insurance. He won't be able to afford the prescription for his glasses. What happens if he gets sick? Brian is scared he won't find a job that pays enough to cover rent and food, let alone annual insurance.

Looking at my own future, I'm worried that my health will keep getting worse, that my teeth will keep bothering me, that I'll keep ignoring aches and pains, that I'll continue to just Google symptoms to see if things are serious enough to warrant a bill.

I grew up in one of the sickest communities in America, with the lowest life expectancy of any area in the United States. Lower than China or Mexico. Cancer, diabetes, addiction, obesity, depression all look like epidemics there, and that adds to my worry.

I don't think any position I'm going to get out of college will come with health insurance. I don't know a single friend from college who has a job like that. A sick workforce only intensifies an already sick economy. It's hard to work when you can't afford eyeglasses for your astigmatism, dental work for your rotting teeth, or medicine for pneumonia. We're constantly being told we are the future of the country, but we're starting out a step behind.

-excerpt from NPR

Monday, October 19, 2009

Flu Worries Pump Up Sales Of Hand Sanitizer

Concern over the H1N1, or swine flu, virus has been a big boost for companies that make hand sanitizer.

More than $117 million worth of the clear gels were sold in the United States last year, according to Information Resources Inc. of Chicago. The company's figures don't include retail giant Walmart, but they show that overall there was a 17 percent increase in hand sanitizer sales in the year ending Sept. 6. For August, IRI reported a 50 percent jump in sales over the same month in 2008.

Ohio-based Gojo Industries invented Purell, the best-selling hand sanitizer. The company still makes the Purell that goes into dispensers in hospitals and schools. (Johnson & Johnson distributes the Purell you buy in the grocery store.)

Recently, Gojo issued a statement saying the company was experiencing high demand, and it asked customers not to hoard its product.

"There is absolutely no need to stockpile product," said President and CEO Mark Lerner. "In fact, stockpiling could cause an actual shortage which, in turn, could threaten public health."

Gojo says it's ramping up production — keeping factories open around the clock and hiring more workers.

Look around the campus at the University of Colorado at Boulder, and you can see why the folks at Gojo are so busy. There are hand sanitizer dispensers everywhere. The school has been hit with more than 565 cases of flu since classes started in August.

One administrator at the school took a lot of ribbing because he brought sanitizer with him to graduation ceremonies in May.

"We had hand sanitizer placed at two different positions as you were about to ascend the stairs to the stage and two different positions as you descended," says Paul Voakes, dean of the School of Journalism and Mass Communication.

After shaking 15 to 20 hands, Voakes says he'd rub a little sanitizer on his hands to make sure any bugs he picked up didn't get passed on.

"To my knowledge, nobody got swine flu as a result of our commencement," Voakes says.

Lest you think buying a bottle of hand sanitizer is all you need to ward off swine flu, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says washing your hands is just the start. The agency suggests that you get a flu vaccination and avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth. If you do get sick, stay home. And when you sneeze or cough, cover your nose and mouth with a tissue, then throw it away.

-excerpt from NPR

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Fighter Jet's Noise Worries Some Potential Neighbors

The Air Force says within a few weeks it will release a list of preferred bases for the next generation fighter aircraft, which is now being flight-tested. As many as 200 bases around the country are candidates for the F-35, also known as the Joint Strike Fighter.

Too Loud?
Hear recordings of F-35 landings in Valpraiso
But while many of the communities near those bases would welcome the economic benefits of the new mission, they would not be as welcoming to the noise the aircraft bring.

Air Force data suggests that, depending on altitude, the F-35 is three to 12 times louder than the A-10 attack aircraft. For some, it's the sound of freedom.

"This is our nation's defense," says Bruce Dusenberry, a member of the DM-50, a civic group that promotes the Davis-Monthan Air Force base in Tucson, Ariz. "This is the security of our freedoms. So that's equally important that we support our military for those reasons."

The group says it supports any new mission the Air Force plans in Tucson because of the importance to the local economy.

But some residents hear a different tune.

"If they love the sound of freedom so much, I'll be happy to sell them my house," says Gail Cordy, who sits on a community relations committee set up to work with the military over noise issues.

Each day, dozens of A-10's fly over Cordy's home in midtown. She figures about half her neighbors oppose louder flights, but are afraid to speak out.

"They don't want to be seen as unpatriotic," she says. "And that label has been leveled at us more than once."

It really is a sticky issue for any community leader.

"We'd be proud to be known as Fighter Town U.S.A.," says John Arnold, mayor of Valparaiso, Fla. The city is next to Eglin Air Force Base, another candidate for the F-35s.

Yet, Valparaiso is suing the Air Force over noise from the aircraft. The lawsuit claims the Air Force didn't adequately disclose its noise measurements in its environmental impact statement.

"We just take exception to the final [environmental impact statement], which put lots of noise over the city of Valparaiso," he says. According to Air Force data, he continues, the noise would make the city almost uninhabitable.

One part of the lawsuit was settled. Valparaiso is still asking for a more thorough environmental impact statement, which Kathleen Ferguson, deputy assistant secretary of the Air Force, says it will get.

The decision on where to base the F-35 includes a lot of factors, she says, and noise is just one of them. It won't be the deciding factor, she warns.

"There is not a specific point in time where we eliminate a base from contention because of noise," Ferguson says.

Proximity to training areas will probably weigh more heavily — several bases in Arizona, for instance, are near the Barry Goldwater Air Force bombing range. And to some extent, she says, jet noise can be mitigated based on how and when the pilots fly.

The military could also soundproof homes under flight paths. But that won't help if you're in your backyard having a barbecue — which people in Arizona and Florida do a lot.

So community leaders in both places suggest they'd welcome a different mission for their hometown bases — like, perhaps, a smaller, quieter Predator drone.

-excerpt from NPR

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Madeleine Albright's Jewelry-Box Diplomacy

In her new book, Read My Pins, former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright reveals that she used jewelry as a diplomatic tool during her years with the Clinton administration.

"This all started when I was ambassador at the U.N. and Saddam Hussein called me a serpent," she tells Susan Stamberg. "I had this wonderful antique snake pin. So when we were dealing with Iraq, I wore the snake pin."

After that incident, Albright decided that it might be fun to speak through her pins. She went out and bought different costume jewelry.

"As it turned out, there were just a lot of occasions to either commemorate a particular event or to signal how I felt," she says.

There were balloons, butterflies and flowers to signify optimism and, when diplomatic talks were going slowly, crabs and turtles to indicate frustration.

After the Russians were caught tapping the State Department, Albright protested by wearing a pin with a giant bug on it. On days when Albright felt she had to do "a little stinging and deliver a tough message," she wore a wasp pin.

At one point, Russian leader Vladimir Putin told President Clinton that he knew what the mood of a meeting would be by looking at Albright's left shoulder. (Albright's pin with three monkeys, which she wore when discussing Chechnya, was meant to draw attention to the fact that Russia took a "hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil" stance toward the Chechen atrocities.)

The former secretary of state says that one of her own pins — an antique eagle pin with a complicated clasp — nearly sabotaged her at her swearing-in ceremony.

"I put it on, and there I was all of the sudden with one hand on the Bible and one hand in the air, and the pin was just swinging in the breeze. I had not fastened it properly," says Albright. "I was afraid that it would fall on the Bible."

Accidents aside, Albright says she loved expressing herself with her jewels. And, she adds, making fashion statements — and commenting on each other's attire — is not completely unheard of within a diplomatic setting:

"You think that the heads of state only have serious conversations, [but] they actually often begin really with the weather or, 'I really like your tie.' "

Excerpt: 'Read My Pins'

Chapter 1: The Serpent's Tale

The idea of using pins as a diplomatic tool is not found in any State Department manual or in any text chronicling American foreign policy. The truth is that it would never have happened if not for Saddam Hussein.

During President Bill Clinton's first term (1993 1997), I served as America's ambassador to the United Nations. This was the period following the first Persian Gulf War, when a U.S.-led coalition rolled back Iraq's invasion of neighboring Kuwait. As part of the settlement, Iraq was required to accept UN inspections and to provide full disclosure about its nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons programs.

When Saddam Hussein refused to comply, I had the temerity to criticize him. The government-controlled Iraqi press responded by publishing a poem entitled "To Madeleine Albright, Without Greetings." The author, in the opening verse, establishes the mood: "Albright, Albright, all right, all right, you are the worst in this night." He then conjures up an arresting visual image: "Albright, no one can block the road to Jerusalem with a frigate, a ghost, or an elephant." Now thoroughly warmed up, the poet refers to me as an "unmatched clamor-maker" and an "unparalleled serpent."

In October 1994, soon after the poem was published, I was scheduled to meet with Iraqi officials. What to wear?

Years earlier, I had purchased a pin in the image of a serpent. I'm not sure why, because I loathe snakes. I shudder when I see one slithering through the grass on my farm in Virginia. Still, when I came across the serpent pin in a favorite shop in Washington, D.C., I couldn't resist. It's a small piece, showing the reptile coiled around a branch, a tiny diamond hanging from its mouth.

While preparing to meet the Iraqis, I remembered the pin and decided to wear it. I didn't consider the gesture a big deal and doubted that the Iraqis even made the connection. However, upon leaving the meeting, I encountered a member of the UN press corps who was familiar with the poem; she asked why I had chosen to wear that particular pin. As the television cameras zoomed in on the brooch, I smiled and said that it was just my way of sending a message.

A second pin, this of a blue bird, reinforced my approach. As with the snake pin, I had purchased it because of its intrinsic appeal, without any extraordinary use in mind. Until the twenty-fourth of February 1996, I wore the pin with the bird's head soaring upward. On the afternoon of that tragic day, Cuban fighter pilots shot down two unarmed civilian aircraft over international waters between Cuba and Florida. Three American citizens and one legal resident were killed. The Cubans knew they were attacking civilian planes yet gave no warning, and in the official transcripts they boasted about destroying the cojones of their victims.

At a press conference, I denounced both the crime and the perpetrators. I was especially angered by the macho celebration at the time of the killings. "This is not cojones," I said, "it is cowardice." To illustrate my feelings, I wore the bird pin with its head pointing down, in mourning for the free-spirited Cuban-American fliers. Because my comment departed from the niceties of normal diplomatic discourse, it caused an uproar in New York and Washington; for the same reason, it was welcomed in Miami. As a rule, I prefer polite talk, but there are moments when only plain speaking will do.

This excerpt from Read My Pins by Madeleine Albridght is used by permission of Harper Collins.

-excerpt from NPR

Thursday, September 17, 2009

How A Professor Taught Me To Consult My Stomach

I remember sitting in Shakespeare class, basking in my good luck. The wait list was nearly 100 people, but here I was, a new student at Williams College in Williamstown, Mass., watching the legendary Fred Stocking in action. In 1979, Dr. Stocking was a year shy of retirement, an icon to four decades of students in this small college in the Berkshires. He was lean and meticulous, with a bow tie and thick white hair, and he lived Shakespeare — doting on Puck, thundering through Hamlet, and lifting our gaze from the crass pursuit of A's to the beauty of weathered truths.

He encouraged me to make writing my career, and then unwittingly shaped that career. It happened when I asked him a random question: "How do you determine a student's grade?"

"Well," he said, "I add up the grades for the essays, quizzes, the midterm and final. I average them out. Then I consult my stomach."

Consult my stomach. No three words have influenced — or haunted — me more. As a reporter, I try to apply Dr. Stocking's stomach test: Is the story I'm telling not just accurate, but honest? Does it reflect my conscience as well as the facts? I've failed more times than I like, but that standard has marked the north on my compass for the past quarter-century.

Read An Address Fred Stocking Gave To The Phi Beta Kappa Society At Williams College in 1977

A Touching Reunion

I lost touch with Dr. Stocking for 20 years. But eight years ago, Fred — who insisted I call him by his first name — and I began exchanging letters every few months. And so, when I was invited to give a talk for our 25th reunion three years ago, I asked my 91-year-old former professor to introduce me. It was a rainy afternoon; the auditorium was packed. The crowd hushed as Fred Stocking walked tentatively across the stage, clutched the podium, and leaned into the microphone.

"My name is Fred Stocking!" he said, and the place went wild. It was like a schmaltzy Disney movie.

Afterward, dozens of middle-aged alums, now doctors, economists, and lawyers, lined up to shake Fred's hand.

"You were my favorite professor," one said. Another added, "You made me care about ideas."

As for me, Fred's letters became a road map for growing old well. He began painting at 80, taking lessons every Tuesday. At 91, he played Gonzalo in The Tempest at the community theater. When his body began to fail, he watched the process with a sort of bemused detachment. "I've had a lot of horizontal time," he quipped in one letter. At his 94th-birthday party, Fred demonstrated his new motorized stair chair lift by waving like the Queen as he purred up and down the stairs. Later, with far more gusto than any 94-year-old should have possessed — and with uncanny timing — Fred belted out his trademark song from Broadway, "Lulu's Back In Town."

Never Stop Puzzling Over Ideas

As Fred's body shut down, he leaned all the more on his mind. It was a sort of tit for tat with age. You take away my driver's license; I'll read the new biography of Shakespeare. You dim my vision; I'll listen to books on tape. He was ecstatic when his wife gave him a new translation of War and Peace. He was 92 when I sent him an early draft of my book Fingerprints of God: The Search for the Science of Spirituality. A year later, he sent back a seven-page critique, musing on the limits of scientific inquiry, the flaws of religious doctrine and the nature of death.

It's been a privilege knowing you. I'll live on in your memory. It's the best kind of immortality.
- Fred Stocking
Fred approached his own death clinically. I can accept God as an idea, but not as a fact, he wrote. He was even more skeptical of the afterlife.

In early July, I flew up to Williamstown for what I knew would be my final visit. Fred lay on his bed, as faded as his sheets. We talked about Hamlet and A Midsummer Night's Dream. He said he wasn't sad about dying. I asked him if he thought that his consciousness might survive death. I thought with death around the corner, he might have warmed up to the afterlife. He looked at me keenly, as if to say, "I may have grown old, but I haven't gone soft."

"What's wrong with mystery?" he asked.

Then he cleared his throat. "It's been a privilege knowing you," he said, and I burst into tears. Fred patted my hand. "I'll live on in your memory," he said. "It's the best kind of immortality."

Fred died a few weeks later. As I read through his letters the other day, I came across his favorite poem by e.e. cummings: "If Everything Happens That Can't Be Done." I don't have a clue what it means. But I keep trying to unlock it. Because that's part of Fred's genius. Never stop puzzling over life. Swim in big ideas. And of course, consult your stomach.

- expert from NPR

Monday, September 14, 2009

Argentine Cattle No Longer Just Home On The Range

Argentina's vast plains are bigger than Texas, and for more than a century, great herds of cattle roamed and ate to their hearts' content. That helped build up Argentina's image as the producer of lean and natural grass-fed beef.

But ever so quietly, Argentina is increasingly fattening its herd in American-style feedlots. Promoters say it's efficient, but some Argentines wonder if quality isn't being lost for the sake of quantity.

Each day, 12,000 animals from all over cattle country arrive at the Liniers cattle market on the south side of Buenos Aires.

Grizzled men on horseback herd them into pens. The bell then rings, announcing the start of yet another day of auctions. The animals are butchered immediately after sale, resulting in what Argentines call the best beef in the world.

Like this proud country, the century-old Liniers market is all history and tradition.

Tradition, though, is dramatically changing. Cattle that once grew fat on Argentina's great grass expanse are now heading to pens.

The future of Argentine cattle production in on display at the Santa Maria feedlot, south of Buenos Aires. A machine mixes corn pellets — high-protein, high-energy feed that is then delivered to troughs across 40 corrals, each one holding 200 animals.

The administrator, Sebastian Saparrat, walks under a bright blue sky, past young bulls and heifers. He says they consume 150,000 pounds of feed a day.

EnlargeSilvina Frydlewsky for NPR
Since 1901, cattle from across the Argentina's cattle country has been shipped by train and truck to the Liniers cattle auction on the south side of Buenos Aires. It is one of the world's biggest cattle markets, with 12,000 head passing through daily.
But Saparrat says it is worth it. When the cattle arrive at 8 months of age, they each weigh 400 pounds. Three months later, they each top 600, the optimal weight.

Some in Argentina aren't too happy about the trend. They say Argentina built a name brand by grazing cattle, ultimately producing lean, juicy steaks for consumers.

Claudio Schonfeld, a member of the tradition-bound Argentine Angus Association, says that grass-fed beef tastes better and is lower in cholesterol.

But Rodrigo Troncoso, general manager of the Argentine Feedlot Chamber, sees a big future for feedlots.

"The truth is that we produce beef [with] grass, also we produce beef with grain. We are known [for grass-fed beef] historically. We have to show the world that we can do all kinds of beef," he says.

Troncoso says a third of the 15 million head slaughtered each year now pass through feedlots — up three-fold from 2001.

The trend is the result of simple economics: The price of soybeans, corn and wheat skyrocketed in recent years and land owners made way for those cash crops.

At Tomas Leclercq's ranch in Magdalena, Argentina, practices are changing slowly. Many of the cattle at the ranch — which has been in continuous operation since 1888 — feast on grass all their lives. But Leclercq says that half of the animals now go to feedlots.

And with each coming year, he says, the number of animals he'll send to the pens will only grow.

-excerpt from NPR

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Democrats Recharged, GOP Unmoved By Obama

Congressional Democrats — energized by President Obama's pronouncement that "the time for bickering is over" — prepared Thursday for a final push aimed at crafting a massive overhaul of the nation's health care system.

"Yes it's messy, yes there will be starts and stops, but the good news from this speech gave the issue a kick in the pants," Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) told NPR shortly after Obama's joint address to Congress.

Florida Rep. Kendrick Meek said the speech gave Democrats a renewed sense of purpose.

"Walking away from the chamber tonight, members knew that they had a responsibility" not to "kick the can down the street," he said.

More importantly, some fiscally conservative "blue dog" Democrats, many of whom have questioned their more liberal colleagues on how to pay for a health care overhaul, liked what they heard.

heard on Morning Edition
September 10, 2009
Did Health Care Speech Accomplish Obama's Goals?
[5 min 13 sec]
The speech "called out some of the extremes on both sides to say you can't get everything you want," said Rep. Stephanie Herseth Sandlin of South Dakota.

Listen To Obama's Speech, The GOP Response And NPR Analysis

Full Text Of Obama's Address
Sep. 9, 2009
Play-By-Play Analysis From The Two-Way
Republicans, however, showed few signs of wavering from their steadfast opposition to the Democrats' proposals. In their response to the president's speech, delivered by Louisiana Rep. Charles Boustany, Republicans acknowledged the need for change while resisting "government-run" care.

"We agree, much needs to be done to lower the cost of health care for all Americans," Boustany said, adding that Republicans were ready to start over on a bipartisan effort.

"Replacing your family's current health care with government-run health care is not the answer. In fact, it will make health care much more expensive," said Boustany, who is also a heart surgeon. "That's not just my personal diagnosis as a doctor or a Republican, it's the conclusion of the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, the neutral score-keeper that determines the cost of major bills."

Others were more succinct. Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina told NPR that he thought the president's speech was "a complete disaster."

"It made me think, quite frankly, that the president has lost his cool on this issue," he said.

Indiana Rep. Mike Pence said the president's renewed call for bipartisanship had "a few thorns on those olive branches," adding that it was "one more speech about a bad plan."

Even if congressional Republicans weren't swayed, early indications were that at least some average Americans were.

A snap CNN poll of 427 adult Americans who watched the speech indicated that 67 percent of those surveyed afterward favored Obama's health care plan, while 29 percent did not. That compares to a pre-speech breakout of 53 percent in favor and 36 percent opposed.

In the retirement community of Vizcaya in Delray Beach, Fla., retiree Judy Goldstein said she had been fearful of the rumors of "death panels" and was encouraged by what Obama said to try to clear up confusion.

"I was listening to all the negative things, especially since I am a senior citizen. I said, 'Oh my god, they are going to put me to sleep,'" she told NPR.

"I don't consider myself stupid, but I was really believeing it, because I did not vote for him," Goldstein said. "A lot of things about him I did not like, so I am glad I heard this tonight."

But at an Irish pub in Denver, where a group of libertarians known as Liberty on the Rocks meets every other Wednesday, T.L. James was among those unmoved by the president's address. He said he didn't believe Obama's nod to exploring tort reform that would limit malpractice claims.

"The tort lawyers form an important part of the Democratic power base for their elections. There is no way that he's going to do anything that is going to turn them away from the Democratic party," James said.

What is likely to be the most talked-about moment in the speech, however, came not from the president but from South Carolina Rep. Joe Wilson, whose outburst of "You lie!" when Obama pledged no health care benefits would go to illegal immigrants shocked the chamber.

Wilson later apologized for his "lack of civility."

Democrats and Republicans alike have denounced the outburst as an extraordinary breach of decorum.

"There'll be time enough to consider whether or not we ought to make it clear that that action is unacceptable in the House of Representatives," House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD), said late Wednesday on WTOP radio when asked about possible punishment for Wilson. "I've talked to Republican members who share that view."

House Republicans did not immediately respond to a request for comment, but there was widespread condemnation of the outburst from members of both parties.

Appearing on ABC's Good Morning America on Thursday, Vice President Joe Biden said the incident made him "embarrassed for the chamber and a Congress I love."

Biden also said he thought the president's speech "debunked a lot of myths out there" including accusations the legislation being drafted would includes "death panels" for the sick and the elderly, and that it would also provide insurance coverage for millions of undocumented immigrants.

He predicted that health care legislation would be on the president's desk "before Thanksgiving."

-excerpt from NPR

Swine Flu Threatens French Tradition, Kissing

Fears of a swine flu pandemic are forcing counties to step up prevention measures. In France, a deeply-held social custom may be affected. Some companies and schools already have started discouraging the social ritual of kissing.

-excerpt from NPR

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Fire Near Los Angeles Grows In Triple-Digit Heat

A wildfire sweeping through the mountains above Los Angeles continued to spread Tuesday, burning scores of homes and threatening thousands more as well as a historic observatory housing some of the largest telescopes ever built.

At least 53 homes have been destroyed in the Station Fire as neighborhoods on the northern and southern flanks of the blaze were evacuated. Fire officials say it may take weeks to fully contain the flames.

The fire is by far the largest of several dotting the state. For six days, it has plowed its way through half-century-old thickets of tinder-dry brush, bush and trees just 15 miles north of downtown Los Angeles. Some 12,000 homes are threatened and about 2,000 people have been forced to flee their homes.

heard on Morning Edition
September 1, 2009
Calif. Wildfires Spread, Homes Destroyed
[4 min 56 sec]
The flames threaten to climb Mt. Wilson, home to a landmark 100-inch telescope that was the largest in the world until 1948. It is also the site of most of the radio and TV station towers in Los Angeles. Firefighters were setting backfires and spraying fire retardant in the area to halt the flames' advance.

Dixie Dees, a spokesperson with the Station Fire Incident Command center, said the fire — which so far has destroyed more than 105,000 acres, or about 164 square miles, and is just 5 percent contained — was doubling in size every day and "behaving very erratically."

Fire spokesman Paul Lowenthal said Tuesday that the blaze is not expected to be fully surrounded until Sept. 15.

Crews fighting the blaze were also grappling with weather conditions that favor fire, such as temperatures topping 100 degrees and low humidity. Temperatures near the Station Fire were expected to hit 102 degrees Tuesday, the National Weather Service said.

EnlargeJustin Sullivan/Getty Images
U.S. Forest Service workers hike down a hill while fighting the Station Fire on Monday in Tujunga, Calif.
"It gets to a point in the afternoon with the wind coming up that it even makes its own weather," Dees said. "When the temperature goes up and humidity goes down and the wind comes up, which is what's happened in the last three or four days, that's kind of the perfect storm for very aggressive fire behavior."

Officials were looking for a break in the weather Tuesday and hope "Mother Nature cooperates," said CAL FIRE spokesman Daniel Berlant.

The swath of fire extends from the densely populated Los Angeles foothill communities of Altadena, La Canada Flintridge, La Crescenta, Tujunga and Sunland in the south to the high-desert ranchlands of Acton.

Tujunga Canyon resident Bert Voorhees said he and his son were able to retrieve several cases of wine from the brackish water of their backyard swimming pool Monday, about all he salvaged from his home.

"You're going to be living in a lunar landscape for at least a couple of years, and these trees might not come back," the 53-year-old Voorhees said, wondering aloud how many of his neighbors would choose to rebuild.

Los Angeles County Fire Department, Google Maps
See A Map Of The 'Station Fire' Near Los Angeles
Two firefighters — Capt. Tedmund Hall, 47, of San Bernardino and firefighter Spc. Arnaldo "Arnie" Quinones, 35, of Palmdale — were killed Sunday when their vehicle plummeted off a mountain road. At least three residents who ignored an evacuation order suffered major burns.

Several fires across the state are much smaller and largely contained, but a new blaze in San Bernardino County — directly east of the Station Fire has engulfed 900 acres so far and threatens 2,000 homes.

-excerpt from NPR

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Talking Back To Your Device Has Never Been Easier

It's talk-back time.

Who hasn't spoken to their computer on occasion? I've heard some choice words exchanged with many a laptop, PC and even the occasional PDA. Most of the time all you get in response is silence.

If you're tired of having a one-way conversation with your screen, relief is in sight. It's been more than a decade since consumer versions of voice recognition software came on the scene, but there were many stumbling blocks — including limited vocabulary and the need to spend an excessive amount of time training.

But the technology has advanced to a new level and is changing how we interact with computers, cell phones and cars. And the integration of voice features could have a dramatic impact on making technology more accessible and ergonomically sound by changing the way consumer electronics are designed.

Advances And Obstacles

"We're right on the edge of a new era of conversational computing, where in certain circumstances your primary mode of interaction with a machine will be talking to it and having it talk back," says Paul Saffo, a technology forecaster based in Silicon Valley.

EnlargeCourtesy of Mikkel Aaland
Paul Saffo, a technology forecaster based in Silicon Valley, says computer and consumer electronics companies are spending "serious money" on developing a voice recognition breakthrough.
He says the building blocks of voice recognition — computing power and algorithms — are steadily improving. So is interface design.

"No matter how good these systems are, they're not like talking to another human being," he says. So the design challenge for engineers and software companies is to guide people to ask the right questions and give the right answers.

The creator of much of the voice recognition software that's in use in devices is Nuance, a Burlington, Mass.-based technology company. There aren't many other companies with Nuance's reach in this sector. Yankee Group senior analyst Berge Ayvazian says Nuance became the dominant player in this arena by acquiring or partnering with "most of their former competitors," including Scansoft, Dictaphone and Philips Speech Recognition Systems.

Nuance's speech recognition software for PCs is called Dragon NaturallySpeaking (the Mac version is called MacSpeech Dictate and is sold through MacSpeech, which licenses Nuance's software). The company offers a variety of versions of the software, including ones tailored to the legal community for use with court transcriptions and for medical professionals who use it to dictate notes.

Dr. Carlo Tornatore, director of the Multiple Sclerosis Center at Georgetown University Hospital, uses it to dictate electronic medical records. As a result, these records are available immediately, and there's no delay in sharing them with other doctors.

So what's it like talking to a computer?

EnlargeNBCU Photo Bank
Michael Knight, played by David Hasselhoff, helped foil many schemes in concert with his sidekick, KITT, a talking car, as part of the TV series Knight Rider. Dialogue between man and machine is on the horizon.
"It takes a little time to get used to the idea that you're talking to a screen," he says.

Talking to a machine is a concept that's rooted in the popular imagination. Think of Star Trek and Knight Rider, starring David Hasselhoff as Michael Knight, whose sidekick was a talking car named KITT.

Some professionals are using dictation software for longer projects. Dave Farber, distinguished career professor of computer science and public policy at Carnegie Mellon University, uses MacSpeech Dictate to speed things along as he writes an oral history of his work. Even though he's a two-fingered typist, he says he wasn't always a fan of this kind of software.

"Up until very recently, I gave up on them," he says. "The error rates were too high. It doesn't do any good if you dictate and you have to correct most of it."

Farber says he made the switch because he was able to start using this software without an extensive amount of training and because he can work without generating a lot of errors. (Read NPR's review here).

Dragon works quickly, in part, because it uses predictive language modeling akin to Nuance's software, T9, which is used on billions of cell phones to predict the word you're trying to type when you send e-mail or text from a mobile phone.

Mobile Talk

Voice recognition is already integrated into a lot of things that we do with phones. Think about whom you talk to when you call directory service, when you book a flight or when you call your bank or credit card company.

Demand for more voice features has been growing especially within the cell phone industry. Voice dialing, which many people use to make hands-free calls on cell phones, is one area where the iPhone was behind the curve — until June, when Apple released its latest model, the iPhone 3GS.

Speech recognition capabilities on many of these phones, like the Samsung Instinct, are powered by Nuance's voice control software, which enables users to press a button to begin translating their words into text for everything from sending text messages to finding a song, or surfing the Web for a nearby business.

"If you can get decent voice recognition into phones, then you can start treating them as personal assistants, and that's going to change things," Farber says.

There's plenty of room for this market to expand: So far in 2009, Nuance estimates that more than 840 million phones were shipped with text messaging capabilities, compared to about 200 million that shipped with voice capabilities.

As cell phones and voice recognition software become more advanced, people are able to use voice commands without having to train the mobile phone first, says Peter Mahoney, a senior vice president at Nuance.

Read To Me

When devices read to you, they're utilizing text-to-speech functions. Amazon's Kindle uses Nuance's software to enable it to read aloud a book, magazine, newspaper or even a blog. You won't hear the voice of James Earl Jones — it's a synthesized computer voice.

Nuance says Dragon has been used by people with some kinds of paralysis and with multiple sclerosis to open up their communication possibilities by facilitating Web searches, e-mail and word processing.

"Dragon can even read back your words to you, so if you have difficulty reading because of dyslexia or some other kind of learning disability, it really enables that capability, too," Mahoney says.

Accessible And Ergonomic Features

The ability to use one's voice to guide a device also makes it potentially more accessible for the blind or visually impaired, provided that the buttons and on-screen menus are also navigable.

The blind community has a lot of concerns about the prevalence of touch screen interfaces for mobile phones and other consumer electronics and appliances because many devices effectively shut out those with impaired vision. (Listen to what Stevie Wonder has to say.)

"Voice recognition technology has really enhanced or increased awareness of accessibility," says Anne Taylor, director of access technology for the National Federation of the Blind.

It also puts blind and sighted users on "a level playing field," she says, because there is little or no training needed to start using voice recognition features.

"We can't fully rely currently on voice recognition technology just yet," Taylor says. "I do hope that one day we can, but at this point we still advocate for keyboarding."

Keyboards and mice, however, can create problems for your fingers and arms.

Alan Hedge, the director of the Human Factors and Ergonomics laboratory at Cornell University, says voice recognition technology can help reduce these kinds of workplace injuries.

"It plays an important role in reducing the load on other parts of the body so that you can work for a longer period of time on a computer system without running the risk of injury," he says.

Many companies now pay closer attention to creating ergonomically sound workstations, and Hedge says that has contributed to injuries going "way down." And while voice recognition technology can be part of the solution, Hedge cautions that overusing one's voice can also lead to injury.

Let Your Lips Do The Talking

Speaking comes naturally. As a result, one common thread with many of the products that now have a voice interface is the feeling of simplicity.

"We should make it the responsibility of the computer to understand us, versus making it the responsibility of us to understand the way the computer wants to speak," says Mahoney, the Nuance executive.

As speech recognition becomes more integrated into the devices we use on a daily basis, we may start to inch away from the keyboard and mouse. And that may foster a more collegial relationship with computers.

Now that's something to talk about.

-excerpt from NPR

Monday, August 10, 2009

Haggling Picks Up Steam During Recession

Even before the economy slid down the tubes, Leah Ingram found new religion in haggling at stores. She and her husband, Bill, went from a lifestyle of second mortgages and plentiful vacations to economizing on everything from dentist's office visits to leather chairs.

"I think it is like sport for me," says Ingram, a freelance writer who lives in New Hope, Pa. Shedding the old way of paying full price is like learning to eat healthy and exercise, she says. For her, researching and scoring deals has even become a pastime.

"It's fun to see how much I can save on something that I really need," she says.

To document her new, cost-conscious lifestyle, she started a blog called "Suddenly Frugal" to document the myriad ways in which she saves money. In January, she plans to release a book on the same subject.

Given the state of the economy and climbing unemployment, you'd think haggling is also on the rise. But most U.S. shoppers don't bother. A recent Consumer Reports survey showed only 28 percent of Americans haggle over prices. A separate report from market research firm BIGresearch found 45.1 percent of adults haggle for things other than cars and homes.

However, the Consumer Reports survey found that consumers who haggle succeed as often as 83 percent of the time in landing a better bargain. Buyers had the highest success rate haggling on hotel rates and clothing, followed by jewelry, new cars and airfare and appliances, the survey found.

Those who are practitioners, however, say they enjoy more success than ever in an economy like this one.

Michael Soon Lee, author of a book called Black Belt Negotiating says he negotiates for everything, including eating out. He estimates he saves $2,500 annually at restaurants by negotiating deals with eateries he frequents — getting $10 back on average with every $100 he spends. He gets his doctors to cut him a break on medical bills and dry cleaners to offer him loyal-customer discounts. Lee even got a local gas station to give him a discount for coming in on its slowest days.

"I've talked to many, many vendors all the way from Nordstrom to Best Buy to car dealers to real estate sales people. Everyone is haggling now because this gives you an instant raise," Lee says.

In some cultures, haggling on price is a way of life. For many others, it can feel potentially embarrassing or inappropriate. But Lee says that's a loser's mindset.

"Before you go into the ring, you can't be afraid," he says, comparing the negotiating process to martial arts. "If you are, you've already lost. And you've got to recognize, in haggling, there's really nothing to lose. If you don't ask for a discount, the answer is already 'No.'"

Lee has other recommendations, including doing background research. Figure out how much you spend at a place, and go in armed with statistics. Tell a dry cleaner, for example, what your business is worth to them before asking what they can do for you. Know what their competition offers, and use that in the negotiation. Talk to a manager, or someone empowered to make business decisions.

Also, be comfortable with silence during the haggling process, he says. Sometimes a vendor will fold if you let them think about it over a long period where no one speaks. It's also important, he says, not to counter with a set number, which can just limit the potential discount you might get. Lee says customers should also negotiate for things other than price, like free delivery, or an extra service or feature.

Finally, he says, a good haggler needs to be prepared to walk away artfully. Don't just stomp off in a huff, Lee says. Slowly withdraw, reminding the vendor how much your business means to them, and what a shame it would be for both parties to lose out.

BIGresearch's survey showed a slight decline in the number of people who said they haggle for better prices. The percentage fell to 45.1 percent in April, from 50.3 percent a year earlier.

But retail stores are heavily discounting already in a way they didn't last year, which might affect how consumers behave, says Pam Goodfellow, a senior analyst with BIGresearch.

"Consumers don't feel quite the need to negotiate on price, because they know they're getting a good deal," Goodfellow says. People research before they shop, and use coupons more than ever, she says, but many people have also stopped buying some things altogether. The percentage of people who say they haggle for furniture is down, she notes, but that could be because furniture sales are down dramatically overall.

During a recent trip to Roger's Electronics in Flemington, N.J., Ingram, the freelance writer, admits that finding a killer deal — $700 for a stainless steel refrigerator with an automatic ice maker — dampened her need to haggle as much. She still tried negotiating away the $75 delivery fee. But when she failed on that count, she still happily handed over her credit card.

"Inside, I'm jumping up and down," she says.

-excerpt from NPR

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Businesses Learn To Make Do With Fewer Workers

The government is expected to announce Friday that the job market shrank again in July. With the jobless rate nearing 10 percent, most of the focus will be on layoffs. But there's another reason so many people remain out of work: Employers, still worried about the recession, are creating far fewer jobs these days.

At Seibel's Restaurant in Burtonsville, Md., waiter Joey Rosenberg is wrapping up the lunch shift. He fills pepper shakers and sweeps the dining room floor. Since the recession began, the 21-year-old seems to do a bit of everything.

"You're pretty much doing, at any given time, more than two jobs," he says. "Like today, we didn't have a buser, so I was bussing all my tables and everything."

Tomorrow, he shifts from waiting tables to working the register.

The reason is simple: Seibel's has 10 fewer workers today than it did at the beginning of the recession, so the remaining staff is picking up the slack.

Since December 2007, the labor market has seen a net decline of 6.5 million jobs. What's happening at this small, family-owned restaurant just north of the nation's capital is happening in workplaces across the country. Instead of replacing workers, employers are operating with leaner, more efficient staffs.

Fewer Job Openings

Lynn Martins, a co-owner of Seibel's, says the smaller workforce saves the restaurant $4,000 in payroll each month — a big help to the restaurant's bottom line, but tough for anyone who might want a job there.

"We probably stopped giving out applications a good two months ago," she says. "We were probably having four or five people a day coming in."

Job openings around the nation have plunged by more than a third in the past year, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

In real terms, that means there were about 1.5 million fewer job openings in May than the same month a year earlier.

Martins says that until the economy turns a corner, she's reluctant to add workers.

"Looks like we're going to be able to make things work with the crew that we have," she says, adding that an employee who just left won't be replaced.

For the labor market to rebound, not only do employers have to stop laying off so many people, but they've also got to start hiring a lot more.

Shorter Workweeks

Lawrence Katz, a labor economist at Harvard, says that's going to take time. The average workweek is now just 33 hours — the shortest on record.

Katz says many people on short hours are waiting for the economy to pick up so they can work more.

"Even when some employers start seeing improvements in demand for their product, they still have plenty of ability to increase the hours of their existing workers, before they need to start hiring new workers," he says.

"We really think this is going to be a gradual and slow climb out of the hole," says Cathy Paige, a vice president with temporary service giant Manpower.

Paige says that even when the economy improves, some of her clients won't staff back up to prior levels.

"For example, the casinos. We were there recently on a tour, and they don't have people making change anymore," she says. "They have machines to do that."

Paige says another client — a business services company — has responded to the recession by sending more work overseas.

"We've probably lost 30 percent of our workforce there. They called back a few people this week, but we used to get orders there for 200 or 300 people at a time, and now we consider a big order 25."

Making Do With Less

Martins says she always kept an eye on costs, but the economic downturn forced her to run a leaner business than ever before.

"We learned to do it with less people, they learn to cover more territory, they get better at their job, which kind of weeds out needing extra people," she says. "And sometimes more is not always better."

For businesses like Seibel's, that may be one of the biggest lessons — and legacies — of this recession.

- excerpt from NPR

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Taxi Service Encourages 'Pay What You Want'

A Vermont man has come up with a business plan precisely sized for today's economy. Eric Hagen is the owner of Recession Ride Taxi, and his sign reads "pay what you want. " Hagen says so far "nobody's stiffed me."Published reports say he is making a profit.

-excerpt from NPR

Monday, August 3, 2009

Snoring Can Indicate Treatable Sleep Condition

Larry Barsh is a man with a new mission. The retired dentist from New York City wants to help Americans recognize that they may have obstructive sleep apnea, a chronic condition among snorers that disrupts sleep. Dr. Barsh started a Web site, SnoringIsn'tSexy.com, to help educate patients and help dentists play a role in identifying patients with sleep apnea.

Barsh says the vast majority of people with apnea don't know they have the condition. Dentists are in a unique position to help patients who might suffer from sleep apnea, he says. Typically, dentists see patients more often than physicians, at least two times a year for teeth cleaning.

For an estimated 12 million Americans, disruptive snoring signals the condition obstructive sleep apnea. iStockphoto.com
At Risk

The National Institutes of Health estimates that more than 12 million American adults have obstructive sleep apnea. Among older Americans, the rate is especially high: at least one out of 10 over the age of 65 has it.

Doctors don't know exactly why sleep apnea occurs, but it is associated with obesity, aging and anatomy, says Dr. Clete Kushida, a neurologist and director of the Stanford Center for Human Sleep Research and president of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine.

The obstructed breathing can result from a variety of factors, such as a large tongue, a large uvula (that cone-shaped projection of tissue in the back of the throat) or a lot of large, crowded teeth. As muscles relax, which they do when people fall asleep — especially on their backs — the tongue muscles tend to pull back and block the airway.

Understanding Sleep
Learn more about what our sleep patterns say about our health.

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Sleep Apnea: Lessons From The Outback

Snoring And Apnea

Snoring is a sign of apnea. Only about 5 to 10 percent of snorers actually have sleep apnea, says Barsh, but everyone who has the most common form of apnea — obstructive sleep apnea — snores. (People with central sleep apnea, caused by incorrect signals from the brain, may not snore.)

"Snoring is an indication of the possibility of a serious medical problem," he says, because sleep apnea is linked to heart disease, stroke, depression and diabetes.

Struggling For Air

During obstructive sleep apnea episodes, snoring patients become quiet for 10 seconds or more — and literally stop breathing. The silence is followed by choking or gagging sounds when the sleeper is partially aroused and breathing resumes. Finally, snoring resumes and the cycle starts over. This cycle can happen anywhere from five times an hour to sometimes hundreds of times a night. Because people with sleep apnea partially awaken to resume breathing, their sleep is fragmented and they are sleepy in the daytime. The lack of breathing also causes the oxygen level in the blood stream to fall, contributing to medical problems.

Treatments Differ With Severity

The gold standard of treatment for sleep apnea is called CPAP, which means continuous positive airway pressure. An air pump connected by a tube to a face mask, sort of like a vacuum cleaner in reverse, gently pushes air up through the nostrils and mouth into the upper airway, keeping it from collapsing.

But the CPAP can be loud and cumbersome, and many patients who could benefit from CPAP just don't use it. However, experts say, for those with severe apnea, it's the only effective treatment.

Surgical procedures can also help by removing excess tissue in the back of the airway or actually moving parts of the jaw or tongue forward. They're particularly effective with younger patients.

Oral appliances that reposition the tongue and mouth help some obstructive sleep apnea patients maintain regular nighttime breathing. Courtesy Dr. Mark Friedman
The Mouthguard

The third treatment option is an oral appliance, which looks much like a mouthguard used in sports or a dental retainer typically used after orthodontry.

"Research shows the oral appliance works to treat mild-to-moderate sleep apnea," says Kushida. Studies have been limited, but the appliances appear to not only treat apnea but also conditions associated with apnea, such as high blood pressure, he says.

There are many brands of oral appliances, but all of them work basically the same way, says Dr. Mark Friedman, who specializes in treating snoring and sleep apnea in Encino, Calif. He's also a professor of dentistry at the University of Southern California. He says the appliances work to keep the airway open and allow for comfortable breathing. They move parts in the mouth out of the way. They move the tongue forward by moving the jaw forward. So, the lower jaw juts forward a certain amount.

One Patient's Experience

Rani Stoddard found that an oral appliance drastically reduced her snoring and apnea. Courtesy Rani Stoddard
Rani Stoddard is one of Friedman's patients. She is a nurse who describes her husband as a gem, since he put up with her loud snoring for years.

"He says, on a scale of one to ten, I was like a ten plus on snoring," Stoddard says. Today, she wears an oral appliance, "and now I'm like a two," she says. "You know, a little mild, delicate (snoring) in the beginning and then ... it's quiet!"

Stoddard can't speak highly enough about the oral appliance. "I'm a believer!" she says, adding that now, she "sleeps like a baby." She says the appliance is comfortable and she can even take a drink of water while wearing it.

Although most sleep apnea is initially diagnosed after a study is performed at a sleep center and a physician evaluates the study, apnea can also be measured at home to determine how well treatments are working. To do this, the patient wears a compact device on an armband with two finger-sensors attached. The device measures a number of respiratory functions, including the amount of oxygen getting into the blood. Friedman reports that Stoddard's apnea has been dramatically reduced as a result of the appliance.

Friedman says the oral appliance is at least 60 percent effective for most patients. "For some patients, it's 100 percent effective," he says.

The Role Of The Dentist

Barsh says screening in a dentist's office takes only a few minutes and a few pointed questions, and dental hygienists can also be trained to screen for apnea. It involves asking whether patients suffer from high blood pressure, if their bed partner has ever observed them stopping breathing during the night, if they feel sleepy during the day and if they snore. A patient's neck size, particularly if it's large, can also be an indicator of apnea.

Friedman, a dentist who specializes in treating snoring and sleep apnea, also asks patients whether they are aware of dreaming during the night. Sometimes patients are confused about why a dentist would be asking such a question, he says.

"But people who don't dream often are not getting into REM sleep," says Friedman, If that's the case, he says, they're probably not getting good deep sleep either. And that, he says, can "lead me to have an inkling that the patient might have a sleep issue."

Since he started focusing on sleep disorders about six years ago, Friedman says the majority of patients with sleep problems are longtime patients. "You would be amazed at the number of people that we have diagnosed within our own practice," he says.

Special Training

Because a sleep-apnea appliance must be fitted precisely to the mouth, Friedman says it's important for a dentist trained in sleep medicine to fit the device. Dentists can take training at various academic centers, but the American Academy of Dental Sleep Medicine, a branch of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, offers courses during its annual meetings.

Although there are many appliances advertised on the Internet and on TV, there are only about 60 FDA-approved devices. Of those, Friedman says, he considers only about six to be effective. And, Friedman says, if potential patients are interested in researching what types of oral appliances are available and most effective, the Academy website is a good place to start.

- excerpt from NPR

Friday, July 31, 2009

'Cash For Clunkers' Lacks Cash For Clunkers

"Cash for clunkers" offered the owners of old cars and trucks up to $4,500 if they traded in their old car for a new more fuel efficient one. The clunker had to get 18 miles per gallon or less. The program only started a week ago, but car dealers across the country saw an immediate rush.

"The atmosphere around the dealers just reminds me of, you know, 10 years ago, when people were just flocking in to buy cars — especially in Silicon Valley," says David Horn, the general manager of Boardwalk Volkswagen in Redwood City, Calif.

However, Horn and many other dealers have put the "cash for clunkers" program on hold. Members of Congress have been told that the $950 million program is out of money.

According to Charles Cyrill of the National Automobile Dealers Association, many dealers are worried that they might not be able to get their reimbursements. They says there is a paperwork backlog in Washington. Still, they would like more money for the program which has been a boon for car sales.

"The timing of the "cash for clunkers" program could not have happened at a better time," Cyrill says.

Several members of Congress say they too are working to find more money for the program, but given the current strains on the budget this might be a difficult task.

-excerpt from NPR

Monday, July 27, 2009

Get The Most Nutrition From Your Veggies

Tomatoes are certainly nutritious — a good source of the antioxidants lycopene and beta-carotene. But consider this: if you eat a tomato without adding a little fat — say a drizzle of olive oil — your body is unlikely to absorb all these nutrients.

Scientists at Iowa State University figured this out a while ago. They recruited graduate students to eat bowls of salad greens with tomatoes and various types of salad dressings — from fat-free to regular Italian. "Basically once a month for several months we'd show up first thing in the morning," recalls participant Gregory Brown, now a professor of exercise science at the University of Nebraska. Researchers put IV lines into the participants' veins and drew blood samples before and after they'd eaten the salads in order to get precise measurements of the absorption of nutrients.

"The salads all tasted the same to me," says Brown. But when researchers went back and analyzed the blood samples they realized that people who had eaten fat-free or low-fat dressings didn't absorb the beneficial carotenoids from the salad. Only when they had eaten the oil-based dressing did they get the nutrients.

Carotenoids are the pigments responsible for red-, yellow- and orange-colored fruits and vegetables. And carotenoids are also found in dark green vegetables such as spinach. The compounds convert to Vitamin A in the body, and studies have found that carotenoids have anti-oxidant activity which may help protect cells from damage caused by free radicals. Human studies have linked high consumption of fruits and vegetables to reduced risk of cancer.

Beta-carotene researchers were not particularly surprised by the findings of the fat-free vs. regular Italian salad dressing study. "We already knew that carotenoids were fat soluble," explains Wendy White, a professor of Human Nutrition at Iowa State University. The results helped reinforce the idea that a little fat is healthy.

Chop And Chew

There are other ways to help maximize the absorption of carotenoid nutrients. Chopping or grating breaks down the plant material. "The finer the particle size ... the better the absorption of beta-carotene," explains White.

The findings of nutrition research often go against the grain of trendy food ideas. For instance, many people have heard that raw vegetables are best. But if you're eating carrots, it may be helpful to cook them gently. The heat can soften the food allowing more nutrients to be released.

A recent study in the Journal of Food Science suggests that some cooking methods may be better than others. Researchers at the University of Murcia in Spain cooked 20 different kinds of vegetables six different ways. Then they analyzed how well the foods retained antioxidants. They found that microwaving helped maintain the antioxidants, whereas boiling and pressure cooking led to the greatest losses.

Green beans, beets and garlic all did well with heat — maintaining beneficial phytonutrients after most kinds of cooking. The antioxidant value in carrots actually increased after cooking.

Experts explain that boiling may allow nutrients to leach into the pan water that people end up tossing out, especially with water-soluble nutrients such as Vitamin A and the B Vitamins.

Eat Plenty Of Colors

As testing methods have become more sensitive, scientists have the ability to peer into our foods and tally up all the phytonutrients that may be beneficial. But experts say the ways in which our bodies may use and absorb these compounds are complicated. Therefore, many experts say it's best not to fixate too much on how food is prepared. Instead, focus on eating more plant foods — of all colors.

Jeffrey Blumberg, an antioxidant expert at Tufts University, says "What's important is that you find a way to cook that's palatable to you so you're getting lots of plant foods."

- excerpt from NPR

Thursday, July 23, 2009

'Checkout' Girl Cashes In With Bestselling Memoir

In a kind of supermarket Cinderella story, a cashier in France has become a literary sensation. Anna Sam has turned her ungratifying job into a humorous memoir. Now, her book has been translated into 16 languages and turned the 29-year-old into the author she has always wanted to be.

Tribulations of a Cashier is a sociological study of the grocery store world from the viewpoint of the checkout girl. In her book (whose English title is Checkout: A Life on the Tills), Sam dissects the behavior of the shopper:

It's lunchtime and your first customer of the day is stuffing his mouth with a tuna salad sandwich. Chewing noisily, his mouth wide open, you get a glimpse of every ingredient. When you ask to borrow his sandwich for a moment to scan the price, he takes one more giant bite before handing it over. So what's a little mayonnaise on your fingers and crumbs on your register?
Sam presents other shopper types — like the mothers who regularly warn their children that if they don't shape up they'll grow up to be nothing but a cashier, and the sleazeballs who hit on her while trying to steal CDs hidden inside their boxes of Camembert.

Despite the indignations, Sam says in some ways the job actually made her feel good about herself.

"It's a job where you see every people; it's a job where no one sees you. You see families very happy, families very sad. People are very nice, people are very bad. And at the end of your day, you say, 'Oh my god, I'm happy because I have a normal life; I'm better than I thought,' " she says.

In another chapter, Sam describes how scanning groceries can even help you get rid of those unwanted love handles.

By taking a job as a cashier you have also chosen the best route to a super new shape. The cashiers' perch is the perfect place to tighten those buttocks, build those biceps, and yes ladies, even firm up those breasts. Just compare yourself to a customer or a new checkout girl who doesn't have the firming experience you have behind you.
Sam began working as a cashier during college to support her literature studies. When graduation came and went, no other jobs were available. So she stayed on — and on. Five years passed. The work was ungratifying and mind-numbing — until she decided to write about it.

"I started to see my job different and to see differently people. When you start to explain it with humor, people say, 'Oh, what a funny blog, what a funny diary.' I think everything we live can be funny. We just have to see it with the good eye," she says.

Sam first started writing in a blog where she provided a running account of what went on in the world of a cashier. Her blog, Cassiere No Futur, attracted a large number of readers, then newspaper reporters. Soon, publishing houses took note, and Sam had several book offers.

Since her first book, Sam has become the toast of TV and radio talk shows. With her recently published second book, which is also about the supermarket world, Sam has now left her till behind for good. It wasn't all bad, she says. As evidence, she reads one of her favorite chapters about how the cash register beeping could sometimes transport you into a dreamlike state.

The store is packed, shoppers rush to and fro — their grocery carts squeak and rattle. A voice over the intercom barks out the latest sales promotions over a backdrop of jangling Muzak. The general brouhaha intensifies. The store is approaching its maximum sound threshold. The squalling of a brat tips it over the edge, opening the passageway to this other dimension.
Sam says her success has been a wonderful surprise. She is heartened to hear from cashiers who say they now find hope and humor in their daily grind. But what makes her happiest, she says, is that people tell her they now treat the checkout girl with respect.

-excerpt from NPR

Monday, July 20, 2009

New Treat In San Francisco: Parks Allow Food Carts

Facing an $11 million budget gap, San Francisco park officials last week voted to allow long-banned food carts into the city's 200 parks. A monthly permit costs $1,000 or more, and vendors must prove that their food is "healthful" — a term that is not precisely defined.

-excerpt from NPR

Monday, July 13, 2009

Stress, Anxiety May Keep Women Smoking

Quitting cigarettes is not easy for anyone. But some studies show that women have a harder time keeping their no-smoking vows than men. Researchers don't know exactly why this may be the case, but they speculate that women are more sensitive than men to sudden emotional upset.

University of Pittsburgh psychologist Saul Shiffman says acute emotion — getting upset suddenly — can have a "big role" in getting women to pick up a cigarette.

"Relapse is the whole game," says Shiffman, who notes that among men and women who quit smoking without any treatment like nicotine replacement, about three-fourths return to smoking within just one week. "So, essentially the key to quitting is avoiding relapse," he says.

Shiffman says relapse starts with a single lapse — for example, smoking a cigarette during a period of not smoking, thinking that the return to smoking is temporary. Shiffman says people tend to have lapses when they're emotionally upset. He also says this seems to occur more frequently with women.

While data from federal household surveys show that men and women have approximately equal success in ultimately quitting smoking, mounting evidence indicates that women have a harder time when they actually try to quit.

He says the federal data just counts the "bodies, as it were," adding up how many people nationwide are ex-smokers at any given time. He says the federal data don't include the number of times people tried to quit.

Shiffman recently analyzed 12 clinical trials involving more than 4,400 individuals who were trying to quit smoking. Overall, he says, women had a 25 percent lower success rate on any given attempt to quit than men did.

Shiffman suggests the discrepancy in federal "ex-smoker" statistics and the studies he examined may simply reflect that women try harder to quit and more often than men, which ultimately accounts for an overall success rate that looks about the same for men and women.

Quit A Thousand Times

Chesapeake, Va., resident Tonya Guess says she has "a thousand reasons" to quit smoking. No. 1 is her 3-year-old daughter; Guess doesn't want her daughter to think smoking is "normal." "I want her to go 'yuck' when she smells cigarette smoke, says Guess. No. 2 is her health; Guess says she wants to live a long life and see her daughter grow up and get married. No. 3, she says, is her belief in God; she feels that she betrays God every time she reaches for a cigarette.

At this writing, Guess is on her sixth day without cigarettes, but she worries this attempt will end in failure. "I've tried to quit thousands of times, over and over again," she says, adding that she's tried the nicotine patch, the gum — just about "everything you can think of; it all works for about a week or two." And then, she says, something happens that makes her want a cigarette, no matter what.

"I'm hit with an emotion so intense that I don't think twice about it. Next thing you know, I'm back on cigarettes again," she says. And when that urgent craving hits, says Guess, "you don't think about your health or your child, you just think about that one cigarette; just one and I'll be fine again."

A More Complicated Addiction

Carolyn Mazure, a professor of psychology at Yale School of Medicine, is an expert on depression and addictive behaviors, and is principal investigator for the Sex-Specific Factors Core of the NIH-funded Transdisciplinary Tobacco Use Research Center at Yale, which was created to help people quit smoking.

She says cigarettes fill many roles for women who smoke. "Women often report smoking is helpful in reducing negative mood, even enhancing positive mood, managing the stress of daily life and also managing appetite and weight gain," says Mazure. "Women are looking to cigarettes to help them with those different situations, and as a consequence, it's often more difficult for women [than for men] to give up their cigarettes."

Mazure adds that depression and negative moods are more common among women than men. She says her research has shown that women are more "vulnerable to the negative effects of stress and are more likely to relapse back to smoking in the face of stressors" than men. "Women also believe that smoking will help them control their weight," she says.

Human Laboratory Work

Psychologists Mazure and Sherry McKee, both with Yale University, are involved in various studies looking at whether medications and therapy can help, particularly since women don't do as well as men when it comes to the popular first-line treatment for smoking cessation: nicotine replacement, like patches or gum.

With colleagues at Women's Health Research at Yale, they're now investigating whether certain medications can help women better resist cigarettes.

McKee directs the Yale Behavioral Pharmacology Laboratory and is an expert on behavioral factors related to tobacco addiction. Specifically, McKee is looking at whether medications can help ease anxiety and therefore reduce the urge to smoke. In one study, men and women either receive an active medication to reduce anxiety, or a placebo.

Study participants are asked to relay to researchers details of a stressful situation that provoked them to smoke. Researchers then create a fictionalized account of that situation and present it to participants. Participants have cigarettes available to them but are asked to resist. Researchers record whether those taking medication are better able to resist than those on the placebo.

Other studies are looking at various types of medication, including drugs that suppress appetite, to see what might help women resist smoking.

McKee says researchers are also investigating whether certain talk therapies can help women. The therapies help people figure out how to cope when faced with a stressful situation in ways other than grabbing a cigarette.

Such therapy helps people understand that they can engage in activities other than smoking to improve mood, says McKee, "like exercise, reaching out and getting support from somebody, or engaging in a distracting activity like going for a walk." McKee hopes to have some answers both about medication and behavioral therapy within the next few years.

-excerpt from NPR

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Turtles Delay Flights At New York's JFK Airport

A runway at John F. Kennedy International Airport was shut down briefly Wednesday morning after at least 78 turtles emerged from a nearby bay and crawled onto the tarmac.

Grounds crews eventually rounded up the wayward reptiles and deposited them back in the brackish water farther from airport property, but not before the incident disrupted JFK's flight schedule and contributed to delays that reached nearly 1 1/2 hours.

"Apparently, this is something the tower has experienced before," said Federal Aviation Administration spokesman Jim Peters. "I guess it's the season for spawning."

The invasion began unfolding, slowly, at around 8:30 a.m., when an American Eagle flight crew reported seeing three turtles while taxiing out for departure. Before long, a chorus of pilots was radioing the tower to report turtles either on the end of a runway that juts out into the water, or approaching on the grass.

The FAA halted flights for about 12 minutes shortly before 9 a.m. while some of the turtles were cleared away, then quit using the runway entirely after getting new reports of "massive numbers" of turtles on the tarmac, Peters said.

Port Authority of New York and New Jersey spokesman John Kelly said airport crews gathered up the turtles in about 35 minutes.

He identified the turtles as Diamondback terrapins, a species common to Jamaica Bay, which surrounds the airport. The turtles appeared to be about 8 inches long and weighed 2 to 3 pounds each.

Jets hit turtles a few times each year at JFK, usually in the final days of June or beginning of July, according to the FAA's wildlife strike database. There have been no recent reports of the strikes causing any damage to an airplane.

-excerpt from NPR

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Getting Lost Is Totally Human. Try It

"Let's get lost" is great when Chet Baker is singing about falling in love, but those three words can produce anxiety in anyone, even if you just make a wrong turn in your own hometown.

And we humans are good at getting lost because we are good at being so many places at once. As your feet wander down the street, your brain could be thinking about outer space or your vacation in Vegas or your backyard at home. So it's easy to zone out about where you actually are. But you can train yourself to be more conscious of your surroundings.

Colin Ellard just wrote a book on the topic: You Are Here: Why We Can Find Our Way to the Moon, but Get Lost in the Mall.

Ellard, a psychology professor at the University of Waterloo, took NPR's David Greene on a walk toward a woodsy area of Washington, D.C., to help Greene learn to appreciate being lost — which doesn't take long.

For example, if you want to remember where you parked the car, Ellard says, you can make up a story about something that's nearby.

"Let's look around here. Just paying attention to this house across the street — there's a nice little balcony. It's almost like a Romeo and Juliet balcony. You can conjure up Juliet," Ellard suggests.

"We've talked about that for 10 seconds," he says, so now it'll be easier to remember.

Ellard takes Greene deeper into the woods, and to test their sense of direction, they purposely veer off the dirt trail and walk several hundred feet into a stand of tall trees.

"When people are walking through dense vegetation, it can be difficult to know they're walking in a straight line," Ellard says. "You can make remarkable turns while thinking you're walking in a straight line."

That may not seem to matter — except, Ellard says, "There is a tendency for people to speed up in their movements, and if you march in the wrong direction, you get farther away faster."

Ellard's advice? "Once you're lost, your best decision is to stop."

But, he says, one of the hardest tricks for humans to learn is that sometimes, and in some places, it's OK to get lost — at least for a little while.

-excerpt from NPR

Monday, July 6, 2009

'Water Cops' Patrol L.A. For Violaters

California is in the midst of one of its worst droughts in decades. Residents of Los Angeles are banned from watering their lawns during the day and can only use sprinklers twice a week. To enforce the laws, the L.A. "Water Conservation Team" has taken to the street in Priuses to find water offending scofflaws.

- excerpt from npr

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Madoff Likely Won't Be Serving Time In 'Club Fed'

Anyone who thinks convicted swindler Bernard Madoff will serve easy time in a "Club Fed" minimum-security prison should think again. He is unlikely to land in a cushy cellblock, and he will need to watch his back, consultants and former inmates say.

Madoff, who was sentenced to 150 years in prison for masterminding the largest Ponzi scheme in U.S. history, will likely do no better than medium security and could even be assigned to a maximum-security facility if his safety is deemed to be at risk — and it may well be, experts say.

"I don't believe Bernie Madoff is going to give anybody any trouble in prison," says Ed Bales, managing director for Federal Prison Consultants LLC. "But the fact is: What are those other inmates going to do? Is he going to get killed? That's probably the No. 1 question."

Wherever he goes will be based partly on a point system that will give him positive marks for his age (he's 71), his college education and the fact that he has no history of violence. But the sheer magnitude of his sentence would likely offset most or all of the items in the plus column, experts say.

Another consideration is geography. Inmates are generally placed within 500 miles of home, which leaves some unpleasant options for Madoff, a New Yorker. The Lewisburg facility in Pennsylvania, for example, is an aging high-security prison known for its gang violence.

Madoff's notoriety and the nature of his crime will also work against him. At twice the age of most other federal inmates — most of whom were convicted of drug-related crimes and will serve a fraction of his time — the disgraced financier will find it difficult to make friends.

Marvin Ragland, a former inmate who served nine years for drug possession and trafficking, says white-collar criminals such as Madoff are "the low man on the totem pole."

"Everybody hates those kind of guys," he says. Ragland says the pecking order comes down to an unwritten prison code.

"The greater the crime against society, the worse you are treated," he says.

"This guy … told Grandma that he had a great [place] for her to put her money and that it would be safe and she wouldn't have to worry about it," he says. "Grandma's money is gone [and] now she's got to figure out who's going to take care of her. It burdens her whole family, right down to the grandkids."

But other inmates aren't Madoff's only threat, says Pat Nolan, who was the minority leader of the California state assembly until he pled guilty to racketeering for campaign fraud in the 1990s. He served two years in federal prison.

"I was in with several millionaires, and boy, the [corrections] officers really resented them," he says.

Nolan says Madoff will have to fight off the constant negative drumbeat from fellow inmates: "You are nothing, you come from nothing, you will be nothing, you lost everything."

Ragland says he has seen a lot of white-collar inmates cry in prison. They can't handle having to wait up to three weeks for extra paper to write on, asking permission to have a glass of water, or having to barter with other inmates for an ink pen. And they can't handle the violence or the loneliness.

Ragland, who is now sober and about to graduate from trucking school, says he only survived prison because he knew he'd eventually get out.

For Madoff, who will almost certainly die in prison, "it's going to be hell," Ragland says.

To make it in prison, Ragland says, you have to have something that Madoff doesn't. "You have to have something to dream of and hope for," he says.

-excerpt from NPR

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Marijuana Vendors Lobby To Pay Higher Taxes

In today's economy, it's hard to find anyone who really wants to pay higher taxes. That is, unless they happen to be in the business of selling medical marijuana.

In Oakland, Calif., marijuana vendors are actually lobbying for a higher tax on their product.

Take, for example, Richard Lee, the proprietor of the Coffeeshop Blue Sky, where anyone with a doctor's note can buy products much more relaxing than a jolt of java. How about 1/8 ounce of high-grade medical marijuana? That's $40 for the cannabis and $4 in sales tax.

Lee says the sales tax is just the price of doing business.

"My business pays $300,000 a year in sales tax, plus another half-million in payroll taxes — income taxes," Lee says. "So we estimate that all four dispensaries in Oakland pay over a million in sales tax already."

And now, the city of Oakland wants a bigger cut of Lee's action. Right now, medical marijuana dispensaries pay a city tax of $1.20 for every $1,000 they take in. In July, voters will decide whether the dispensaries should pay even more — as much as $18 for every $1,000 in gross receipts.

Lee and other dispensary owners not only support the proposed new taxes, but they're also the ones who brought the idea to city officials in the first place.

"We're basically trying to say that we are like other businesses, you know. We're here to pay taxes, create jobs and improve the community," Lee says.

Councilwoman Rebecca Kaplan says the new tax could generate upward of $1 million annually and would make Oakland the first city in the country to directly tax medical marijuana.

"You know, in these economic times, we're trying to find revenue everywhere we can, and we're trying to keep our senior centers open," she says. "We're trying to keep public safety officials hired and with equipment that works, and so to have someone stepping up and say, 'We're willing to pay more,' it's a pretty beautiful thing."

It's not the first time officials have looked to marijuana to fill their tax coffers. A bill to legalize and tax cannabis statewide has already been introduced in the California Legislature. And state finance officials estimate that legalized pot could bring in about $1.5 billion in new taxes to the cash-strapped state.

Still A Federal Crime

But opponents of medical marijuana aren't convinced. Calvina Fay is the executive director of the Drug Free America Foundation. She says medical marijuana may be legal in California and 12 other states, but its sale is still a federal crime.

"I think it is one more step in creating the illusion that they are operating within the law, what they're doing is OK," Fay says.

Other critics of the tax proposal say the medical marijuana industry is looking for more than legitimacy. Ronald Brooks, the president of the National Narcotic Officers' Associations' Coalition, says the ultimate goal is the legalization of cannabis.

"Their strategy has long been that they just can't go to the voters right now in today's environment and say, 'Legalize marijuana.' But they know there is a growing movement that supports marijuana and, unfortunately, when you start to chip away at our national drug policy, you begin to have people believe that somehow this is safe," Brooks says.

Brooks won't get much argument from Lee. He says the Oakland tax proposal is written so broadly that it would cover anyone involved with growing and selling marijuana should it ever become legal.

"We see it as part of the overall picture of legalization, of changing the attitudes of cannabis. Instead of seeing it as an underground thing that people do to get out of paying taxes, we're trying to make it a regular part of the business of the city," he says.

A recent Field Poll shows that, for the first time, 56 percent of those surveyed in California support legalization of marijuana — and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger says he's ready for an open debate on the idea.

- excerpt from NPR

Monday, June 29, 2009

Ousted President, Replacement Duel For Honduras

Honduras is now torn between two presidents: one legally recognized by world bodies after he was deposed and forced from the country by his own soldiers, and another supported by the Central American nation's congress, courts and military.

Presidents from around Latin America were gathering in Nicaragua for meetings Monday to resolve the first military overthrow of a Central American government in 16 years, and once again Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez took center stage, casting the dispute as a rebellion by the region's poor.

"If the oligarchies break the rules of the game as they have done, the people have the right to resistance and combat, and we are with them," Chavez said in Managua, Nicaragua's capital.

There is a deep rift between the outside world — which is clamoring for the return of democratically elected, but largely unpopular and soon-to-leave-office President Manuel Zelaya — and congressionally designated successor Roberto Micheletti.

Micheletti rejected any outside interference and declared a two-night curfew, while Chavez vowed that "we will overthrow [Micheletti]."

Zelaya was seized by soldiers and hustled aboard a plane to Costa Rica early Sunday, just hours before a rogue referendum Zelaya had called in defiance of the courts and Congress, and which his opponents said was an attempt to remain in power after his term ends Jan. 27.

The Honduran constitution limits presidents to a single 4-year term, and Zelaya's opponents feared he would use the referendum results to try to run again, just as Chavez reformed his country's constitution to be able to seek re-election repeatedly.

Micheletti said the army acted on orders from the courts, and the ouster was carried out "to defend respect for the law and the principles of democracy." But he threatened to jail Zelaya and put him on trial if he returned. Micheletti also hit back at Chavez, saying "nobody, not Barack Obama and much less Hugo Chavez, has any right to threaten this country."

Obama said earlier in a statement that he was "deeply concerned" about the events, and U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Zelaya's arrest should be condemned.

"I call on all political and social actors in Honduras to respect democratic norms, the rule of law and the tenets of the Inter-American Democratic Charter," Obama's statement read.

For those conditions to be met, Zelaya must be returned to power, U.S. officials said.

Two senior Obama administration officials told reporters that U.S. diplomats were working to ensure Zelaya's safe return. The officials said the Obama administration in recent days had warned Honduran power players, including the armed forces, that the U.S. would not support a coup, but Honduran military leaders stopped taking their calls.

Zelaya said soldiers seized him in his pajamas at gunpoint in what he called a "coup" and a "kidnapping." The United Nations, the Organization of American States and governments throughout Latin America called for Zelaya to be allowed to resume office.

"I want to return to my country. I am president of Honduras," Zelaya said Sunday before traveling to Managua on one of Chavez's planes for regional meetings of Central American leaders and Chavez's leftist alliance of nations, known as ALBA.

Zelaya's call for civil disobedience and peaceful resistance appeared to gain only modest support in Honduras, where a few hundred people turned out at government buildings to jeer soldiers and chant "Traitors!"

Some of Zelaya's Cabinet members were detained by soldiers or police following his ouster, according to former government official Armando Sarmiento. And the rights group Freedom of Expression said leftist legislator Cesar Ham had died in a shootout with soldiers trying to detain him, though a Honduran Security Department spokesman said he had no information on Ham.

Armored military vehicles with machine guns rolled through the streets of the Honduran capital and soldiers seized the national palace, but no other incidents of violence were reported.

Sunday afternoon, Congress voted to accept what it said was Zelaya's letter of resignation, with even the president's former allies turning against him. Micheletti, who as leader of Congress is in line to fill any vacancy in the presidency, was sworn in to serve until Zelaya's term ends.

Micheletti belongs to Zelaya's Liberal Party, but opposed the president in the referendum.

Micheletti acknowledged that he had not spoken to any Latin American heads of state, but said, "I'm sure that 80 to 90 percent of the Honduran population is happy with what happened today."

The Organization of American States approved a resolution Sunday demanding "the immediate, safe and unconditional return of the constitutional president, Manuel Zelaya."

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon condemned the coup and "urges the reinstatement of the democratically elected representatives of the country," said his spokeswoman, Michele Montas.

The Rio Group, which comprises 23 nations from the hemisphere, issued a statement condemning "the coup d'etat" and calling for Zelaya's "immediate and unconditional restoration to his duties."

And Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou canceled a planned visit to Honduras, one of just 23 countries that still recognize the self-governing island.

Coups were common in Central America for four decades reaching back to the 1950s, but Sunday's ouster was the first military power grab in Latin America since a brief, failed 2002 coup against Chavez. It was the first in Central America since military officials forced President Jorge Serrano of Guatemala to step down in 1993 after he tried to dissolve the congress and suspend the constitution.

-excerpt from npr