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A good day for a colonoscopy, and other fantasies

My father, a law professor in Virginia, has frequently marveled at the tragedies that seem to befall students right around exam time. Illnesses, accidents and an all-out bloodbath for distant relatives. “One young woman,” he likes to say, “had three grandmothers die in one semester.”

Apparently, the carnage has spread down south, to Duke University, where behavioral economics professor (and Need to Know contributor) Dan Ariely finds that, “the amount of misery that happens at the end of the semester is incredible.”

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Tuesday morning round-up


Gunmen stormed a hotel near the presidential palace in the Somali capital of Mogadishu Tuesday, killing as many as 33 people, including six members of parliament. The attackers were dressed as Somali government soldiers and, upon approaching the building, began firing on the guards. One blew himself up inside the hotel. The Al-Shabab militant group has claimed responsibility for the attack. The group had already waged a first wave of attacks against Somali targets on Monday, bringing the two-day death toll to at least 70. As Need to Know has reported, Al Shabab has also claimed responsibility for twin bombings in Uganda in July that killed at least 64, and the group proudly boasts of its ties to Al Qaeda.


The complicated legal case involving the street artist Shepard Fairey and the photograph of then-Sen. Barack Obama that he transformed into his famous “Hope” poster got a little less complicated on Tuesday. The photographer who took the shot, Mannie Garcia, dropped a lawsuit against the Associated Press, who he said had improperly claimed copyright over the photo. Garcia contended that he was not working for the AP when he took the photo, and that the copyright was actually his. Despite Garcia’s decision, the legal battle over the poster itself drags on. Fairey and AP are set to go to court in March 2010 over the rights to the photo. Fairey sued the AP in 2008, and the news agency then countersued.


The massive egg recall that has flummoxed federal regulators and sickened thousands with salmonella has apparently had at least one positive outcome: More consumers seem to be getting their produce from farmers markets. Sales of eggs at co-ops and roadside stands rose over the weekend after news of the outbreak spread. More than 550 million eggs have been recalled, and the head of the Food and Drug administration has said that she would like more regulatory authority to prevent future incidents, including the power to mandate recalls. Members of Congress are also questioning the spotty track record of the Iowa egg producers at the center of the recall, and the FDA’s role in policing them.


A federal judge has issued an injunction temporarily blocking an Obama administration policy that would expand the use of human embryos in stem cell research. Judge Royce Lamberth of U.S. District Court said the plaintiffs, two adult embryonic stem cell researchers, had standing to proceed with their case. The researchers had argued that the new rules would increase competition for already-scarce federal funding. They were joined by a Christian organization that argued that the new law violated federal prohibitions against the destruction of human embryos in federally funded research.


American International Group, the massive insurer that nearly went under during the financial crisis, has repaid nearly $4 billion of the more than $180 the federal government committed to prop up the company as part of its effort to stabilize troubled investment houses. The $4 billion repayment brings AIG’s overall debt to the taxpayers down to just below $100 billion, though analysts say the company is on track to return as much as half of that sum. The news of AIG’s bailout repayment came on the same day that the Federal Reserve cut its line of credit to the insurer by $3.6 — which may sound bad, but actually signifies the government’s confidence in AIG.

From a friend in Pakistan

Taj in Shandur, Pakistan. Photo: Flickr/Pattern Films

I received this e-mail this morning from a very close friend who lives in a remote valley high in the Himalayas in Northern Pakistan. We visited his valley in the summer of 2005. (You can see photos of what it looked like then, here.)

Dear Cam and Lauren,
There is a big flooding in Kalasha valleys due to the break up of a gigantic glacier high in the pastures which was said to be melting lately and due to rains and erupted the day before yesterday. Read All »

Monday late edition

Tainted eggs. Photo: AP/Reed Saxon

Chilean miners trapped for months

Relief workers in Chile continued their dramatic effort to rescue 33 miners trapped more than 2,300 feet below the surface, in a collapsed mine just north of the mineral-rich city of Copiapó. The miners were trapped there on August 5th after the roof of the shaft partially collapsed. Officials say it will take at least four months to drill a new hole large enough to lift the 33 miners to safety — but the miners themselves have not been told of their fates. Aid workers, meanwhile, have been lowering capsules of supplies and liquid nutrients to the miners through an 8 centimeter-wide tube. Experts warn that the psychological toll of living in isolation for four months could be extreme.

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Women’s group rallies ‘mama grizzlies’ to oppose Sarah Palin

Are you a Mama Grizzly?

That’s what EMILY’s List, the organization that helps female candidates build campaigns and run for public office, wants to know. The group is launching an initiative and companion website called “Sarah Doesn’t Speak for Me,” designed to galvanize opposition among women voters to conservative candidates backed by Palin and her political action committee, SarahPAC.

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If Obama really loved America, he would take his shirt off

If you’re the president of the United States these days, you probably have a lot on your plate: a massive oil spill in the Gulf, a rogue nuclear fuel program in Iran, a stubborn 9.5 percent unemployment rate that has stirred considerable public angst and threatens to undo your party’s dominance at the polls.

And then there is the brouhaha over your abs.

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Harvard acknowledges review of prominent scientist’s work

Harvard University is known for the lumbering pace at which it investigates its own faculty members. As Edward Tenner at The Atlantic points out, officials at Harvard’s medical school have amended the conflict-of-interest policies there, but still refuse even to acknowledge an ongoing investigation into alleged improprieties among some of the school’s faculty members.

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