Mom who documents play-area filth is banned from McDonald's [VIDEO]

McDonald's restaurants may be parent-friendly in many ways, but at least one mom appears to have worn out her welcome.

Erin Carr-Jordan, a child development specialist and mother of four, has been banned from eight McDonald's in the Phoenix area, presumably for swabbing the children's play areas for germs.

The Chicago Tribune reports that Carr-Jordan believes she was banned from the restaurants for sharing lab results with local health authorities showing the presence of infectious staph bacteria, among other pathogens, at a McDonald's restaurant.

Carr-Jordan has been crusading against dirty play areas in restaurants for about eight months now. McDonald's hasn't been her only target, and she's fighting the battle in various ways. In addition to the swabbing, she tends to take video evidence as well.

On her website, Kids Play Safe, you'll find about two dozen videos she says were taken at play areas in McDonald's and Burger Kings around the country, detailing curse words scrawled on plastic slides; gum and muck stuck into the crevices and corners of the play structures; plus general grime and dirtiness.

It's stomach-turning stuff.

Carr-Jordan has had a growing a media presence in newspapers and on television -- she was recently invited to talk about her findings on Anderson Cooper's daytime show -- but it wasn't until she was actually banned from a McDonald's that the real media frenzy began.

Carr-Jordan did not respond to a request for comment, but on the Kids Play Safe Facebook page, she writes that earlier this week she received a hand-delivered notice from an attorney representing a McDonald's franchise owner, informing her that she was prohibited from entering any of his McDonald's.

"What does that tell you about him and his establishments?" she wrote. "I'm thinking it means he doesn't want me to find out what's in there!"

Danya Proud, a spokeswoman for McDonald's, sent this statement to The Times:

"We take feedback about our restaurants extremely seriously. Over the past several months we have engaged in open and honest dialogue with Dr. Carr-Jordan in an effort to address her concerns and review her findings. We are still committed to doing this.

"That said, it appears recent actions by Dr. Carr-Jordan have become disruptive to the employees and customers within our franchisee's restaurants, which prompted the letter from his attorney."


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--Deborah Netburn

Photo: Arizona mom Erin Carr-Jordan, seen at a Chicago McDonald's in July. Credit: Nancy Stone, Chicago Tribune

Video: One of the videos on the Kids Play Safe website detailing grossness at a fast-food restaurant's play area. This one is called "Chicago Filth."

The number of U.S. women who say household has a gun hits record high

The number of U.S. women who say their household possesses a gun is at a record high. A Gallup poll on Wednesday said 43% of American women reported a gun in their home or somewhere on their property. That number is up seven percentage points, from 36% in 2010.

Men were even more likely to say their household has a gun. This year 52% of men reported a gun in their house or on their property -- also seven points higher than in 2010, when 45% said so.

The gender gap is more pronounced when people are asked who owns the gun. Twice as many men as women say they own a gun -- 46% of men, 23% of women.

These results come from Gallup's Oct. 6-9 crime poll, which also found that public support for Americans' right to bear arms has hit an all-time high. When asked whether there should be a law banning possession of handguns, nearly three-quarters said they opposed such a law. A little more than a quarter supported such a law.

It's unclear, however, whether more households actually have guns. Perhaps more people feel comfortable admitting that they do. 

Some other interesting details from the report:

  • 47% of Americans report they have a gun in their home or elsewhere on their property. That's the highest number Gallup has recorded since 1993, when 54% said so.
  • 55% of Republicans admit having a gun on their property, compared with 40% of Democrats. But that gap is shrinking. Last year, 52% of Republicans said they had a gun on the property, compared with 32% of Democrats.
  • Education level plays a role in whether someone owns a gun. According to Gallup, 29% of college graduates say they personally own a gun, compared with 40% of those without a college degree.


Wild-horse, black-bear advocates swarm a state capital

'No Real Than You Are'? Lego Man is here and grammatically incorrect

Smithsonian looks for exhibit material to put Occupy Wall Street on display

--Deborah Netburn

Photo: Mount Holyoke student Sabrina Clark, 21, takes aim at a firing range near the women's college in Massachusetts. Credit:  Robert E. Klein / For the Los Angeles Times


8-foot-tall Lego Man washes up on Florida beach, held in custody

Lego_manThe Lego Man's arrival in America was like something out of a 3-year-old's dream.

The 8-foot-tall, 100-pound fiberglass statue that resembles the little plastic guys that come in a Lego set was discovered bobbing gently in ankle-deep surf at the Siesta Key Beach in Florida, just before dawn on Tuesday.

The front of his shirt was emblazoned with a grammatically incorrect message: "NO REAL THAN YOU ARE." The name "Ego Leonard" was written on the back of his shirt.

Initially, some wondered if the Lego Man was a publicity stunt put on by Legoland, which recently opened a new theme park in Orlando.

But a spokeswoman for the company said that Legoland takes no credit for the stunt and is not behind it. "I wish we could say we did it, it was a brilliant guerrilla PR stunt," said Julie Estrada, the spokeswoman. A more likely explanation is that it's all part of an anonymous Dutch artist's experiment.

Google "Ego Leonard," and you'll find he has his own website, written in Dutch with some English translation.

"I am here to discover and learn about your world and thoughts," he writes. "Show me all the beautiful things that are there to admire and experience in your world. Let’s become friends, share your story with me, take me with you on a journey through beautiful meadows, words, sounds and gestures."

The website also includes photos and links to videos of the Lego Man's adventures around the world including an August 2007 YouTube video of the Lego Man washing up on the shores of Zandvoort, in the Netherlands.

In October 2008, he showed up on the shores of Brighton, England, according to the BBC.

For now the Lego Man's journey has landed him in the Sarasota County Sheriff's office. "Mr. Leonard is being kept in a secure environment until his owner comes forward," the sheriff's office writes in a statement

If nobody comes to claim him, he will be given to Jeff Hindman, the man who originally spotted Ego Leonard on Tuesday morning.

Hindman told reporters that if he does get custody of the Lego Man, he'll probably sell him on Ebay.

In the meantime, the Herald-Tribune reports that Ego Leonard sent the paper an email that explained he had crossed from one world to the other and was looking for some hospitality.

“In case people want to take me on new adventures, just that you know, I have been invited to stay here for 90 days, everybody is welcome to show me all the beautiful surroundings while I am here,” he wrote.


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--Deborah Netburn

Image: This photo provided by the Sarasota County Sheriff's Office shows a 100-pound, 8-foot-tall statue made to look like a Lego man that was found on Siesta Key beach in Sarasota, Florida. Credit: Sarasota Sheriff's Office.

Giant amoeba found in Mariana Trench -- 6.6 miles beneath the sea

Talk about extremes.

Scientists at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography have found giant amoebas 6.6 miles below the surface of the ocean, in the Mariana Trench to be exact. To put that in perspective: These amoebas, also known as xenophyophores, are living in a trench about 1 mile deeper than Mt. Everest is tall.

The previous depth record for xenophyophores was about 4.7 miles.

And when we say giant amoebas, we mean giant. Xenophyophores often exceed 10 centimeters (about 4 inches) across, according to a news release from Scripps, meaning the single-celled organism can be as large as a human hand.

But if you're imagining a giant squishy thing resembling the drawing of an amoeba in your high school biology textbook, think again. Xenophyophores, as you can see above, look more like sponges, or cauliflower coral.

"As one of very few taxa found exclusively in the deep sea, the xenophyophores are emblematic of what the deep sea offers," said Scripps Institution of Oceanography professor and deep sea biologist Lisa Levin in a statement. "They are fascinating giants that are highly adapted to extreme conditions but at the same time are very fragile and poorly studied."

Images of the xenophyophores were collected over the summer by researchers at Scripps who traveled to the Pacific Ocean's Mariana Trench, the deepest region on the planet.

Kevin Hardy, an ocean engineer at Scripps who organized the cruise, explained that the Mariana Trench, located to the east of the Mariana Islands, has been largely unexplored until recently because the technology didn't allow it. Pressure at the bottom of the trench is about 16,500 pounds per square inch. Pressure at sea level is 14.7 psi.

The pressure at 35,000 feet below sea level is so intense, said Hardy, that human bones would be "squished into solution."

To protect the cameras and lights from crushing into smithereens, Hardy and his team constructed a sphere, 17 inches in diameter, made out of 1-inch thick-glass. Hardy said the thickness and strength of the glass allows the sphere to withstand the deep-sea pressures. "When it's deep underwater, every inch of the outside of it has the weight of the equivalent of two automobiles on it," he said.

That means that's the weight amoebas are withstanding too.

As we said earlier: Talk about extremes.


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-- Deborah Netburn

Image: A collage of different images of xenophyophores -- giant amoebas that live at the bottom of an ocean trench. Credit: Courtesy of Scripps Institution of Oceanography.

Video: Northern lights visible as far south as Arkansas

  Forget going to Alaska for a view of the northern lights.

On Monday night, sky watchers across the United States could marvel at the reds and greens lighting the skies in the most unlikely of places -- including New Mexico, Tennessee, Missouri and Virginia.

The time-lapse video above was taken by Brian Emfinger in Ozark, Ark.

In fact, the sky-watching website reports that the northern lights were seen or photographed in more than half of the nation's states.


Usually the northern lights, also known as the aurora borealis, are visible only at far north latitudes — such as those in Canada and Alaska.

But this week, sky-watchers in the southern latitudes got lucky. What's known as a coronal mass ejection from the sun apparently hit Earth at about 2 p.m. EDT, which disturbed the Earth's magnetic field, which in turn caused the lights to migrate farther south than normal.

"When these charged particles [from the ejection] go by our own magnetic field, it's like dumping gasoline on a fire," Joe Kunches, a space scientist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, said in an interview with The Times.  "Everything gets a lot hotter."

And that translates into a gorgeous aurora display that drips over the Canadian border and down into the continental United States.

Still, Kunches said, it is highly unusual for the northern lights to venture as far south as Arkansas.

"Why did we get so lucky in the United States to see these? It wasn't that the disturbance was all that strong," he said, "maybe the timing was just right for the western hemisphere. There were clear skies in the middle of the country, and it was just our lucky night as it were."

And here's the best news of all: The sun is expected to shoot an increasing amount of CMEs out in the next several years as solar flare season heats up. So if you missed this display, perhaps you'll be able to see another one sometime soon.


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-- Deborah Netburn

Video: A time lapse video of the aurora display from Ozark, Ark., filmed on Oct. 24 by Brian Emfinger.

'Record-breaking' earthquake rattles south Texas


A 4.8 earthquake is certainly attention-getting, if not catastrophic. In southern Texas, it's also record-breaking -- and one happened there early Thursday morning.

The epicenter of the quake was near rural Karnes County, 47 miles southwest of San Antonio. The quake struck at 7:24 a.m. local time, and was the largest earthquake on record for the area, surpassing a magnitude-4.3 shock recorded in 1993, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.

In an interview with The Times, USGS geophysicist Don Blakeman said that southern Texas has been experiencing small earthquakes since the 1970s, and that 14 quakes between 2.6 and 3.4 magnitudes have been recorded since 1982.

But Thursday morning's quake was significantly larger.

"It is a bit unusual," he said.

Blakeman also said it is impossible to predict if there will be any aftershocks.  The quake was both big enough to produce some small aftershocks, and small enough that they wouldn't necessarily be expected.

As for what the quake felt like, Glynda Martinez, an associate municipal judge in Karnes City, told the Associated Press that she thought a strong gust of wind -- or a passing tractor-trailer -- was responsible for the rattling dishes in her kitchen.

The quake was enough to spook some people in San Antonio. The Associated Press reports small vibrations felt in San Antonio did cause occupants to briefly evacuate a downtown federal building as a precaution.


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-- Deborah Netburn

Image: San Antonio is more used to sun than earthquakes. Here, a vendor near the Alamo opens an umbrella to provide protection from the brightness in San Antonio this summer. Credit: Eric Gay / Associated Press

Barbie's tattoos cause media frenzy, alleged parental outrage

BarbieBarbie has tattoos?

The Internet is abuzz with the news that a recently released Barbie designed by the L.A.-based Tokidoki brand comes complete with a pale pink bob, stacked bracelets, an annoyed-looking pet named Bastardino (seriously) and, oh yeah, a ton of tattoos on her neck and shoulders.

Media outlets such as U.S. News & World Report and The Telegraph have suggested (with meager evidence) parents are outraged that Barbie has been tattooed. And on television, concerns about the doll's new ink and its impact on children have been raised on the "Today" show, "Good Morning America" and CNN.

But here in L.A., the folks at the Tokidoki offices are shaking their heads in wonderment at the media frenzy and fielding phone calls in amusement.

It's a lot of fuss over a $50 doll that has been marked "For adult collectors only," they say.

"The doll was meant for adult collectors. Only 7,400 were made; it's only available online," a spokesperson for Tokidoki told The Times. "It's not like your kid is going to pick this up at Target."

The Tokidoki Barbie, which became available for sale Oct. 6, is just one of a series of collaborations that Mattel has done with designers over the years.  On Mattel's Barbie Collector website, buyers can purchase a Barbie clad in a full leather cat suit designed by Christian Louboutin ($150), and a Countess Dracula Barbie with a deep-V dress that descends to below where her belly button would be, designed by Bob Mackie ($150).

Also, this is not the first time Barbie's smooth plastic skin has been adorned with some ink. In 2009, Mattel released Totally Stylin' Tattoos Barbie, which came with 40 small tattoo stickers that could be placed on the doll. And when Mattel collaborated on a Barbie with Harley Davidson in 2008, the motorcycle company gave her a giant pair of wings tattooed on her back.

In a statement, Tokidoki designer Simone Legno said he thought the collaboration went well. "I was happy to design something so very tokidoki® for the Mattel customer and still stay true to who we are, crossing that branded bridge," he said.


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--Deborah Netburn

Image: Tokidoki Barbie is a collaboration between Tokidoki design company and Mattel. The doll, which is being marketed as a collector's item for adults, has several tattoos. Image: Courtesy of Tokidoki

Navajo Nation takes on Urban Outfitters, and wins

Urban Outfitters appears to have caved to the Navajo Nation.

As of Wednesday, the trendy chain store had removed the word "Navajo" from the description of about 20 items on its website, including the "Navajo flask" and the "Navajo Hipster Panty."

Other items that bore the Navajo moniker include a pair of "Navajo" socks, a "Navajo" print tunic, and "Navajo" feathered earrings.

Urban Outfitters has replaced the word "Navajo" with "printed."

This is a coup for the Navajo Nation, which sent Urban Outfitters' chief executive, Glen Senk, a cease and desist order earlier this month, demanding the name "Navajo" be pulled from the store's products. The tribe did not take issue with the items themselves — designers borrow (steal?) from indigenous cultures all the time. But the Navajo nation has at least 10 trademarks on the word "Navajo," which covers clothing, textiles and household products.

"When products that have absolutely no connection to the Navajo Nation, its entities, its people, and their products are marketed and retailed under the guise that they are Navajo in origin, the Navajo Nation does not regard this as benign or trivial," Brian Lewis, an attorney for the tribe told the Associated Press. "It takes appropriate action to maintain distinctiveness and clarity of valid name association in the market and society."

Ed Looram, a spokesman for Urban Outfitters, had defended the company's use of the word "Navajo" to describe its items.

"Like many other fashion brands, we interpret trends and will continue to do so for years to come," he said, according to the AP. "The Native American-inspired trend and specifically the term 'Navajo' have been cycling through fashion, fine art and design for the last few years."

As of now, it's still unclear what made the store change its tune. But the Navajo Nation said that, regardless, the move is a step in the right direction.

"The Urban Outfitters Corporation’s recent removal of the Navajo name from its online marketing and retailing are positive actions that are more consistent with the corporation’s responsibilities than previously demonstrated," the Navajo Nation said in a statement.

"If the company has also ceased using the Navajo name in conjunction with its merchandise in its retail stores and print-media advertising, these are encouraging steps by the company towards amicably resolving this matter."


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25-foot waves cause 'wipeout' conditions around Lake Michigan

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--Deborah Netburn

Image: Urban Outfitter's "Navajo Hipster Panty" pictured above has been renamed the "Printed Hipster Panty" after the Navajo Nation sent a cease and desist letter to the mass market retailer. Credit: Matt York / Associated Press

25-foot waves cause 'wipeout' conditions around Lake Michigan

Lake Michigan waves may reach 25 feet Wednesday night in the Chicago area

Lake Michigan has had an angry fall.

Weather forecasters are predicting that Lake Michigan's waves may reach 25 feet Wednesday night in the Chicago area. That's the second time in two months.

Kevin Birk, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service in Chicago, said that the waves also reached such heights on Sept. 30. Then, they knocked down some bikers and runners who were exercising at the perimeter of the lake in Chicago.

The waves get that high only two or three times a year, Birk said.

Fall is the peak time for wave height, partially because the lake is at its warmest after soaking up the sun all summer. When the colder air within a storm system moves down the 200 to 300 miles of the lake from north to south, the difference in temperatures can cause extra strong winds to develop.

The City of Chicago's Office of Emergency Management  is saying wind gusts are expected to be 50 mph Wednesday night.

The office issued a warning earlier Wednesday, advising Chicago residents to exercise extreme caution and avoid running, cycling or walking near the edge of Lake Michigan. The expected high winds and waves can cause "wipeout" conditions, it said.


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-- Deborah Netburn

Photo: Large waves from Lake Michigan splash onshore near a jogger along the Chicago lakefront in September. Credit: Kiichiro Sato / Associated Press


Meteor shower alert: 2011 Orionids are on their way


Sky watchers, mark your calendars: The 2011 Orionid meteor shower is on its way, and scientists say it's expected to peak just before dawn on Oct. 21 and 22, otherwise known as Friday and Saturday of this week.

The Orionids occur each October as the Earth passes through a trail of dust left by Halley's comet. When one of those dust particles — about the size of a grain of sand — enters Earth's atmosphere, it excites the air molecules through which it passes, causing them to give off light.

The annual shower has been dubbed the Orionids because the meteors appear to be emanating from the constellation Orion.

This hasn't been a great year for meteor shower watchers. The Perseids in August were all but obstructed by a full moon, and the Draconids this month might have been spectacular if we could have seen them. Alas, they peaked during daylight hours in the U.S.

Sky watchers can expect similar disappointing conditions for the Orionids.

Don Yeomans, manager of NASA's Near-Earth Object Program Office,  explained that a large, waning crescent moon will be in view when the Orionids peak.

And here's some more bad news: The moon will also interfere with the peak of the Leonids meteor shower in November.

"The moon has just decided to wash out the meteor storms this year," Yeomans told The Times. "They are a subtle phenomena and you really need a dark sky. A bright moon nearby really ruins the show."

Still, Yeomans said, if you happen to be awake at 5 a.m. on Friday or Saturday, and especially if you live away from the city lights, it can't hurt to look skyward.

"It's not going to knock your socks off this year, but if you are out in the desert or up in the mountains, it is certainly worth a look," he said.


The 2011 Perseid meteor shower

The 2011 Draconid meteor shower

The 2011 Draconid meteor shower recap

-- Deborah Netburn

Photo: A meteor shower in 2001 at Joshua Tree. Credit: Rick Loomis / Los Angeles Times


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Rene Lynch has been an editor and writer in Metro, Sports, Business, Calendar and Food. @ReneLynch

As an editor and reporter, Michael Muskal has covered local, national, economic and foreign issues at three newspapers, including the Los Angeles Times. @latimesmuskal

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