Oklahoma lawmaker wants to ban fetuses in food

Based on something he read online, an Oklahoma state senator has introduced a bill that would ban the use of aborted human fetuses in food.

Yes, you read that correctly.

No, he's never heard of any instances of this happening before, Sen. Ralph Shortey told the Associated Press.

But Shortey read that it might be happening, so he thought the bill would, at the very least, give any food companies toying with the idea an "ultimatum."

The legislation, known as SB 1418, is only a couple of paragraphs long. It states:

"No person or entity shall manufacture or knowingly sell food or any other product intended for human consumption which contains aborted human fetuses in the ingredients or which used aborted human fetuses in the research or development of any of the ingredients."

Shortey, a father of two who worked as an oil and gas production consultant, told the Associated Press that he found online evidence that some companies outside of Oklahoma use embryonic stem cells to develop artificial flavors.

Shortey did not respond to requests for comment Wednesday, but the Daily Oklahoman reported his motivation for the bill:  "Shortey said he filed the bill after reading last fall that an anti-abortion group, Children of God for Life, had called on the public in March 2010 to boycott products of major food companies that partnered with a biotech company that produces artificial flavor enhancers, unless the company stopped using aborted fetal cells to test their products. The company has denied the allegation."

Federal food safety officials have never heard of such a thing. A U.S. Food and Drug Administration spokeswoman told the Associated Press that the agency has never gotten any reports of fetuses being used in food production.

Shortey, elected in 2010, has introduced a spat of controversial bills including denying Oklahoma citizenship to children of illegal immigrants born in the state. Another bill he wrote would have allowed police to confiscate the homes and cars of illegal immigrants. He also tried to advance a bill that would have required presidential candidates to provide proof of citizenship before being allowed on Oklahoma's primary ballot. 

None of Shortey's controversial bills have become law.

As news began circulating of his latest legislative priority, the Twitterverse responded with disbelief and amusement. 

One person wrote: "This may conflict with my dream of eating aborted fetus dumplings, but Sen Ralph Shortey is hilariously delusional."

Another: "Today in Oklahoma crazy: Sen. Ralph Shortey (R) proposes banning "human fetuses in food." Didn't know it was a thing."

Combing through all the tweets, finding one in support of the bill was as likely as finding fetus fries as a side order at your nearest fast-food joint.


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-- Ricardo Lopez and Molly Hennessy-Fiske


New Jersey gay-marriage bill advances; Chris Christie vows veto

Democratic lawmakers in New Jersey said they have enough votes to pass a gay-marriage bill and advanced the measure Tuesday, despite the governor's pledge to veto it. 

Republican Gov. Chris Christie has called on the Legislature to instead put the issue before state voters in the fall.

“This issue that our state is exploring -- whether or not to redefine hundreds of years of societal and religious traditions -- should not be decided by 121 people in the Statehouse in Trenton,” Christie told an audience in Bridgewater, N.J., on  Tuesday. “Let’s let the people of New Jersey decide what is right for the state.”

Dozens of New Jersey residents  packed a Senate Judiciary Committee meeting Tuesday, expressing both strong support and opposition for the measure, known as S1 because it was the first bill introduced in the current legislative session.

The committee advanced the bill after an 8-4 vote along party lines. 

The full Legislature hopes to schedule a hearing and vote soon on the matter, a staffer told The Times.

The Newark Star-Ledger reported that about 350 supporters of same-sex marriage, including Democratic State Sen. Loretta Weinberg, one of the Senate bill’s sponsors, rallied outside the New Jersey Statehouse before the committee hearing. 

One speaker Tuesday questioned whether the social issue should be a legislative priority in this session when the state is still grappling with economic issues. 

Washington state is also moving ahead on a gay-marriage bill that lawmakers said Monday has enough votes to pass. 

Earlier this month, Washington Gov. Chris Gregoire announced that she would introduce same-sex  marriage legislation, saying: "It's time, it's the right thing to do."

Same-sex marriage is already legal in six states -- New York, Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Vermont -- and the District of Columbia.


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Photo: New Jersey state Sen. Loretta Weinberg, co-sponsor of a bill to legalize same-sex marriage, listens Tuesday to a speaker during a hearing at the Statehouse in Trenton. Credit: Mel Evans/Associated Press

22 show horses killed in New Jersey barn fire


With snow on the ground and the temperature hovering around 20 degrees, Art Hahn made sure every door in the New Jersey barn where he kept 22 trophy show horses was closed securely before he headed home Friday afternoon.

 “Everything was locked up so the horses would stay a little warmer,” Hahn said.

But shortly before 2 a.m. Saturday, Hahn awoke to a neighbor pounding on his door. He looked across the street at the barn: it was engulfed in flames.

Fire and police officials were quickly dispatched to the 40-acre farm in Lafayette Township, but it was too late. All 22 horses inside died.

Hahn said one of them was Mr. Hollywood, a black, 4-year-old stallion that was being trained to compete in Western reining competitions, in which riders guide horses through elaborate and precise patterns of circles, spins and stops.

Hahn, 77, and his wife, Betty, have raised horses for more than half their lives, and “he was my last hurrah,” Art Hahn said.

The trophy horses, valued between $10,000 and $60,000 each, competed and won in shows on the Eastern Seaboard, he added.

Fire investigators are working to determine the cause of the fire, New Jersey state police said. But Hahn said investigators told him it appeared to be electrical.

“I’m still in shock,” he said. “This is just devastating.”

The Hahns’ farm, Heritage Acres,  was established in 1979. Located about 50 miles northwest of New York City, the farm has attracted horse enthusiasts from all over the county.

The barn contained an indoor riding ring that was used year-round, Hahn said.  On Saturday, all that remained amid the snow-covered grounds were a few wooden beams.

It “burned right down to the ground,” Hahn said. “Put me right out of business.”

He and his wife are planning on selling the property: “We’re going to retire. I’m 77 at this point — it’s too old to start over.”


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-- Ricardo Lopez

Photo: The remnants of a barn fire that killed 22 show horses in Lafayette, N.J. Credit: AP Photo/New Jersey Herald, Tracy Klimek.

Nevada fire fully contained; evacuation orders lifted

A large brush fire that destroyed 29 homes near Reno was fully contained Saturday morning, prompting officials to lift evacuation orders that had been in place since Thursday, authorities said.

The fast-moving blaze started midday Thursday and charred about 3,200 acres in a rural valley between Carson City, Nev., and Reno.

One woman died –- possibly of suffocation –- but the cause of death has not been determined, a Washoe County Sheriff's Office spokesman said.

On Friday investigators said an elderly man they describe as “extremely remorseful” came forward and said he may have sparked the blaze after improperly disposing of fireplace ashes.

Arson investigators will determine if the man, whose name has not been released because the investigation is ongoing, will face charges, said sherrif’s office spokesman Armando Avina.

Gov. Brian Sandoval has declared a state of emergency, making the county eligible for federal disaster funds.

A fire in November destroyed about 30 homes in south Reno.


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Photo: The ruins of a home in Pleasant Valley, Nev., south of Reno, on Friday. Credit: Associated Press/Cathleen Allison

'Remorseful' man says fireplace ashes may have caused Nevada fire


An elderly man authorities have described as "extremely remorseful" came forward Friday saying he may have caused a rural brush fire that has destroyed nearly 30 homes near Reno.

The man, who has not been identified because the investigation is ongoing, told officials he improperly disposed of fireplace ashes.

In light of the man's admission, investigators are conducting a criminal investigation into whether his actions caused the fire and whether they will merit criminal charges.

A woman died in the fire area -– possibly of suffocation -- but authorities were still working to determine how she died, said Armando Avina, spokesman for the Washoe County Sheriff’s Office.

On Friday night, fire crews continued to battle the fire, which was 65% contained. It has burned almost 4,000 acres in the Pleasant Valley neighborhood near Reno, forcing the evacuation of thousands of residents. Some evacuees have been able to return to their homes.

Fire crews worked overnight to battle the fast-moving blaze, which was stoked by strong winds Thursday.

Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval has declared a state of emergency, making the county eligible for federal disaster funds.

A fire in November destroyed about 30 homes in south Reno. In that fire, a man died of a heart attack after he alerted a neighbor that their neighborhood was being evacuated.


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Band hazing: 4 more charged at Florida A&M; none linked to death

-- Ricardo Lopez

Photo: The ruins of a home south of Reno on Friday. Credit: Cathleen Allison/Associated Press 


Band hazing: 4 more charged at Florida A&M; none linked to death

Four more Florida A&M band members have been arrested and accused of hazing fellow band members by beating and paddling them during fall initiations, according to police reports made public Friday.

The arrests are the latest in a string of hazing incidents rocking the university, prompting the formation of a task force to investigate claims that the famed Marching 100 has a rampant culture of hazing. The outcry has also led some to suggest that the university’s president be suspended.

In November, Robert Champion, a rising drum major, died after being attacked on a bus after a football game in Orlando. His death was ruled a homicide, but no charges have been filed.

In the charges announced Friday, university police arrested Hakeem Birch, 21, Brandon Benson, 23, Anthony Mingo, 22, and Denise Bailey, 22. They were charged with hazing in connection with a September incident in Tallahassee, according to a police report.

The band members forced four other students in the clarinet section, known as the Clones, to stand in a line according to height and endure beatings while continuing to play and exercise, the police report said.

Three other band members were arrested in October and accused of beating a female band member who suffered a broken thigh bone.

None of the arrests is related to Champion’s death, authorities said..

In a statement, university spokeswoman Sharon Saunders said the university is encouraging any possible hazing victims to notify police.

"We are committed to ending hazing at FAMU," she wrote. "We are taking decisive action to ensure the safety of all students and create a permanent culture change."

The Orlando Sentinel has reported that, in the years leading up to Champion’s death, parents had begged university officials to do more to prevent hazing. Among the officials was President James Ammons, whom Florida Gov. Rick Scott has called on to temporarily step aside while hazing claims are investigated.

He kept his job but was publicly reprimanded by the school’s board of trustees. Band director Julian White has been placed on temporary leave, however, while state and university police investigate.


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Photo: Tommy Mitchell, president of the Florida A&M University National Alumni Assn., speaks at a news conference with other university supporters last month to show support for univeristy President James Ammons. The school's trustees publicly reprimanded Ammons after Gov. Rick Scott's requested that he be suspended while authorities investigate the hazing death of drum major Robert Champion. Credit: Bill Cotterell/Associated Press via Tallahassee Democrat

First-class postage: Price will rise by a penny on Jan. 22

Postage rates are rising.
Stock up on one-cent stamps;  you might need them. Beginning Sunday, the price of first-class postage will increase from 44 cents to 45.

The price change, the first postage markup since 2009, was announced in October. It follows last summer's announcement that the United States Postal Service was considering shuttering thousands of post offices nationwide.

The price increase is intended to raise revenue for the struggling public enterprise, which faces a projected $238-billion deficit over the next decade, postal service officials have said.

As fewer people rely on so-called snail mail, the agency has considered not just closing post offices but also cutting Saturday mail delivery. Last month, the U.S. Postal Service proposed eliminating overnight delivery of first-class mail to help it cut $20 billion in operational costs by 2015.

In 2011, the postal service delivered almost 168 billion pieces of mail -- a 21% decline from 2007 -- resulting in a $5.1 billion loss in revenue, according to the postal service's financial reports

U.S. Postal Service officials proposed in 2010 raising first-class mail postage by 2 cents, but that was blocked by the Postal Regulatory Commission, an independent government agency charged with overseeing the postal service.

Among the other changes taking effect Sunday:

-- The cost of mailing a postcard will increase 3 cents, to 32 cents.

-- The cost of mailing letters to Canada and Mexico will rise 5 cents, to 85 cents.

-- The cost of mailing a letter to other countries will rise 7 cents, to $1.05.

A full list of price changes can be found on the USPS website.


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Photo: First-class postage is rising by a penny. Credit: Paul Sakuma/Associated Press



Nevada brush fire burns 3,000 acres; state of emergency declared


A large brush fire raging in a rural valley between Carson City and Reno has consumed more than 3,000 acres, destroyed at least three homes and is nowhere near containment, Nevada officials announced Thursday afternoon.

Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval declared a state of emergency shortly before 5 p.m., following similar moves by Washoe County and Reno city officials.

Stoked by 80-mph winds, the fast-moving fire triggered the evacuation of more than 4,000 residents and cut short a scheduled speech by Vice President Joe Biden at a Reno high school.

“To say we’re in the thick of battle is an understatement,” said Reno Fire Chief Michael Hernandez at a media briefing. The news conference itself was almost postponed because authorities were set to widen the evacuation area to include the high school where the briefing took place. 

The fire, reported about noon Thursday, was traveling north toward Reno’s southern neighborhoods. It essentially split into two fires, fire authorities said, straddling both sides of Highway 395. That road connects Carson City, the capital, to Reno.

Residents of the area are still recovering from a November wildfire, started by arcing power lines, that destroyed about 30 homes in south Reno.

The Reno Gazette-Journal has reported that at least three homes have burned, but fire officials said they would not be able to calculate how many structures had burned until tomorrow.

“We are battling Mother Nature,” Armando Avina, a Washoe County sheriff’s deputy, told the Gazette-Journal. “There is no sign of moisture. If the winds don’t cooperate and firefighters have to battle this fire in this wind, the damages could be very substantial.”

Smoke choked the air Thursday afternoon in the Pleasant Valley neighborhood as deputies went door to door, pleading with residents to leave their homes. Authorities had already emptied out a nearby elementary school, as flames up to 40 feet tall approached.

The windy weather had hampered Biden’s visit earlier in the day as well. He was traveling to the area in advance of the state’s Democratic presidential caucuses this weekend, the Gazette-Journal said. His speech, which was scheduled for 11:30 a.m., was pushed back when fierce gusts forced Air Force Two to land in Fallon, Nev., about 60 miles east of Reno.

By about 1:45 p.m., when Biden began speaking, the smell of smoke was wafting through Galena High School, the newspaper said. The vice president was soon told to wrap up his remarks because fire officials needed to use the school gym as a command center.

Local officials have already deployed more than 200 firefighters and expect about 100 more from other agencies to arrive in the next six hours, Reno Fire Chief Hernandez said. 


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-- Ricardo Lopez

Photo: A Nevada Highway Patrol trooper drives past a fast-moving brush fire in Pleasant Valley, south of Reno, on Thursday. Credit: Cathleen Allison/Associated Press


Distracted pedestrians? Accidents on rise for headphone-wearers

Listening to music with earphones.

Much attention has been paid to the dangers of distracted driving: Researchers have studied the effects of driving while texting or talking on a phone, and many states now regulate the use of cellphones by drivers.

But what about distracted walking?

In a study published this week in the online journal Injury Prevention, researchers examined six years of reports and found that the number of headphone-wearing pedestrians killed or injured by moving vehicles has tripled in the U.S. since 2004 and 2005. Sixteen people were injured or killed in that two-year period; 47 people were injured or killed in 2010 2011, they found.

“We knew that drivers can be distracted,” Dr. Richard Lichenstein, the study’s lead author, said in a phone interview from Maryland.  But pedestrians wearing headphones can be distracted too, he said, and risk getting hit by cars or buses or even trains.

Lichenstein, director of pediatric emergency medicine research at the University of Maryland Medical Center, said he decided to study the topic after reading headline after headline about pedestrians being killed while wearing headphones.

Researchers analyzed incidents reported in the National Electronic Injury Surveillance System, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, Google News Archives and the Westlaw Campus Research Database. They identified the incidents by combing the reports and articles using words such as “headphones,” “killed,” “injured,” “iPod” and several other variations.

Overall, the team identified 116 cases from 2004 through 2011 in which pedestrians were injured or killed by moving vehicles.  Of the victims, 68% were male, and 67% were younger than 30.

Further, 59% of the accidents occurred in large metropolitan areas with populations larger than 1 million. And 55% of the victims were struck by a train.

The ages of pedestrians killed “mimic the demographic of those that use MP3 players and iPods,” Lichenstein said.  

The study did have limitations, the researchers noted.

“First, it relies on media reporting, which likely over-publishes tragic events but vastly under-publishes non-fatal cases,” they wrote in the article. "Moreover, there is no method of collecting information about "near misses."

Another major limitation involves the study's inability to establish correlation, much less causation, between headphone use and the risk to pedestrians.

“To make any sort of causality statement, we’d need to conduct a large-scale observational study,” Lichenstein said.

Suicidal intentions, substance abuse, mental illness and other factors may also play roles in some of the pedestrian injuries and fatalities, he said.

The study shouldn't be used to prompt legislative action, Lichenstein said, but at the very least, it should be used as an educational tool. 


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Graham Bell phone instructions (to his parents) go for $92,000 

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-- Ricardo Lopez

Photo: A man listens to a portable music player through earphones Credit: Ian Waldie/Getty Images   

Graham Bell phone instructions (to his parents) go for $92,000


As many a teenager or young adult knows, trying to teach technology-inept parents how to use a phone can seem an exercise in futility. It appears Alexander Graham Bell might have thought so, too -- and his phone couldn't even post to Facebook.

Bell wrote a seven-page letter in 1878 attempting to explain to his parents precisely how to use his new invention. That letter sold for more than $92,000 in a New Hampshire auction this week.

The instructions, complete with elaborate drawings and warnings on the dangers of thunderstorms, were written two years after Bell patented his revolutionary invention.

The device -- absolutely rudimentary by today’s smartphone standards -- needed to be grounded so it wouldn’t be fried by a lightning strike.

“Don’t forget to put a metallic plug in the hole marked A if there is danger of a thunderstorm,” Bell warned.  “This is not necessary for safety but advisable as a protection for the telephone.”

Bidding on the letter by New Hampshire-based RRAuction began last month and ended Wednesday, the Associated Press reported.


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Image: A page of an 1878 letter sent by Alexander Graham Bell to his parents. The drawing and accompanying notes instruct how to ground the telephone Bell invented. Credit: RRAuction / Associated Press



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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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