8 private security firms banned in Afghanistan

(CNN) — Afghanistan has banned eight private security firms, including the company formerly known as Blackwater, a spokesman for President Hamid Karzai told reporters Sunday.

Among the companies whose operations are being dissolved are Xe (formerly known as Blackwater), NCL, FHI, White Eagles and other small companies, spokesman Waheed Omer said. Both international and domestic companies were affected.

Weapons and ammunition belonging to these companies has been seized, he said.

Xe has several operations in Afghanistan, some of which will not be immediately affected by the decision. While Xe’s transportation and highway security operations have stopped, it will continue to offer security for embassies.

“Until we have Afghan security forces up and running, private security companies will continue to operate and serve in training and protection of foreign embassies,” Omer said.

Of the eight companies named during the press conference, some have already disbanded, while others are in the process of doing so, Omer said.

Before Sunday’s announcement, there were 52 registered private security companies in Afghanistan, half of them international, according to the interior ministry. Now there are 44 private security companies operating in the country.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai issued a decree last month disbanding all private security firms within four months.

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Barack Obama to publish children’s book “Of Thee I Sing, a Letter to my Daughters

US President Barack Obama has written a children’s book which is to be published on 16 November, two weeks after Congressional mid-term elections.

The book – Of Thee I Sing: A Letter To My Daughters – was written before Mr Obama took office in January 2009.

The 40-page book pays tribute to 13 Americans, from the first President George Washington to baseball legend Jackie Robinson.

Mr Obama has already published two books which have become best-sellers.

The cover of his new book is an illustration of his two daughters, Sasha and Malia, walking their dog Bo.

Proceeds from the book are to go to a scholarship fund for the children of soldiers killed and disabled in wars.

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Non-stick chemicals linked to high cholesterol in kids

The chemicals contained in non-stick cookware and waterproof fabrics may be linked to elevated levels of cholesterol in children and teenagers, new research shows.

The chemicals, called perfluoroalkyl acids, are found in drinking water, household dust, food packaging, breast milk and a whole host of other sources. They are used in the creation of substances called fluoropolymers, marketed under brand names such as Teflon, which make cooking utensils non-stick and allow clothing to remain stain free.

People absorb perfluoroalkyl acids, which include perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctanesulfonate (PFOS), through daily exposure to these products, with the liver most affected, according to the researchers. The chemical is detected through blood tests.

Researchers at the Virginia University School of Medicine studied blood samples from children and teenagers between 2005 and 2006. They found their average concentration of PFOA was 69.2 nanograms per millilitre and their average PFOS concentration was 22.7 nanograms per millilitre.

They found that the higher a young person’s PFOA concentration, the greater their levels of total cholesterol and low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol, known as the more unhealthy form of cholesterol. Higher PFOS concentrations were associated with higher levels of total cholesterol and high-density lipoprotein (HDL), known as the healthier form of cholesterol.

While LDL increases the growth of harmful plaque in the arterial walls of the body, HDL reduces it.

Read more: http://www.cbc.ca/health/story/2010/09/07/non-stick-chemicals-cholesterol.html#ixzz0yrVSsjer

Labor Day Traffic Jams: Lost Male Drivers Waste $3,000 in Gas

Men waste more than $3,000 in fuel costs because they refuse to ask for directions when lost, according to a British study released as motorists across the U.S. prepare to load up their cars for the long Labor Day weekend.

The research, commissioned by British insurance company Sheila’s Wheels, revealed that male drivers travel 276 unnecessary miles each year because they stubbornly reject help when lost.

In what might not be shocking news for female passengers, the survey found that more than a quarter of men polled said they would wait at least half an hour before asking for directions when lost.

One in 10 male drivers refuses to ask a stranger for help at all, the survey found.

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Creativity linked to mental health

New research shows a possible explanation for the link between mental health and creativity. By studying receptors in the brain, researchers at the Swedish medical university Karolinska Institutet have managed to show that the dopamine system in healthy, highly creative people is similar in some respects to that seen in people with schizophrenia.

High creative skills have been shown to be somewhat more common in people who have mental illness in the family. Creativity is also linked to a slightly higher risk of schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. Certain psychological traits, such as the ability to make unusual pr bizarre associations are also shared by schizophrenics and healthy, highly creative people. And now the correlation between creativity and mental health has scientific backing.

“We have studied the brain and the dopamine D2 receptors, and have shown that the dopamine system of healthy, highly creative people is similar to that found in people with schizophrenia,” says associate professor Fredrik Ullén from Karolinska Institutet’s Department of Women’s and Children’s Health.

Just which brain mechanisms are responsible for this correlation is still something of a mystery, but Dr Ullén conjectures that the function of systems in the brain that use dopamine is significant; for example, studies have shown that dopamine receptor genes are linked to ability for divergent thought. Dr Ullén’s study measured the creativity of healthy individuals using divergent psychological tests, in which the task was to find many different solutions to a problem.

“The study shows that highly creative people who did well on the divergent tests had a lower density of D2 receptors in the thalamus than less creative people,” says Dr Ullén. “Schizophrenics are also known to have low D2 density in this part of the brain, suggesting a cause of the link between mental illness and creativity.”

The thalamus serves as a kind of relay centre, filtering information before it reaches areas of the cortex, which is responsible, amongst other things, for cognition and reasoning.

“Fewer D2 receptors in the thalamus probably means a lower degree of signal filtering, and thus a higher flow of information from the thalamus,” says Dr Ullén, and explains that this could a possible mechanism behind the ability of healthy highly creative people to see numerous uncommon connections in a problem-solving situation and the bizarre associations found in the mentally ill.

Creativity linked to mental health.

Man arrested at Large Hadron Collider claims he’s from the future

A would-be saboteur arrested today at the Large Hadron Collider in Switzerland made the bizarre claim that he was from the future. Eloi Cole, a strangely dressed young man, said that he had travelled back in time to prevent the LHC from destroying the world.

The LHC successfully collided particles at record force earlier this week, a milestone Mr Cole was attempting to disrupt by stopping supplies of Mountain Dew to the experiment’s vending machines. He also claimed responsibility for the infamous baguette sabotage in November last year.

Mr Cole was seized by Swiss police after CERN security guards spotted him rooting around in bins. He explained that he was looking for fuel for his ‘time machine power unit’, a device that resembled a kitchen blender.

Police said Mr Cole, who was wearing a bow tie and rather too much tweed for his age, would not reveal his country of origin. “Countries do not exist where I am from. The discovery of the Higgs boson led to limitless power, the elimination of poverty and Kit-Kats for everyone. It is a communist chocolate hellhole and I’m here to stop it ever happening.”

This isn’t the first time time-travel has been blamed for mishaps at the LHC. Last year, the Japanese physicist Masao Ninomiya and Danish string-theory pioneer Holger Bech Nielsen put forward the hypothesis that the Higgs boson was so “abhorrent” that it somehow caused a ripple in time that prevented its own discovery.

Professor Brian Cox, a former CERN physicist and full-time rock’n’roll TV scientist, was sympathetic to Mr Cole. “Bless him, he sounds harmless enough. At least he didn’t mention bloody black holes.”

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