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'Scandinavian miracle' hides dark, grim truths

Norway
© Alamy
Norway … the nice side, at least.
Television in Denmark is rubbish, Finnish men like a drink - and Sweden is not exactly a model of democracy. Why, asks one expert, does everybody think the Nordic region is a utopia?

For the past few years the world has been in thrall to all things Nordic (for which purpose we must of course add Iceland and Finland to the Viking nations of Denmark, Norway and Sweden). "The Sweet Danish Life: Copenhagen: Cool, Creative, Carefree," simpered National Geographic; "The Nordic Countries: The Next Supermodel", boomed the Economist; "Copenhagen really is wonderful for so many reasons," gushed the Guardian.

Whether it is Denmark's happiness, its restaurants, or TV dramas; Sweden's gender equality, crime novels and retail giants; Finland's schools; Norway's oil wealth and weird songs about foxes; or Iceland's bounce-back from the financial abyss, we have an insatiable appetite for positive Nordic news stories. After decades dreaming of life among olive trees and vineyards, these days for some reason, we Brits are now projecting our need for the existence of an earthly paradise northwards.

I have contributed to the relentless Tetris shower of print columns on the wonders of Scandinavia myself over the years but now I say: enough! Nu er det nok! Enough with foraging for dinner. Enough with the impractical minimalist interiors. Enough with the envious reports on the abolition of gender-specific pronouns. Enough of the unblinking idolatry of all things knitted, bearded, rye bread-based and licorice-laced. It is time to redress the imbalance, shed a little light Beyond the Wall.

Propaganda

AOL pink-slips hundreds of Patch.com reporters without warning by conference call

patch.com
Hundreds of employees of the hyper-local Patch sites were being laid off on Wednesday as part of AOL's previously announced plan to spin off the money-losing operation to a new joint venture controlled by Hale Global.

The move is a black eye for AOL CEO Tim Armstrong, who had co-founded the site as a side venture when he was still a Google executive and then acquired the site for AOL for a reported $7 million in 2009 shortly after he became its CEO.

Despite drastic cuts over the past year, the sites have never made any money for AOL and were the source of considerable shareholder unrest.

In August, the company said it was planning to drastically scale back the 900 sites it was operating with about 1,000 employees.

Alarm Clock

New study links fracking to birth defects in heavily drilled Colorado

A natural gas well site near a residential neighborhood
© Brennan Linsley/AP

A natural gas well site near a residential neighborhood, run by Encana Oil & Gas, in Erie, Colo., in September 2013.

Risks of some birth defects increased as much as 30 percent in mothers who lived near oil and gas wells

Living near hydraulic fracturing - or fracking - sites may increase the risk of some birth defects by as much as 30 percent, a new study suggests. In the U.S., more than 15 million people now live within a mile of a well.

The use of fracking, a gas-extraction process through which sand, water and chemicals are pumped into the ground to release trapped fuel deposits, has increased significantly in the U.S. over the past decade.Five years ago, the U.S. produced 5 million barrels of oil per day; today, it's 7.4 million, thanks largely to fracking.

Supporters of the industry say it creates jobs and spurs the economy, while critics say its development is largely unregulated and that too little is known about pollution and health risks.

Syringe

Intravenous saline shortage plagues U.S. hospitals due to increased demand

intravenous saline

Approximately 80 percent of all pharmaceuticals used by Americans are produced overseas.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration said on Tuesday it is working with the three manufacturers of intravenous saline solutions commonly used to hydrate hospital patients to address a shortage caused by a spike in demand.

Healthcare providers are reserving supplies of the fluids for their most seriously ill patients, and the product manufacturers - Baxter International Inc, Hospira Inc and B. Braun Medical Inc - have stepped up production in response, said Valerie Jensen, FDA's associate director for drug shortages.

"We have not heard of anyone running out of the IV solutions at this point, but we know the hospitals are not comfortable with the low supplies," Jensen said.

Manufacturers first notified FDA late last year that they expected delays in filling orders, but an increase in hospitalizations two weeks ago partly due to rising numbers of flu cases exacerbated the problem, she said.

"The increase in demand pushed this into a shortage," Jensen said.

To cope with the shortage, healthcare providers are using substitute products such as oral hydration fluids or smaller IV saline bags with slower drip rates when appropriate, said Bona Benjamin, director of medication use quality improvement for the American Society of Health System Pharmacists.

Handcuffs

Boycott Italy: Amanda Knox convicted of murder in Italian retrial

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Amanda Knox
American student Amanda Knox said Thursday that she is "frightened and saddened" after being re-convicted in the stabbing death of her roommate when they were students in Italy in 2007.

A panel of judges and jurors set a sentence of 28 years and six months for Knox, who returned to the United States after an earlier conviction was reversed. They also convicted her Italian ex-boyfriend, Raffaele Sollecito, sentenced him to 25 years and banned him from traveling.

"I am frightened and saddened by this unjust verdict," the 26-year-old said in a written statement from her home in Seattle, where she returned after spending four years in prison.

"Having been found innocent before, I expected better from the Italian justice system."

It's unclear what will happen to Knox, who is certain to appeal - a process that could take a year or longer. Even if the high court confirms the new conviction, Italy still would have to seek her extradition. She has vowed not to return.

Sollecito's lawyers said they were stunned by the latest twist in a whiplash-inducing case that has made headlines on both sides of the Atlantic for six years.

"There isn't a shred of proof," attorney Luca Maori said.

Yoda

Pete Seeger: Troubadour of truth and justice

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Pete Seeger's life, like the arc of the moral universe famously invoked by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., bent toward justice. He died this week at 94. Pete sang truth to power through the epic struggles of most of the last century, for social justice, for civil rights, for workers, for the environment and for peace. His songs, his wise words, his legacy will resonate for generations.

Pete's parents were musicians. They traveled the U.S., exposing their children to the music of rural America. By 19, Pete was working for the acclaimed folklorist Alan Lomax, recording and cataloging folk songs for the Library of Congress. There he met Woody Guthrie, the legendary Depression-era troubadour of the working class, who was just a few years older. Seeger traveled with Guthrie, learned to hop freight trains and became inspired to unite his passion for the pursuit of justice with his musical talent. He, Woody and others formed the Almanac Singers in 1940. They lived communally in New York's Greenwich Village, and eked out a living by performing. Then came World War II.

Pete was drafted into the Army. When I asked him in 2004 about his military service, he recalled: "I first wanted to be a mechanic in the Air Force. ... But then military intelligence got interested in my politics. My outfit went on to glory and death, and I stayed there in Keesler Field, Mississippi, picking up cigarette butts for six months." He was later transferred to Saipan, in the Pacific, organizing entertainment for troops recuperating in the military hospital there. While on furlough in New York City, Pete proposed marriage to his sweetheart, Toshi Ohta. Toshi died last year at 91, just months shy of their 70th wedding anniversary.

Red Flag

Wikipedia the top source of health care info for doctors, patients

Image
© PHILIPPE LOPEZ/AFP/Getty Images
Wikipedia is the single leading source of health care information for both providers and patients, with 50 percent of physicians reporting that they've consulted the community-edited, online encyclopedia for information on health conditions.

A report from IMS Institute for Healthcare Informatics, a medical technology company that draws on data from more than 100,000 suppliers and 45 billion healthcare transactions each year, finds that Wikipedia is the single leading source of medical information for patients and healthcare professionals. Serious illnesses, especially less common ones, are among the most frequently searched topics by English-language users.

Launched in 2001, Wikipedia is the world's largest general reference work available on the Internet, with more than 30 million articles in 287 languages that can be edited and posted without cost by any person with access to the Internet. However, the online encyclopedia's more than 71,000 active editors have no credential checks, and there are numerous instances of deliberate vandalism and fabricated posts.

Despite the issues with accuracy, the IMS Health report revealed that people trust Wikipedia enough to seek a wide-ranging cache of information about their personal health and medicine.

The top 100 English Wikipedia pages for health care topics were accessed an average 1.9 million times over the course of the past year. And analysis of prescription drug sales found a correlation between page views and medicine use.

V

Edward Snowden nominated for Nobel peace prize

snowden
© Associated Press
Edward Snowden, a former NSA contractor, has leaked top-secret documents into the U.S. spy agency's activities over the past few months.
Two Norwegian politicians say NSA whistleblower's actions have led to a 'more stable and peaceful world order'

Two Norwegian politicians say they have jointly nominated the former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden for the 2014 Nobel peace prize.

The Socialist Left party politicians Baard Vegar Solhjell, a former environment minister, and Snorre Valen said the public debate and policy changes in the wake of Snowden's whistleblowing had "contributed to a more stable and peaceful world order".

Being nominated means Snowden will be one of scores of names that the Nobel committee will consider for the prestigious award.

Bad Guys

News of the World hacker admits lying - part of 'enormous conspiracy'

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© Andy Rain/EPA
Former News of the World reporter Dan Evans has admitted at the phone-hacking trial that he lied in a 2009 witness statement.
Dan Evans tells court that 2009 witness statement was 'drafted by News International lawyers' and he was 'toeing the line'

Dan Evans, the former News of the World hacker, has admitted lying about trying to access interior designer Kelly Hoppen's phone messages but said it was because he was part of an "enormous conspiracy" at News International, the Old Bailey has heard.

When it was put to him that he had lied, Evans said: "I was toeing the line, the party line, the company line."

Evans said he was very frightened when he was caught and a bogus defence he used when initially questioned by a superior on the paper had inadvertently made it into a witness statement drafted by the company's lawyers Farrers.

Evans said: "I bitterly regret I didn't take a braver course of action at the time. I didn't want to disabuse that they wanted to run with it."

Evans has pleaded guilty to making a false witness statement in relation to high court action that followed from the Hoppen hacking in 2009.

Under cross-examination on Wednesday he admitted he had lied in his first witness statement to Farrers and described a second witness statement with his own lawyers at Peters & Peters as "cobblers".

He claimed he had accidentally tried to dial Hoppen's voicemail because his Nokia phone had been damaged by liquid and had "sticky keys".

USA

Arizona sheriff sez: Inmates who deface flags to get only bread and water

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© Reuters
Sheriff Joe Arpaio of Arizona's Maricopa County said inmates who defaced American flags in their cells will be fed only bread and water for a week.

The flags were placed in cells in November in a patriotism campaign by the sheriff, who accused some inmates of "tearing them, writing on them, stepping on them, throwing them in the toilet, trash or wherever they feel. It's a disgrace," CNN reported.

In addition to the display of flags, the "Star Spangled Banner" is played over the jail intercom each morning and every evening inmates hear "God Bless America," the report said.