Fairmount Park earns some green while Wash. U. breeds fruit flies in need of naps

Fairmount Park earns some green while Wash. U. breeds fruit flies in need of naps

Hey, Fairmount Park, Fix Your JumboTron
Good news horseracing fans: The U.S. Supreme Court has declined to review an appeal filed by four Chicago-area casinos over a special fund created to help horseracing.

The fund, passed into law in 2006, required Illinois' four biggest casinos (all located near Chicago) to set aside part of their profits for two years to aid horseracing. The casinos paid in more than $70 million, but the money has not been distributed, pending legal appeals.

Now that the Supreme Court has refused to hear the case, the money can finally be dispersed. Fairmount Park is in line to receive an estimated $7 million to $9 million. The Post-Dispatch reports that some of the funds will go to reimburse the track for money it lent horsemen to pay purses for races, and to increase purses and make improvements to facilities. We can only hope that some of those improvements include fixing the outdoor JumboTron that broadcasts live races at Fairmount.

The big screen has been in a sorry state for years. But this season, it's truly embarrassing. One wonders why track management even turns it on. It's not like you can make out any images or information displayed on the screen.

Oh, and while we're at it: The JumboTron's wooden structure could use a fresh coat of paint. My gambling losses alone should cover the $50 it would cost the track to buy a gallon or two of Sherwin-Williams' finest. And, hell, I won't even complain about it to the Supreme Court.
—Chad Garrison

Where Did This Prolific Crook Come From?
The Seattle Weekly, RFT's sister paper in the Great Northwest, published a feature story June 11 profiling the life and crimes of one Stacy Earl Stith.

For more than two decades, Stith, who goes by the nickname Smooth, has been the most uncommon common criminal in Seattle. Here's why, writes Weekly staff writer Rick Anderson:

A 230-pound black man, his braided hair often dangling from under a sideways ball cap, Smooth has been relentlessly, if ineptly, selling and using drugs in Seattle for more than 25 years. Along the way, he's compiled a criminal record that's something of a record itself, authorities say: Adding up misdemeanors and felonies since the mid-1980s, he has 112 convictions. Not arrests, convictions: 94 misdemeanors and 18 felonies, revolving through the doors of juvenile court to municipal court to district court to superior court to federal court, from traffic and theft offenses and weapons and assault charges to burglary and crack sales. His first day in court was at age thirteen; his most recent, in January, at age 39.

Ultimately, Stith's story is a sad one. Despite dozens of incarcerations, he has received little treatment for his drug and alcohol addictions. St. Louisans with an idyllic image of the Emerald City would do well to read Anderson's story and realize that the two towns actually face a few of the same challenges.

Then again, there may be a reason for that. Though Stith was raised in Seattle, he was born in — you guessed it — St. Louis.
—Keegan Hamilton

Weird Science: Wash. U. Breeding Insomniac Fruit Flies
Scientists at Washington University have bred generations of insomniac fruit flies they hope will shed light on sleeplessness in humans. The insects average only about one hour of sleep per day — or less than 10 percent of the twelve hours most fruit flies spend slumbering.

Researcher Paul Shaw quickly noticed an obvious and surprising behavioral change in the sleep-deprived bugs — even though flies have six legs, the insomniac flies fell over more often.

"We sent them to experts in neurodegeneration in flies to see if their lack of sleep or the breeding had somehow damaged their brains," Shaw says. "But the experts said there weren't any physical brain abnormalities."

So Shaw naturally thought the fruit flies must have been sleepwalking. He was wrong. That's because the flies shared similar characteristics with human insomniacs, who often have balance issues due to lack of sleep.

Shaw's lab also identified a biomarker for sleepiness that is present in flies and human saliva, and the insomniac flies had high levels of it. The flies also were slower learners and gained more fat, two indicators for fly sleep deprivation that Shaw identified earlier. Similar symptoms also occur in sleep-deprived humans.Still, the sleep-deprived flies also demonstrated a keen survival skill not shared by their more well-rested cousins. For example, while 70 hours of sleep deprivation will kill a normal fly, the insomniac flies can endure up to 240 hours without sleep and still survive.

Says Laurent Seugnet, coauthor of the study published this month in The Journal of Neuroscience, "Overall, the flies are able to perform better than they should, given how much sleep they miss. That makes it tempting to speculate that insomnia is like drug addiction. As it increases the body's overall vulnerability and risk of collapse, it also seems to boost certain factors that help resist collapse."—Chad Garrison

The Cherokee Street Counterfeiter
The U.S. Attorney's office announced June 9 that Passaro Frango, owner of West African Art (2623 Cherokee Street) and F & A Fashions in Wellston (6212 Dr. Martin Luther King Boulevard) has pleaded guilty to charges of selling counterfeit goods.

According to the indictment, between September 2005 and February 2009, Frango, of University City, sold counterfeit goods at both store locations, including goods bearing the trademarks of Nike, as well as numerous other clothing companies.

In September 2005, a representative of several clothing manufacturers learned that Frango was selling knockoff Nike brand shoes at West African Art. The representative provided a cease-and-desist notice to Frango and his business. However, Frango, 51, did not stop selling counterfeit goods, and further investigation revealed that he was also selling them at F & A Fashions location.

In March 2008, based on information that the West African Art continued to sell counterfeit items, the St. Louis Metropolitan Police obtained a search warrant and discovered a semitrailer loaded with fakes. 

Among the loot seized from the businesses were items bearing the marks of numerous manufacturers, including Apple Bottoms, Polo Ralph Lauren, Coach, True Religion, Timberland, Baby Phat, Rocawear and many others. The total infringement value of the seized goods exceeds $1 million.

Owing to the volume of contraband goods, the Department of Homeland Security, Immigration and Customs Enforcement became involved. Subsequent investigation revealed that Frango had multiple Missouri identification cards, as well as bank accounts, under different names. Their investigation led to the seizure of two more trailer loads of counterfeit goods.

"Counterfeiting is not a victimless crime, and this type of activity should concern every American," says James Ward, agent-in-charge of the ICE Office of Investigations in St. Louis. "Counterfeit goods cost U.S. industries billions of dollars in losses each year, and the illicit proceeds often facilitate organized crime. ICE is committed to investigating and dismantling those organizations that deal in counterfeit goods."

Frango pleaded guilty to one felony count of trafficking in counterfeit goods before United States District Judge Charles A. Shaw, and now faces a maximum penalty of ten years in prison and/or fines up to $2 million, when he is sentenced August 4, 2009. —Chad Garrison

Newspapers Plot Ways To Survive
Details are beginning to emerge from the hush-hush meeting we told you about last month involving some of the nation's biggest newspaper publishers — including Lee Enterprises, owner of the Post-Dispatch.

Last week the Wall Street Journal reported that the newspaper honchos brought with them to Chicago an antitrust attorney, just to make sure they wouldn't run afoul of collusion laws as they discussed ways to save their beleaguered industry.

One idea discussed at length would be a system by which newspapers could collect blanket fees from websites that republish their stories. The concept is modeled after a similar arrangement in the music industry in which agencies such as ASCAP and BMI collect royalties for songwriters for the public airing of their songs — be it on the radio or at the corner tavern.

Notes the Journal:

The news industry's versions of radio stations and nightclubs are the Web sites that rerun stories, or big chunks of them, copied from newspaper sites. What portals like Google do — run headlines and snippets of stories — so far has been immune to copyright claims, though the argument has been made successfully in Europe that even that type of reuse entitles publishers to a fee. Some publishers hope to make the same case in the U.S.

One caveat, adds the paper, is that the courts have upheld ASCAP and BMI because the individual artist has no way of tracking down the use of his or her music in every jukebox and radio station in the world. Copy-and-pasted news articles, however, are much easier to search out on the Internet, perhaps negating the need for a third-party company such as ASCAP to collect fees on behalf of newspaper publishers. Still, the possibility exists that these intermediary fee collectors might help save the newspaper business and be perfectly legal under the law. "My guess is it would go just fine in front of the courts," Herbert Hovenkamp, a law professor at the University of Iowa, tells the Journal.
—Chad Garrison

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