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DRIVERS GET MIXED MESSAGES ON TEXTING

Fiddling with your iPhone behind the wheel can get you fined across much of the nation.

But at least 22 states that ban texting while driving are more than happy to tweet you with up-to-the-minute directions on how to steer clear of a traffic jam. State transportation officials say drivers should read their tweets before hitting the road, but the message is mixed, at best.

Missouri state Sen. Ryan McKenna, who sponsored the law in his state banning texting by drivers 21 and under, said he supports Missouri's Twitter page and doubts police will bust young drivers just for reading tweets. McKenna said his chief concern is drivers typing messages, not those glancing briefly at an incoming tweet.

In Washington state, the feed includes regular reminders not to use the service while driving.

An Arkansas ban on texting while driving goes into effect Oct. 1; this week, the state became the latest to provide road conditions via Twitter.

Other places offering traffic information via Twitter include: California, Colorado, Delaware, the District of Columbia, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Tennessee, Texas, Utah and Virginia.

The apparent conflict results from two arms of government with seemingly good intentions: transportation departments that want to help motorists cope with traffic, and legislatures that are worried about the deadly consequences of distracted driving.

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MADD okays these to drink and drive

Mothers Against Drunk Driving wants you to have a beer - an alcohol-free one, of course. MADD is putting its name on a bevy of nonalcoholic drinks, including mojitos, margaritas, pina coladas, beer and red, white and sparkling wines. The advocacy group has signed a license agreement with Toronto-based Hill Street Marketing Inc. to produce the line of beverages, called MADD Virgin Drinks. They will be sold starting this fall, with some of the profits directed toward discouraging drunken driving. The drinks have the "taste needed to make guests feel like they are part of the party - but without the alcohol," said MADD's national president, Laura Dean-Mooney.

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Mars is red, but it may not be rusted

One thing that almost every schoolchild knows about Mars is that it's red. Until now, the widely accepted scientific explanation has been that the red color of the dust that covers almost everything on Mars results from rocks having been rusted by water. But new research suggests that Mars could have turned red without any help from the water that once flowed across portions of the planet. Scientists at the Mars Simulation Laboratory at Aarhus University in Denmark were able to produce red dust simply by tumbling sand and magnetitite, an iron oxide present in Martian rocks, in glass flasks.

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Can condoms slow climate change?

Giving contraceptives to people in developing countries could help fight climate change by slowing population growth, experts said Friday. More than 200 million women worldwide want contraceptives but don't have access to them, according to an editorial published in the British medical journal Lancet. That results in 76 million unintended pregnancies every year. The editorial cited a British report that said family planning is five times cheaper than technologies used to fight climate change, with each $7 spent on basic family planning slashing carbon dioxide emissions by more than 1 ton.

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Eatery is dead; salad lives on

Caesar's is dead. The restaurant in Tijuana, Mexico, that popularized the Caesar salad closed Monday, an apparent victim of a tourism-dependent economy devastated by crime, drug violence and the swine flu. The slump in visitors from the U.S. also appeared to have claimed Restaurant Moderno, linked to the invention of nachos, in the town of Piedras Negras, across the Rio Grande from Texas. Ironically, legend has it that both dishes were whipped up in a hurry to satisfy hungry U.S. visitors. * * *

Pols can brag in 140 characters or less

The arrival of Twitter on Capitol Hill has given ordinary citizens access to the candid, real-time thoughts of their elected representatives.

Like this dispatch from Rep. Neil Abercrombie, D-Hawaii: just completed weightlifting workout at the Nuuanu Y.

Or this, from Sen. Charles E. Grassley, R-Iowa: I will b intrvud on AgriTalk at 10amCST. Pls tune in.

A team of researchers from the University of Maryland plodded through more than 6,000 Twitter postings by members of Congress to study whether the social networking site promoted transparency in politics and dialogue between elected leaders and the public.

They found - surprise! - that politicians spend most of their time on Twitter promoting themselves.

Eighty percent of the congressional Twitter postings reviewed by the researchers fell into two categories: links to news articles and press releases, mostly self-serving and readily available elsewhere; and updates that chronicle the pol's latest trip to the sawmill or the supermarket. The researchers announced their findings this week.

"Twitter by its nature is a very self-absorbed service," said Jennifer Golbeck, lead researcher and assistant professor in the university's College of Information Studies. "Politicians are very self-important people."

The irony, said Maryland researcher Justin Grimes, is that politicians seem to put less thought into their Twitter messages, posted for all to see, than they might devote to, say, an old-fashioned e-mail.

"It's so easy to type 140 characters," Grimes said. "You don't think about it. You just send it."

According to the University of Maryland researchers, 169 members of Congress have Twitter accounts.

The researchers rate Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., the best tweeter in her chamber and Rep. John Culberson, R-Tex., tops in his. McCaskill has the second-most followers among congressional tweeters (more than 32,000), trailing Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., who has more than 1.3 million.

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