Sunday, December 30, 2007

Bush-In-Mouth Disease

The BEAST 50 Most Loathsome People in America, 2007

Here's a selection - click to link for complete list:
50. Nicole Richie
Charges: Not a brick house. Not mighty mighty. Vastly easier than Sunday morning. Her criminal exploits, attended by hollow contritions, do inestimable harm to drug legalization efforts; while inexplicably adding nothing to the forced-sterilization debate. Quite possibly a reason the terrorists hate us.

Exhibit A: "I've just gone through so much in my life that pulling my top up just doesn't seem like that big a deal."

Sentence: Sealed neck-high in the outhouse foundation of a popular Mexican Spring Break destination. Jaws propped open.
45. David Gregory
Charges: The notion of his insight rests entirely on his striking resemblance to a shrewder, more beloved Dr. Zaius. Starchier than a peep booth wastebasket, Gregory's occasional faux-outraged exchanges with various White House press secretaries have established his reputation as a man unafraid to confront the big scandals -- once they've been well mainstreamed by better reporters. Managed to slip by the Valerie Plame scandal completely unnoticed, though Ari Fleischer testified to leaking Plame's CIA status to Gregory three days before the infamous Novak column ran. His absurd, overcompensatory assurance that he has "no problem with being tough" notwithstanding, his penile-cleft haircut -- much like the warning coloration of venomous reptiles -- betrays his true poisonous nature.

Exhibit A: No dignified reporter would be so visibly happy filling in for Matt Lauer on The Today Show.

Sentence: Quartered by horses.
32. The Founding Fathers

Charges: Lionized as moral pillars and demigods ad nauseum without the slightest hint of irony. Can't be judged by today's standards. Electoral College? Dumb fucking idea. Invoked by every asshole in the last two hundred years to support every stupid idea ever. The original liberal elite. Able to withstand lightning strikes and the British military; unable to fathom poor people voting.

Exhibit A: Owned wigs, Africans.

Sentence: Depicted as cartoons on rapidly devaluing currency; beaten at effective democracy by former monarchies.

31. Dana Perino

Charges: In a nation weary of White House press secretaries who feign ignorance, the Bush administration took an innovative step this year, appointing one who genuinely doesn't know anything. No more lies, America -- Dana Perino really can't answer your questions, honest! This slightly comely, over-promoted office wench not only didn't know what the Cuban missile crisis or the Bay of Pigs even were; she actually thought it was a funny story to tell on NPR.

Exhibit A: "This is an issue where I'm sure lots of people would love to ridicule me when I say this, but it is true that many people die from cold-related deaths every winter. And there are studies that say that climate change in certain areas of the world would help those individuals."

Sentence: Sent back in time to '62; Strapped to bottom of U2 spy plane for extreme history lesson.
9. You

Charges: You believe in freedom of speech, until someone says something that offends you. You suddenly give a damn about border integrity, because the automated voice system at your pharmacy asked you to press 9 for Spanish. You cling to every scrap of bullshit you can find to support your ludicrous belief system, and reject all empirical evidence to the contrary. You know the difference between patriotism and nationalism -- it's nationalism when foreigners do it. You hate anyone who seems smarter than you. You care more about zygotes than actual people. You love to blame people for their misfortunes, even if it means screwing yourself over. You still think Republicans favor limited government. Your knowledge of politics and government are dwarfed by your concern for Britney Spears' children. You think buying Chinese goods stimulates our economy. You think you're going to get universal health care. You tolerate the phrase "enhanced interrogation techniques." You think the government is actually trying to improve education. You think watching CNN makes you smarter. You think two parties is enough. You can't spell. You think $9 trillion in debt is manageable. You believe in an afterlife for the sole reason that you don't want to die. You think lowering taxes raises revenue. You think the economy's doing well. You're an idiot.

Exhibit A: You couldn't get enough Anna Nicole Smith coverage.

Sentence: A gradual decline into abject poverty as you continue to vote against your own self-interest. Death by an easily treated disorder that your health insurance doesn't cover. You deserve it, chump.

Protesters Could Disrupt Rose Parade

SOLVEJ SCHOU | December 29, 2007 08:47 PM EST |
PASADENA, Calif. — There could be some discord during the Tournament of Roses Parade as demonstrators promise to raise issues during the holiday spectacle that has been going on for more than a century. Human rights advocates plan to protest a float honoring the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games and anti-war activists, including "Peace Mom" Cindy Sheehan, intend to rally for peace.
The theme of this year's New Year's Day parade is "Passport to the World's Celebrations." It will feature 46 floats, 21 marching bands and 18 equestrian units.
Volunteers have busy in Pasadena and nearby areas this past week decorating the floats with buckets of flowers and seeds.
"It's such a great feeling, to see the float on TV and have people say 'You worked on that float, that was so cool, that was so neat.' It makes all the hassle and everything we go through worthwhile," said Moreno Valley resident Linda Priest, 49, assistant crew chief on Honda's "Passport to the Future" float.
The National Weather Service forecast no rain for Tuesday's parade, with highs in the low 70s and not much wind.
This won't be the first Rose parade touched by protest _ in 1992, American Indians complained about the naming of a descendant of Christopher Columbus as grand marshal _ but most problems have been mechanical.
"Honestly, in the past years, it's really been more about floats breaking down, delaying the parade, than other things, than protests," said Tournament of Roses President CL Keedy.
Yet some fear the protests could develop into an annual pattern that could tarnish the parade's shiny image.
"If controversy like this diminishes the positive impact of the Rose Parade, it would be of concern," Pasadena Mayor Bill Bogaard said.
Chinese Americans who claim they were victims of political or religious persecution in China are criticizing the $400,000 Beijing Olympics float.
Bogaard said the city cited security considerations in turning down the group's proposal for a demonstration along the parade route involving a large band and several vehicles.
"The tournament views the float as I do, as a celebration of the Olympic Games, not as a subject of criticism of the Chinese," Bogaard said. "It is my hope that as China emerges more and more into the world community it will be inclined to respect all human and civil rights."
Protest organizer John Li, a member of Caltech's chapter of Falun Gong, the spiritual movement outlawed by the Chinese government in 1999, promised his group would be seen if not heard.
"We are going to ask the audience on the road to turn their back when the Asian float arrives, and show banners. We have to send a strong message to say no to human rights abuses in China," Li said.
The float is sanctioned by the Beijing Olympic Organizing Committee but is sponsored by the Roundtable of Southern California Chinese-American Organizations and Pasadena-based label maker Avery Dennison Corp. It will feature the upcoming Olympics' five official mascots rotating on a base and decorated with a combination of flowers, including carnations and daisy petals.
Sheehan, the outspoken San Francisco Bay area activist whose son was killed in Iraq, is campaigning for Congress against Rep. Nancy Pelosi and calling for the impeachment of President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney. She will join other pro-impeachment and anti-war groups at the parade, according to her sister, Dede Miller.
As many as 1,000 supporters are expected to rally before and after the parade and distribute 20,000 pamphlets while flying 300 banners along the parade route, said Peter Thottam, executive director of the Los Angeles National Impeachment Center.
Police said they were prepared for the protesters and the hundreds of thousands of spectators. As usual, about 1,200 officers from a number of agencies are set to be on hand.
"We've had to ramp up our resources, police personnel, but nothing out of the ordinary," police Commander Paul Gales said.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

On Hostile Ground, a Provocative Question

New York Times: "MONTPELIER, Vt. (AP) — President Bush may soon have a new reason to avoid left-leaning Vermont: in one town, activists want him subject to arrest for war crimes.
A group in Brattleboro is petitioning to put on the agenda of a town meeting in March a measure that would make Mr. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney subject to arrest and indictment if they ever visit the community. As president, Mr. Bush has been to every state except Vermont.
The town meeting, an annual exercise in which residents gather to vote on things like fire department budgets and municipal policy, requires about 1,000 signatures to place a binding item on the agenda.
The measure asks, “Shall the Selectboard instruct the town attorney to draft indictments against President Bush and Vice President Cheney for crimes against our Constitution, and publish said indictment for consideration by other municipalities?”
Kurt Daims, a retired machinist leading the drive, has been circulating documents claiming that the community acquires a “universal jurisdiction” to take such steps “when governments breach their highest duties.”
“We have the full power to issue indictments, conduct trials, incarcerate offenders and do all other acts which independent jurisdictions may of right do,” the petition says."

Top 10 Scientific Breakthroughs of 2007

By Aaron Rowe
10. Transistors Get Way Smaller
In the race to make computers faster, chipmakers rely on exotic new materials. In January, Intel announced that the element hafnium and some new metal alloys will allow them to make the millions of switches on their microprocessors far smaller. Gordon Moore, co-founder of the company and father of the law that bears his name, called it the biggest change in transistor technology since the 1960s. The tremendous accomplishment allows Intel to squeeze features on each chip down to 45 nanometers from the current standard of 65 nanometers. But the greatest benefit may be an increase in energy efficiency. That improvement comes along with the hafnium alloys that will prevent electricity from leaking across the tiny switches.
Intel started using the technology, codenamed Penryn, in November in high-end servers. Home users can expect the chips in early 2008.
9. Scientists Clone Rhesus Monkey to Produce Stem Cells
At Oregon Health and Science University, Shoukhrat Mitalipov and his team cloned a Rhesus Monkey and used the resulting embryo to create stem cells. Until then, the impressive feat had been performed only with mice.
In November, the team reported in Nature a surprising key to their success: avoiding ultraviolet light and dyes -- tools that are almost always used in cloning experiments -- because they can damage delicate cells.
Stem cells could be used to repair nearly any damaged organ, but they are useless if they upset the immune system. By cloning sick patients and using cells derived from their own bodies, doctors could skirt problems similar to those experienced by people with organ transplants. But some say the No. 1 discovery on our list makes cloning unnecessary. Nonetheless, some scientists, including stem-cell researchers at Harvard, say cloning is still necessary.
8. Planet Discovered That Could Harbor Life
Astrobiology enthusiasts have had many reasons to rejoice this year, but one of them has been somewhat controversial. After Stéphane Udry and his colleagues found a pair of planets that they believed could harbor life, other researchers disputed which of the two is most habitable, but agreed that the distant solar system is worthy of further study.
Using a Canadian space telescope and the European Southern Observatory in Chile, Udry inferred that the most promising object is slightly larger than earth, circles its sun in 18 days, and may be rocky. In a late April issue of Astronomy and Astrophysics, the University of Geneva professor provided details about his sophisticated search. Both of the celestial bodies orbit the red dwarf star Gliese 581, which is only 20 light years from earth. Although prospects for the two planets may be less hopeful than Udry and his associates projected, the methods that they used to locate the small planet could be used to make many more discoveries.
7. Engineers Create Transparent Material as Strong as Steel
Engineering researchers at the University of Michigan have created a material similar to "transparent aluminum," the fantastic substance described by Scotty in Star Trek IV. In the Oct. 5 issue of Science, Nicholas Kotov showed that clay is good for far more than making bricks and expensive skincare products. The earthen material is made up of phenomenally strong nanometer-sized particles. When arranged neatly between thin layers of a sticky but weak plastic, the tiny bits of dirt act as the ultimate reinforcements -- giving the ordinary material extraordinary strength. The sturdy composite could be used in lightweight armor or aircraft.
6. Soft Tissue from T. Rex Leg Bone Analyzed
This spring, the oldest patient in the pathology department of Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston was a 68-million-year-old Tyrannosaurus rex. For the first time, scientists have analyzed biological molecules from the ancient creatures. Working with soft tissue from a leg bone that was extremely well-preserved in prehistoric Montana sediments, John Asara read the chemical recipe of a protein that served as a springy structural element in the dinosaur's bones. In the April 13 issue of Science, he and his colleagues compared the deadly predator to animals that roam the earth today and concluded that it has a lot in common with chickens.
5. Laboratory Mice Cured of Rett Syndrome
Researchers affiliated with the Wellcome Trust have shown evidence that Rett syndrome, a neurodevelopmental disorder that afflicts one in every 10,000 female births, might be curable. Caused by a mutation, the disorder prevents children from walking, talking or developing normally and gives them terrible tremors. By creating mice with a similar affliction, Adrian Bird and his colleagues at Edinburgh University and the University of Glasgow tested the effects of fixing the bad gene. In the Feb. 23 issue of Science, they explained that the disease does not cause permanent damage to nerve cells, and breathing problems and tremors in mice stop when they are nudged into producing normal MeCP2 -- the protein corrupted by the disease.
4. Enzymes Convert Any Blood Type to O
Several major Type O blood shortages, including crises at the National Institutes of Health this fall and throughout Georgia in late summer, highlight the importance of creating a versatile blood type. In the rare instance that someone receives a transfusion of the wrong type, deadly reactions (caused by sugar molecules on the surfaces of red blood cells) can cause the immune system to go haywire.
In April, Henrik Clausen, a professor at the University of Denmark, published research in Nature describing a way to convert any kind of blood into Type O -- the type that almost anyone can tolerate. He discovered enzymes that shear the problem-causing sugars from the surfaces of A, B and AB type red blood cells. Produced by bacteria, the molecular machines could theoretically turn any kind of blood into Type O. Clausen and his colleagues described their search for the pacifying proteins in the April 1 issue of Nature Biotechnology.
ZymeQuest, a startup company from Massachusetts, is now developing a device that hospitals can use during blood shortages.
3. Mummified Dinosaur Excavated and Scanned
Paleontologists from England's University of Manchester have excavated the mummy of a nearly intact plant-eating dinosaur. Preserved by minerals for over 65 million years, the petrified body is in such pristine condition that the researchers could see a striped pattern on what remains of its scales. The scientists transported the fossilized hadrosaur this fall to a giant CT scanner in Canoga Park, California, where technicians captured terabytes of 3-D images that have already revealed surprises about the creature's muscle mass and the spacing of its bones. Tyler Lyson, now a graduate student in geology at Yale University, made the initial find seven years ago while fossil hunting in the Hell Creek formation of North Dakota.
2. Chimpanzees Make Spears for Hunting
Two anthropologists watched in mixed amazement and horror as several female chimpanzees crafted spears and used them to somewhat brutally hunt smaller mammals. Following a troop of the primates in a Senegalese savanna, Jill Pruetz of Iowa State University and Paco Bertolani of Cambridge observed them breaking the branches off of trees, picking leaves from the sides, and sharpening the tips to deadly points. In the March edition of Current Biology, the scientists explained that such sophisticated animal behavior could reveal a great deal about how early humans used primitive tools.
1. Researchers Turn Skin Cells to Stem Cells
Using a virus to reprogram skin cells, two teams of scientists managed to skirt the greatest ethical issue facing regenerative medicine -- the destruction of human embryos. Groups led by Shinya Yamanaka of Kyoto University and Junying Yu of the University of Wisconsin coaxed a type of skin cell called fibroblasts into forming muscle, heart, fat and nerve tissues without using any eggs. Unfortunately, the hijacked cells often became tumors. Following up on his initial discovery this November, Yamanaka told Nature Biotechnology that by inserting three growth genes instead of four, the lab-grown flesh can be controlled without becoming cancerous.

Impeach Cheney now

The allegations that he abused power are credible.

Editorial by U.S. Reps. Robert Wexler (D., Fla.), Luis Gutierrez (D., Ill.) and Tammy Baldwin (D., Wis.)
who are members of the Judiciary Committee

Last month, the House of Representatives voted to send a resolution of impeachment of Vice President Cheney to the Judiciary Committee. As members of the House Judiciary Committee, we strongly believe these important hearings should begin.

The issues at hand are too serious to ignore, including credible allegations of abuse of power that, if proven, may well constitute high crimes and misdemeanors under the Constitution. The allegations against Cheney relate to his deceptive actions leading up to the Iraq war, the revelation of the identity of a covert agent for political retaliation, and the illegal wiretapping of American citizens.

Now that former White House press secretary Scott McClellan has indicated that the vice president and his staff purposely gave him false information about the outing of Valerie Plame Wilson as a covert agent to report to the American people, it is even more important for Congress to investigate what may have been an intentional obstruction of justice. Congress should call McClellan to testify about what he described as being asked to "unknowingly [pass] along false information." In addition, recent revelations have shown that the administration, including the vice president, may have again manipulated and exaggerated evidence about weapons of mass destruction - this time about Iran's nuclear capabilities.

Some of us were in Congress during the impeachment hearings of President Bill Clinton. We spent a year and a half listening to testimony about Clinton's personal relations. This must not be the model for impeachment inquiries. A Democratic Congress can show that it takes its constitutional authority seriously and hold a sober investigation, which will stand in stark contrast to the kangaroo court convened by Republicans for Clinton. In fact, the worst legacy of the Clinton impeachment - where the GOP pursued trumped-up and insignificant allegations - would be if it discourages future Congresses from examining credible and significant allegations of a constitutional nature when they arise.

The charges against Cheney are not personal. They go to the core of the actions of this administration, and deserve consideration in a way the Clinton scandal never did. The American people understand this, and a majority supports hearings, according to a Nov. 13 poll by the American Research Group. In fact, 70 percent of voters say the vice president has abused his powers, and 43 percent say he should be removed from office right now. The American people understand the magnitude of what has been done and what is at stake if we fail to act. It is time for Congress to catch up.

Some people argue that the Judiciary Committee cannot proceed with impeachment hearings because it would distract Congress from passing important legislative initiatives. We disagree. First, hearings need not tie up Congress for a year and shut down the nation. Second, hearings will not prevent Congress from completing its other business. These hearings involve the possible impeachment of the vice president - not of our commander in chief - and the resulting impact on the nation's business and attention would be significantly less than the Clinton presidential impeachment hearings. Also, even though President Bush has thwarted moderate Democratic policies that are supported by a vast majority of Americans - including children's health care, stem-cell research, and bringing our troops home from Iraq - the Democratic Congress has already managed to deliver a minimum-wage increase, an energy bill to address the climate crisis and bring us closer to energy independence, assistance for college tuition, and other legislative successes. We can continue to deliver on more of our agenda in the coming year while simultaneously fulfilling our constitutional duty by investigating and publicly revealing whether Cheney has committed high crimes and misdemeanors.

Holding hearings would put the evidence on the table, and the evidence - not politics - should determine the outcome. Even if the hearings do not lead to removal from office, putting these grievous abuses on the record is important for the sake of history. For an administration that has consistently skirted the Constitution and asserted that it is above the law, it is imperative for Congress to make clear that we do not accept this dangerous precedent. Our Founding Fathers provided Congress the power of impeachment for just this reason, and we must now at least consider using it.

E-mail Rep. Wexler at reprobertwexler@gmail.com.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Anarchists in the Aisles? Stores Provide a Stage

New York Times: "This is the season of frenetic shopping, but for a devious few people it’s also the season of spirited shopdropping.
At a Whole Foods in New York, Ryan Watkins-Hughes stocked a shelf with cans carrying art-infused labels.
Otherwise known as reverse shoplifting, shopdropping involves surreptitiously putting things in stores, rather than illegally taking them out, and the motivations vary.
Anti-consumerist artists slip replica products packaged with political messages onto shelves while religious proselytizers insert pamphlets between the pages of gay-and-lesbian readings at book stores.
Self-published authors sneak their works into the “new releases” section, while personal trainers put their business cards into weight-loss books, and aspiring professional photographers make homemade cards — their Web site address included, of course — and covertly plant them into stationery-store racks.
“Everyone else is pushing their product, so why shouldn’t we?” said Jeff Eyrich, a producer for several independent bands, who puts stacks of his bands’ CDs — marked “free” — on music racks at Starbucks whenever the cashiers look away."

Monday, December 24, 2007

Seven Medical Myths Even Doctors Believe - Health News | Current Health News | Medical News

Seven Medical Myths Even Doctors Believe:"Reading in dim light won't damage your eyes, you don't need eight glasses of water a day to stay healthy and shaving your legs won't make the hair grow back faster.
These well-worn theories are among seven "medical myths" exposed in a paper published in the British Medical Journal, which traditionally carries light-hearted features in its Christmas edition.
The research was conducted by Aaron Carroll, an assistant professor of pediatrics at the Regenstrief Institute, Indianapolis, and Rachel Vreeman, fellow in children's health services research at Indiana University School of Medicine.
They took seven common beliefs and searched the archives for evidence to support them.
Despite frequent mentions in the popular press of the need to drink eight glasses of water, they found no scientific basis for the claim.
The complete lack of evidence has been recorded in a study published the American Journal of Psychology, they said.
The other six "myths" are:"

The torture tape fingering Bush as a war criminal

Times Online: "Almost all of the time, the Washington I know and live in is utterly unrelated to the Washington you see in the movies. The government is far more incompetent and amateur than the masterminds of Hollywood darkness.
There are no rogue CIA agents engaging in illegal black ops and destroying evidence to protect their political bosses. The kinds of scenario cooked up in Matt Damon’s riveting Bourne series are fantasy compared with the mundane, bureaucratic torpor of the Brussels on the Potomac.
And then you read about the case of Abu Zubaydah. He is a seriously bad guy – someone we should all be glad is in custody. A man deeply involved in Al-Qaeda, he was captured in a raid in Pakistan in March 2002 and whisked off to a secret interrogation, allegedly in Thailand.
President George Bush claimed Zubaydah was critical in identifying Khalid Sheikh Mohammed as the mastermind behind 9/11. The president also conceded that at some point the CIA, believing Zubaydah was withholding information, “used an alternative set of procedures”, which were “safe and lawful and necessary”."

All We Are Saying

New York Times: "NEW words are most happily received when they arrive without fanfare. When they appear with “ta-da!” or “look what I did!” and are touted as clever or cute, they feel like impositions on our time. We resent that they exist mostly to exalt their makers.
On the other hand, when we revel in new words it’s often for the little jokes and puns implanted by their coiners. We delight in coining them, too, especially goofy throwaway blends in which two words combine syllables and meanings to make one. (How about “bromance,” a strong relationship between two heterosexual men, which combines “bro,” from brother, and romance?)
A large part of the delight derives from the re-orientation that new words make possible. They are fantastical transportation — portkeys and improbability starships — into other cultures, workplaces, minds.
If you work in fields like politics, soldiering, science or technology, areas that frequently send new words bubbling up into the mainstream, it can seem strange to hear a normal day’s vocabulary talked about as if it were a novelty. For example, “bilat,” short for “bilateral,” is a workaday term to diplomats and journalists when they’re referring to a meeting of two sides, but it’s unusual to outsiders. The incongruity can bring a sense of déjà fatigué, the stage beyond déjà vu: you’ve not only seen it before, but it hardly seems worth remarking upon. It’s ordinary.
What follows is by no means a complete list of the words that took our attention this year, but rather a sampling from the thousands that endured long enough to find a place in the national conversation. Although many were not first said or written in 2007, they are nonetheless the tattoos, scars and medals that differentiate this year from any other."

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Happy belated birthday, Newsthief!

3 years old!

Our Decrepit Food Factories

Michael Pollan -New York Times: "The word “sustainability” has gotten such a workout lately that the whole concept is in danger of floating away on a sea of inoffensiveness. Everybody, it seems, is for it whatever “it” means. On a recent visit to a land-grant university’s spanking-new sustainability institute, I asked my host how many of the school’s faculty members were involved. She beamed: When letters went out asking who on campus was doing research that might fit under that rubric, virtually everyone replied in the affirmative. What a nice surprise, she suggested. But really, what soul working in agricultural science today (or for that matter in any other field of endeavor) would stand up and be counted as against sustainability? When pesticide makers and genetic engineers cloak themselves in the term, you have to wonder if we haven’t succeeded in defining sustainability down, to paraphrase the late Senator Moynihan, and if it will soon possess all the conceptual force of a word like “natural” or “green” or “nice.”
Confucius advised that if we hoped to repair what was wrong in the world, we had best start with the “rectification of the names.” The corruption of society begins with the failure to call things by their proper names, he maintained, and its renovation begins with the reattachment of words to real things and precise concepts. So what about this much-abused pair of names, sustainable and unsustainable?
To call a practice or system unsustainable is not just to lodge an objection based on aesthetics, say, or fairness or some ideal of environmental rectitude. What it means is that the practice or process can’t go on indefinitely because it is destroying the very conditions on which it depends. It means that, as the Marxists used to say, there are internal contradictions that sooner or later will lead to a breakdown."

Friday, December 21, 2007

Ha

Sam Zell: 'The Transaction from Hell is Done'

Dec 20 2007 3:32pm EST
The $8.2 billion deal to take Tribune Co. private through an employee stock ownership plan finally went through today. Sam Zell, the Chicago real estate billionaire who engineered the deal and has named himself CEO of Tribune, is giving a press conference right now.
"I'm Sam Zell. I'm here to tell you that the transaction from hell is done," he opened.
"It's also the transaction that nobody in the world except us collectively believed was going to happen, but it did."
"So as far as I'm concerned, today is a brave new world. I'm not real interested in the past. I'm very much interested in the future. I'm very much interested in making this a great company, a company, with openness, candor, relevance, effectiveness and profitability."
Zell explained why he decided to replace Dennis FitzSimons as CEO: "I felt that I needed to be a direct agent of change and I promise you you will not be disappointed."
He also addressed concerns that the new company will be crippled by its massive debt load. "If you look at the numbers rather than listening to pundits, the bottom line is this company has a significant cash-flow cushion going forward, and we do not expect that we'll have any problem servicing our debt in the near future."
The always-colorful Zell also tossed off this great line when asked about his desire to shape editorial at Tribune's papers (the exact wording of the question wasn't audible on the webcast):
"Actually, that's always what I wanted to do, but I got such shitty grades in English that I didn't think I'd be capable. So for the 18,000th time, I don't have any editorial aspirations."
That's not exactly true, though. Zell did preview one idea he has for the Chicago Tribune: attaching URLs to every story for readers who want to learn more about the subject.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Bill Foster for Congress

Just got this email today through my UIUC account, thought the blog might find it intersting. A particle physicist is running to replace Denny Hastert.

Bill Foster for Congress: "Dear Darcy,

There has never been a more important time to improve the quality of scientific and technical judgment in our government. I am asking for your support as a scientist who has taken up this challenge – specifically, by campaigning for the now-open seat of former Speaker J. Dennis Hastert in the U.S. Congress.

Dennis Hastert has now resigned from Congress and a Special Election is scheduled for March 8, 2008.
This election offers a rare opportunity to send a clear signal of national disapproval for the continuation of the policies of President Bush and a Republican party that refuses to change course.

Since I announced my candidacy in May 2007, 24 Nobel Laureates have endorsed my campaign and we are making news. Over 700 scientists from across the country have so far contributed to our campaign.

Political endorsements for the campaign include Illinois Senator Dick Durbin, the Majority Whip in the U.S. Senate.

Like many other scientists, I have felt the frustration of a government that has abandoned the basic principles that we in the scientific community take for granted. Logic, reason, and demonstrable facts have been suppressed and ignored by an administration and congress more interested in pleasing its ideological patrons than in governing effectively. Our country will be suffering the consequences for decades.

In addition to the War in Iraq, our nation faces complex issues in energy policy, arms control, global warming, cost-effective delivery of health care, intellectual property rights, and individual privacy in the age of networked computers. Stem cell research represents only the leading edge of a wave of issues that will challenge and divide the most thoughtful of us – but has been used so far only as a political football in the abortion rights debate. Essentially every issue we face has a technological edge to it, and there is no substitute for adequate scientific competence in congress.

I believe that my background as both a successful physicist and businessman makes me well qualified to address the economic and technological challenges we face.

As a particle physicist, I worked 22 years at Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory where I was involved in the discovery of the Top quark and the design and construction of the latest of Fermilab’s giant synchrotrons.
More information: Foster08.com/about/?id=science
Before becoming a scientist, I was a successful businessman. When I was 19 years old, my younger brother and I started a company in our basement that now manufactures about 70% of the theater lighting equipment in the United States.
More information: Foster08.com/about/?id=business
A competent, dedicated, and experienced campaign staff has been assembled to win this race. Polling data is favorable. The hard-eyed political viability of this campaign is addressed in our campaign prospectus Foster08.com/cp (.pdf version)

HOW YOU CAN HELP

· Contribute to the campaign at www.foster08.com/donate

· Endorse the campaign at http://www.foster08.com/action/endorse.cfm

· Sign up for our newsletter at http://www.foster08.com/action/emailalerts.cfm

It is no secret that winning a campaign in our democracy requires money. Many thousands of personal telephone calls by the candidate are typically required to raise the millions of dollars needed to wage a competitive congressional campaign. The necessity of fundraising has been a major barrier to the participation of more scientists and others in our democracy. You generous support lowers that barrier, and will encourage other scientists to follow the path to public service.

More information can be obtained at www.foster08.com

I look forward to your strong support.

Sincerely,

Bill Foster
Candidate for Congress (IL-14)"

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Mothers 'are happier' having job

BBC NEWS:"Working women with children are significantly happier than stay-at-home mothers, regardless of how many hours they work, a survey has said.
For men, meanwhile, life satisfaction depends on having a full-time job.
The study by the Institute for Social and Economic Research suggests non-working mothers are more satisfied with life once their children start school.
For men, the presence of children brings no increase in life satisfaction.
"Perhaps it is not surprising that fertility in Britain is declining," the report said.
The Job Satisfaction and Family Happiness survey also found that job satisfaction for women with partners is greater when they work part-time, irrespective of how small or large these jobs are.
It points out that women overall may be working as many hours as men, when the time spent on household tasks like cooking and childcare is taken into account, but a smaller proportion of their time is spent in paid work.
The report says that more effort should be put into improving the quality of part-time jobs, where women often suffer career disadvantage.
And it argues that lowering the cost of child care would enable more women to work part-time, increasing their overall satisfaction."

A sign of the times:

ATLANTA - The suicide rate among middle-aged Americans has reached its highest point in at least 25 years, a new government report said Thursday.

The rate rose by about 20 percent between 1999 and 2004 for U.S. residents ages 45 through 54 -- far outpacing increases among younger adults, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported.

In 2004, there were 16.6 completed suicides per 100,000 people in that age group. That's the highest it's been since the CDC started tracking such rates, around 1980. The previous high was 16.5, in 1982.

Experts said they don't know why the suicide rates are rising so dramatically in that age group, but believe it is an unrecognized tragedy.

Dark Mission



For most Americans, the name NASA suggests a squeaky-clean image of technological infallibility. Yet the truth is that NASA was born in a lie, and has concealed the truths of its occult origins and its sensational discoveries on the Moon and Mars. Dark Mission documents these seemingly wild assertions.

Few people are aware that NASA was formed as a national defense agency adjunct empowered to keep information classified and secret from the public at large. Even fewer people are aware of the hard evidence that secret brotherhoods quietly dominate NASA, with policies far more aligned with ancient religious and occult mystery schools than the façade of rational science the government agency has successfully promoted to the world for almost fifty years.

Why is the Bush administration intent on returning to the Moon as quickly as possible? What are the reasons for the current “space race” with China, Russia, even India? Remarkable images reproduced within this book provided to the authors by disaffected NASA employees give clues why, including spectacular information about lunar and Martian discoveries.

Former NASA consultant and CBS News advisor Richard C. Hoagland and Boeing engineer Mike Bara offer extraordinary information regarding the secret history of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration and the astonishing discoveries it has suppressed for decades. Co-author Mike Bara is an engineer who has worked for Boeing and other aeronautic firms.

The Freemasonic flag seen on the cover was brought to the Moon by 32° astronaut Buzz Aldrin, and later ceremoniously presented to Scottish Rite headquarters in Washington D.C.


** Link above is to a PDF of the first chapter. Reid, I was going to buy this for you for Christmas, but figured this link might be enough. As far as conspiracy theories go, the overview is sometimes all you need to get the picture. I like the fantasy that there actually is concrete evidence.

The Secret Source


"The Secret Source reveals the occult doctrines and the modern equivalents that gave birth to “The Law of Attraction” and inspired the media phenomenon known as The Secret.

If you recognized the power behind “The Law of Attraction” but felt ambivalent about The Secret’s materially-driven, hard-sell approach, you will appreciate this deeper understanding and examination of the Law’s true nature and the wisdom required to use it effectively."


**The link is to a PDF of a chapter from the book. I'm aiming this post towards my fellow booksellers, who've had to put up with the "Secret" craze. And generally speaking, I love learning a little bit about esoteric religions - I'll have to wikipedia "The Kybalion."

Lincoln’s Tomb to harness geothermal energy


Geothermal energy, which utilizes the heat beneath the Earth’s surface, will power a new heating and cooling system at the Lincoln Tomb State Historic Site in Oak Ridge Cemetery. The project, budgeted to cost $282,000, is to be completed by the end of 2008, in time for activities related to the 200th anniversary of Abraham Lincoln’s 1809 birth, said David Blanchette, spokesman for the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency.
“We think this is particularly appropriate for the Lincoln Tomb because Abraham Lincoln is the only president to hold a U.S. patent,” Blanchette said. “He was fascinated by the latest inventions and the latest technology, so we certainly think it’s appropriate to use this latest green technology on his final resting place.”

Lincoln’s patent was for a device to help free riverboats that got stuck on sandbars.

Geothermal energy relies on the temperature underground always being about 55 degrees Fahrenheit.

“Geothermal makes use of that constant temperature within the Earth, so in the summer it will take the heat from a building and pipe it out into the ground, and in the winter it takes the warm air from the ground and pumps it into the building,” Blanchette said.

“Obviously, that doesn’t take care of the entire heating and cooling need of a place,” he added. “But it does greatly reduce the need for additional heating and cooling and the use of energy.”

No estimates were available to illustrate the potential energy savings.

“We’re not aware of this being tried in a public historic site like this before, so we really don’t have anything to compare it to,” Blanchette said. “But we’re confident the savings will be significant because of the nature of geothermal.”

The geothermal system will replace a heating and cooling system that was most recently upgraded in the early 1990s and has exceeded its expected lifespan.

A Springfield firm, Melotte Morse Leonatti Ltd., is handling the design work for the project, and construction could start as soon as spring, Blanchette said. He doesn’t know yet if the project will require the historic site to close to visitors, but he said any disruptions would be brief.

The project is one of the first to meet new energy-efficient, “green” guidelines for state construction projects.

State lawmakers and Gov. Rod Blagojevich in 2005 approved legislation that requires the Capital Development Board, which oversees construction at state buildings, to push the growth of green building methods.

The Lincoln Tomb project has received a $25,000 energy-efficiency grant from the Illinois Clean Energy Community Foundation, which has helped pay for more than 65 geothermal installations throughout the state.

“Energy-efficient technologies, and there are lots of them now, are really coming into the mainstream and can be used and incorporated into almost any kind of building,” said James Mann, the foundation’s executive director. “That’s what the foundation is really trying to promote with its grants.”

The Lincoln Tomb draws almost 375,000 visitors every year. Mann said the site’s popularity was one reason it got a grant.

“The public will be able to experience and see that this (geothermal technology) actually works,” he said.

http://www.sj-r.com/News/stories/20986.asp

Merry Tech-mas


We asked Internet-famous folks like Kevin Rose, Amanda Congdon and Fake Steve Jobs to name the tech toys they want this holiday season. Their picks ranged from insightful to insane to doesn't-even-exist-yet

Come the holiday season, some folks have visions of sugarplums dancing in their heads. But if you’re like us, your Christmas dreams tend more toward rows of blinking LEDs and the soothing hum and sweet smell of fresh new electronic gadgetry. For inspiration while assembling our ultimate for-geeks, by-geeks gift list, PopSci consulted a cross-section of sci-tech luminaries, star bloggers and online personalities—everyone from Kevin Rose of digg.com to Fake Steve Jobs to Jimmy Wales, the founder of Wikipedia—to see what toys they wanted most this year, in addition to what dreamy gifts they look forward to receiving in the future.
Click above for a look at their answers, from the sensible (Amazon Kindle) to ones that give pause (plasma laser cutter, anyone?). Let’s just hope Santa’s sleigh has a Hemi. —Jon Chase

Whopper Freakout Commercial



For some reason, I have so much to say about this video, revolving mostly around the headings of: modern advertising, high school psych class, american diets, what is the best fast food burger?, et. al. Watch this, so we'll be on the same page when I bring it up at dinner. =)

A lethal cover up: Britain's worst water poisoning scandal

At first glance, Angela Franks looks in good health.
Standing on the seafront in her hometown of Exmouth, the wind ruffles her strawberry blonde hair and the long skirt which she wears down to her ankles. The illusion, however, is short-lived.
As she starts to walk, it is with a heavy limp and within 50 yards she is so exhausted that her entire body shakes uncontrollably.
After Angela finally reaches the local coffee shop, the trembling of her swollen legs is so bad that the table rocks haphazardly, threatening to spill her mug and croissant onto the floor.
No wonder, near to tears, she declares bravely: "When I am dead, I want an autopsy done on my body. It might help all the people who, like me and my two children, drank the water in Camelford all those years ago."
For she and her family were victims of one of Britain's most high-profile public health scandals in which victims complained of brain damage, memory loss and joint problems.
They were enjoying a caravan holiday in the picturesque north Cornish town when the country's worst water pollution incident happened on July 6, 1988.
A relief delivery driver turned up at the local Lowermoor water treatment works on the edge of Bodmin Moor with a 20-ton load of highly caustic aluminium sulphate, which is used to clear cloudy water ready for drinking. The toxic chemical was accidentally tipped into the wrong tank, feeding water to Camelford.
Ninety minutes later, out of the taps in a 140-square-mile area of Cornwall, came a foul water which poisoned everyone who drank it.
Angela has never spoken out until now.
But finally, after two decades of stone-walling by the authorities, alarming facts about the Camelford water incident are beginning to emerge.
This week, a coroner opening the inquests of two women who lived in the area at the time called for a new police investigation into the tragedy.
He said the Devon and Cornwall constabulary must "look into the allegations of a possible cover-up".
He acted following the discovery that both dead women had "high levels" of aluminium in their brains, which could not have got there by chance.
Disturbingly, the tests on the women are the first of their kind although it is thought that up to 20,000 local people and 10,000 holidaymakers - like Angela - unwittingly drank the Camelford water in the hours and days after the spillage.
Hundreds began to suffer effects after drinking or bathing - including skin peeling, hands and lips sticking together, hair turning green and fingernails blue.
By nightfall that day, people were vomiting and had diarrhoea. Next morning, many had skin burns, aching joints and mouth ulcers that took weeks to heal.
Angela's family - which included her seven-month-old daughter, Cherie, whom she had just stopped breast-feeding - and a son, Daniel, of 20 months, were no exception.
Less than two hours after the Camelford spillage, she made a cup of tea in the holiday caravan and the milk curdled. Angela threw it away, boiled the kettle and made a cup of black coffee instead using water from the tap.
Almost immediately she began to feel queasy.
Later that evening, when she washed her children, they screamed as the water touched their skin and stung their eyes.
In the caravan, she put the children to bed.
"Cherie was hysterical at one point. Her eyes were red. She had diarrhoea, so I didn't like to give her milk. Instead, I made up a bottle of boiled water from the tap.
"I didn't realise it then, but I was poisoning my own baby," she says.
The following day, Angela's hair was bleached white as a result of the shower she had the night before. Cherie had nappy rash. Daniel was sickly.
John, her husband, had mouth ulcers.
Assuming they had suffered a simple bout of food poisoning, they continued to drink tea made with tap water and gave the children orange juice, diluted with the same water.
"We were told nothing," remembers Angela.
"We had no idea every drop of water in the whole area was dangerous to drink.
"We went to the doctor and he said there had been other people with the same symptoms.
"He gave Cherie some Calpol. He said she must have caught a bug. He never told us not to touch what was coming out of the taps."
As the family left the surgery, loudhailer vans appeared, telling everyone that there was something wrong with the water.
"They said it would not hurt anyone and to disguise the taste of the water with orange juice.
"I begged the lady at the caravan site to give me some fresh water to feed the baby. The next day we went home," she says.
A few months later Angela became ill.
She was diagnosed with cancer of the lymph glands of the leg.
She had an operation to remove the resulting malignant growth on her left thigh. She has since undergone another operation to remove a new growth on the same leg.
"At the time, I didn't blame the Camelford water," she explains.
"Then, as more and more people from that area began to complain of sickness, I realised that it could be the cause of my problems."
Angela also has osteoporosis in her neck.
Her specialist believes she may have a neurological complaint which causes her to shake.
There is also speculation that her brain has been damaged and she has early onset Alzheimer's.
Meanwhile, her daughter, now a beautician, is constantly tired.
Her son a is keyboard player and guitarist but the joints in his hands have become inexplicably painful.
"I have to wonder if they have been damaged by the Camelford water too,' she adds.
"No one knows what the long-term effects will be of feeding a baby and a toddler amounts of water that contained between 500 and 3,000 times the maximum levels of aluminium that was safe."
Yet it is the apparent cover-up by successive governments that disturbs her - and others who fear they were poisoned.
Three children at the local nursery school, where orange juice diluted with the water was served to pupils, were later diagnosed with leukaemia.
In a single street of Camelford, 13 residents have died of cancer.
Carole Cross died in 2004 aged >58.
An autopsy revealed abnormally high levels of aluminium in her brain and she had suffered a neurological disease. Her case is one of the two at the centre of the new police investigation.
Her widower, Douglas, says: "The amount of aluminium in my wife's brain was equivalent to one teaspoonful of that water - yet it killed her.
"There have been myriad unexplained illnesses here - and nearly two decades of those in authority ignoring a catastrophe.
"I believe at least 20 people have died from drinking the water."
But is he right? After all, cancer and other illnesses can occur in clusters without apparent cause.
Yet what is so troubling about Camelford is that key facts have been obscured.
A Mail investigation into the events of that July in Cornwall has uncovered a crucial and unpublished police report which shows the Camelford treatment plant was not supervised at the time of the fateful delivery.
The relief delivery driver, from a Bristol chemical company, had never been there before and was given an eight-year-old key to the plant by another driver. Dangerously, the key fitted almost every lock on the gates and manhole covers used by the South West Water Authority, a public body that supplied the area with water.
Yet the driver was simply told that "once inside the gate, the aluminium sulphate tank is on the left".
No wonder he made such a disastrous mistake.
The police report explains what happened next.
"The driver looked around, on the left, and he found a manhole cover which he tried with the key. It unlocked. Thinking he had found the right place he discharged his load, pouring the aluminium sulphate into the tank."
But it was not the storage tank, where the aluminium sulphate would have reacted to draw out impurities from the water.
It was the tank holding treated water just before it was about to go into thousands of homes.
The result, concludes the hitherto unpublished police account, was "a massive and instant contamination of the water supply."
Worse was to follow. For days, the water authority insisted the water was safe.
Officials took nearly a week to identify the cause of the poisoned water and ten more to reveal it in a tiny advertisement in the local paper.
We have also been handed an explosive letter which reveals how officialdom set out to downplay the Camelford disaster and any wrong-doing by the water authority, which was about to be privatised by the Conservative government of the day.
The letter from a water official to Michael Howard, then Minister of State for Water and Planning, states that a police investigation into the poisoning incident was viewed as "very distracting".
It goes on to say that any subsequent prosecution of South West Water would also "be totally unhelpful to privatisation . . . and render the whole of the water industry unattractive to the City".
So, did these commercial concerns contribute to the fact that the people of Camelford were first lied to and then ignored?
There has never been a public inquiry and, all too often, those who complained were labelled neurotic troublemakers.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Best Meteor Shower of 2007 Peaks Dec. 13

What could be the best meteor display of the year will reach its peak on the night of Dec.13-14.

Here is what astronomers David Levy and Stephen Edberg have written of the annual Geminid Meteor Shower: "If you have not seen a mighty Geminid fireball arcing gracefully across an expanse of sky, then you have not seen a meteor."
The Geminids get their name from the constellation of Gemini, the Twins, because the meteors appear to emanate from a spot in the sky near the bright star Castor in Gemini.

Also in Gemini this month is the planet Mars, nearing a close approach to the Earth later this month, and shining brilliantly with yellow-orange hue. To be sure, Mars is certain to attract the attention of prospective Geminid watchers this upcoming week.

Reliable shower

The Geminid Meteors are usually the most satisfying of all the annual showers, even surpassing the famous Perseids of August.

Studies of past find the "Gems" have a reputation for being rich both in slow, bright, graceful meteors and fireballs as well as faint meteors, with relatively fewer objects of medium brightness.

They are of medium speed, encountering Earth at 22 miles per second (35 kps). They are bright and white, but unlike the Perseids, they leave few visible trails or streaks. They are four times denser than most other meteors, and have been observed to form jagged or divided paths.

Geminids also stand apart from the other meteor showers in that they seem to have been spawned not by a comet, but by 3200 Phaethon, an Earth-crossing asteroid. Then again, the Geminids may be comet debris after all, for some astronomers consider Phaethon to really be the dead nucleus of a burned-out comet that somehow got trapped into an unusually tight orbit. Interestingly, on December 10, Phaethon will be passing about 11 million miles (18 million kilometers) from Earth, its closest approach since its discovery in 1983.

The prospects for this year

The Geminids perform excellently in any year, but British meteor astronomer, Alastair McBeath, has categorized 2007 as a "great year."
Last year's display was hindered somewhat by the moon, two days past last quarter phase. But this year, the moon will be at new phase on Dec. 9. On the peak night, the moon will be a fat crescent, in the south-southwest at dusk and setting soon after 8 p.m. That means that the sky will be dark and moonless for the balance of the night, making for perfect viewing conditions for the shower.
According to McBeath, the Geminids are predicted to reach peak activity on Dec. 14 at 16:45 GMT. That means those places from central Asia eastwards across the Pacific Ocean to Alaska are in the best position to catch the very crest of the shower, when the rates conceivably could exceed 120 per hour.

"But," he adds, "maximum rates persist at only marginally reduced levels for some 6 to 10 hours around the biggest ones, so other places (such as North America) should enjoy some fine Geminid activity as well.

Indeed, under normal conditions on the night of maximum activity, with ideal dark-sky conditions, at least 60 to 120 Geminid meteors can be expected to burst across the sky every hour on the average (Light pollution greatly cuts the numbers).

The Earth moves quickly through this meteor stream producing a somewhat broad, lopsided activity profile. Rates increase steadily for two or three days before maximum, reaching roughly above a quarter of its peak strength, then drop off more sharply afterward. Late Geminids, however, tend to be especially bright. Renegade forerunners and late stragglers might be seen for a week or more before and after maximum.

What to do
Generally speaking, depending on your location, Gemini begins to come up above the east-northeast horizon right around the time evening twilight is coming to an end. So you might catch sight of a few early Geminids as soon as the sky gets dark.
There is a fair chance of perhaps catching sight of some "Earth-grazing" meteors. Earth grazers are long, bright shooting stars that streak overhead from a point near to even just below the horizon. Such meteors are so distinctive because they follow long paths nearly parallel to our atmosphere.
The Geminids begin to appear noticeably more numerous in the hours after 10 p.m. local time, because the shower's radiant is already fairly high in the eastern sky by then. The best views, however, come around 2 a.m., when their radiant point will be passing very nearly overhead.

The higher a shower's radiant, the more meteors it produces all over the sky.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Facebook feed: our candidates, our friends

Tribune's $100 Penalty for Employees Who Smoke Kicks in Next Year

NEW YORK In an effort to motivate workers to kick unhealthy habits, U.S. companies are hitting them where it hurts: in their wallets.

But meddling in workers’ lifestyles through financial penalties risks lawsuits, say some consultants and lawyers.

Employers who provide health insurance often use financial incentives, such as contributions toward premiums, to encourage workers to participate in wellness programs like smoking-cessation courses.

Now some employers are wielding the stick, as well as the carrot. Employees at some companies who are overweight, smoke, or have high cholesterol, for instance, and who don’t participate in wellness programs, will pay more for health insurance. In extreme cases, employees’ insurance deductibles could rise by $2,000.

“The bottom line, is that employers want to see results,” says Tom Parry, president of the Integrated Benefits Institute, a nonprofit focused on health issues.

Starting in 2008, Tribune Co., which owns newspapers including the Chicago Tribune and the Baltimore Sun, will apply a monthly surcharge of $100 to family premiums of workers — or dependents — who use tobacco.

Clarian Health, an Indianapolis-based hospital chain, will fine employees who are smokers $5 a paycheck.

Small employers, who are the most at risk from rising health costs, have gone the furthest in forcing unhealthy employees to pay more for insurance.

In most states, people with health problems already pay more for health policies in the individual insurance market. But for employer- sponsored plans, federal law dictates that all workers covered under the same plan must pay the same premium irrespective of their health.

Recent legislation granted some exceptions to this standard through the vehicle of wellness programs. Critics say employees will be hurt. Indeed, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission says it is looking into wellness programs to see whether they sometimes violate the Americans with Disabilities Act.

“If we allow employers to control off-duty behavior when it’s related to health, then we’ve given them the authority to control virtually everything in our private lives,” says Lewis Maltby, president of the National Workrights Institute, a New Jersey group that advocates for workers.

For now, the legal landscape is murky. Any wellness program that requires “answering questions relating to health or meeting a certain health standard should be thoroughly vetted by an employer’s attorneys,” says Sharon Cohen, consulting firm Watson Wyatt’s group and health care benefits counsel.

Starting in 2008, Kellogg Co., the Battle Creek, Mich.- based cereal giant, will raise insurance premiums for salaried and nonunion employees by $360. But it will also offer what it describes as financial incentives to employees who take a voluntary health risk assessment and participate in wellness programs.

A Kellogg’s spokeswoman confirmed that employees who opt out will face higher premiums, while those who participate will see no change.

Financial penalties do motivate some workers to improve their health.

Three years ago, Melissa Bergman, who works at Bank of Geneva in Geneva, Ind., was upset when her health insurance deductible rose to $2,500 from $500 the prior year. The only way she could reduce her insurance deductible was if she met health benchmarks in a screening for cholesterol, body mass index, blood pressure and tobacco use. Each test passed would earn her a $500 credit toward the deductible.

While the 35-year-old earned one credit for being a nonsmoker, she learned in a screening her cholesterol was dangerously high. Within days, her father died of a heart attack, and Bergman went on a regimen of cholesterol-reducing drugs and exercise. Last year, Bergman passed the blood pressure test and this year she hopes to earn a credit for cholesterol, she says.

The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act prohibits discrimination against workers in group health plans on medical grounds. But last December, federal agencies published final rules that granted exceptions effective from this past July for certain wellness programs.

Some experts, however, say wellness programs that involve penalties may not comply with laws like the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Karen Politz, a research professor at the Georgetown University Health Policy Institute, wonders, “When you have such pointed incentives involved, is it really voluntary, or coercive?”

Monday, December 10, 2007

Humans Evolving More Rapidly Than Ever, Say Scientists

Wired Science: "Look out, future, because here we come: scientists say the speed of human evolution increased rapidly during the last 40,000 years -- and it's only going to get faster.
The findings, published today by a team of U.S. anthropologists in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, overturn the theory that modern life's relative ease has slowed or even stopped human adaptation. Selective pressures are still at work; they just happen to be different than those faced by our distant ancestors.
"We're more different from people 5,000 years ago than they were from Neanderthals," said study co-author and University of Utah anthropologist Henry Harpending.
In the study, researchers analzyed genomes from 270 people belonging to four disparate ethnic groups: Han Chinese, Africa's Yoruba tribe, Japanese and Utah Mormons. By comparing areas of difference and similarity, they determined that about seven percent of the genome has undergone significant change since the end of the last Ice Age.
If human beings had always evolved at such a rapid clip, said the researchers, genetic differences between people and chimpanzees would be 160 times greater than they are.
Driving the changes are environmental fluctuations and population growth. As the number of people swells, so do the number of mutations generated by random chance. Further selecting for disparate genetic inheritances are the diverse terrains, climates and social structures inhabited since the glaciers retreated.
The findings contradict the hypothesis that evolution must be slowing down because people who once would have died are sustained by modern medicine and social safety nets. They also suggest that genetic differences between different ethnic groups can be significant."

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Australia has gut feeling kangaroos can help cut global warming


Rare enzyme in Kangaroos stomach could curb greenhouse gases.

Mark Chipperfield in Sydney
FORTY years after Skippy the Bush Kangaroo foiled criminals and rescued missing children in the wilds of Australia, his descendants are being conscripted to fight an even bigger menace - global warming.
Scientists in Queensland say they have isolated special bacteria in the stomach lining of kangaroos that, if replicated in sheep and cattle, would significantly reduce the emission of greenhouse gas and improve the productivity of farms around the world.
The research team estimates that methane produced by cattle and sheep accounts for 14 per cent of Australia's total greenhouse gas emissions - second only to coal- and gas-powered power stations.
It has been estimated that the average bullock produces 250 litres of methane a day.
"By replicating this bacteria not only would they [sheep and cattle] not produce such methane, they would actually get something like 10 to 15 per cent more energy out of the feed they are eating,'' said Dr Athol Klieve, a senior research scientist with the state government.
The announcement has been welcomed by the new Labour government in Canberra, which this week signed the Kyoto Protocol, binding Australia to cut its 1990 greenhouse gas output by five per cent by 2012. The Australian government has so far spent more than pounds 432 million on greenhouse gas research.

Mindf--ck: A&E ads make New Yorkers hear voices

A&E is literally targeting consumers with hypersonic beams on billboards. The rays broadcast sound in a beam, so the noise is inaudible unless the consumer/victim strays into the target area--in which case they may experience the sound as a voice in their head.

David Giantasio of AdWeek's magazine's blog, AdFreak:
Now, Holosonic Research Labs (sounds like something out of Scanners) strikes some new notes in the urban symphony with a creepy audio outdoor effort for A&E’s Paranormal State. From the release: “People passing by the Manhattan billboard suddenly hear a voice talking to them, but when they take another step the noise is gone. The sound captures their attention and the message appears as though it is just for them.”

Earlier this year, CourtTV used similar technology for a campaign called "Mystery Whisperer":

During the month-long campaign, targeting eleven bookstores and cafes throughout Manhattan, the Audio Spotlight directed more than 100,000 messages to shoppers asking them to tune in to the new Court TV television series.

"Because the message delivered by the Audio Spotlight system is only audible when directly in line with the narrow beam of sound, we were able to capture consumers' attention in a whole new way," said JP Freeley, owner of BlueBlast Media. "We left consumers with a message that resonated instead of one they just walked right past." [Holosonic Press Release, 2007]
Holosonic Research's website offers customers a chance to "put sound where they want it." Great.
The company's PR team has convinced some reporters that this wonderful invention "preserves quiet," which technically it does, on average...at least compared to a megaphone, which broadcasts sound waves in all directions. The ray sends sound to one point, so unless you wander into the beam, you can't hear anything coming from the billboard. None of the gushing media coverage notes that laws against noise pollution preserve quiet even better.

Josh of Gawker got hit by an A&E ray at on Prince St. between Mulberry and Mott. He describes what it was like to literally get shot with an ad for some TV show about ghosts. He was walking along, minding his own business when suddenly he heard a woman's voice in his head saying, "Who's there?"

According to Holoonic, the devices have also been used in libraries and galleries to deliver audio without headphones. I don't know whether people interpret the sound as being inside their head when they are told what to expect.

It's one thing to direct patrons to stand in a particular spot if they want the audio tour. It's totally different, and completely unethical, to bombard unconsenting passers by with unsourced sounds on public sidewalks.

New York needs to ban this nuisance, assuming it isn't already prohibited by existing laws. You can't even put up an outdoor billboard in this city without permission. Corporations should not be allowed to colonize patches of our sidewalks for their stupid brands.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Hard Rain Journal 12-3-07: David Gregory Meet I.F. Stone and Tom Paine x 10,000


At a National Press Club event earlier this week, NBC White House correspondent David Gregory argued that, because there is so much polarization in politics today, “people try to divine or assign our motives” for asking certain questions at the White House press briefings. When Helen Thomas asked Gregory what was responsible for the polarization, Gregory answered:
I think it’s because of the internet largely. The polarized atmosphere in the internet and blogs and whatnot have been a major contributor to that. Think Progress, 12-2-97

By Richard Power
Yes, of course, it was the bloggers who polarized the US body politic.
The bloggers spent $50 million plus on Ken Starr's rogue investigation, which was coordinated with the work of the privately funded, reich-wing "Arkansas Project."
The bloggers shackled Susan McDougal and sent her to jail.
The bloggers impeached a popular President at a time of peace and economic prosperity over testimony in a civil suit involving sexual intercourse.
The bloggers issued that voluminous report on Bill Clinton's dalliance with Monica Lewinsky, and posted it on the WWW.
The bloggers ignored accurate US intelligence on Al Qaeda pre-9/11, leading to the slaughter of thousands of innocents at the WTC, and the bloggers distorted accurate US intelligence on Iraq post-9/11, leading to the deaths of thousands of US military personnel, and the maiming of tens of thousands more.
The bloggers swift-boated John Kerry in 2004, morphed Max Cleland's face into Osama bin Laden's in 2002 TV ads, and smeared John McCain in South Carolina in 2000.
The bloggers gutted the surplus, and took the leash of the federal deficit.
In 2000, the bloggers stopped the counting of the ballots ordered by the Florida Supreme Court, and installed the man who lost, as the counting, finished later by researchers, would confirm.
In 2004, the bloggers made sure there weren't enough voting machines in the poorest and blackest districts of Ohio.
The bloggers caged voters. The bloggers purged voters from the rolls.
The bloggers intimidated voters.
The bloggers jammed the phones of the Democratic Party on election day 2002 in New Hampshire.
Yes, it was the bloggers who wasted seven years the planet could not afford to waste clinging to denial and disinformation about the nature, causes and implications of global warming.
The bloggers prosecuted, convicted and imprisoned former Alabama Governor Don Siegelman on false charges.
The bloggers fired eight US Attorneys for pursuing Bush-Cheney associates and not pursuing Bush-Cheney adversaries. The bloggers made Habeas Corpus and the Bill of Rights optional.
The bloggers established a Gulag system, instituted torture and rendition, and started disappearing people. The bloggers stayed on vacation while New Orleans drowned.
The bloggers blocked federal funding for stem cell research.
The bloggers tried to make certain that the brain-dead Terri Schiavo would be kept on a feeding tube indefinitely.
The bloggers betrayed US secret agent Valerie Plame, and then made certain that I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby -- the man who was convicted of obstructing Patrick Fitzgerald’s investigation -- would not spend a single day in prison.
Yes, of course, the bloggers have polarized us all.
The sad fact is that if the David Gregorys of the US mainstream news media had fulfilled their special responsibilities as the "fourth estate," which are articulated in both the US Constitution and the writings of the Founders, most us who have served as citizen journalists and commentators would never have gone into blogging.
Blogging is really simply the pamphleteering of our age.
If Tom Paine were alive today, he would, of course, be a blogger.
But this time there is no need for a revolution, only for the restoration of the democratic institutions that were won in the revolution, including a press free of both governments and corporations.
In the 1960s and 1970s, we only need one I.F. Stone; because, in large part, the US mainstream news media still did its job, at least on some stories concerning egregious wrongs, e.g., Watergate and the Pentagon Papers. But now, after decades of media consolidation, we need an Internet-based Information Rebellion, and that is what we have delivered.
What David Gregory is really saying is that he and those who write his checks are scared of the future. And they should be. They are on the wrong side of the digital barricades, and the wrong side of US history.

Turn Back. Exit Village. Truck Shortcut Hitting Barrier.

New York Times: "WEDMORE, England, Nov. 28 — This little village would seem to be an obviously poor place through which to drive your average large truck. It is in an obscure, rural location. Its streets were built in the days of horses and carts. There is no room to pass and no room to maneuver.
But trucks and tractor-trailers come here all the time, as they do in similarly inappropriate spots across Britain, directed by G.P.S. navigation devices that fail to appreciate that the shortest route is not always the best route.
“They have no idea where they are,” said Wayne Hahn, a local store owner who watches a daily parade of vehicles come to grief — hitting fences, shearing mirrors from cars and becoming stuck at the bottom of Wedmore’s lone hill. Once, he saw an enormous tractor-trailer speeding by, unaware that in its wake it was dragging a passenger car, complete with distraught passenger.
With villagers at wits’ end, John Sanderson, chairman of the parish council, has proposed a seemingly simple remedy: removing the route through Wedmore from the G.P.S. navigation systems used by large vehicles."

Rich US dog hiding after threats

BBC NEWS: "A dog that inherited $12m (£5.8m) from late New York hotelier Leona Helmsley is in hiding after it was targeted by death threats, US media say.
Trouble, a white Maltese that belonged to the billionaire until her death in August, was flown by private jet to Florida, the New York Post reported.
It says the tiny bitch was whisked away under an assumed name after receiving about 20 threats.
Trouble is said to have earned a number of enemies due to its habit of biting.
She was taken to an undisclosed location in Florida two months ago, the newspaper said.
John Codey, who manages the dog's trust fund, told US television network CBS last week the cost of Trouble's security, medical care, chef-cooked meals and grooming was about $300,000 (£145,000) a year."

Monday, December 03, 2007

Man Finally Put In Charge Of Struggling Feminist Movement

The Onion: "WASHINGTON—After decades spent battling gender discrimination and inequality in the workplace, the feminist movement underwent a high-level shake-up last month, when 53-year-old management consultant Peter "Buck" McGowan took over as new chief of the worldwide initiative for women's rights.
Head feminist "Buck" McGowan leads a march on Washington for women's rights.
McGowan, who now oversees the group's day-to-day operations, said he "couldn't be happier" to bring his ambition, experience, and no-nonsense attitude to his new role as the nation's top feminist.
"All the feminist movement needed to do was bring on someone who had the balls to do something about this glass ceiling business," said McGowan, who quickly closed the 23.5 percent gender wage gap by "making a few calls to the big boys upstairs." "In the world of gender identity and empowered female sexuality, it's all about who you know."
McGowan, who was selected from a pool of roughly 150 million candidates, made eliminating sexual harassment his first priority before working on securing reproductive rights for women in all 50 states, and promoting healthy body images through an influx of strong, independent female characters in TV, magazines, and film.
"It's about time," McGowan said upon returning from a golf game with several "network big boys" in which he brokered a deal to bring a variety of women's sports to prime-time television. "These ladies should have brought me on years ago.""

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Library exhibit features 'mug shots' of President Bush, White House officials

BY LARRY MCSHANE
DAILY NEWS STAFF WRITER

The photos are more post office than public library, more big house than White House.
Half a dozen doctored "mug shots" of President Bush and other administration officials are decking a hall of the New York Public Library's main Fifth Ave. branch, drawing grins and gripes.
"It's hysterical," Bennett Graff of New Haven said after studying the head shots and adjoining profiles of a particularly befuddled-looking Bush and a finger-wagging Vice President Cheney. "It's kind of bold, to say the least."
Not everyone was amused by the pointed political satire.
"It is simply inappropriate to have political attack art, in the form of egregious doctored photographs of the President and other high-ranking officials who have dedicated their lives to public service, in a taxpayer-funded building frequented by schoolchildren and the general public," said Matthew Walter, director of communications for the state GOP.
The exhibit, "Line Up," is the work of artists Nora Ligorano and Marshall Reese. Each Bush administration member clutches a clapboard, as in a standard mug shot, with the date of his "arrest" - a day when each made "incriminating" statements regarding the Iraq war.
The installation includes audio clips of the administration members - complete with the sound of a flashbulb popping and a prison door slamming.
Jim Strifler, 54, of Sayville, L.I., was stunned to see the pictures as he walked with his brother along the third floor.
"We were like, 'What is this?'" Strifler said yesterday. "It's a library. Maybe this would be okay for a museum, but this is supposed to be neutral ground."
It's publicly funded ground, too, although the city's library system is financed by a unique arrangement involving government and private funding.
Strifler and his sibling complained to museum officials, and the pair plan a return pilgrimage to set up a rogues' gallery of Democrats: Sen. Edward Kennedy, ex-President Bill Clinton, former national security adviser Sandy Berger.
"It's a one-sided view," said Strifler, an independent voter who says he leans Republican.
Roberta Waddell, curator of the library's print collection, said the exhibit was in keeping with a historical tradition dating back to 18th century England, calling the mug shots a "relevant example" of political commentary. The exhibit runs through Jan. 27.

The 9 Most Badass Bible Verses

If the Bible had been written by King Leonidas and the rest of the Spartans from 300, it would probably read pretty much the same as it does now.
It turns out, the Bible is already chock full of ass kicking. Here are the verses that make us want to take to the streets and put some unbelievers to the sword.

Sure, Moses was a great leader, an emancipator of his people and a prophet. Most people don't know that he also was the Biblical equivalent of Splinter Cell's Sam Fisher--a well-honed killing machine, able to slay from the shadows without pity or remorse. Martin Luther King may have had a dream, but Moses had a body count.
You can almost picture the scene: An Egyptian soldier is wailing on a hapless Hebrew when Moses, clothed in head-to- toe black, drops down from the ceiling. Moving with cat-like grace, he sneaks up behind the soldier and, taking his head in his hands, snaps the man's neck with one savage twist. As the lifeless body slumps to the ground, Moses lights up a cigar. "Well," he quips, "looks like someone bit off more than he could Jew."
Moses later defeated the Egyptian Pharaoh, who, if we remember correctly, had been using Hebrew slaves to construct a 40-foot-high armored battle suit capable of launching nuclear missiles to anywhere in the world.

Graveyard Shift Work Linked to Cancer

LONDON - Like UV rays and diesel exhaust fumes, working the graveyard shift will soon be listed as a "probable" cause of cancer. It is a surprising step validating a concept once considered wacky. And it is based on research that finds higher rates of breast and prostate cancer among women and men whose work day starts after dark.

Next month, the International Agency for Research on Cancer, the cancer arm of the World Health Organization, will add overnight shift work as a probable carcinogen. The American Cancer Society says it will likely follow. Up to now, the U.S. organization has considered the work-cancer link to be "uncertain, controversial or unproven."

The higher cancer rates don't prove working overnight can cause cancer. There may be other factors common among graveyard shift workers that raise their risk for cancer.
However, scientists suspect that overnight work is dangerous because it disrupts the circadian rhythm, the body's biological clock. The hormone melatonin, which can suppress tumor development, is normally produced at night.

If the graveyard shift theory eventually proves correct, millions of people worldwide could be affected. Experts estimate that nearly 20 percent of the working population in developed countries work night shifts.

Among the first to spot the night shift-cancer connection was Richard Stevens, a cancer epidemiologist and professor at the University of Connecticut Health Center. In 1987, Stevens published a paper suggesting a link between light at night and breast cancer.

Back then, he was trying to figure out why breast cancer incidence suddenly shot up starting in the 1930s in industrialized societies, where nighttime work was considered a hallmark of progress. Most scientists were bewildered by his proposal.

But in recent years, several studies have found that women working at night over many years were indeed more prone to breast cancer. Also, animals that have their light-dark schedules switched develop more cancerous tumors and die earlier.

Some research also suggests that men working at night may have a higher rate of prostate cancer.

Because these studies mostly focused on nurses and airline crews, bigger studies in different populations are needed to confirm or disprove the findings.

Ha!