Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Unrest caused by bad economy may require military action, report says

EL PASO -- A U.S. Army War College report warns an economic crisis in the United States could lead to massive civil unrest and the need to call on the military to restore order.
Retired Army Lt. Col. Nathan Freir wrote the report "Known Unknowns: Unconventional Strategic Shocks in Defense Strategy Development," which the Army think tank in Carlisle, Pa., recently released.
"Widespread civil violence inside the United States would force the defense establishment to reorient priorities ... to defend basic domestic order and human security," the report said, in case of "unforeseen economic collapse," "pervasive public health emergencies," and "catastrophic natural and human disasters," among other possible crises.
The report also suggests the new (Barack Obama) administration could face a "strategic shock" within the first eight months in office.
Fort Bliss spokeswoman Jean Offutt said the Army post is not involved in any recent talks about a potential military response to civil unrest.
The report become a hot Internet item after Phoenix police told the Phoenix Business Journal they're prepared to deal with such an event, and the International Monetary Fund's managing director, Dominique Strauss-Khan, said social unrest could spread to advanced countries if the global economic crisis worsens.
Javier Sambrano, spokes-man for the El Paso Police Department, said city police have trained for years so they can address any contingency, but not with the military.
police (department) trains on an ongoing basis as part of its Mobile Field Force Training," Sambrano said. "As a result, the police will be able to respond to emergency situations, such as looting or a big civil unrest. The police (department) does not train with soldiers."
Earlier this year, Pentagon officials said as many as 20,000 soldiers under the U.S. Northern Command (NORTHCOM) will be trained within the next three years to work with civilian law enforcement in homeland security.
Joint Task Force-North, a joint command at Biggs Army Airfield, which conducts surveillance and intelligence along the border, comes under NORTHCOM. No one was available at JTF-North to comment on the Army War College's report. NORTHCOM was created after the 9-11 attacks to coordinate homeland security efforts.
Soldiers under the former Joint Task Force-6 (now JTF-North) supported the Border Patrol in El Paso with its drug-interdiction operations.
In case civilian authorities request help or become overwhelmed, El Paso has several National Guard and military reserve units that can be called on. In 1992, National Guard and active Marine and Army units were deployed to help police control riots and looting in Los Angeles.
Charles Boehmer, political science professor at the University of Texas at El Paso, was skeptical about the Army War College report.
"The military was not called out during the Great Depression, and I don't think our economic problems are as bad as they were then," he said. "The military always has contingency plans. It's a think tank's job to come up with scenarios, but that doesn't mean it represents an active interest on the part of the (Pentagon)."

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Pimp My Yard

We can all agree that it's pretty sad to look at bare earth in front of or behind your house when it could be pretty and productive. Yet many homeowners fear to begin, worried that plants will die, money will be wasted, and they will be mocked by their neighbors for their pathetic efforts.

There are two excellent and relatively inexpensive cures for this common horticultural neurosis. First, several lucky U.S. cities have new services that will give you an instant backyard vegetable farm.

Second, many cities have a new species of helper—the garden coach—who will do much of the initial hard work and then teach you how to maintain your new ornamental garden.

Both these alternatives are inexpensive compared with hiring a landscape architect who will probably recommend a scheme involving boulders, spectacular nighttime lighting, dramatic beds of many plants of the same beige ornamental grass, and a fire pit or two.

A less expensive and more common solution is to hire a landscaping company. Quality varies, but too often the underpaid crew will roll out the sod, plant a skinny tree in the new lawn, and stick a few evergreens next to the house before rushing on to their next project of the day. Your landscape job won't offend the neighbors, but you won't have much to look at or anything to eat.

Instead, consider this. At least three American cities—San Francisco; Portland, Ore.; and Seattle—have companies that will install and maintain a vegetable garden on your property.

These places have a nearly year-round growing season. Seattle and Portland can freeze (right now, Seattle has snow); the deal would be different for Buffalo. As their entertaining video demonstrates, My Farm can put in a vegetable garden in one day. The cost: $500 to $1,800 for the installation, $50 to $250 per week for maintenance. The gardeners come on bikes, one pulling a trailer full of tools up the hills. Gasoline is consumed only by the truck that delivers a mix of compost and topsoil. The service includes a weekly visit for weeding, irrigation, and pest control. The client, if so minded, need never touch the soil: My Farm gardeners will harvest the little garden's vegetables and put them in a box on the doorstep.

The founder of the San Francisco company, Trevor Paque, is a one-man embodiment of our changing economy. He left his job as a mortgage broker to become an urban farm creator. He has plenty of clients with an interest in locally grown food, not to mention fresh arugula for the prosciutto sandwich, lemongrass for the stir-fry, and cilantro for the fajitas—but no experience. The Portland and Seattle companies both have waiting lists. Their cost is about the same. For this, you become the ultimate locavore; your food travels about 25 feet from garden to table, less if you eat outside. All that these superfarmers require from you is a source of water and that some part of your yard have at least six hours of sunlight.

Long, winding road hits a dead end at last for VHS

by Geoff Boucher | Tribune Newspapers
3:07 PM CST, December 27, 2008
Pop culture is hitting the eject button on the VHS tape, the once ubiquitous home video format that will finish this month as a creaky ghost of Christmas past.
After three decades of steady if unspectacular service, the spinning wheels of the home entertainment stalwart are slowing to a halt at retail outlets. On a crisp Friday morning in October, the final truckload of VHS tapes rolled out of a Palm Harbor, Fla., warehouse run by Ryan Kugler, the last major supplier of the tapes.
"It's dead, this is it, this is the last Christmas, without a doubt," said Kugler, 34, a Southern California businessman. "I was the last one buying VHS and the last one selling it, and I'm done. Anything left in warehouse we'll just give away or throw away."
It's an ignominious end for a product that redefined film watching in America and spawned an entire sector led by new household names like Blockbuster. Major chains gave up on VHS a few years ago, but not Kugler, who describes himself as "a bottom feeder" with a specialization in "distressed inventory."
Kugler is president and co-owner of Distribution Video Audio Inc., a company that pulls in annual revenue of $20 million with a proud nickel-and-dime approach to fading and faded pop culture.
Whether it's unwanted "Speed Racer" ball caps, unsold Danielle Steel novels or unappreciated David Hasselhoff albums, Kugler's company pays pennies and sells for dimes. If the firm had a motto, it would be "Buy low, sell low."
"It's true, one man's trash is another man's gold," Kugler said. "But we are not the graveyard. I'm like a heart surgeon—we keep things alive longer. Or maybe we're more like the convalescence home right before the graveyard."

Kugler has sold more than 4 million VHS videotapes over the past two years.
Those tapes went to bargain-basement chains such as Dollar Tree, Dollar General and Family Dollar. If you bought a Clint Eastwood movie at the Flying J Truck Stop in Saginaw, Mich., or a "Care Bears" tape at one of the H-E-B supermarkets in Texas, Kugler's company probably put it there. He also sells to public libraries, military bases and cruise ships, although those clients now all pretty much want DVDs.
Kugler estimates that 2 million tapes are still sitting on shelves of his clients' stores, but they are the last analog soldiers in the lost battle against the digital invasion. "I'm not sure a lot of people are going to miss VHS," he said, "but it's been good to us."
The VHS tape never really had a chance once the DVD arrived in the late 1990s with all its shiny allure—higher quality image, nimble navigation and all that extra content. After a robust run at the center of pop culture, VHS rentals were eclipsed by DVD in 2003. By the end of 2005, DVD sales were more than $22 billion and VHS was slumping badly but still viable enough to pull in $1.5 billion. Next year, that won't be the case.
Just before Halloween, JVC, the company that introduced the Video Home System format in 1977 in the United States, announced that it no longer would make stand-alone videocassette recorders. The electronics manufacturer still produces hybrid VHS-DVD players, but it's not clear how long that will last.
For a format that made Hollywood so much money, VHS leaves behind a shallow footprint in the movies themselves. There was "The Ring," a 2002 horror movie and its 2005 sequel, about a mysterious VHS tape that brings death to whoever watches it, but that's a sad valentine. This year Jack Black and Mos Def starred in " Be Kind Rewind," a loopy comedy that finds its center at a VHS rental store that is holding out against the DVD era, but the rebellion didn't go beyond the script—the movie is available for rent or purchase on DVD and Blu-ray, but it was never released on VHS.
The format was also name-checked in "The 40-Year-Old Virgin," the 2005 hit film that stars an unloved salesman at an electronics store; and even he has no room in his heart for the underdog format. "It's a dead technology," he explains to a customer. "It's like buying an eight-track player."
Kugler is one of the rare people who can stir up some nostalgia for the black, boxy tapes. His father bought Distribution Video Audio in 1988 and carved out a niche as an inventory supplier for the video rental stores that were popping up everywhere. He started working at Distribution Video Audio in 1991 and in short order negotiated directly with studios to buy overrun inventory.
The majority of Kugler's business today is with big-box retailers including Target, Wal-Mart, Kmart and Sears, where the company sets up displays of its discounted DVDs, such as " Superman Returns" and "Proof of Life," which are often priced at $10 or less. Plenty of customers see that price as an invitation to build their DVD collections.
But Kugler, with a sly smile, offered a warning to consumers.
"The days of the DVD are numbered," he said. "And that is good news for me."

Monday, December 22, 2008

Green alternative to plastics: liquid wood

msnbc.com: "Just in time for Christmas, German researchers are ramping up a manufacturing technique for making intricate Nativity figurines, toys, and even hi-fi speaker boxes from a renewable and surprisingly versatile source: liquid wood.
The bio-plastic dubbed Arboform, derived from wood pulp-based lignin, can be mixed with hemp, flax or wood fibers and other additives such as wax to create a strong, nontoxic alternative to petroleum-based plastics, according to its manufacturers.
Crude oil is the basis of the chemical for plastics, said Norbert Eisenreich, a senior researcher and deputy of the directors at the Fraunhofer Institute for Chemical Technology in Pfinztal, Germany. As the price of crude oil increases, he said, so does the price of plastics — and the interest in finding replacements.
The growing list of health concerns linked to plastic ingredients, such as heavy metals and softeners known as phthalates, also has increased the impetus to find a good substitute for manufacturing toys and other products.
The institute began looking for alternatives to oil-based products in the mid-'90s, said Eisenreich. To decrease the dependence on oil, however, any alternative material would need to be relatively abundant. Lignin, he said, offers an ideal candidate because tens of millions of tons are often discarded as a byproduct of the papermaking process."

Hole-filled 'Ecofont' saves on ink

msnbc.com: "AMSTERDAM, Netherlands - A Dutch company looking for ways to reduce the environmental costs of printing has developed a new font that it says cuts ink usage by about 15 percent.
In essence, the "Ecofont" has little holes in the letters.
Spranq, the Utrecht-based marketing and communications company that designed the font, struck on a Swiss-cheese design after failures with earlier experiments using thin letters and partial letters — like the stripes of a zebra.
"It turns out that it's necessary to preserve the size and outline of letters to keep them readable," company co-founder Gerjon Zomer says.
He concedes the font isn't beautiful, but says it could be adequate for personal use or for internal use at a company.
Spranq offers the font free on its Web site. Zomer says his site saw a spike in traffic last week as word of the Ecofont began to spread. Much of the international traffic came from the United States.
He says that was kind of gratifying because "when you put something online you never know what to expect."
The company is inviting developers to improve the Ecofont further under a free, open-source model, and Zomer says Arabic and Hebrew versions are already under development."

Obama transition sees eye-popping 300,000 resumes

By Lisa Desjardins
CNN Radio
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Just weeks after opening shop, the Obama transition team has been flooded by what looks like an unprecedented wave of hundreds of thousands of resumes from people who want positions in the new president's administration.
Hundreds of thousands of applicants want to work for President-elect Barack Obama.
"We've actually had more than 300,000 expressions of interest," Obama transition spokesman Nick Shapiro told CNN Radio.
That is roughly equivalent to the entire population of Iceland.
It dwarfs the 44,000 applicants reported by a Bush transition spokeswoman to the San Francisco Chronicle just days before George W. Bush was inaugurated in January 2001. The Clinton transition team in 1993 put its number of applicants near Inauguration Day at approximately 100,000. And the Obama boom has another month to build.
Meanwhile, it's creating a sort of business boom for job-search companies in and out of Washington.
In Macon, Georgia, CareerPro Global, a national and international resume-writing company, has seen a surge.
"We have a tremendous amount of interest," said Scott Kirk, who manages the company. "High-level people in private industry want to go all of a sudden into federal government and be part of this administration."
Kirk describes a group drawn from a wide range of locations and industries, from security and defense to nonprofit. He said many of them are willing to trade high-paying salaries and years of building job security in a single industry.
"A lot have had to dust off their resumes," he said. "I'm talking people that have been in their professions 10, 20 years. So [Obama] has definitely stimulated something."
In Washington, heavyweight job recruiter Nels Olson of Korn/Ferry International is feeling the wave as well.
"I think this is one of the most active transitions in the modern presidency in terms of the sheer volume," he said.
The bad news for Obama hopefuls is that there are fewer than 8,000 presidentially appointed jobs for the 300,000 (and growing) applicants.
For transition directors, that means a more selective and extensive search of candidates.
Applications arrive, Obama-style, through the transition's Web site: http://change.gov/page/s/application
Anyone interested can fill out a two-part online application and then the information shoots into a massive database.
Shapiro explains that staffers can comb through the army of candidates by variables such as qualifications, experience and expertise.
Even the Obama team finds the response eye-popping.
"It's definitely a challenge," said Shapiro. "I don't think any transition has seen anything like this."

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Bush Insider Who Planned To Tell All Killed In Plane Crash: Non-Profit Demands Full Federal Investigation

Michael Connell, the Bush IT expert who has been directly implicated in the rigging of George Bush's 2000 and 2004 elections, was killed last night when his single engine plane crashed three miles short of the Akron airport. Velvet Revolution ("VR"), a non-profit that has been investigating Mr. Connell's activities for the past two years, can now reveal that a person close to Mr. Connell has recently been discussing with a VR investigator how he can tell all about his work for George Bush. Mr. Connell told a close associate that he was afraid that George Bush and Dick Cheney would "throw [him] under the bus."

A tipster close to the McCain campaign disclosed to VR in July that Mr. Connell's life was in jeopardy and that Karl Rove had threatened him and his wife, Heather. VR's attorney, Cliff Arnebeck, notified the United States Attorney General , Ohio law enforcement and the federal court about these threats and insisted that Mr. Connell be placed in protective custody. VR also told a close associate of Mr. Connell's not to fly his plane because of another tip that the plane could be sabotaged. Mr. Connell, a very experienced pilot, has had to abandon at least two flights in the past two months because of suspicious problems with his plane. On December 18, 2008, Mr. Connell flew to a small airport outside of Washington DC to meet some people. It was on his return flight the next day that he crashed.

On October 31, Mr. Connell appeared before a federal judge in Ohio after being subpoenaed in a federal lawsuit investigating the rigging of the 2004 election under the direction of Karl Rove. The judge ordered Mr. Connell to testify under oath at a deposition on November 3rd, the day before the presidential election. Velvet Revolution received confidential information that the White House was extremely concerned about Mr. Connell talking about his illegal work for the White House and two Bush/Cheney 04 attorneys were dispatched to represent him.

An associate of Mr. Connell's told VR that Mr. Connell was involved with the destruction of the White House emails and the setting up of the off-grid White House email system.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Seattle Times Asks Employees: Give Up A Week's Pay

SEATTLE (AP) -- The Seattle Times on Friday asked 500 managers and nonunion workers to take a week off without pay in the face of mounting financial troubles at the newspaper.

Executive Editor David Boardman broke the news in a meeting with editors Friday morning.

Employees may take the week off all at once, one day at a time, or in multiple-day blocks, but it must be taken by the end of February, Alayne Fardella, senior vice president for business operations, wrote in a staff memo.

"I regret that we do not have better news for you at this time," Fardella wrote. "It has been and continues to be a long and difficult fight for our survival."

The Times has cut nearly 500 positions in the past year, leaving it with about 1,410 full and part-time employees. Executives have warned that more job cuts could be coming next year, and Fardella wrote in her memo that The Times would be asking for concessions from unions representing the newspaper's workers after Jan. 1.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

ACLU victorious as federal court declares Patriot Act provision a violation of the First Amendment

A federal appeals court ruling late Monday is the cause célèbre of the American Civil Liberties Union, as another provision of the Bush administration's Patriot Act falls to the judicial system.

Until the ruling, recipients of so-called "national security letters" were legally forbidden from speaking out. The letters, usually a demand for documents, or a notice that private records had been searched by government authorities, were criticized as a cover-all for FBI abuses.

"The appeals court invalidated parts of the statute that wrongly placed the burden on NSL recipients to initiate judicial review of gag orders, holding that the government has the burden to go to court and justify silencing NSL recipients," said the ACLU in a release. "The appeals court also invalidated parts of the statute that narrowly limited judicial review of the gag orders – provisions that required the courts to treat the government's claims about the need for secrecy as conclusive and required the courts to defer entirely to the executive branch."

Because of the ruling, the government will now be forced to justify individual gag orders before a court, instead of casually wielding the power of a blanket gag as the Bush administration has done since the blindingly fast passage of the Patriot Act in Oct. 2001.

MillerCoors to remove caffeine from Sparks

The Associated Press: "MILWAUKEE (AP) — MillerCoors LLC announced Thursday it will remove caffeine and three other ingredients from its Sparks alcoholic energy drink in a deal with 13 states and the city of San Francisco, who had contended the drink targeted young drinkers.
A coalition of state attorneys general had complained the stimulants reduced drinkers' sense of intoxication and were marketed to young drinkers, who were already more likely to have risky behaviors in driving and other activities.
Attorneys general and advocacy groups have long been targeting MillerCoors, a joint venture of SABMiller's U.S. unit and Molson Coors Brewing Co., and market-leader Anheuser-Busch due to the making and marketing of such drinks.
As part of the agreement, MillerCoors agreed to remove caffeine, taurine, guarana and ginseng from Sparks, the leader in the alcoholic energy drink category, and not produce caffeinated alcohol beverages in the future. The company also will pay $550,000 to cover the cost of the investigation into Sparks. The agreement does not mean the company was found to have engaged in unlawful behavior.
"They are fundamentally dangerous and put drinkers of all ages at risk," New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo said in a statement of the drinks. "Today's agreement will ensure that from here on out, these drinks are kept off New York shelves and away from New York consumers."
The MillerCoors settlement also includes the attorneys general of Arizona, California, Connecticut, Idaho, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Mississippi, New Mexico, Ohio and Oklahoma and the city attorney of San Francisco."

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Cheney admits authorizing detainee's torture

Outgoing VP says Guantanamo prison should stay open until end of terror war, but has no idea when that might be.

Monday, outgoing Vice President Dick Cheney made a startling statement on a nation-wide, televised broadcast.

When asked by ABC News reporter Jonathan Karl whether he approved of interrogation tactics used against a so-called "high value prisoner" at the controversial Guantanamo Bay prison, Mr. Cheney, in a break from his history of being press-shy, admitted to giving official sanctioning of torture.

"I supported it," he said regarding the practice known as "water-boarding," a form of simulated drowning. After World War II, Japanese soldiers were tried and convicted of war crimes in US courts for water-boarding, a practice which the outgoing Bush administration attempted to enshrine in policy.

"I was aware of the program, certainly, and involved in helping get the process cleared, as the agency in effect came in and wanted to know what they could and couldn't do," Cheney said. "And they talked to me, as well as others, to explain what they wanted to do. And I supported it."
He added: "It's been a remarkably successful effort, and I think the results speak for themselves."
ABC asked him if in hindsight he thought the tactics went too far. "I don't," he said.
The prisoner in question, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, who the Bush administration alleges to have planned the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, is one of Guantanamo's "high value targets" thus far charged with war crimes.
Former military interrogator Travis Hall disagrees with Cheney's position.
"Proponents of Guantanamo underestimate what a powerful a propaganda tool Guantanamo has become for terrorist groups such as Al Qaeda, despite several Department of Defense studies documenting the propaganda value of detention centers," he said in a column for Opposing Views.
"For example, West Point’s Combating Terrorism Center has monitored numerous Al Qaeda references to Guantanamo in its recruitment propaganda materials," continued Hall. "Improvements to Guantanamo’s administration of judicial mechanisms will not make its way into Al Qaeda propaganda. Nothing short of closing Guantanamo will remove this arrow from its quiver."
President-elect Barack Obama has promised to close the prison and pull US forces out of Iraq. Cheney, however, has a different timeline for when Guantanamo Bay prison may be "responsibly" retired.
"Well, I think that that would come with the end of the war on terror," he told ABC.
Problematic to his assertion: Mr. Bush's "war on terror" is undefinable and unending by it's very nature, and Cheney seems to recognize this as fact.
Asked when his administration's terror war will end, he jostled, "Well, nobody knows. Nobody can specify that."

Monday, December 15, 2008

Metro Chicago Vital Signs

Each month, the Trust collects data on key indicators of our community's financial well-being, to help understand the local human impact of the recession.

To see larger versions, and more graphs, click the link above.

Each month, the Trust collects data on key indicators of our community's financial well-being, to help understand the local human impact of the recession.


i watched the ABC nightly news tonight, and then switched over to the Jim Lehrer News Hour afterwards, and it just shocks me what a difference it is. Its like staring at the world with one eye that's out of focus, versus both eyes and glasses! It makes me sad almost, for a myriad of reasons. You don't even know what you don't know.

Traditional Russian winters do not exist anymore

The traditional Russian winter with snow and severe frost is gone forever, meteorologists say. Moscow currently faces the deficit which it had never had before, even under the communist rule – the deficit of snow, a well-known German journalist Boris Reitschuster wrote for Bunte Magazine.

Even the all-mighty prime minister is absolutely unable to solve the problem. When Putin talked to the nation in his televised conference last week, someone asked him when it was going to snow. “When God gives some,” the former KGB professional responded, having openly acknowledged the littleness of his earthly powers.

Many in the West dream of experiencing the legendary Russian winter with its boundless white magnificence. The blanket of snow used to cover the vast Russian territory already in October. Moscow would normally get snow in October-November. This year is a hideous exception, though. There is not even a snowflake in the middle of December. There were several humble snowy attempts made, but one will not see even a small pile of snow in Moscow’s streets today. December temperatures in Moscow considerably exceed the norm, whereas December 3 and 4 were registered the warmest winter days in 130 years of meteorological observations.


Gov. Paterson didn't see the humor in a "Saturday Night Live" bit that mocked his blindness.

During the "Weekend Update" segment of NBC's irreverent comedy show, actor Fred Armisen played Paterson, imitating his wandering eye, gravelly voice and blunt, self-effacing demeanor.

But Paterson and advocates for the visually impaired didn't appreciate stock blind jokes that had Armisen pretending to be disoriented and wandering aimlessly.

"The governor engages in humor all the time, and he can certainly take a joke," Paterson's spokesman, Errol Cockfield, said today.

"However, this particular 'Saturday Night Live' skit unfortunately chose to ridicule people with physical disabilities and imply that disabled people are incapable of having jobs with serious responsibilities."

Although Paterson is legally blind and has aides help him with some tasks, the governor is rarely out of step with his surroundings and seems comfortable in virtually every setting.

After Armisen's sketch with "Weekend Update" co-anchor Seth Meyers, the "joke" continued.

As longtime "SNL" player Amy Poehler was announcing her departure from the show to the audience, Armisen's Paterson started wandering, as if lost, in front of the camera.

"Gov. Paterson . . . you're in the shot!" a chuckling Poehler said.

The skit could leave viewers with the impression that blind Americans cannot be competent employees, advocates for the disabled said.

"When you have a perception problem like we have, you take these things a little more seriously," said Chris Danielsen, spokesman for the National Federation of the Blind.

"We have 70 percent unemployment - and it's not because we can't work. Obviously, the governor of New York is blind, and he's doing the job. Whenever you have a portrayal that calls the basic capacity of [blind people] into question, that's a potential problem."

Danielsen claims "SNL" has a long history of mocking the blind - going back to Eddie Murphy's Stevie Wonder impression and, more recently, a "Weekend Update" one-liner that hybrid cars are dangerous to blind people because they can't hear the engine.

Paterson said through his spokesman that "SNL" writers can do better than taking pot shots at the blind.

"The governor is sure that 'Saturday Night Live,' with all of its talent, can find a way to be funny without being offensive," Cockfield said.

"Knowing the governor, he might even have some suggestions himself."

An NBC spokesman could not be reached for comment today.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

The Crazy Cult of 'The Room'

At a midnight screening in a Los Angeles multiplex, the atmosphere hovers somewhere between rambunctious and mildly terrifying. Whenever a framed photograph of a spoon appears on screen, which it frequently does, audience members throw fistfuls of plastic cutlery. They also perform skits, at one point gathering at the bottom right of the screen and shouting, ''Down here, Tommy!'' anticipating the moment when the face of the lead actor, Tommy Wiseau, looks in their direction. And they comment loudly on blurrily shot scenes (''Focus!'') or inadequately introduced characters (''Who the f--- are you?'').

Late-night showings of cult films such as The Rocky Horror Picture Showand The Big Lebowski are known for their rowdy and strange behavior too. But people who go to see Rocky Horror and Lebowski think those films are good. Tonight's movie, an obscure, five-year-old drama called The Room, holds a different place in the hearts of those present at West Hollywood's Laemmle Sunset 5. ''It's absolutely terrible,'' says Chris Bonk, a talent-agency assistant who has seen the film more than 15 times. ''The script is not the best. The acting is certainly not the best. The music is horrible.''

The Room is a San Francisco-set love triangle involving a banker named Johnny, his friend Mark, and Johnny's fiancée Lisa, who is sleeping with both men. The film does seem to be beset with problems. Various subplots are inadequately resolved or simply disappear altogether, including the throwaway revelation that Lisa's mother is suffering from cancer. The film's many rooftop shots feature an unrealistic San Francisco backdrop, thanks to some less-than-impressive greenscreen work. There are lengthy, unerotic sex scenes, the last of which prompts a section of the audience to depart the auditorium temporarily in mock protest. Finally, in one sequence, a sharp bone seems about to erupt from Lisa's neck for no reason at all.

The film's so-bad-it's-freakin'-awesome vibe has attracted a devout army of aficionados whose membership includes the cream of Hollywood's comedy community. Role Models star Paul Rudd and Arrested Development's David Cross are both fans, as is Jonah Hill, who uses a still from the movie as his MySpace photograph. Heroes star Kristen Bell hosts Room-viewing parties at her house and last year attended the film's monthly Laemmle screening with Rudd, Hill, and Shaun of the Dead director Edgar Wright. ''There is a magic about that film that is indescribable,'' she says.

The Room has even infiltrated the halls of cinematic academia. ''It is one of the most important films of the past decade,'' says Ross Morin, an assistant professor of film studies at St. Cloud State University in Minnesota. ''It exposes the fabricated nature of Hollywood. The Room is the Citizen Kane of bad movies.''

(Click the above link for the full article - quite long, and quite entertaining.)

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Iconic book stores of the world

Click the above link to find a slideshow of amazing bookstores around the world. I just love a good bookstore.

Hi, How Are You? My Name Is Cutout Dissection.com

Dissection, that formaldehyde-infused rite of passage for biology students everywhere, has a new and very committed opponent. This fall, Jennifer Thornburg, 19, changed her name to CutoutDissection.com which is also a protest site maintained by PETA, where she is an intern. BONNIE ROCHMAN asked the Norfolk, Va., resident about championing her cause.
Has the name change made people treat you like a weirdo?
The woman at the DMV had a really interesting look on her face, like it was rude to ask, but she finally did, and I was able to tell her all about dissection. It was awesome. No matter what I have to put up with, animals have to put up with so much more.
What are the alternatives to dissection?
There are computer simulations, 3-D models. Over 20 different studies show these alternatives are just as educational as dissection, if not more so.
When did you first give dissection the cold shoulder?
In seventh grade, when I was faced with dissecting a chicken wing. I asked for an alternative, but [the teacher] said only if I'm a vegetarian.
What did your family think about your name change?
When I called my dad to tell him, he had me repeat it, like, three times. Then I sent him a DVD of an undercover investigation into a dissection-supply company. After he watched it, he told me he completely supports me.
You just graduated from high school. Any plans for college?
I applied to one college already. One of the essays was "Talk about yourself." So I wrote, "I changed my name to raise awareness about dissection options available to students." The college puts a lot of emphasis on people who volunteer, so I'm hoping it will go over well. I'm not holding my breath.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Moon closer tonight than in the past 15 yrs

A full moon is set to occur closer to the Earth on Friday evening than it has done for the past 15 years.
The Moon's elliptical orbit means its distance from the Earth is not constant.
It will be a little over 350,000km away as it passes over the northern hemisphere, which is about 30,000km closer than usual.
If the sky is clear it will appear brighter and larger than usual, say astronomers.

University Of Chicago Loses Bid For $550M Particle Accelerator

Argonne National Laboratory lost its bid for a government project that would have generated hundreds of jobs and brought millions of dollars to the state's economy.

The U.S. Department of Energy's Office of Science announced Thursday it decided to award a $550-million physics research project to Michigan State University.

"Both applicants fully addressed all aspects of the rated criteria, and demonstrated a very good understanding of the major issues," the Department of Energy said in a statement. "However, MSU's application provided the strongest proposed budget that was reasonable and realistic."

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Masked & Anonymous

The twentieth century has seen the rise of the SuperHero in humanity's collective conscious. Comic Books, movies, cartoons, video games - what person on this planet cannot name at least one of these fictional heroes? I just finished reading Alan Moore's "Watchmen," a graphic novel (also listed as one of Time's 100 best novels of the 20th Century) which weaves a complex thread of self-styled superheroes - men and women who cannot fly or leap tall buildings - but who are just people who want to make a difference, either for moral purposes or simply just for kicks. I enjoyed it immensely and found it to be the type of book that lingers in your mind long after you've turned the last page.

So I just came across this article which made me think of it, and what fascinated me the most was the list at the bottom of "masked avengers" currently active in their little part of the globe. I don't know, it just makes me smile that people still care so much that they'll go to great lengths to right a wrong, fight crime with crime. Or at least throw a pie in its face.


From the Guardian:

The £12m defences of the most heavily guarded power station in Britain have been breached by a single person who, under the eyes of CCTV cameras, climbed two three-metre (10ft) razor-wired, electrified security fences, walked into the station and crashed a giant 500MW turbine before leaving a calling card reading "no new coal". He walked out the same way and hopped back over the fence.

All power from the coal and oil-powered Kingsnorth station in Kent was halted for four hours, in which time it is thought the mystery saboteur's actions reduced UK climate change emissions by 2%. Enough electricity to power a city the size of Bristol was lost.

Yesterday the hunt was on for the man dubbed "climate man" or the "green Banksy". Climate activists responsible for hijacking coal trains and breaking on to runways said they knew nothing about the incident.

Even veterans of some of the most audacious direct actions, such as the scaling of the Kingsnorth chimney, are mystified. The station operator E.On professed astonishment that a lone activist would be daring enough to try to do something so potentially dangerous. Medway police said they had no suspects but were still investigating the incident, which took place on November 28.

"It was extremely odd indeed, quite creepy. We have never known anything like this at all, but it shows that if people want to do something badly enough they will find a way," said Emily Highmore, a spokeswoman for E.On.

Should "climate man" ever show up, he will be feted for what activists say was the most daring individual action of the year. "We have no idea who he is - but we really want to know. Everybody's asking 'where were you on Friday November 28'," said Ben Stewart of Greenpeace, one of six people arrested for climbing the 76 metre (250ft) chimney of the Kingsnorth station early last year but found not guilty of criminal damage in November. "We would never act anonymously," he added.

Notorious, but nameless

The Kingsnorth intruder joins a select group of "caped crusaders" who do their work without their names becoming widely known

Banksy: The graffiti artist whose work has attracted worldwide attention has taken his subversive style from urban Britain to the West Bank. He was recently unmasked by a Sunday paper, but after years of arresting images he has almost been elevated to status of national treasure.

Captain Gatso: The controversial leader of protest group Mad (Motorists Against Detection) has stoned, superglued, sprayed and ringed with burning tyres more than 1,000 roadside speed cameras in an eight-year campaign.

Superbarrio: Billed by his supporters as "faster than a speeding turtle and able to leap small speed bumps in a single bound", the flabby caped crusader in cherry red tights traverses the streets of Mexico City, defending the working class, the poor and the homeless. "I can't stop a plane or a train single-handed, but I can keep a family from being evicted," he said.

The Biotic Baking Brigade: A loosely connected group of leftwing activists, famous for throwing pies in the faces of such figures as the Microsoft's Bill Gates, the San Francisco mayors Willie Brown and Gavin Newsom and the Swedish King Carl Gustaf. The group's members have been active on animal rights and ecology issues as well as in feminist movements.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

YouTube Is Dead

December 6, 2008
As of yesterday YouTube has replaced its list of ‘Most Viewed’ videos on the site’s ‘Videos’ section with a varied selection of sponsor-friendly videos that the site calls ‘Most Popular’. Where users normally see videos with high view-counts that have become popular due to viral spreading and community activity, we now see videos like the new MacBook commercial that gets showcased on the ‘Most Popular’ #1 spot while having very low view-counts and even lower ratings. YouTube will no longer give massive exposure to its community’s video productions and instead is now tightly controlling its Videos pages to attract more sponsors and a more mainstream audience.

The consequences are drastic, YouTube’s ‘Videos’ front page used to give its community so much exposure that it allowed the instant birth of global grassroots movements such as Anonymous and that it was even a deciding factor in the 2008 US presidential elections as it was constantly being flooded by Obama speeches and fan videos. YouTube’s decision to finally move the site into a more profitable direction is understandable, since the Google-owned company has long been struggling in this area. But it is a great loss for (what used to be) Internet celebrities, online communities and activists around the globe who found YouTube to be the only platform for such massive exposure at no cost but of their own creativity.

UPDATE: Shortly after the release of this article and our already very popular video on the subject, YouTube has put its ‘Most Viewed’ back as default Videos page. However, YouTube contacts say they may switch back to the new system, spread the word, digg it, make videos, let YouTube realize how important we feel this is.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Illinois Governor Arrested For Selling Obama Senate Seat

You want your Chicago-style politics? They don't come much more Chicago-style than this: Democratic Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich was just arrested, along with his chief of staff, by FBI agents. How many corrupt things can one Governor do before a new ethics law takes effect at the beginning of next year? Blagojevich was apparently trying to set some sort of record. And Rezko's involved! And Tribune Co! Let's start with Rod's charming decision to sell the Senate seat vacated by squeaky clean president-elect Barack Obama!

From the 76-page FBI affidavit:

At various times, in exchange for the Senate appointment, Blagojevich discussed obtaining:

A substantial salary for himself at a either a non-profit foundation or an organization affiliated with labor unions;

Placing his wife on paid corporate boards where he speculated she might garner as much as $150,000 a year;

Promises of campaign funds – including cash up front; and

A cabinet post or ambassadorship for himself.

Thankfully the feds have been wiretapping Blagojevich for a month or so. "I want to make money," Rod said to John Harris, his chief of staff.

You know who'll be thrilled to hear the news of Rod's arrest? The good people at the Chicago Tribune and the incompetent people at Tribune Co. Part of Blagojevich's brilliant money-making scheme involved withholding state aid to the ailing, now-bankrupt Tribune Co, unless they fired editorial board members critical of the governor. You know what is amazing? That after Rod talked to "Tribune Owner" and "Tribune Financial Advisor" regarding their attempt to offload the Chicago Cubs to the state, they called him back and promised to fire the deputy editoral page editor of the Tribune. Great fucking work, Sam Zell.

In a November 11 intercepted call, Harris allegedly told Blagojevich that Tribune Financial Advisor talked to Tribune Owner and Tribune Owner "got the message and is very sensitive to the issue." Harris told Blagojevich that according to Tribune Financial Advisor, there would be "certain corporate reorganizations and budget cuts coming and, reading between the lines, he's going after that section." Blagojevich allegedly responded. "Oh. That's fantastic." After further discussion, Blagojevich said, "Wow. Okay, keep our fingers crossed. You're the man. Good job, John."

In a further conversation on November 21, Harris told Blagojevich that he had singled out to Tribune Financial Advisor the Tribune's deputy editorial page editor, John McCormick, "as somebody who was the most biased and unfair." After hearing that Tribune Financial Advisor had assured Harris that the Tribune would be making changes affecting the editorial board, Blagojevich allegedly had a series of conversations with Chicago Cubs representatives regarding efforts to provide state financing for Wrigley Field.

Barack Obama, wisely, distanced himself from Blagojevich during his run for the presidency. But the wonderful thing about the Chicago political machine is that basically no one elected to anything in that town is clean. Good thing for our President-elect that he won the election before Patrick Fitzgerald made his move.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Eye Spy: Filmmaker Plans to Install Camera in His Eye Socket

"Rob Spence looks you straight in the eye when he talks. So it's a little unnerving to imagine that soon one of his hazel-green eyes will have a tiny wireless video camera in it that records your every move.
The eye he's considering replacing is not a working one -- it's a prosthetic eye he's worn for several years. Spence, a 36-year-old Canadian filmmaker, is not content with having one blind eye. He wants a wireless video camera inside his prosthetic, giving him the ability to make movies wherever he is, all the time, just by looking around.
"If you lose your eye and have a hole in your head, then why not stick a camera in there?" he asks.
Spence, who calls himself the "eyeborg guy," will not be restoring his vision. The camera won't connect to his brain. What it will do is allow him to be a bionic man where technology fuses with the human body to become inseparable. In effect, he will become a "little brother," someone who's watching and recording every move of those in his field of vision.
If successful, Spence will become one of a growing number of lifecasters. From early webcam pioneer Jennifer Kaye Ringley, who created JenniCam, to Microsoft researcher Gordon Bell, to commercial lifecasting ventures Ustream.tv and Justin.tv, many people use video and internet technology to record and broadcast every moment of their waking lives. But Spence is taking lifecasting a step further, with a bionic eye camera that is actually embedded in his body.
"The eyes are like no other part of the body," says Spence. "It's what you look into when you fall in love with somebody and [influences] whether you trust someone or not. Now with a video camera in there, it will change how people see and perceive me.""

Saturday, December 06, 2008

SWAT Team Raids an Ohio Organic Co-Op

Department of Agriculture raids have been occurring in Pennsylvania against horse and buggy Mennonite dairy farmers regularly and for some time. It's getting almost no attention though the farming communities there have been terrorized by the government for doing what they have done for centuries. They came here to live in peace and freedom.

Meanwhile, farmers and ranchers have been desperate to stop NAIS which the USDA said would be voluntary but the Bush administration in a last minute gift to our disappearing farmers, just made it mandatory by ordering vets to sign people on who bring animals for vaccinations even if they refuse to do so themselves. Those who refuse are given a special number indicating they didn't "volunteer."

And along with NAIS come "premises" ID which looks to be a way of tricking farmers and ranchers into signing away their land as collateral for the bailout. US farmland for US debt to the World Bank. click here. It has been almost impossible to let the urban community understand the truly totalitarian threats occurring RIGHT NOW against our farmers.

Now this ... and perhaps THIS will finally hit home for those who care about their CSAs and want real organic food, not industrial food with an "organic" label applied by corporate agriculture which first got the USDA to eliminate its competition - real farmers producing real food.

"...SWAT police, armed for riot control weapons, packing automatic rifles and armored for a terrorist response stormed a family food cooperative in Ohio.

Agents from the State of Ohio Department of Agriculture with the S.W.A.T. team did not give any explanation to the family other than a warrant, did not provide them a phone call, did not charge the family with anything as they burst into their private home. But what they did do was make a big mess, taking over ten thousand dollars of merchandise with them, reported the IVN Bureau Chief."

Here's the most thorough thing I've found so far and it has numbers to call, too. Every CSA member in the country needs to get on the phone.

Milwaukee neighborhoods could print own money

They may be talking funny money, but it's not funny business.

Residents from the Milwaukee neighborhoods of Riverwest and East Side are scheduled to meet Wednesday to discuss printing their own money. The idea is that the local cash could be used at neighborhood stores and businesses, thus encouraging local spending. The result, supporters hope, would be a bustling local economy, even as the rest of the nation deals with a recession.

"You have all these people who have local currency, and they're going to spend it at local stores," said Sura Faraj, a community organizer who is helping spearhead the plan. "They can't spend it at the Wal-Mart or the Home Depot, but they can spend it at their local hardware store or their local grocery store."

Incentives could be used to entice consumers into using the new money. For example, perhaps they could trade $100 U.S. for $110 local, essentially netting them a 10 percent discount at participating stores.

It's not a new concept—experts estimate there are at least 2,000 local currencies all over the world—but it is a practice that tends to burgeon during economic downturns. During the Great Depression, scores of communities relied on their own currencies.

And it's completely legal.

As long as communities don't create coins, or print bills that resemble federal dollars, organizations are free to produce their own greenbacks—and they'd don't even have to be green.

In Wisconsin, could that mean dough that looks like cheese?

Friday, December 05, 2008

H. M., an Unforgettable Amnesiac, Dies at 82

NYTimes.com: "He knew his name. That much he could remember.
He knew that his father’s family came from Thibodaux, La., and his mother was from Ireland, and he knew about the 1929 stock market crash and World War II and life in the 1940s.
But he could remember almost nothing after that.
In 1953, he underwent an experimental brain operation in Hartford to correct a seizure disorder, only to emerge from it fundamentally and irreparably changed. He developed a syndrome neurologists call profound amnesia. He had lost the ability to form new memories.
For the next 55 years, each time he met a friend, each time he ate a meal, each time he walked in the woods, it was as if for the first time.
And for those five decades, he was recognized as the most important patient in the history of brain science. As a participant in hundreds of studies, he helped scientists understand the biology of learning, memory and physical dexterity, as well as the fragile nature of human identity.
On Tuesday evening at 5:05, Henry Gustav Molaison — known worldwide only as H. M., to protect his privacy — died of respiratory failure at a nursing home in Windsor Locks, Conn. His death was confirmed by Suzanne Corkin, a neuroscientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, who had worked closely with him for decades. Henry Molaison was 82.
From the age of 27, when he embarked on a life as an object of intensive study, he lived with his parents, then with a relative and finally in an institution. His amnesia did not damage his intellect or radically change his personality. But he could not hold a job and lived, more so than any mystic, in the moment.
“Say it however you want,” said Dr. Thomas Carew, a neuroscientist at the University of California, Irvine, and president of the Society for Neuroscience. “What H. M. lost, we now know, was a critical part of his identity.”
At a time when neuroscience is growing exponentially, when students and money are pouring into laboratories around the world and researchers are mounting large-scale studies with powerful brain-imaging technology, it is easy to forget how rudimentary neuroscience was in the middle of the 20th century.
When Mr. Molaison, at 9 years old, banged his head hard after being hit by a bicycle rider in his neighborhood near Hartford, scientists had no way to see inside his brain. They had no rigorous understanding of how complex functions like memory or learning functioned biologically. They could not explain why the boy had developed severe seizures after the accident, or even whether the blow to the head had anything do to with it.
Eighteen years after that bicycle accident, Mr. Molaison arrived at the office of Dr. William Beecher Scoville, a neurosurgeon at Hartford Hospital. Mr. Molaison was blacking out frequently, had devastating convulsions and could no longer repair motors to earn a living.
After exhausting other treatments, Dr. Scoville decided to surgically remove two finger-shaped slivers of tissue from Mr. Molaison’s brain. The seizures abated, but the procedure — especially cutting into the hippocampus, an area deep in the brain, about level with the ears — left the patient radically changed.
Alarmed, Dr. Scoville consulted with a leading surgeon in Montreal, Dr. Wilder Penfield of McGill University, who with Dr. Brenda Milner, a psychologist, had reported on two other patients’ memory deficits.
Soon Dr. Milner began taking the night train down from Canada to visit Mr. Molaison in Hartford, giving him a variety of memory tests. It was a collaboration that would forever alter scientists’ understanding of learning and memory.
“He was a very gracious man, very patient, always willing to try these tasks I would give him,” Dr. Milner, a professor of cognitive neuroscience at the Montreal Neurological Institute and McGill University, said in a recent interview. “And yet every time I walked in the room, it was like we’d never met.”"

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Odetta, Folksinger, Passes Away

She is a bright star in any folksinger's sky. She held her own in a world dominated by men, and for that and more I was always inspired by her.

I have this version of her covering Woody Guthrie's "Ramblin Round" that I listen to a LOT; when I was getting ready to leave Chicago, I remember one morning I listened to it on repeat the whole el ride in. When I get back home, I'm going to dig up that vinyl I bought a few weeks ago...

From the AP:

Odetta, the folk singer with the powerful voice who moved audiences and influenced fellow musicians for a half-century, has died. She was 77.

Odetta died Tuesday of heart disease at Lenox Hill Hospital, said her manager of 12 years, Doug Yeager. She was admitted to the hospital with kidney failure about three weeks ago, he said.

In spite of failing health that caused her to use a wheelchair, Odetta performed 60 concerts in the last two years, singing for 90 minutes at a time. Her singing ability never diminished, Yeager said.

"The power would just come out of her like people wouldn't believe," he said.

With her booming, classically trained voice and spare guitar, Odetta gave life to the songs by workingmen and slaves, farmers and miners, housewives and washerwomen, blacks and whites.

First coming to prominence in the 1950s, she influenced Harry Belafonte, Bob Dylan, Joan Baez and other singers who had roots in the folk music boom.

An Odetta record on the turntable, listeners could close their eyes and imagine themselves hearing the sounds of spirituals and blues as they rang out from a weathered back porch or around a long-vanished campfire a century before.

"What distinguished her from the start was the meticulous care with which she tried to re-create the feeling of her folk songs."

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Findings - Health Halo Can Hide the Calories

NYTimes.com: "If you’re a well-informed, health-conscious New Yorker who has put on some unwanted pounds in the past year, it might not be entirely your fault. Here’s a possible alibi: The health halo made you do it.
I offer this alibi after an experiment on New Yorkers that I conducted with Pierre Chandon, a Frenchman who has been studying what researchers call the American obesity paradox. Why, as Americans have paid more and more attention to eating healthily, have we kept getting fatter and fatter?
Dr. Chandon’s answer, derived from laboratory experiments as well as field work at Subway and McDonald’s restaurants, is that Americans have been seduced into overeating by the so-called health halo associated with certain foods and restaurants. His research made me wonder if New Yorkers were particularly vulnerable to this problem, and I asked him to help me investigate.
Our collaboration began in a nutritionally correct neighborhood, Brooklyn’s Park Slope, whose celebrated food co-op has a mission statement to sell “organic, minimally processed and healthful foods.” I hit the streets with two questionnaires designed by Dr. Chandon, a professor of marketing at the Insead business school in Fontainebleau, France, and Alexander Chernev, a professor of marketing at Northwestern University. Half of the 40 people surveyed were shown pictures of a meal consisting of an Applebee’s Oriental Chicken Salad and a 20-ounce cup of regular Pepsi. (You can see it for yourself at TierneyLab.) On average, they estimated that the meal contained 1,011 calories, which was a little high. The meal actually contained 934 calories — 714 from the salad and 220 from the drink.
The other half of the Park Slopers were shown the same salad and drink plus two Fortt’s crackers prominently labeled “Trans Fat Free.” The crackers added 100 calories to the meal, bringing it to 1,034 calories, but their presence skewed people’s estimates in the opposite direction. The average estimate for the whole meal was only 835 calories — 199 calories less than the actual calorie count, and 176 calories less than the average estimate by the other group for the same meal without crackers.
Just as Dr. Chandon had predicted, the trans-fat-free label on the crackers seemed to imbue them with a health halo that magically subtracted calories from the rest of the meal. And we got an idea of the source of this halo after I tried the same experiment with tourists in Times Square."

Christmas Colors for the White House: Red, White and Impeach

When Deborah Lawrence got the invitation from the White House, the Seattle-based artist decided to make a lefty political statement.

But she never expected it would hang on the official Christmas tree.

Laura Bush asked members of Congress to pick local painters to decorate ornaments for this year's 20-foot Fraser fir in the Blue Room. The globes (to be unveiled by the first lady tomorrow) are supposed to showcase something special about each congressional district. Washington state's Rep. Jim McDermott contacted a local arts organization, which asked Lawrence, a collage artist, to create the local entry.

"I was at first nauseated, then realized it was an opportunity," said Lawrence, 55, who frequently combines politics and satire in her work and saw this as the perfect way "to highlight Jim McDermott because he's a hero of mine."

The nine-inch ball is covered with swirly red and white stripes -- and, in tiny glued-on text, salutes the Democratic congressman's support for a resolution to impeach President Bush. (Also showcased: Washington state's 1919 labor strike, its suffrage movement and the violent anti-World Trade Organization riots of 1999.) Lawrence sent it off to D.C. in September and was very surprised it was accepted for the tree -- and that she was invited to this afternoon's White House reception for the artists, which she flew to D.C. to attend.

"Apparently, they didn't read it -- or Laura Bush is more progressive than I believed," Lawrence told us.

Sally McDonough, the first lady's press secretary, said yesterday that hundreds of ornaments were submitted for display and there were no plans to pull Lawrence's artwork or her invitation. But, she said, "it really is too bad. I haven't seen the ornament, but I would hope that no one would take this as an opportunity to be divisive and partisan. There is a time and place for everything, and I don't think this is either."

Monday, December 01, 2008

UFO enthusiasts call on Obama to release X-Files

UFO enthusiasts are pressing Barack Obama to release classified documents about sightings of alien spacecraft, encouraged by support from within the President-Elect's own White House team.
By Tim Shipman in Washington
Photographed by an anonymous French doctor on March 23, 1974 in Tavernes, Var, during a major UFO flap over France
Desperate to see the US emulate the British Government and disclose reported "contact" with UFOs, the enthusiasts have written to Mr Obama to ask that his administration comes clean about the contents of America's "X-Files".
They believe they have good prospects of success after public statements of support from both John Podesta, who is running Mr Obama's White House transition team, and Bill Richardson, the Governor of New Mexico - a UFO sighting hotspot - who is expected to secure a cabinet post.
In the letter to Mr Obama, the Extraterrestrial Phenomenon Political Action Committee calls on the President-Elect to "end the six-decade truth embargo regarding an extraterrestrial presence engaging the human race".
The group wants the incoming president to insist on a "full briefing from your military services and intelligence agencies regarding what they know" and to open congressional hearings "to take testimony from scores of government witnesses who have already come forward with extraordinary evidence and are prepared to testify under oath."
The campaigners, who resent their common portrayal as nuts and conspiracy theorists, have high hopes of success due to their inside track with Mr Obama.
When he was the White House chief of staff under Bill Clinton, Mr Podesta led a project to declassify 800 million pages of intelligence documents. In a press conference, still available to watch on the YouTube website, Mr Podesta said: "It is time for the government to declassify records that are more than 25 years old and to provide scientists with data that will assist in determining the real nature of this phenomenon."
Gov Richardson, a former presidential candidate and fellow UFO aficionado, has written a forward to a book on the so-called Roswell Incident in New Mexico, where campaigners believe an alien spacecraft crash landed near the town of Roswell in 1947 and that the corpses of humanoid aliens have been kept hidden under lock and key by the government.
He has called for full disclosure by the Pentagon of what really occurred and reiterated his belief that there had been a "cover-up" during a presidential debate last year.
The campaigners, who want the truth "out there", believe that the British Government's decision to declassify thousands of UFO sighting documents this year has made it untenable for the US to maintain its policy of non-disclosure.
Only last week a US Air Force pilot, Milton Torres, whose testimony was released from the British archives, appeared on US television explaining how he was ordered to shoot down a large UFO over the UK in 1957 and then silenced by military officials, who told him never to speak of the incident.
Stephen Bassett, Executive Director of the Extraterrestrial Phenomenon Political Action Committee, expects to have gathered 40,000 signatures via email and fax by Mr Obama's inauguration day on Jan 20 in support of his calls for openness.
He told The Sunday Telegraph: "The truth embargo is now at the end of the line. The release of documents in Britain and France has put huge pressure on the US. It makes the government here look pretty stupid.
"I think we are seeing the Democrats moving towards disclosure. John Podesta has outed himself as an enthusiast. He thinks the American public can handle the truth. Bill Richardson thinks there was a cover-up."
Mr Bassett also believes that military and intelligence officials have studied the technology of alien spacecraft, material that would help the US develop new energy resources, as Mr Obama wishes, that will lessen US dependency on Middle Eastern oil.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

A Penny for My Thoughts?

I visited the future, and it was wearing a bow tie and calling itself “Thomas Edison.”
The newspaper business is not only crumpling up, James Macpherson informed me here, it is probably holding “a one-way ticket to Bangalore.”
Macpherson — bow-tied and white-haired but boyish-looking at 53 — should know. He pioneered “glocal” news — outsourcing Pasadena coverage to India at Pasadena Now, his daily online “newspaperless,” as he likes to call it. Indians are writing about everything from the Pasadena Christmas tree-lighting ceremony to kitchen remodeling to city debates about eliminating plastic shopping bags.
“Everyone has to get ready for what’s inevitable — like King Canute and the tide coming in — and that’s really my message to the industry,” the editor and publisher said. “Many newspapers are dead men walking. They’re going to be replaced by smaller, nimbler, multiple Internet-centric kinds of things such as what I’m pioneering.”
I wondered how long it would be before some guy in Bangalore was writing my column about President Obama.
“In brutal terms,” said Macpherson, whose father was a typesetter, printer and photographer, “it’s going to get to the point where saving the industry may require some people losing their jobs. The newspaper industry is coming to a General Motors moment — except there’s no one to bail them out.” He said it would be “irresponsible” for newspapers not to explore offshoring options.
He said he got the idea to outsource about a year ago, sitting in his Pasadena home, where he puts out Pasadena Now with his wife, Candice Merrill. Macpherson had worked in the ’90s for designers like Richard Tyler and Alan Flusser, and had outsourced some of his clothing manufacturing to Vietnam.
So, he thought, “Where can I get people who can write the word for less?” In a move that sounded so preposterous it became a Stephen Colbert skit, he put an ad on Craigslist for Indian reporters and got a flood of responses.
He fired his seven Pasadena staffers — including five reporters — who were making $600 to $800 a week, and now he and his wife direct six employees all over India on how to write news and features, using telephones, e-mail, press releases, Web harvesting and live video streaming from a cellphone at City Hall.
“I pay per piece, just the way it was in the garment business,” he says. “A thousand words pays $7.50.”
A penny for your thoughts? Now I knew my days were numbered.
I checked in with one of his workers in Mysore City in southern India, 40-year-old G. Sreejayanthi, who puts together Pasadena events listings. She said she had a full-time job in India and didn’t think of herself as a journalist. “I try to do my best, which need not necessarily be correct always,” she wrote back. “Regarding Rose Bowl, my first thought was it was related to some food event but then found that is related to Sports field.”
Macpherson admits you can lose something in the translation — the Pasadena City Council Webcast that the Indian reporters now watch once missed two African-American lawmakers walking out in protest — but says the question is, how significant is it?
At first the reaction to covering Pasadena from 8,000 miles away and 13.5 hours ahead was “absolutely brutal,” Macpherson recalled. Journalism professors keened and Larry Wilson, the public editor at The Pasadena Star-News, called it “nutty.”
But then in October, Dean Singleton, The Associated Press’s chairman and the head of the MediaNews Group — which counts The Pasadena Star-News, The Denver Post and The Detroit News in its stable of 54 daily newspapers — told the Southern Newspaper Publishers Association that his company was looking into outsourcing almost every aspect of publishing, including possibly having one news desk for all of his papers, “maybe even offshore.”
Noting that most preproduction work for MediaNews’s papers in California is already outsourced to India, cutting costs by 65 percent, Singleton advised, “If you need to offshore it, offshore it,” and said after the speech, “In today’s world, whether your desk is down the hall or around the world, from a computer standpoint, it doesn’t matter.”
Macpherson feels “vindicated,” but also “conflicted” about the idea of having an American newspaper industry fueled by Indian labor. “I mean, I am an American too,” he said. “I had two ancestors in the Revolutionary War. My mother was in the Daughters of the American Revolution.”
It’s not easy being a visionary, he said: “I have essentially been five years ahead of the world for a long time, and that’s a horrible address at which to live because people look at you, you know, like you’re nuts.”

Acorn Watchers Wonder What Happened to Crop

By Brigid Schulte
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, November 30, 2008
The idea seemed too crazy to Rod Simmons, a measured, careful field botanist. Naturalists in Arlington County couldn't find any acorns. None. No hickory nuts, either. Then he went out to look for himself. He came up with nothing. Nothing crunched underfoot. Nothing hit him on the head.
Then calls started coming in about crazy squirrels. Starving, skinny squirrels eating garbage, inhaling bird feed, greedily demolishing pumpkins. Squirrels boldly scampering into the road. And a lot more calls about squirrel roadkill.
But Simmons really got spooked when he was teaching a class on identifying oak and hickory trees late last month. For 2 1/2 miles, Simmons and other naturalists hiked through Northern Virginia oak and hickory forests. They sifted through leaves on the ground, dug in the dirt and peered into the tree canopies. Nothing.
"I'm used to seeing so many acorns around and out in the field, it's something I just didn't believe," he said. "But this is not just not a good year for oaks. It's a zero year. There's zero production. I've never seen anything like this before."
The absence of acorns could have something to do with the weather, Simmons thought. But he hoped it wasn't a climatic event. "Let's hope it's not something ghastly going on with the natural world."
To find out, Simmons and Arlington naturalists began calling around. A naturalist in Maryland found no acorns on an Audubon nature walk there. Ditto for Fairfax, Falls Church, Charles County, even as far away as Pennsylvania. There are no acorns falling from the majestic oaks in Arlington National Cemetery.
"Once I started paying attention, I couldn't find any acorns anywhere. Not from white oaks, red oaks or black oaks, and this was supposed to be their big year," said Greg Zell, a naturalist at Long Branch Nature Center in Arlington. "We're talking zero. Not a single acorn. It's really bizarre."
Zell began to do some research. He found Internet discussion groups, including one on Topix called "No acorns this year," reporting the same thing from as far away as the Midwest up through New England and Nova Scotia. "We live in Glenwood Landing, N.Y., and don't have any acorns this year. Really weird," wrote one. "None in Kansas either! Curiouser and curiouser."
Jennifer Klepper of Annapolis even blogged about it. "Last year our trees shot down so many acorns that you were taking your life into your own hands if you went outside without a crash helmet on," she wrote this month. "But this year? Forget it."
Louise Garris lives in an Arlington neighborhood called Oakcrest, which is home to towering oak trees. When she couldn't find any acorns, she began putting out peanuts for the squirrels. Last year, oaks in metropolitan Washington produced a bumper crop of acorns, and squirrels and other urban wildlife produced an abundance of young. This year, experts said, many animals will starve.
Garris started calling nurseries. "I was worried they'd think I was crazy. But they said I wasn't the only one calling who was concerned about it," she said. "This is the first time I can remember in my lifetime not seeing any acorns drop in the fall and I'm 53. You have to wonder, is it global warming? Is it environmental? It makes you wonder what's going on."
Simmons has a theory about the wet and dry cycles. But many skeptics say oaks in other regions are producing plenty of acorns, and the acorn bust here is nothing more than the extreme of a natural boom-and-bust cycle. But the bottom line is that no one really knows. "It's sort of a mystery," Zell said.

Barack Obama Insults Dog, Jumps Shark

by Billy Kimball
For me, the honeymoon ended when Barack Obama insulted my dog on national television.
The "Kimball Corollary" to "O'Neill's Law," which states that "All politics are local," is that "All politics is personal." (I prefer to regard "politics" as singular rather than plural - let the debate begin.) Last week, during an interview with Barbara Walters (another deplorable move), President-Elect Obama made cruel fun of my dog, gratuitously and without any sort of provocation. That's when the sad fact I have somehow known all along really hit home: the Barack Obama who will sit in the Oval Office is not and cannot be the same man who ran for that office.
The exchange in question took place as Ms. Walters attempted to sell the First Couple on her own preferred breed, a Havanese.
Obama: "Cha Cha?"
Barbara: "It's short for Cha Cha Cha."
O: "What is a Havanese?"
B: "It's like a little terrier and they're non-allergenic and they're the sweetest dogs.."
O: [Face suddenly changes.] "It's like a little yappy dog?"
Michelle: "Don't criticize."
O: "It, like, sits in your lap and things?"
M: "It's a cute dog."
O: "It sounds kinda like a girly dog."
M: "We're girls. We have a houseful of girls."
O [with hand gestures]: "We're going to have a big rambunctious dog, of some sort."
Like Barbara Walters (which is something we are going to have to come to terms with at a later time), my wife and I have a Havanese. Manuel has all the classic dog virtues: he is loyal and affectionate, brave and (somewhat) obedient, and, if anyone tried to take him away from me, they'd have to pry him from my cold, dead hands.
The creation myths of the Havanese breed are various. As their name suggests, they are Cuban, but whether they came there first as the playthings of Spanish aristocrats or to bring joy to the laboring masses as circus dogs is debated. Some say they made landfall in the New World having crossed as shipboard sentinels watching for men overboard, a legacy that would make them unusually beloved among the non-swimming sailors of the day. Our dog still gives the alarm when anyone in our neighborhood dives into a pool or when, at the beach, anyone in his quarter-mile patrol zone is foolish enough to brave the waves.
By immemorial custom, the First Family must be dog owners just as they must be churchgoers and sportsfans. For Barack Obama to promise his daughters a new puppy if he were elected was a no-brainer, like promising them their own airplane or a new house at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. Once Wolf Blitzer called it on Election Night, the Obama family was getting a dog whether the kids wanted one or not.
The semiotics of dog ownership, for presidents and paupers alike, are equally well established. By saying that he wanted a "big, rambunctious dog," Obama was trying to don the mantle of the "guy's guy." Big rambunctious dogs, through their genetic link to working and hunting breeds, establish one's bona fides with the masses. Those toy breeds who don't have to work for living probably belong to people who don't either - or so the conventional wisdom would have it.
Of course, big, rambunctious dogs also imply that the owner is not gay which is important for Obama as he considers a politically radioactive repeal of the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" rules which stuck like flypaper to Bill Clinton during his first year in office. For what it's worth, Barack Obama has risen very high in American life without, as far as I can tell, anyone suggesting he's gay. I really think ghettoizing an entire species of dog is unnecessary overcompensation in that regard.
(By the way, the days of swishy interior decorators with a Teacup Maltese under their arm seem to me to have gone with the wind. Check out the Big Dog Run in Washington Square Park if you don't believe me.)
To give Michelle Obama credit, she attempted to give her husband some cover by suggesting that a "girly dog" would be entirely appropriate for "a houseful of girls." It was a nice try, but clearly Mr. Obama meant "girly" in the pejorative sense, not as an adjective denoting "nice for girls," but rather to suggest a dog that lives in conflict with its own manly nature or the manly nature of dogs in general.
The focus group that sits inside Barack Obama's head has mostly served him well. It has enabled him to take terrifying political risks with that icy cool that we all love and fear. But in this case, his inner focus group has steered him wrong. Making distinctions about dogs based on breed is nothing less than a form of canine racism and exactly the sort of thing many of us had hoped we were leaving behind on Nov. 3. Is a Newfoundland who tongue kisses his male owner and hides under the bed during a thunderstorm any less girly than a Chihuahua who barks at trucks and has the guts to try to mate with a throw pillow more than twice his size?
And, after setting a fine example by declaring that he would adopt (or "rescue" in current parlance) a dog rather than buy one, Obama is acting irresponsibly by getting a dog much larger than is practical for people in his zip code who don't have a Rose Garden and South Lawn for it to run around on. Inevitably, one wonders who is going to clean up after the big, rambunctious dog leaves his big, rambunctious bowel movements scattered about the White House grounds? I suspect our new Commander-in-Chief will be commanding someone to do that job for him.
In the four years since he came into our lives, Manuel has watched over our baby, protected our family, comforted us in times of trouble, given us unconditional love, forgiven us our occasional negligence, entertained us, encouraged us to exercise, and provided us with a middle class tax cut.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Citigroup says gold could rise above $2,000 next year as world unravels

Gold is poised for a dramatic surge and could blast through $2,000 an ounce by the end of next year as central banks flood the world's monetary system with liquidity, according to an internal client note from the US bank Citigroup.

The bank said the damage caused by the financial excesses of the last quarter century was forcing the world's authorities to take steps that had never been tried before.
This gamble was likely to end in one of two extreme ways: with either a resurgence of inflation; or a downward spiral into depression, civil disorder, and possibly wars. Both outcomes will cause a rush for gold.
"They are throwing the kitchen sink at this," said Tom Fitzpatrick, the bank's chief technical strategist.
"The world is not going back to normal after the magnitude of what they have done. When the dust settles this will either work, and the money they have pushed into the system will feed though into an inflation shock.
"Or it will not work because too much damage has already been done, and we will see continued financial deterioration, causing further economic deterioration, with the risk of a feedback loop. We don't think this is the more likely outcome, but as each week and month passes, there is a growing danger of vicious circle as confidence erodes," he said.
"This will lead to political instability. We are already seeing countries on the periphery of Europe under severe stress. Some leaders are now at record levels of unpopularity. There is a risk of domestic unrest, starting with strikes because people are feeling disenfranchised."
"What happens if there is a meltdown in a country like Pakistan, which is a nuclear power. People react when they have their backs to the wall. We're already seeing doubts emerge about the sovereign debts of developed AAA-rated countries, which is not something you can ignore," he said.
Gold traders are playing close attention to reports from Beijing that the China is thinking of boosting its gold reserves from 600 tonnes to nearer 4,000 tonnes to diversify away from paper currencies. "If true, this is a very material change," he said.
Mr Fitzpatrick said Britain had made a mistake selling off half its gold at the bottom of the market between 1999 to 2002. "People have started to question the value of government debt," he said.
Citigroup said the blast-off was likely to occur within two years, and possibly as soon as 2009. Gold was trading yesterday at $812 an ounce. It is well off its all-time peak of $1,030 in February but has held up much better than other commodities over the last few months – reverting to is historical role as a safe-haven store of value and a de facto currency.
Gold has tripled in value over the last seven years, vastly outperforming Wall Street and European bourses.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Flipping madness! Police offer free flip-flops to binge drinkers who keep falling over in heels

Itsh not their fault, you shee. Itsh the shoesh.
Drunk women who stagger about in high heels are to be protected - at public expense - from twisting their ankles.
They will be handed flip-flops to wear by police outside nightclubs as they wend their way home.
The scheme is part of a £30,000 drive by police and councillors to prevent 'alcohol-related harm'.
Superintendent Chris Singer poses with two pairs of flip-flops. As part of a £30,000 health and safety scheme, flip-flops are to be given free to drunk women to prevent injuries on their walk home
It has been prompted by fears that women wearing stilettos or similar footwear could tumble over.
Officials also claim that female revellers are at risk of cutting the soles of their feet by walking barefoot.
The flip-flops will be given to anyone whose footwear is 'uncomfortable, inappropriate or soiled' and will be paid for with a Home Office grant.
The scheme is to begin next month in the centre of Torquay, Devon, a popular destination for hen and stag parties. It will be run by Safer Communities Torbay, a partnership between police, Torbay Council and the Local Education Authority.
Police officers will carry bags of coloured flip-flops on their rounds and will hand them to those who look unsteady on their feet.
Off balance: Drunk women will be handed flip-flops outside clubs
The rubber shoes, which carry printed messages about safe drinking, will also be available free from the council's 'Safe Bus' on the harbourside.

The force has already been handing out condoms and sexual health advice to revellers, and ordered drunken men who urinate in the street to clean up their own mess with a mop and bucket.
Inspector Adrian Leisk, from Safer Communities Torbay, said: 'Sometimes people get drunk and you see them carrying footwear which is inappropriate.
'The emphasis is on providing replacement footwear for people to get home in, should they find their footwear uncomfortable, inappropriate or soiled.
'We have consulted with people who work on our night-time economy areas and this is just one of a number of measures designed to keep people safe.'
The initiative has attracted criticism from campaigners, who said it was a waste of money and police time. Matthew Elliott, chief executive of the TaxPayers' Alliance, said: 'This is an idiotic waste of money.
'People don't pay their taxes for drunk women to get free flip flops. They want the police to fight crime.
'The police aren't there to be an emergency supply of flat shoes.'
But the potential recipients seemed quite pleased yesterday at the prospect of a free pair of flops.
Danielle Bolton, 19, who was out in Torquay, said: 'My heels hurt me at the end of the night so I tend to take them off.
'It's a hell of a lot easier to walk with flip-flops than high heels.'
Leanne Thomas, 21, added: 'I go out clubbing at the harbourside most weekends and I usually walk home barefooted because my heels hurt. I think it's a great idea.'
The £30,000 will cover the cost of free condoms, rape alarms and personal safety information which will also be available on the Safe Bus.
Superintendent Chris Singer, Torbay Police Commander, said: 'Linking in with our partners, this funding represents a significant opportunity to make a real difference in relation to alcohol related harm and disorder.
'We're hopeful that this new initiative will help protect dozens of women who are vulnerable to injury after a night out with friends.'

‘SNL’s’ Spiked Rahmbo Skit

Is it safe to mock Barack Obama’s chief of staff yet? Will it ever be? What could be the explanation as to why Andy Samberg’s impersonation of Rahm Emanuel didn’t make it onto last weekend’s “Saturday Night Live” lineup? So many questions.