Saturday, December 26, 2009

the Most Influential Progressives

The three M's -- Bill Moyers, Michael Moore and Rachel Maddow -- scored highest in a recent AlterNet survey* asking more than 5,000 readers to rate the most influential progressive media figures. Moyers, who scored 67.5, and Moore, with a 66.2 score, were very close. Maddow was a tad behind at 63.5.

It's no surprise that Moyers, the moral sage, and Moore, the rabble-rouser, are ranked at the top. They have been popular with AlterNet readers for years. Moyers' current show, "Bill Moyers' Journal," gets at the heart of our many social ills with long-form exploration and probing interviews. Recently, Moyers spent an episode on the Lyndon Johnson Vietnam tapes, drawing a connection to Obama's escalation of the war in Afghanistan. The show was a television masterpiece.

Moore built his popularity with the astoundingly successful 2004 documentary Fahrenheit 9/11, which remains the highest-grossing documentary of all time, taking in over $200 million worldwide, including U.S. box office revenue of almost $120 million. Bowling for Columbine, released in 2002, took in more than $58 million while Sicko (2007) brought in $36 million. The $14 mill pulled in by Moore's most recent film, Capitalism: A Love Story, is a large drop-off, and must be seen as a disappointment.

Moore also had the highest recognition score in the survey at 98.4 percent -- quite a feat for the former editor of the Flint, Michigan alternative weekly The Flint Voice. Moyers was next at 96.4, followed by Arianna Huffington at 95.6.

But the big story in the survey is Rachel Maddow. For her to leapfrog legends like Noam Chomsky, Arianna Huffington and Amy Goodman -- longtime media mainstays -- is a huge accomplishment. Maddow's success demonstrates that brains and savvy have a place on cable TV, amidst the name-calling that sometimes passes for dialogue. And it indicates that progressives will follow the right talent to corporate media, which may encourage mainstream media outlets to hire more progressives.

Noam Chomsky, still the left's leading intellectual, placed fourth at 57.6, followed by Paul Krugman at 53.4. Krugman's incisive column in the New York Times has been a must-read for several years among a broad swath of liberals and progressives. The sixth-place slot was taken by Maddow's MSNBC cohort, Keith Olbermann (51.7), whose bombastic style, while certainly different than Rachel's, clearly has its fans.

Next in line, and finishing off the top 10, were Amy Goodman (49.7), Arianna Huffington (49.4), Naomi Klein (47.7), and former Labor Secretary and Berkeley professor Robert Reich (31.1).

Here is the full list of Influential Progressives

Saturday, December 19, 2009

AT&T survives Operation Chokehold

Ma Bell's wireless network is still standing after Friday's grassroots iPhone attack

The appointed hour — Friday, from 12 noon to 1 p.m. PST — came and went and AT&T's (T) 3G cellular network had not been brought to its knees, despite the best efforts of thousands of Apple (AAPL) iPhone users.

"As far as I can tell, there’s been no impact at all," wrote Dan Lyons in The Secret Diary of Steve Jobs at 12:19 p.m. "My iPhone is working just the same as ever. "

It was Lyons, writing as Fake Steve Jobs, who on Monday had encouraged iPhone owners to overwhelm AT&T's network by turning on a data-intensive app and running it for an hour. Operation Chokehold, as he dubbed it, was intended as a protest against AT&T's threatened imposition of data usage fees.

By Wednesday, after the FCC's chief of homeland security issued a stern warning, Lyons began to have second thoughts. But by then the protest had taken on a life of its own. See here.

Although there were scattered reports of slowdowns Friday on the Operation Chokehold Facebook page, AT&T's 3G network seemed to be holding up just fine.

"We don't know of any instances in which AT&T's service was degraded or brought offline," says John Rust, one of the "Three Musketeers" who managed Operation Chokehold's official website. "Yet at the same time, we consider the operation to be successful: we proved to AT&T that we believe that 'unlimited' should be 'unlimited,' and that it's not their job to redefine it."

In Brooklyn, where we were monitoring the network's performance, upload and download speeds actually increased during the first quarter hour. See the chart below the fold.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

If They Want to Make It Hip, They Shouldn't Call It Square-Dancing

PORTLAND, Ore. -- Every other week, Paul Silveria gathers his friends, many of them tattooed habitu├ęs of the punk scene here, in warehouses or large houses and cranks up loud protest music.
Then, the 28-year-old steps forward, do-si-dos his partner, and begins to square-dance.
"Square-dancing here isn't really what people imagine it to be," Mr. Silveria says of the hybrid rock and square-dance moves he does. "It turns into a hoedown mosh pit."
In the 1950s and 1960s, square-dancing was big with young and old folks alike. Today, youthful dancers and "callers" like Mr. Silveria are increasingly rare. If this quintessentially American art form can't lure new blood, many aficionados fear, it could be heading toward its last dance.
To attract young people, square-dancing organizations are making efforts to modernize. To the standard repertoire of Dolly Parton and Johnny Cash, some callers have added Michael Jackson, U2 and hip-hop. To keep younger pupils hooked, instructors use collectible plastic badges that denote dancing milestones. Moves include flourishes such as dancing with a beanbag on your head.
The push has some purists grumbling that the true square-dancing tradition -- which arrived from France during colonial times and thrived as a social activity in rural areas -- is being ruined. In particular, older dancers complain that young people are too loud and don't respect traditional clothing or music.
Some square-dance organizers are trying to modernize these gatherings in an effort to attract more young people.
Despite the complaints, leaders stress that they must update or die. "It's scary," says Doug Schafer, 60, an active member of the Bonnie Lads and Lassies square-dancing club in Tacoma, Wash. His group has 69 active members, only 13 under the age of 35. In a survey conducted by the United Square Dancers of America, only 36% of dancers were under the age of 60 in 2005. Fewer than 1% were between 19 and 29.
Nationally, the number of square-dancers has declined to 300,000 from more than one million estimated square-dancers in the late 1970s, says Len Houle, president of the USDA. Responding to the grim numbers, a related group voted in June to spend $22,000 revamping its Web site to feature video and younger dancers.
Attracting the young isn't easy, even in the Pacific Northwest, a bastion of square-dancing all the way back to the covered-wagon days. Organizers must battle a perception among young people that square-dancing is uncool.
For decades, children endured square-dancing taught by indifferent teachers in gym class. Many adults still grimace at the thought of another do-si-do, resurrecting memories of stepping on toes and listening to outdated music.
The 'Dare to Be Square' dance in Seattle last weekend, where young and old dance.
"We're trying to prove we're not square," says Ray Gallagher, chairman of the Pacific Northwest Teen Square Dance Festival. Fighting "the hay-bale and hillbilly stigma" can be tough.
Mr. Gallagher's annual festival is the largest of its kind left in the country and is credited with anchoring a robust young dancer community in the Northwest. In its heyday in the 1960s and 1970s, the springtime event drew 1,500 dancers from the Northwest. Now, Mr. Gallagher says he'll be lucky to attract 500 competitors. They come from all over the country, because so many other youth square-dance festivals have died.
Baleigh Marquardt, 15, describes herself as a "closet square-dancer." Concerned her high-school friends will make fun of her, she says that only a handful know about her weekly trips to the Maplewood Grange in Aurora, Ore., to practice dancing with the Canby Cloverleaves. In lieu of full prairie skirts worn over lace-trimmed petticoats, Ms. Marquardt opts for "toned-down prom dresses," without open backs.
Speakeasy: Historian Digs Into Dance's History
A few miles north, at Kinton Grange in Beaverton, Ore., dancers sweat and spin, their footsteps thundering on the wood floor. Older dancers welcome half a dozen young dancers on the floor. One girl sports pink-tipped hair, black leather bracelets and a blue prairie skirt. Another boy uses a class ring to cinch his neck scarf.
During one dance, a white-bearded man wearing a pink neck kerchief twirls a 10th-grader so fast that she pleads, "I'm dizzy!" During breaks, younger dancers remove cellphones from belt holsters and begin text-messaging.
Among those twirling and texting is 20-year-old Amanda Roberts. Ms. Roberts recently was elected to the board of the Tualatin Valley Council of Square Dance Clubs. She is the youngest member by a few decades.
Since joining, she has begun a recruitment drive to find young dancers. She made a Facebook page for the Toe Draggers, the club she belongs to in Beaverton. She posts square-dancing fliers on high-school and college campuses, and joins online discussion groups to tell youths where they can find dance lessons. For all that, she's only recruited two people for lessons. Young people "think it's all Western. They have the wrong impression," Ms. Roberts says.
Sometimes it just takes the right incentives to convince people under a certain age to attend square dances. Charmaine Slaven, 29, helped launch a "Dare to Be Square" event in the Northwest two years ago to train new callers and musicians. This year's event sold out all 160 spots. Ms. Slaven's formula for success: cheap cover charges, no lessons required, and kegs of beer.
Teens used to have their own clubs, but because of the dwindling sizes of many organizations, many teen groups have combined with traditional clubs in recent years.
This creates some tensions. Christy Knierim, a 19-year-old dancer in Corvallis, Ore., says she and other youth were relegated by elders to the back corner of the dance floor. Elders worried about confusion when younger dancers switched male and female dancing roles. There were also concerns of "goofing off," she says. In time, the two groups have unified.
Other older dancers embrace the new culture. Down the road at the Oak Grove Community Club, George Hermann, a 62-year-old caller for the Oaky Doaks of Oak Grove, Ore., put on a backwards cap and shades and began rapping to "Whoop! (Square it is)," a square-dance version of Tag Team's 1993 hip-hop hit "Whoomp! (There it is)."
To a thumping backbeat, Mr. Hermann delivers his lines at a rapper's pace into a microphone: "Swing that lady round and round" and "do an allemande left."
Michael Kious, Mr. Hermann's grandson, was mortified as a young boy when he first heard his grandfather rap in front of an audience. But now, the 21-year-old Mr. Kious, a dancer himself, says his grandpa's rap is a favorite.
Mr. Kious met his wife, Lisa, square-dancing. Although they have encountered a handful of other young dancing couples online, the newlyweds realize they're a rare breed.
They say they enjoy dancing with older folks but acknowledge a generational divide. Younger dancers' faster pace, additional hip bumps and extra claps can cause some collisions with elders, many coping with knee replacements or arthritis.
"Sometimes we have to warn older dancers that they're in a younger square," Mrs. Kious says. "It can get crazy."

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Miami Herald Asks Readers For Donations

The Miami Herald is taking a page out of Wikipedia's playbook.

Starting Tuesday, the McClatchy-owned newspaper is using its website to invite readers to donate to the newspaper.

A link appears on every story that reads, "Support ongoing news coverage" and takes you to a page where readers can donate any amount they'd like.

"If you value The Miami Herald's local news reporting and investigations, but prefer the convenience of the Internet, please consider a voluntary payment for the web news that matters to you," the prompt reads.

The newspaper's parent company, McClatchy, said last week that advertising trends had improved. The company expected ad revenue "to decline in the low- to mid-20 percent range in the fourth quarter compared with a decline of 28.1 percent in the third quarter and 30.2 percent in the second quarter," the AP reported.

Wikipedia — run by the nonprofit Wikimedia Foundation — runs an annual appeal for readers to donate for the free service; last year, the campaign raised $3 million in the span of ten days.


He’s long been a staple on newsstands and bookshelves, but this week Stephen Colbert will debut in an unlikely spot – on the cover of Sports Illustrated.

The host of “The Colbert Report” graces the front of the new issue devoted to sports media… wearing an Olympic speedskating uniform. Last month, fans of Colbert’s television program pooled more than $250,000 in contributions to become the official primary sponsor of U.S. Speedskating. The team’s largest annual cash sponsor, DSB Bank NV, declared bankruptcy in October.

Colbert has featured Olympics-related material regularly on “The Colbert Report” in recent weeks.

The issue will be on newsstands Wednesday.

Saturday, December 12, 2009


Dr. John Gribbin, author of Get A Grip On New Physics, the book found in Tiger Woods’ crashed car at Sussex University on Wednesday (December 09).

A British University professor cannot buy a copy of his own book after it shot up the bestseller’s list because it was spotted in the disgraced golfer’s wrecked car.

Dr. Gribbin’s book was seen in police pictures of Wood’s battered Cadillac, surrounded by debris.

The title soon rocketed up Amazon’s sales rankings nearly 400 000 places and its value increased by an astonishing 700%.

As Tiger’s life seems to spiral out of control, University of Sussex lecturer Dr Gribbin’s keeps getting better — with sought-after overseas copies of his 2003 publication now pushing $80.

Because the book is out of print, it has caused second hand prices to soar as buyers battle it out for the few remaining copies.

The British version of Get a Grip on New Physics is unavailable on Amazon UK and only two copies of the American edition are now on offer there at $75.

It’s surge in popularity has mainly been in the USA where it was priced at just $10 before Wood’s fall from grace made international headlines.

The book — which suddenly climbed the internet giant’s rankings to become the 2268th most popular book shortly after the Woods crash pictures were released — aims to make big physics simple for ordinary people.

Prof. Gribbin thinks sportsman Woods may have been trying to get his head around puzzling world events.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Madoff's Sons are Looking for Finance Jobs

According to the Wall Street Journal Andrew and Mark Madoff are putting the feelers out and whipping their resumes into shape. Which must count as a lesson in optimism.

On the anniversary of the day the fraud as revealed, the Journal says Mark has talked to some Wall Street types about a position on a trading desk or in trading technology. He asked one person to keep him in mind if there were any openings. Unfortunately, it's not that simple.

He's untouchable in any firm that deals with the public," says someone who talked to Mr. Madoff. He was near tears while describing his feelings about his father, the person added, asking why anyone would bring his son to work at a crooked investment firm. Another person approached by the 45-year-old Mr. Madoff was told by his lawyer not to respond.

Andrew Madoff, meanwhile, is considering starting a disaster recovery firm. Disaster being his area of expertees, one supposes. Even former employees who haven't got the last name Madoff are struggling.

I'll never get a job in finance, and I'm one of the lucky ones," says Eleanor Squillari, Bernard Madoff's assistant for many years. She went to beauty school this summer and plans to look for work at a hair salon while selling her handmade jewelry.

Do not be surprised to see a couple of Madoff-looking guys sweeping up hair there.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Harry Reid And GOP Duke It Out Over Slavery

By Beau Friedlander

Harry Reid likened opposition to health care reform to opposition to the emancipation. Republicans are calling foul and touting their historic role in freeing the slaves.

Harry Reid got things rolling on the Senate floor:

You think you've heard these same excuses before? You're right. In this country there were those who dug in their heels and said, 'Slow down, it's too early. Let's wait. Things aren't bad enough' — about slavery.

Michael Steele shot back that Reid was "far out of bounds with his absurd and offensive comments."

Reid has now compared his quest to pass the Obama-Pelosi government takeover of health care to the effort to end slavery.... To suggest that passing this horrible bill is anything akin to ridding our country of slavery is terribly offensive and calls into question Mr. Reid's suitability to lead.

Sure the Republicans freed the slaves and created the 13th and 14th amendments. They were branded "radical Republicans." No debate there. But there is quite a history of the GOP and its maniac messengers using the history of slavery to underline various forms of wingnuttery.

Ron Paul called taxes slavery:

The income tax is one of the most egregious encroachments on our liberties today. It is a form of involuntary servitude, which was supposed to have been outlawed by the 13th Amendment.

Mike Huckabee likened abortion to slavery earlier this year:

"What are we saying to the generation coming after us when we tell them that it is perfectly OK for one person to own another human being?" Huckabee said. "I thought we dealt with that 150 years ago when the issue of slavery was finally settled in this country, and we decided that it no longer was a political issue, it wasn't an issue of geography, it was an issue of morality. That it was either right or it was immoral that one person could own another human being and have full control even to the point of life and death over that other human being."

Pushing the envelope to the nth degree, Glenn Beck compared the economic stimulus plan to slavery. Seriously, watch the video. Beck also claims that progressives share a lot in common with slave owners:

"We call them progressives now, but back in Samuel Adams’ day, they used to call them tyrants,” said Beck. “A little later, I think they were also called slave owners."

Will Harry Reid stick to his guns? It was a courageous thing to say.


Valentino LoSauro is the real-life Edward Scissor Hands as he displays his revolutionary ‘Clawz’ that he claims cut hair twice as fast as normal shears.

Standing in his Fort Myers, Florida salon, Valentino proudly brandishes the ‘Clawz’ which he spent two years and nearly $250 000 developing from scratch.

Made from responsive elastic and razor sharp stainless steel, the ‘Clawz’ represent “the biggest advance in hair-styling since the advent of the scissors,” according to Valentino.

Attached to his fingertips, Valentino has been using his innovative invention for the past eight years and feels that one day they will replace the trusty scissor.


Check out Shere Khan the tiger, Leo the lion and Baloo the bear chillin’ like villains at the Noah’s Ark Zoo in Locust Grove, Georgia.

The adorable but deadly trio are the unlikeliest friends you could ever see.

Living like brothers at the at a local zoo in Georgia, the bear, lion and tiger have grown up together all their lives.

Found on July 27, 2001, after police confiscated them as part of a drug bust, the three friends were just two months old.

They were locked in a car, along with an African spurred tortoise — Barney, who also lives at Noah’s Ark.

Prior to being moved to their current habitat, they lived near the Noah’s Ark Children’s Care Home, which meant they were not accessible to the general public.

Now they are in display in a specially constructed habitat and they enjoy a special bond with the Hedgecoth family who own Noah’s Ark.

Some pets sickened by swine flu as well

LOS ANGELES - A handful of pets have been sickened with swine flu in recent weeks, but here are doctors' orders: Wash your hands and don't panic.

The virus, also known as H1N1, has been diagnosed in only a few cats and ferrets since it emerged in April. Veterinarians say they don't know if that is because so few animals have been tested or because so few have the disease.

"I think we're probably going to be seeing more (pet) cases in the future. There is more focus on it so people are looking harder," said Dr. Kristy Pabilonia of the Colorado State University Department of Veterinary Medicine, which confirmed two new cases in cats on Friday.

A lethargic 13-year-old tabby in Iowa that was having trouble breathing was the first house cat to be diagnosed. In the last two months, other cats have tested positive in Iowa, Utah and Pennsylvania. All have recovered or are expected to recover, Pabilonia said.

Swine flu appears to be the latest disease spread between animals and humans, said Dr. Miranda Spindel, Director of Veterinary Outreach for the ASPCA and based in Fort Collins, Colo. Other examples include ringworm, salmonella, plague and rabies.

"There are lots of diseases that are transmitted from people to pets and vice versa and people tend to forget that," Spindel said.

However, it is rare for flu viruses to jump between species, according to the American Veterinary Medical Association. And there is no evidence that humans can get the swine flu infection from pets.

Friday, December 04, 2009

Andrew Sullivan: I'm Breaking From The Right

Reacting to prominent conservative blogger Charles Johnson's announcement that he would not follow the right wing off a cliff, Andrew Sullivan is offering his own reasons for parting with the movement.

Johnson, who blogs at Little Green Footballs, wrote on Monday that fanatic politicians, racism, sexism, anti-Islamism, hate speech, conspiracy theories and other troubling trends on the right wing have led him to make a formal break.

"The American right wing has gone off the rails, into the bushes, and off the cliff," he concluded. "I won't be going over the cliff with them."

Andrew Sullivan, though not as consistent a conservative as Johnson, felt compelled to emphasize his own separation from the right wing. Among other things, he writes:

I cannot support a movement that holds that purely religious doctrine should govern civil political decisions and that uses the sacredness of religious faith for the pursuit of worldly power.

I cannot support a movement that is deeply homophobic, cynically deploys fear of homosexuals to win votes, and gives off such a racist vibe that its share of the minority vote remains pitiful.

I cannot support a movement which has no real respect for the institutions of government and is prepared to use any tactic and any means to fight political warfare rather than conduct a political conversation.


Check out the Palawan Princess, an incredible, five-pound blister pearl which measures six inches in diameter.

This giant gem is the second largest in the world and expected to fetch over $400 000 at auction this week.

The Palawan Princess is a rare and immense blister pearl weighing five pounds. It is surpassed only by the renowned 14 pound Pearl of Allah.

The beautiful pearl measures six inches in diameter and is still attached to the giant clam shell it was formed in.

Gemologists at the European Gem Laboratories, who examined and authenticated the pearl, said: “This is a once-in-a-lifetime look at one of nature’s most unique treasures. A pearl this size is not only one of the largest ones we have ever seen, it is among the largest pearls ever seen anywhere.”

The clam shell was found off the coastal waters of the Philippines by a professional pearl diver. It is being auctioned by Bonhams and Butterfields in Los Angeles on December 6.

And the walls come a tumblin' down

As of yesterday, some section editors at all of (A.H. Belo Corp) papers, including The (Dallas Morning) News, will now report directly to (senior vice president of sales Cyndy) Carr's team of sales managers, now referred to as general managers. In short, those who sell ads for A.H. Belo's products will now dictate content within A.H. Belo's products, which is a radical departure from the way newspapers have been run since, oh, forever....

U.S. Skater Davis calls Colbert ‘a jerk’ for bashing Canadians

CALGARY, Alberta - Stephen Colbert's Canadian-bashing isn't sitting well with at least one American speedskating star.

"He's a jerk," Shani Davis said Thursday when asked for his take on the comedian's criticism of Canadians. "You can put that in the paper."

Davis declined to elaborate, making the comment while vetting potential questions from The Canadian Press before rejecting an interview request and walking away.

Davis has ties to Canada from training out of Calgary in the past, and has also had past differences with U.S. Speedskating, which is now being sponsored by the comedian who hosts the "The Colbert Report."

Publicists for Colbert did not respond to requests for comment.

Colbert stepped into a void for the American skaters after the team was left with a $300,000 shortfall when Dutch bank DSB declared bankruptcy and pulled out of its sponsorship. He put up a fundraising link on his Web site — a similar plan helped raise hundreds of thousands of dollars for wounded American soldiers and their families — in exchange for becoming the skating body's primary sponsor.

Soon after, Colbert used his show to aim some pointed barbs north of the border, while picking up on complaints that Vancouver Olympic officials have been limiting international athletes' access to facilities for the 2010 Winter Games.

"Those syrup-suckers won't let us practice at their Olympic venues," Colbert said. "At the Salt Lake Games, we let the Canadian luge team take 100 practice runs."

The issue of access to the Richmond Olympic Oval is one that resonates with the U.S. skaters, although they're more diplomatic about it than Colbert.

"It's the Olympics, the point of the Olympics is to bring the whole world together and by doing that they're kind of separating themselves off from the world," said rising U.S. star Trevor Marsicano. "... It's the way it is. I'm not going to complain about it."

Veteran Chad Hedrick feels the same way.

"I think everybody should have equal rights to train on the ice as much as they can," the Olympic champion said. "I don't know how it's been in past Olympic Games, I've only been to one Olympics and maybe when it was in Salt Lake the ice time was more favorable to Americans, I don't know. ...

"But that's part of the game."

Hedrick and Marsicano both appreciate Colbert's support, even though neither was particularly familiar with his show on Comedy Central before he came on board.

Hedrick hopes Colbert's fans will help bring more exposure to and increase the profile of a sport that repeatedly leads the way in terms of medals won by Americans at Winter Olympics.

"We're really fortunate that he jumped on board. It's a great situation for us," Hedrick said. "We needed it financially. It's a great opportunity for U.S. Speedskating to provide things for the athletes that they wouldn't be able to provide without him. ...

"As successful as we've been at the Olympics, a lot of people are unfamiliar with speedskating in America. And the money doesn't hurt at all."

Marsicano agrees and is looking forward to an expected team visit from Colbert at next week's World Cup stop in Salt Lake City.

"He's a good thing for U.S. Speedskating," Marsicano said.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Arming Goldman With Pistols Against Public

Dec. 1 (Bloomberg) -- “I just wrote my first reference for a gun permit,” said a friend, who told me of swearing to the good character of a Goldman Sachs Group Inc. banker who applied to the local police for a permit to buy a pistol. The banker had told this friend of mine that senior Goldman people have loaded up on firearms and are now equipped to defend themselves if there is a populist uprising against the bank.

I called Goldman Sachs spokesman Lucas van Praag to ask whether it’s true that Goldman partners feel they need handguns to protect themselves from the angry proletariat. He didn’t call me back. The New York Police Department has told me that “as a preliminary matter” it believes some of the bankers I inquired about do have pistol permits. The NYPD also said it will be a while before it can name names.

While we wait, Goldman has wrapped itself in the flag of Warren Buffett, with whom it will jointly donate $500 million, part of an effort to burnish its image -- and gain new Goldman clients. Goldman Sachs Chief Executive Officer Lloyd Blankfein also reversed himself after having previously called Goldman’s greed “God’s work” and apologized earlier this month for having participated in things that were “clearly wrong.”

Has it really come to this? Imagine what emotions must be billowing through the halls of Goldman Sachs to provoke the firm into an apology. Talk that Goldman bankers might have armed themselves in self-defense would sound ludicrous, were it not so apt a metaphor for the way that the most successful people on Wall Street have become a target for public rage.

Pistol Ready

Common sense tells you a handgun is probably not even all that useful. Suppose an intruder sneaks past the doorman or jumps the security fence at night. By the time you pull the pistol out of your wife’s jewelry safe, find the ammunition, and load your weapon, Fifi the Pomeranian has already been taken hostage and the gun won’t do you any good. As for carrying a loaded pistol when you venture outside, dream on. Concealed gun permits are almost impossible for ordinary citizens to obtain in New York or nearby states.

In other words, a little humility and contrition are probably the better route.

Until a couple of weeks ago, that was obvious to everyone but Goldman, a firm famous for both prescience and arrogance. In a display of both, Blankfein began to raise his personal- security threat level early in the financial crisis. He keeps a summer home near the Hamptons, where unrestricted public access would put him at risk if the angry mobs rose up and marched to the East End of Long Island.

To the Barricades

He tried to buy a house elsewhere without attracting attention as the financial crisis unfolded in 2007, a move that was foiled by the New York Post. Then, Blankfein got permission from the local authorities to install a security gate at his house two months before Bear Stearns Cos. collapsed.

This is the kind of foresight that Goldman Sachs is justly famous for. Blankfein somehow anticipated the persecution complex his fellow bankers would soon suffer. Surely, though, this man who can afford to surround himself with a private army of security guards isn’t sleeping with the key to a gun safe under his pillow. The thought is just too bizarre to be true.

So maybe other senior people at Goldman Sachs have gone out and bought guns, and they know something. But what?

Henry Paulson, U.S. Treasury secretary during the bailout and a former Goldman Sachs CEO, let it slip during testimony to Congress last summer when he explained why it was so critical to bail out Goldman Sachs, and -- oh yes -- the other banks. People “were unhappy with the big discrepancies in wealth, but they at least believed in the system and in some form of market-driven capitalism. But if we had a complete meltdown, it could lead to people questioning the basis of the system.”

Torn Curtain

There you have it. The bailout was meant to keep the curtain drawn on the way the rich make money, not from the free market, but from the lack of one. Goldman Sachs blew its cover when the firm’s revenue from trading reached a record $27 billion in the first nine months of this year, and a public that was writhing in financial agony caught on that the profits earned on taxpayer capital were going to pay employee bonuses.

This slip-up let the other bailed-out banks happily hand off public blame to Goldman, which is unpopular among its peers because it always seems to win at everyone’s expense.

Plenty of Wall Streeters worry about the big discrepancies in wealth, and think the rise of a financial industry-led plutocracy is unjust. That doesn’t mean any of them plan to move into a double-wide mobile home as a show of solidarity with the little people, though.

Cool Hand Lloyd

No, talk of Goldman and guns plays right into the way Wall- Streeters like to think of themselves. Even those who were bailed out believe they are tough, macho Clint Eastwoods of the financial frontier, protecting the fistful of dollars in one hand with the Glock in the other. The last thing they want is to be so reasonably paid that the peasants have no interest in lynching them.

And if the proles really do appear brandishing pitchforks at the doors of Park Avenue and the gates of Round Hill Road, you can be sure that the Goldman guys and their families will be holed up in their safe rooms with their firearms. If nothing else, that pistol permit might go part way toward explaining why they won’t be standing outside with the rest of the crowd, broke and humiliated, saying, “Damn, I was on the wrong side of a trade with Goldman again.”

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Walmart Shuts Down For 3 Hours After Shoppers Go Crazy

The Los Angeles Times says that a Walmart in Upland, California had to kick everyone out and shut down for 3 hours this morning, because shoppers lost their damned minds.

The store called police for help at around 2:44 a.m.:

Employees said customers began tearing into merchandise that had been shrink-wrapped and were supposed to be opened at 5 a.m.

Several officers were sent and stood by as shoppers were kicked out and the store closed down. The bargain hunters were told to line up in the parking lot.

Meanwhile, the carts were emptied and all the items returned to the shelves, employees said. But they said that outside, people began “yelling and screaming,” pounding on the glass doors and trying to sneak into the store through the lawn and garden section.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

More Young Americans Move In With Their Parents

By Justin Charity
The Pew Research Center is in the holiday spirit; today they published results of a recent survey showing that Thanksgiving travel will prove convenient for millions of young Americans this year since so many of them have already been forced to move back in with their parents:

A recent survey by the Pew Research Center finds that 13% of parents with grown children say one of their adult sons or daughters has moved back home in the past year. Social scientists call them "boomerangers" -- young adults who move in with parents after living away from home. This recession has produced a bumper crop.

Census Bureau data confirm that proportionately fewer young singles are living solo now than before the recession. Overall, the proportion of adults ages 18 to 29 who live alone declined from 7.9% in 2007 to 7.3% in 2009. Similar drops in the proportion of young people who live by themselves occurred during or immediately after the recessions of 1982 and 2001.

The current decline has been particularly steep among young women; the proportion who live by themselves fell by a full percentage point to 6.1%. Among young men, the share living on their own fell 0.2 percentage points to 8.4%, a statistically insignificant change.

Still more disheartening:

Among 16- to 24-year-olds, less than half, or 46.1 percent, are currently employed, the smallest share since the government began collecting such data in 1948. At the same time, a record high of about 11.5 million Americans ages 18 to 24, or nearly 40 percent, attended college in October 2008.

If you're young and heading home to suffer through yet another awkward, vulgar Thanksgiving dinner with your parents, at least you can be thankful that you don't live with them every day of your life anymore.

Ten Things Progressives Can Be Thankful For This Thanksgiving

By Ken Kupchik
As Thanksgiving approaches and the turkeys go from writing their bucket lists to brine buckets, we should all stop and realize that there is a lot to be thankful for. Here is Air America's top ten list of things every progressive should be smiling about.

10) A president who can form a coherent sentence, and answer serious questions without a perpetual smirk.

9) Lou Dobbs running for president, disproving the theory that he is a narcissistic, arrogant, entitled demagogue who believes that he is of ultimate importance to everyone in the country.

8) The Internet, where within minutes we can pull up footage of Rudy Guiliani saying literally the opposite of what he said just several years ago about holding terrorist trials in New York.

7) Ron Regan, who can keep his cool while speaking to a person accusing President Obama of being a terrorist while the rest of us just smash our heads against the keyboard.

6) China for vaccinating pandas for H1N1, and having the highest credit-card limit on the planet.

5) Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert, who manage to take mind-numbing-hypocrisy, and turn it into gut-busting-laughter, until Gingrich or Kristol show up and turn it into frantic-channel-changing.

4) Alan Grayson, who is still telling it like it is every single chance he gets. Who wouldn't love to bring that guy to turkey dinner at your conservative in-laws' house?

3) Glenn Beck and DVR, saving you the money and trouble of going out to buy a bottle of Absinthe.

2) Sarah Palin for her new book Going Rogue.

1) Michael Steele, who is probably secretly working for the Democrats.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Proton beams circulate in Big Bang machine

GENEVA - Scientists switched on the world's largest atom smasher Friday night for the first time since the $10 billion machine suffered a spectacular failure more than a year ago.

It took a year of repairs before beams of protons circulated late Friday in the Large Hadron Collider for the first time since it was heavily damaged by a simple electrical fault.

Circulation of the beams was a significant leap forward. The European Organization for Nuclear Research has taken the restart of the collider step by step to avoid further setbacks as it moves toward new scientific experiments — probably starting in January — regarding the makeup of matter and the universe.

Progress on restarting the machine, on the border between Switzerland and France, went faster than expected Friday evening and the first beam circulated in a clockwise direction around the machine about 10 p.m., said James Gillies, spokesman for the European Organization for Nuclear Research.

"Some of the scientists had gone home and had to be called back in," Gillies told The Associated Press.

The exact time of the start of the Large Hadron Collider was difficult to predict because it was based on how long it took to perform steps along the way, and in the end it happened about nine hours earlier than expected, Gillies said.

This is an important milestone on the road toward scientific discoveries at the LHC, which are expected in 2010, he said.

About two hours later the scientists circulated another beam in the opposite direction, which was the initial goal in getting the machine going again and moving it toward collisions of protons, CERN said. The LHC also will be used later for colliding lead ions — basically the nucleus of the element that is about 160 times as heavy as a single proton. That should reveal still more scientific secrets.

"It's great to see beam circulating in the LHC again," said CERN Director General Rolf Heuer. "We've still got some way to go before physics can begin, but with this milestone we're well on the way."

With great fanfare, CERN circulated its first beams Sept. 10, 2008. But the machine was sidetracked nine days later when a badly soldered electrical splice overheated and set off a chain of damage to massive superconducting magnets and other parts of the collider, in a 27-kilometer (17-mile) circular tunnel under the Swiss-French border.

CERN has $40 million on repairs and improvements on the machine to avoid a repetition.

"The LHC is a far better understood machine than it was a year ago," said Steve Myers, CERN's director for accelerators. "We've learned from our experience and engineered the technology that allows us to move on. That's how progress is made."

The LHC is expected soon to be running with more energy the world's current most powerful accelerator, the Tevatron at Fermilab near Chicago. It is supposed to keep ramping up to seven times the energy of Fermilab in coming years.This will allow the collisions between protons on the machine to give insights into dark matter and what gives mass to other particles, and to show what matter was in the microseconds of rapid cooling after the Big Bang that many scientists theorize marked the creation of the universe billions of years ago.

The two parallel tubes the size of fire hoses send billions of protons whizzing around the collider in opposite directions at nearly the speed of light. In rooms the size of cathedrals 300 feet (100 meters) below the ground the magnets force them into huge detectors to record what happens.

The beams traveled Friday night at a relatively low energy level, but Gillies said the LHC was expected soon to start accelerating them soon so that the collisions they make will be more powerful — and revealing — creating as yet unseen insights into nature.

The LHC operates at nearly absolute zero temperature, colder than outer space, which allows the superconducting magnets to guide the protons most efficiently.

Physicists have used smaller, room-temperature colliders for decades to study the atom. They once thought protons and neutrons were the smallest components of the atom's nucleus, but the colliders showed that they are made of quarks and gluons and that there are other forces and particles. And scientists still have other questions about antimatter, dark matter and supersymmetry they want to answer with CERN's new collider.

The Superconducting Super Collider being built in Texas would have been bigger than the LHC, but in 1993 the U.S. Congress canceled it after costs soared and questions were raised about its scientific value

"The next important milestone will be low-energy collisions, expected in about a week from now," said Gillies.

These will give the experiments their first collision data, enabling them to calibrate their equipment for the scientific work ahead, eagerly awaited by particle physicists from countries around the world, he said.

Until now all the data they have recorded has comes from cosmic rays from outer space.

Gillies said the LHC should be ramped up to 3.5 trillion electron volts some time next year, which will be 3 1/2 times as powerful as Fermilab. The two laboratories are friendly rivals, working on equipment and sharing scientists.

But each would be delighted to make the discovery of the elusive Higgs boson, the particle or field that theoretical gives mass to other particles. That is widely expected to deserve the Nobel Prize for physics.

More than 8,000 physicists from other labs around the world also have work planned for the LHC. The organization is run by its 20 European member nations, with support from other countries, including observers Japan, India, Russia and the U.S. that have made big contributions to the LHC.

CERN has received support from around the world in getting the LHC up and running again, the organization said.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Depressed woman loses benefits over Facebook photos

A Quebec woman on long-term sick leave is fighting to have her benefits reinstated after her employer's insurance company cut them, she says, because of photos posted on Facebook.

Nathalie Blanchard, shown here on a beach holiday during her sick leave. (Facebook)Nathalie Blanchard, 29, has been on leave from her job at IBM in Bromont, Que., for the last year and a half after she was diagnosed with major depression.

The Eastern Townships woman was receiving monthly sick-leave benefits from Manulife, her insurance company, but the payments dried up this fall.

When Blanchard called Manulife, the company said that "I'm available to work, because of Facebook," she told CBC News this week.

She said her insurance agent described several pictures Blanchard posted on the popular social networking site, including ones showing her having a good time at a Chippendales bar show, at her birthday party and on a sun holiday — evidence that she is no longer depressed, Manulife said.

Blanchard said she notified Manulife that she was taking a trip, and she's shocked the company would investigate her in such a manner and interpret her photos that way.

"In the moment I'm happy, but before and after I have the same problems" as before, she said.

Blanchard said that on her doctor's advice, she tried to have fun, including nights out at her local bar with friends and short getaways to sun destinations, as a way to forget her problems.

She also doesn’t understand how Manulife accessed her photos because her Facebook profile is locked and only people she approves can look at what she posts.

Insurer confirms it uses Facebook

Her lawyer Tom Lavin said Manulife's investigation was inappropriate.

"I don't think for judging a mental state that Facebook is a very good tool," he said, adding that he has requested another psychiatric evaluation for Blanchard.

"It's not as if somebody had a broken back and there was a picture of them carrying with a load of bricks," Lavin said. "My client was diagnosed with a major depression. And there were pictures of her on Facebook, in a party or having a good time. It could be that she was just trying to escape."

Manulife wouldn't comment on Blanchard's case, but in a written statement sent to CBC News, the insurer said: "We would not deny or terminate a valid claim solely based on information published on websites such as Facebook." It confirmed that it uses the popular social networking site to investigate clients.

Insurance companies must weigh information found on such sites, said Claude Distasio, a spokeswoman for the Canadian Life and Health Insurance Association.

"We can't ignore it, wherever the source of the information is," she said. "We can't ignore it."

Blanchard estimated she’s lost thousands of dollars in benefits since Manulife changed her claim.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Headtime: Giant Scalp-Massage Helmet Unveiled

Stressed? Have a headache?

Headtime, a gigantic silver helmet equipped with 29 silicon balls, 34 ceramic balls, and speakers, can supposedly help.

The scalp-massaging helmet from Kinatech promises to give your a robotic head message (with heat, if you'd like) and soothe you with the sound of birds chirping and waves crashing piped into your Headtime hat.

The news website Aving says of the gadget,

This product comes in the shape of a helmet and can be comfortably worn like a regular hat while sitting down to study or when under stress and with a headache.

Inside the product, there is a sound therapy speaker with sounds of creeks, birds, rain, waves and nature flowing and an LED lighting that help to find mental stability.

This scalp massager made to relieve stress for office workers is expected to gain a favorable response also from housewives tired from housework.

The Korean manufacturer, Kinatech, pictures happy Headtime users wearing the awkward silver helmet while sipping tea, brushing their teeth, or sitting in the park.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Hypnosis has 'real' brain effect

BBC NEWS: "Hypnosis has a "very real" effect that can be picked up on brain scans, say Hull University researchers.
An imaging study of hypnotised participants showed decreased activity in the parts of the brain linked with daydreaming or letting the mind wander.
The same brain patterns were absent in people who had the tests but who were not susceptible to being hypnotised.
One psychologist said the study backed the theory that hypnosis "primes" the brain to be open to suggestion.
Hypnosis is increasingly being used to help people stop smoking or lose weight and advisers recently recommended its use on the NHS to treat irritable bowel syndrome.
It is not the first time researchers have tried to use imaging studies to monitor brain activity in people under hypnosis.
But the Hull team said these had been done while people had been asked to carry out tasks, so it was not clear whether the changes in the brain were due to the act of doing the task or an effect of hypnosis.
In the latest study, the team first tested how people responded to hypnosis and selected 10 individuals who were "highly suggestible" and seven people who did not really respond to the technique other than becoming more relaxed.
The participants were asked to do a task under hypnosis, such as listening to non-existent music, but unknown to them the brain activity was being monitored in the rest periods in between tasks, the team reported in the journal Consciousness and Cognition."

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Yike Bike: electric folding penny-farthing blends 19th century tech with 21st

If you don't mind your handlebars being located beside your butt and endless giggles and smirks as you roll by then perhaps the YikeBike is the fancy bit of urban mobility kit you've been yearning. Looking something like a space-age version of that charming British improvement on the French boneshaker bike, this mini penny-farthing is minimalist but packs some cool features. Not only is it equipped with turning and braking indicators but it is the first "bike" to feature anti-locking brakes. The carbon fiber frame ensures strength but keeps it light enough (10 kg/22 lb) to carry up a couple flights of stairs after you spend the 15 seconds it takes to fold it up.

It's said that its 1 kW motor offers a power to weight ratio better than many sports cars and makes acceleration brisk but the electronically set speed limit of 20 km/h (12.5 mph) will keep you from overtaking any Porsches on the straightaways. Unless there's heavy traffic. That's where the Yikebike's small footprint and maneuverability might turn smirks of superiority to expressions of envy. The lithium battery can take you 9 to 10 kilometers (about 6 miles) and takes 20 minutes to charge 80 percent. Don't look for this sleek set of wheels on sale in America anytime soon as the roll out early next summer includes only a handful of European countries and its home turf, New Zealand. With a price to be set somewhere between €3,500 - €3,900 ($4,989 - $5,559) we suspect it won't cause cities to be designed around them as the Segway was supposed to do but if they ever figure out a way to play polo on them, look out!

Nubs, the Iraq war dog, arrives at his new home

Marine Capt. Eric Sjoberg and his wife, Chrissy, greeted Nubs at Lindberg Field. They will be looking after the German shepherd/border collie mix for Maj. Brian Dennis.

Nubs wasted no time melting hearts.
Big, tough Marines said things like, “Oooohhh,” and gently stroked his fur as they cradled him. Reporters and camera crews swarmed around him.

The German shepherd/border collie mix was sweet, gentle and a little on the scrawny side when he arrived at Lindbergh Field in San Diego yesterday evening. But he should gain a few pounds now that he'll be fed regularly.

Life in Iraq can be tough on a dog. Count Nubs among the luckiest. He got out thanks to a San Diego-based Marine, Maj. Brian Dennis, who befriended him and then had him flown home.

War brings horror, tragedy, the most heart-wrenching of moments. At least, sometimes, along comes something like this.

“It's amazing, he's finally home,” said Capt. Eric Sjoberg, who's going to care for Nubs with his wife Chrissy until Dennis, a Marine buddy, returns from Iraq in the spring.

Nubs licked Sjoberg's face. He panted patiently as cameras filmed and snapped pictures. “You're seeing first-hand why the guys over there fell in love with him,” Sjoberg said.

Nubs is about 2. When young, his ears were slashed off because an Iraqi thought that would make him tough and alert.

That's why Dennis named him Nubs. That's all he had left of his ears.

And that was hardly Nubs' worst moment. Once, he was stabbed with a screwdriver. Dennis patched him up as best he could, but didn't think Nubs would make it. The wound was deep. He slept with him that night to keep him warm as temperatures dipped to 18 degrees.
Dennis fell for the dog hard. The e-mails he sent to friends spoke of his life in Iraq and they always seemed to mention this tough little dog, said Maj. Chris Collins, his roommate in San Diego.

“It seemed that something bad would always happen,” Collins said. “He'd get into a fight or something. Nubs was always in bad shape.”

Dennis, who is based at Miramar Marine Corps Air Station, is serving along the border between Iraq and Syria, where he is helping to train Iraqis. It's rough terrain. Nubs and other dogs lived in an old Iraqi fort and survived on food scraps.

Nubs ran wild. He had no owner, no home, no collar, nobody to play fetch with, no one to bring a slipper to, no Alpo, nobody to scratch behind his ear. No name, even, until Dennis came along.

But even Dennis didn't think the relationship would last. He's in a war zone, after all. When Dennis and his team were ordered to move 70 miles away, he figured life with Nubs was over.

It wasn't. Nubs somehow tracked the Marines to their new location, showing up two days after they did. Dennis was amazed. How'd he do it? He was convinced then that he couldn't leave this dog behind.

He couldn't keep him in Iraq, of course. It's against the rules. So he wrote home, saying he wanted to take Nubs back to the U.S.

“We thought he was crazy. We didn't think it was possible,” Sjoberg said.

Friends rallied, raising more than $3,500, and the wheels were put in motion.

Yesterday, after a couple stops along the way, Nubs came home.

And soon he'll be frolicking in the sands of a local dog beach, far away from the stark desert sands of Iraq.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Community College Admission Now Aspirational

Thanks to the recession-era glut of job-seekers, Starbucks barista jobs now require a postgraduate degree. But you shouldn't worry about that, because you can no longer even get into community college.

In much the same way that "emergency fallback" jobs have now become aspirational, emergency fallback schools are now out of reach for you, the average jerk. The New York Times reports that whereas NYC's six f'n humongous two-year colleges have always accepted everyone, at all times in the past, now they've had to put early deadlines on enrollment and turn thousands of applicants away. "I've never seen anything like this," says Laguardia CC president Gail O. Mellow. "We used to pretty much be an open door."


A NASA graphic traces the asteroid 2009 VA's path within the moon's orbit and past
Earth. Each dot on the 2009 VA line indicates an hour of time along the route.
Asteroid-watchers say a space rock about as big as a garage came within 9,000 miles (14,000 kilometers) of Earth last Friday, just 15 hours after it was detected.

Experts quickly determined that the asteroid 2009 VA would miss us - and even if it came directly at us, it wouldn't have caused a catastrophe. Nevertheless, the close encounter serves as a reminder that someday a much bigger rock may well hit us and that it's best to be prepared.

In this week's recap of the event, NASA's Near-Earth Object Program Office reported that 2009 VA came well within the moon's orbit - so close, in fact, that the asteroid's orbital path was bent by Earth's gravitational pull.

NASA and other space agencies around the world have been keeping increasingly close track of near-Earth asteroids and comets, with a strong assist from amateur astronomers. In this case, the object was first detected by the Catalina Sky Survey at the University of Arizona. It was quickly identified by the Minor Planet Center in Cambridge, Mass., as a close-approaching asteroid. Then NASA experts worked out its orbit and gave the all-clear.

Why wasn't the rock found sooner? Well, smaller objects are more difficult to detect in advance, and this one was estimated to be only 7 meters (23 feet) wide. That's nowhere near as big as the 10-kilometer-wide (6-mile-wide) object that apparently did in the dinosaurs 65 million years ago - or even the 30-meter-wide (100-foot-wide) Tunguska object that was thought to have wreaked destruction in a Siberian forest in 1908.

For what it's worth, the Defense Department's Joint Space Operations Center tracks about 19,000 orbital objects down to the size of 10 centimeters (4 inches), and NASA tracks bits of space junk that are even smaller. But incoming near-Earth objects are trickier to track until they're almost upon us.

In the close-but-no-collision category, this one was No. 3 on NASA's list for cataloged asteroids: A meter-wide (yard-wide) asteroid came within 6,150 kilometers (3,821 miles) in October 2008, while another space rock about the size of 2009 VA passed within 6,535 kilometers (4,060 miles) in March 2004.

If 2009 VA had entered the atmosphere, it almost certainly would have blown itself up before hitting the ground - just as a larger asteroid did a month ago, without warning, in the skies over Indonesia. A somewhat smaller asteroid met a similar fate in the skies over Africa about 13 months ago. (Months later, students in Sudan found 4 kilograms (8.7 pounds) of meteorites that fell to Earth after last year's blast.)

Such atmospheric blow-ups release energy equivalent to about a kiloton of TNT. In comparison, the Hiroshima atomic bomb set off a roughly 15-kiloton blast.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Sharp-toothed shark acts as midwife

NZ Herald News: "Visitors to Kelly Tarlton's Underwater World were stunned to see one shark give another shark an impromptu caesarean section.
Staff were initially dubious when visitors came running to tell them there were baby sharks spilling from a wound in a female school shark's stomach - courtesy of a large bite by another shark.
But they found a female with a large gaping stomach wound and four babies swimming in the tank.
Kelly Tarlton's aquarist Fiona Davies said it was common for sharks to take chunks out of each other, even in the wild, but she had never heard of anything like this.
"It had to bite a certain part to let them out and do it without killing them [the babies] or her [the mother]."
Ms Davies said the unusual delivery had probably saved the baby sharks' lives.
Staff did not know the mother was pregnant and, had she given birth naturally, most likely at night, the babies would have been eaten by adult sharks and stingrays before staff could rescue them.
The young sharks have been taken to a "nursery" tank with some baby eagle rays, where visitors can see them before they are released into the wild."

UI teaching, research assistants prepared to strike

URBANA – The University of Illinois' graduate teaching and research assistants could be going on strike for the first time.

On Monday, the Graduate Employees' Organization announced the results of its strike authorization vote. Spokesman Peter Campbell said 92 percent of participating GEO members chose to authorize a strike against the UI Board of Trustees in votes taken over the course of three days last week.

Campbell said the vote is "a clear mandate to call a strike at any time."

"The strike committee met on Sunday, and there is a strike plan in place," Campbell said. "We've sent a letter asking the administration to meet (for negotiations) this week. We are interested in resolving this through negotiation."

Nov. 17 is the next meeting planned for negotiations.

In a mass e-mail Monday from the office of interim Provost Robert Easter, the UI said it expected the strike would begin on Nov. 16.

Peter Campbell, spokesman for the Graduate Employees' Organization, announces the passage of an intent-to-strike vote. The press conference was held Monday outside the McKinley YMCA at the University of Illinois in Urbana.

According to the GEO, its 2,700 bargaining unit members teach more than 23 percent of course hours at the undergraduate level on the Urbana campus.

The union, affiliated with the American Federation of Teachers/Illinois Federation of Teachers Local 6300, AFL-CIO, has been negotiating with UI administrators for more than six months, seeking a contract that would set the minimum salary for a 50 percent nine-month appointment at the UI's estimate of a living wage for a graduate student, as well as protect tuition waivers for TAs and GAs.

Urbana campus spokeswoman Robin Kaler said she was disappointed with the vote.

"We don't think it's in the best interest of the GEO or the UI to hold a strike, but we are planning for that eventuality," she said. "We're letting instructors know what's expected of them to provide an education for our students."

The provost's e-mail said:

"Financial planning is now focused on meeting and coping with financial stresses exceeding any the university has encountered for many, many years. Although we have seen welcome increases in research funding, and there have been successes in the advancement campaign, it must be understood that funds from those sources cannot be used for TA salaries. For these reasons, the GEO's request for a nearly 20 percent raise in the minimum stipend is untenable. As you know, other employees of the university did not receive raises this year, and the state's economic situation may yet require furloughs and other cost-saving measures before the end of the fiscal year."

The GEO said the administration's initial contract proposal sought to freeze GEO wages for three years, reserve the right to furlough and lay off graduate employees in good standing and to count "in-kind" compensation such as housing or meal vouchers toward the minimum.

Kaler said average total compensation for 50 percent assistants teaching 20 hours a week for nine months ranges from $27,840 to $45,430, including benefits and tuition waivers.

Almost 60 percent of graduate assistants are in that range, she said.

The GEO's figure is that a minimum salary is $13,430, Campbell said, and the union objects to counting tuition waivers as paid compensation.

"The administration doesn't count tuition toward its estimate of $16,086 as a living wage. This means that even if you count tuition waivers as part of compensation, grad employees would still make less than what is required to live on if they were required to pay tuition," Campbell said.

The GEO contends that its members' salaries are only 6.5 percent of Urbana's state funding, compared with 55 percent for faculty salaries.

Monday, November 09, 2009

Confusion Over Where Money Lent on Kiva Goes "Last month, David Roodman, a research fellow at the Center for Global Development, pressed a button on his laptop as his bus left the Lincoln Tunnel in Manhattan and started a debate that has people re-examining the country’s latest celebrated charity,
Oprah Winfrey extolled Kiva on her TV show. Nicholas D. Kristof, a columnist for The New York Times, sang its praises. “I lent $25 each to the owner of a TV repair shop in Afghanistan, a baker in Afghanistan, and a single mother running a clothing shop in the Dominican Republic,” Mr. Kristof wrote in a 2007 column.
Kiva, a nonprofit organization, promoted itself as a link between small individual lenders and small individual borrowers like Maryjane Cruz in the Philippines, who recently sought a $625 loan to support her family’s farm.
But Mr. Roodman’s blog post said that lenders like Mr. Kristof were not making direct loans. Borrowers like Ms. Cruz already have loans from microfinance institutions by the time their pictures are posted on Kiva’s Web site.
Thus, the direct person-to-person connection Kiva offered was in fact an illusion. Kiva’s lenders were actually backstopping microfinance institutions, and since Kiva and other online giving and lending models pride themselves on their transparency, Mr. Roodman and others suggested it might better explain what its lenders’ money — about $100 million over four years — was really doing.
“The person-to-person donor-to-borrower connections created by Kiva are partly fictional,” he wrote. “I suspect that most Kiva users do not realize this.”"

Sunday, November 08, 2009

Bill Clinton, George W. Bush cancel appearances in L.A., N.Y.

Former Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush on Saturday abruptly pulled out of a joint appearance scheduled for this winter in Los Angeles after growing unhappy with the way the event was being promoted.

Earlier this week, the two called off an upcoming appearance in New York City.

"We canceled the event because of a violation of contract and a promoter who insisted on billing it as something it wasn't," said Matt McKenna, a spokesman for Clinton. David Sherzer, a spokesman for Bush, confirmed the event was off.

McKenna said the forum was never intended to be a clash between the 42nd and 43rd presidents -- "the hottest ticket in political history," a news released called it -- but rather a moderated panel discussion.

"It's unfortunate that an overeager promoter ruined the opportunity to hear a serious discussion of the issues between two former presidents who have a great deal of respect for each other," he said.

Officials of the promotion company, hired by New York's Madison Square Garden, could not immediately be reached for comment.

Democrat Clinton, who beat Bush's father in 1992 to win the presidency, and Republican Bush, who succeeded Clinton after defeating his vice president, Al Gore, in 2000, appeared together at an hourlong forum in Toronto in May.

The two were set to appear Feb. 22 at Universal City's Gibson Amphitheatre as part of the American Jewish University's public lecture series. The appearance was announced in August, with tickets set to go on sale this week for $75 to $125.

A second appearance was scheduled for Feb. 25 at Radio City Music Hall in New York, with tickets ranging from $60 to $160.

McKenna would not discuss the fee passed up by the two former presidents, but they reportedly received $150,000 apiece for their Toronto appearance. McKenna said money was not a consideration in their decision to cancel the events.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Colbert swoops in to save speedskating team

Imagine the possibilities for this strange new relationship between Stephen Colbert and America’s speedskaters.

Maybe we’ll be seeing a new segment, “Better Know A Speedskater.” (The fightin’ medalists!)

“I see your name is APOLO Anton Ohno,” the master of mock punditry asks when he gets one of America’s top Winter Olympians in the hot seat. “So, what’s it like to speedskate on the moon?”

Maybe Colbert can take a few lessons from Shani Davis or Chad Hedrick, just enough to give us an Ice Capades-like redux of that memorable dance down a hallway behind none-too-amused congressman Barney Frank.

And, of course, there’s always the chance for another “Green Screen Challenge” — hey, who can come up with a video that makes Canadians actually look interesting? (Sorry, neighbors to the north, but you are one of Colbert’s favorite foils.)

Whatever the case, this sport that draws little attention in the United States other than a couple of weeks every four years has a chance to really shine in the months leading up the Vancouver Olympics, thanks to an unlikely lifeline.

The host of “The Colbert Report,” a four-times-a-week cultural phenomenon that airs late night on Comedy Central, heard that U.S. Speedskating has lost its main sponsor, the bankrupt Dutch bank DSB. Always looking for the chance to mix humor with a serious cause, Colbert stepped in with a unique way to make up a $300,000 funding shortfall.

In exchange for becoming the new primary sponsor of the sport’s governing body, Colbert agreed to put up a fundraising link on his popular Web site — a tactic he used to raise hundreds of thousands of dollars for wounded military members and their families — and provide unparalleled media exposure for this underexposed sport.

“This is something that’s never happened before,” said Derek Parra, the coach of the U.S. all-around team and a former gold medalist himself. “We have interest from outside the sport of speedskating.”

The announcement was made on Monday’s show, when Colbert brought up the monetary crisis during one of his regular skits, the “Sport Report” (pronounced “Spor Repor” in a nod to the silent ’t’ in the host’s name).

‘Food was dropping out of my mouth’
The skaters, who are used to competing in virtual anonymity, were stunned when they heard of the quickly arranged deal.

In Berlin, where the long-track team is getting ready to compete in a World Cup meet this weekend, Colbert fan Matthew Plummer got the news from a fellow skater at breakfast.

“Food was dropping out of my mouth,” he told The Associated Press in a telephone interview Wednesday. “I was like, ‘No way.’ This is really cool. A lot of things could happen. Wow, maybe he’ll come to one of our practices. Maybe we’ll get a spot on his show or something like that. Maybe he’ll have multiple segments about speedskating. For myself and others, we’d sure like a shot to be on ‘The Colbert Report.”’

On Tuesday’s show, Colbert acknowledged the Web link used to make donations wasn’t working at first. Surely the work of Canadian hackers, he quipped, trying to get an edge for Vancouver. But the link was repaired, and more than $40,000 was donated in the first 24 hours.

Chad Hedrick, who won three speedskating medals at the 2006 Turin Olympics, was glad someone stepped in, though he’s not exactly a huge Colbert fan.

“I read a little bit of his book,” Hedrick said. “I didn’t finish the book, to be honest with you. No offense.”

What about his TV show?

“I don’t know a lot about his show,” Hedrick acknowledged, sounding more and more like a Canadian. “I don’t watch a lot of television.”

But he does know speedskating was in a bind. There was talk of skipping meets after the Olympics and cutting back on developmental programs. Some coaches wondered if they would be paid once the flame went out.

Speedskating has produced more medals (75) for the U.S. than any other Winter Olympic sport, and some top stars at these games figure to be found at the long-track oval (Davis, Hedrick, Trevor Marsicano) and short-track rink (Ohno is back for a third Olympics after winning gold in both 2002 and ’06).

Ohno has come closest to gaining mainstream appeal, the result of his win on “Dancing With the Stars.” But that did more for his soul-patched image than lifting up an entire sport. The deal with Colbert might provide a better conduit for attracting new fans.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Device like ‘Star Trek’ replicator is in the works

Technology uses electron beam to melt metals, build objects layer by layer
Space explorers have yet to get their hands on the replicator of "Star Trek" to create anything they might require. But NASA has developed a technology that could enable lunar colonists to carry out on-site manufacturing on the moon, or allow future astronauts to create critical spare parts during the long trip to Mars.

The method, called electron beam freeform fabrication (EBF3), uses an electron beam to melt metals and build objects layer by layer. Such an approach already promises to cut manufacturing costs for the aerospace industry, and could pioneer development of new materials. It has also thrilled astronauts on the International Space Station by dangling the possibility of designing new tools or objects, researchers said.

"They get up there, and all they have is time and imagination," said Karen Taminger, the materials research engineer heading the project at NASA's Langley Research Center in Virginia.

Taminger's project has undergone microgravity tests aboard NASA's "vomit comet" aircraft. Now she hopes to get EBF3 scheduled for launch to the International Space Station, so that space trials can commence.

Shaping metals at will
EBF3 requires a few crucial components: power for its electron beam, a vacuum environment, and a source of metals. While "Star Trek's" replicator could work without a supply of subatomic particles, reality is a different story.

"It'd be nice if we could build something from nothing, but it doesn't work that way," Taminger told

For EBF3, metal wires continually feed into the tip of an electron beam. The beam melts the wires and applies them carefully on top of a rotating plate to build an object up slowly, layer by layer.

A few similar technologies exist, but EBF3 has several advantages. First, its electron beam requires far less power than comparable devices and produces less radiation compared to more powerful beams. Its dual wire feeders also allow scientists to create mixes of new materials that vary in strength or other properties within the same solid piece.

Catch a blast from the sun, a clash between galaxies and other outer-space highlights from October.
"We can change the composition on the fly," Taminger explained. "You can add alloys of different chemistries and then adjust the speed that you feed the wires, and that would change the chemistry of the parts we build."

The flexibility of the manufacturing could also embed fiber optic cables inside a solid piece of metal, either for use in communication or for monitoring stresses within the manufactured part.

Major aerospace manufacturers have already begun running thousands of strength tests with the EBF3 device to see whether it can produce certified parts for engines and airframes, researchers said. They foresee cost savings of up to $1,000 per pound of manufactured parts, compared to the usual forging and machining methods that require a 6,000-pound block of titanium to produce a 300-pound part.

Former presidents to face off in debate

Bubba and Dubya are going to engage in a presidential debate for the ages.
Former President Bill Clinton and George W. Bush will square off on the same stage at Radio City Music Hall in February as part of a series pitting liberal and conservative thinkers.
The event is part of MSG Entertainment's third annual "Minds That Move The World" speakers series.
The event -- billed as "The Hottest Ticket in Political History" -- will take place on Feb. 25, 2010, at 8 p.m., according to organizers.
Clinton, a Democrat who served two terms starting in 1993, and Bush, a Republican, who also served two consecutive terms starting in 2001, will engage in an "uncensored, unedited and unpredixctable" debate.

"We hope that [the debate] will not only provide guests with an informative and empowering experience that will help them make educated political decisions, but also encourage people to engage in continued dialogue surrounding the most significant current events of our day," said Melissa Miller Ormond, who serves as COO of MSG Entertainment.
The moderator has not been named.
Tickets range from $60 to a whopping $1,250. Tickets go on sale this Sunday.

Monday, November 02, 2009

For ‘Big Bang’s’ Sheldon, the nerd is the word

MSNBC:: "Sheldon Cooper is narcissistic, socially awkward, childish, hurtful, naive, irascible, selfish, rude, and irrepressible.
He is also extremely popular with viewers and even lovable. As "The Big Bang Theory" character has said, "This would be one of those circumstances that people unfamiliar with the law of large numbers would call a coincidence."
It is no coincidence that Sheldon has become one of TV's most popular characters, and has helped CBS' "Big Bang Theory" grow from a middling, predictable comedy to television's best multi-camera sitcom, and one that is still adding fans in its third season."

Friday, October 30, 2009

Scientifically Haunted House Suggests You’re a Sucker

Wired Science: "Fake blood, canned screams and plastic skeletons are fun, but if you want a real haunted house, turn to scientists.
To test whether it’s possible to artificially induce paranormal experiences — or, from a different perspective, to technologically summon a spirit — researchers at London’s Goldsmith College and architect Usman Haque designed a scientifically haunted room.
They were inspired by earlier studies in which test subjects reported contact with the phantasmic when exposed to electromagnetic fields and waves of infrasound.
This hasn’t just taken place in the laboratory. Odd EMF fields have been recorded at reputedly haunted castles. And geomagnetic flux caused by shifting tectonic plates reportedly produces surges in poltergeist sightings. Meanwhile, infrasound waves below the level of human hearing have been linked to visitation.
Of course, ghosts — which 40 percent of the American public claim to believe in — are only one possible explanation. Perhaps people feel something, and what they call “haunting” is their uniquely sensitive power of perception. Maybe they’re just suggestible.
So Christopher French, head of Goldsmith’s Anomalistic Psychology Research Unit and editor of the Skeptic magazine, built the haunted room: a white, wood-frame canvas tent 9 feet in diameter, located in the front room of a London row house. It was entirely featureless, but hidden speakers cast infrasound waves like those measured in supposedly-haunted Coventry Cathedral. Other speakers projected sound waves that produced an electromagnetic frequency used in laboratory stimulation of paranormal feeling.
Each field’s range was focused in a different part of the room, and some areas were field-free. If haunting indeed had a wavelength, then people would ostensibly report unusual experiences in the target areas."

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

$1.26 Billion awarded to two Wisconsin Men from Pepsi Co. over the idea to bottle water

What's the cost of not showing up to court? For PepsiCo Inc., it's a $1.26 billion default judgment. A Wisconsin state court socked the company with the monster award in a case alleging that PepsiCo stole the idea to bottle and sell purified water from two Wisconsin men.

Now the company is scrambling to salvage the situation. The damages award was handed down on Sept. 30. PepsiCo filed motions to vacate the order and dismiss the claims on Oct. 13, saying it wasn't even aware of the lawsuit until Oct. 6.

The litigation began in April when Charles Joyce and James Voigt sued the soft drink maker and two of its distributors, alleging they had misappropriated trade secrets from confidential discussions the plaintiffs had with the distributors in 1981 about selling purified water. The information was illicitly passed to PepsiCo, which used it to develop and sell Aquafina bottled water, the plaintiffs allege in the case filed in the Circuit Court of Jefferson County before Judge Jacqueline Erwin.

In court documents, PepsiCo argues it was improperly served with the Wisconsin lawsuit in North Carolina, but also asks the court to excuse the corporate bureaucracy that buried a legal document for weeks. While plaintiffs say they served the lawsuit in June on PepsiCo's registered agent in North Carolina, where the company is incorporated, PepsiCo says its law department at the company's Purchase, N.Y.-based headquarters was not notified until September.

**Ridiculous! I love it.**

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Daddy Chihuahua leads family to safety "A daddy dog with a deformed leg led his family of nine to safety this week along the shoulder of a busy highway during rush-hour traffic, officials said.
His destination: Animal Care Services.
“Animals come in every single day,” whether they're picked up or dropped off, said Lisa Norwood, ACS spokeswoman. “In this particular case, they brought themselves in.”
An ACS employee and a volunteer caught sight of the pack of Chihuahua mixes Wednesday around 5 p.m., Norwood said.
From the shoulder of a bustling Texas 151, the patriarch of the family led an older female dog and seven puppies down a grassy slope and to the gate of ACS, located along the frontage road of the highway.
The leader has a cloven leg — likely a birth defect caused by inbreeding.
“He gets along fine and was able to lead his family off of the highway and into the shelter,” Norwood said."

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Glow in the Dark Mushrooms

A newly identified luminescent fungus called Mycena luxaeterna has been discovered in a forest in Sao Paulo, Brazil.

It sounds like something from a fantasy movie but these tiny mushrooms do actually glow in the dark. These newly discovered species take the number that glow from 63 to 71.

The mushrooms glow 24 hours a day but the effect can only be seen at night.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Hospital error leads to CT scan radiation overdoses in 206 patients

How well do hospital medical technicians know their equipment? Not well enough in the case of some healthcare workers at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, where 206 X-ray computed tomography (CT) scan patients were given eight times the normal of radiation during brain scans over an 18-month period. The Los Angeles Times reports today that the cause of the overdoses has been traced back to a mistake the hospital made resetting a CT scanner.

The problem began in February 2008 when the hospital began using a new protocol for CT brain perfusion scans, which expose the brain to radiation in an attempt to help doctors analyze disruptions in the flow of blood to brain tissue and diagnose strokes. This change involved resetting the machine to override the pre-programmed instructions that came with the scanner when it was installed, the Times reports.

"There was a misunderstanding about an embedded default setting applied by the machine," according a written statement issued by the hospital. "As a result, the use of this protocol resulted in a higher than expected amount of radiation." Eight times higher, to be precise.

The error went unnoticed until this August, when a stroke patient informed the hospital that he had begun losing his hair after a scan.

Concerned that this error might not be limited to Cedars-Sinai, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) last week issued an alert to CT facilities, radiologists, neurologists and several other types of healthcare professionals to warn them of possible "widespread problems with CT quality assurance programs," meaning the problem might not be isolated to Cedars-Sinai's equipment or this particular imaging procedure. The alert concluded, however, "While unnecessary radiation exposure should be avoided, a medically-needed CT scan has benefits that outweigh the radiation risks."

General Electric, the manufacturer of the scanner, released its own statement Monday saying there were "no malfunctions or defects" of the machine, the Times reports.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Hillary Clinton says she won't run for president again

WASHINGTON (CNN) – Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Monday she would not run for president again, and brushed off suggestions that she is being marginalized in the Obama White House.

Clinton, who lost the Democratic presidential nomination to Barack Obama, said "No" three different times when asked by NBC's Ann Curry "Will you ever run for president again? Yes or No?"

"This is a great job," Clinton said in the interview broadcast Monday. "It is a 24-7 job. And I am looking forward to retirement at some point."

After the 2008 elections, Clinton accepted Obama's offer to serve as his top diplomat.

Unless she challenged President Obama in the 2012 Democratic presidential primary, Clinton would have to wait until 2016 to run again if she changed her mind. She turns 62 on October 26.

Clinton also denied that her voice is not being heard in the administration, and said it is not her style to try and be the center of attention.

"I find it absurd," she said. "I find it beyond any realistic assessment of what I am doing everyday."

"Maybe there is some misunderstanding which needs to be clarified. I believe in delegating power. You know, I am not one of these people who feel's like I have to have my face in the front of the newspaper or on the TV every moment of the day. I would be irresponsible and negligent were I to say 'Oh no everything must come to me,'" she said.

"Now, maybe that is a woman's thing. Maybe I am totally secure and feel absolutely no need to go running around in order for people to see what I am doing. It is just the way I am. My goal is to be a very positive force to implement the kind of changes that the president and I believe are in the best interests of our country. But that doesn't mean it all has to be me, me, me all the time. I like lifting people up."

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Making us Proud: Al Franken's first amendment - No Halliburton/KBR rapes!

Today the Senate "debated" the Department of Defense appropriations bill passed by the House (H.R. 3326) for the fiscal year ending September 30, 2010. Republicans added frivolous amendments all day, that were defeated one after the other. The amendment du jour, however, came from Al Franken D-MN.
And what a doozy it is! S. Amend. 2566 simply prohibits "the use of funds for any Federal contract with Halliburton Company, KBR, Inc., any of their subsidiaries or affiliates, or any other contracting party if such contractor or a subcontractor at any tier under such contract requires that employees or independent contractors sign mandatory arbitration clauses regarding certain claims." The "certain claims" have to do with sexual assault.
I might have phrased it differently myself -- like "prohibits any member of the executive team and Board of Directors of Halliburton and KBR from ever getting out of prison for any reason whatsoever" or something like that. But my amendment probably wouldn't have gotten many votes, unlike Franken's which passed 68-30, every Democrat being joined by 9 Republicans. (Does anyone know if LeMieux has to call Charlie Crist and get his OK before he votes?)

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Tuesday, October 06, 2009

NASA to bomb the moon

NASA is launching a dramatic mission to bomb the moon.
The LCROSS (Lunar CRater Observing and Sensing Satellite) mission will send a missile traveling at twice the speed of a bullet to blast a hole in the lunar surface near the moon's South pole.
Scientists expect the impact of the Centaur rocket to be powerful enough to eject a huge plume of debris from the moon. The moon dust should even be large enough to be seen from earth through telescopes 10-to-12 inches and larger, says NASA.
So what's our beef with the moon?
The bombing isn't an act of hostility: it's all part of our search for water in space.
The missile will impact the lunar surface at crater Cabeus A (see photo below). The crater is located on the moon's South pole, an area in which scientists estimate there may be billions of tons of trapped ice.

Scientists intend to examine the debris from the blast for traces of water ice or vapor. Discover Magazine explains how it works:
Detecting that water is tough. Radar results have been inconclusive, with some people saying there's lots of water, and others saying there's none at all. By impacting a probe there, any ice located at the impact site will be shot up above the lunar surface, where sunlight will break it up into O+ and OH- molecules, which can be detected. Thus, LCROSS.
Locating water on the moon would be a big boon for future space missions, NASA notes:
Transporting water and other goods from Earth to the moon's surface is expensive. Finding natural resources, such as water ice, on the moon could help expedite lunar exploration.
Check out an awesome video simulation of the LCROSS mission here.
Watch the LCROSS launch on a Live NASA TV Broadcast that will start at 6:15 a.m. EDT/3:15 a.m. PDT on October 9, 2009.

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