Saturday, January 31, 2009

Combat Doctors To Use Acupuncture

WASHINGTON — Chief Warrant Officer James Brad Smith broke five ribs, punctured a lung and shattered bones in his hand and thigh after falling more than 20 feet from a Black Hawk helicopter in Baghdad last month.

While he was recovering at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, his doctor suggested he add acupuncture to his treatment to help with the pain.

On a recent morning, Col. Richard Niemtzow, an Air Force physician, carefully pushed a short needle into part of Smith's outer ear. The soldier flinched, saying it felt like he "got clipped by something." By the time three more of the tiny, gold alloy needles were arranged around the ear, though, the pain from his injuries began to ease.

"My ribs feel numb now and I feel it a little less in my hand," Smith said, raising his injured arm. "The pain isn't as sharp. It's maybe 50 percent better."

Acupuncture involves placing very thin needles at specific points on the body to try to control pain and reduce stress. There are only theories about how, why and even whether it might work.

Regardless, the ancient Chinese practice has been gradually catching on as a pain treatment for troops who come home wounded.

Now the Air Force, which runs the military's only acupuncture clinic, is training doctors to take acupuncture to the war zones of Iraq and Afghanistan. A pilot program starting in March will prepare 44 Air Force, Navy and Army doctors to use acupuncture as part of emergency care in combat and in frontline hospitals, not just on bases back home.

They will learn "battlefield acupuncture," a method Niemtzow developed in 2001 that's derived from traditional ear acupuncture but uses the short needles to better fit under combat helmets so soldiers can continue their missions with the needles inserted to relieve pain. The needles are applied to five points on the outer ear. Niemtzow says most of his patients say their pain decreases within minutes.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Conservative Wiki Offers Helpful List of Senate Democrats To Assassinate, So Republican Governors Can Appoint GOP Replacements

Wonkette: "Americans, are you still letting your idiot kids do all their “research” from the liberal-propaganda pit of vipers known as the “Wikipedia,” which is filthy with scientific facts and frighteningly detailed Buffy the Vampire Slayer trivia? Well stop it, now, and Porn Block every site that’s not Conservapedia, the home of conservative pedophiles “The Trustworthy Encyclopedia.” For example, say your home-schooled-in-Christ kid needs to do a report on which states would benefit from Dem senators who, tragically, “were unable to complete their terms and were replaced by qualified Republicans by their Republican governors.” Where to go? That homosexual devil box “Wikipedia” surely would be of no assistance, to Patriots!"

Click to Wonkette to see copy of Conservapedia article, original article has been taken down.

Scrap from Orange Bowl part of Super Bowl show

TAMPA -- A piece of Miami's lost soul has turned up unexpectedly, some 280 miles to the northwest, as an accoutrement to this Super Bowl Week.

The Tampa Bay Host Committee commissioned Gerdau Ameristeel Corporation to create football-inspired steel artwork for Tampa's Cotanchobee Park -- and the scrap steel used for the project happens to have been from the famed (and recently demolished) Orange Bowl Stadium.

Smirk cannot decide whether this is heartwarming and uplifting or macabre and vaguely nauseating. It's like admiring a charcoal drawing only to learn that isn't charcoal that was used, but rather Granpappy's remains.

The centerpiece in the park is a 12-foot steel football illuminated by LED lights. Perhaps this originally was the girding that held up your section as you stood to cheer George Mira Jr. in the '60s or, a generation later, Dan Marino.

''The Orange Bowl hosted so many of football's greatest moments, we believed repurposing a portion of the recycled steel to celebrate football was an appropriate tribute,'' Gerdau CEO Mario Longhi said. ``The rest of the steel already is being used in building projects across the nation.''

Loose Ends

By Dan Froomkin
The fact remains that some former Bush officials still owe us some answers.

Carrie Johnson writes in The Washington Post: "House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers Jr. (D-Mich.) issued a new subpoena yesterday to former Bush White House aide Karl Rove, months after Rove deflected an earlier effort to compel his testimony about the firing of nine U.S. attorneys and other political disputes that swirled around the Justice Department.

"Conyers's committee subpoenaed Rove on May 22, calling on him to testify about his contacts with department officials in the Bush era. But Rove rebuffed the summons, saying he was barred from testifying because of executive privilege.

"Yesterday's subpoena may test the limits of that power for the first time since George W. Bush left office, legal experts said. Some Democratic lawyers have suggested that an executive order issued by President Obama last week governing presidential records could make it easier for citizens and lawmakers to gather information about Bush administration controversies.

"'Change has come to Washington, and I hope Karl Rove is ready for it,' Conyers said. 'After two years of stonewalling, it's time for him to talk.'"

Meanwhile, NPR's Liz Halloran reports on former attorney general Alberto Gonzales's interview with Michel Martin.

"'I deeply regret some of the decisions made by my staff,' he said, referring directly to former Deputy Attorney General Paul McNulty, who resigned over the controversy after telling a Senate committee that the attorney firings were performance-related. . . .

"'Sometimes people identify someone to target. That's what happened to me,' said Gonzales, who served as President Bush's White House counsel before becoming attorney general in 2005, replacing John Ashcroft.

"'I'm not whining,' he said. 'It comes with the job.'"

Mark Silva blogs for Tribune with more from that interview, including Gonzales's expression of confidence that neither he nor others will be prosecuted for the administration's interrogation practices.

Obama and the GOP

Comics: Pat Oliphant

Shauna Sand: Pure Elegance on a Segway

Oh, stop rolling your eyes. As if YOU’ve never ridden a scooter in Lucite stripper heels before.

Suffering For Cappuccino

by Lloyd Sachs
How hard is the economy hitting home? Let us count the espressos.

Intelligentsia, the coffee drinker's coffee emporium, greeted the new year by raising the price of their two-shot, six-ounce "traditional" cappuccino to $3.59 with tax, up from $3.04. That roughly translates to $17.95 for a five-day work week, up $2.75; $71.80 for a month, up more than $16; and a whopping $933 for a year, up $143.

And digging into our pockets even more, Intelligentsia said sayonara to its buy-10-drinks-get-one-free cards. "The free drink deal has become a little unwieldy and costly for us on an annual basis," wrote company CEO and founder Doug Zell in an email whipped with condescension. "The quality of our coffee and service should bring you back to Intelligentsia, not because it's free."

I'll leave it to industry analysts to determine how costly the freebies were for Intelligentsia and how much more good will Zell's austerity moves will cost him on top of his unpopular elimination of 20 ounce drinks (as well as single-shot cappuccinos!) last year in the name of reasserting quality standards. All I know is, factoring in an additional $90, for the drinks I used to get gratis, I'll now be spending more than $1,000 on cappuccinos on an annual basis. I don't spend that much on my daughters' schooling!

What's an espresso man with Zeillian, anti-Starbuckian standards to do? What has to go so the cappuccinos can stay? (Don't waste your breath suggesting I cut back on coffee. You'd be better off arguing I cut back on pizza, but don't try that, either.) Surely, there are some lifestyle adjustments that can be made with only a modicum of remorse. What about, for example, eliminating home delivery of the New York Times, which approaches $700 a year? To hold in your hands or not to hold, that is the question. Would reading the thing online - and downloading the crossword puzzle - be such a terrible sacrifice?

Well, yes. I suppose you could take your laptop into the bathroom with you for quality reading, but who would want to? And the minute you start downloading crossword puzzles - you join the Sudoku crowd: you become a gaming geek. Plus do you really want to be one of the people who helped bring about the death of printed newspapers by forsaking them? Who risk having the ghost of John Peter Zenger wake you from your sleep with an admonition of "Et tu"?

What about phones? Does my family really need land lines when we've got four cell phones competing for adaptor space? Does my self-employed wife really need the separate business line? A little Jaws music, please: The monthly cost of all these phones is $250 and rising. Leapin' long distance! Even if we got Citizens Utility Board-smart and cut unneeded features from our service plans, we'd still be looking at a dumb expense. More and more people are living without "real" phones. Why can't we?

I'll tell you why: Fear. Paranoia. Trepidation. What happens if there's an emergency and cell phone usage is disrupted? What if a hurricane, or worse, hits, and we're stuck in our basement without being able to dial out? How would we call for help? How would we order the pizza? No, we can lose AT&T's "linebacker" insurance, but we've got to keep at least one land line.

Which brings us to the increasingly angry battle zone of TV. With the robber barons of Comcast shamelessly hiking their rates for cable, for DVR service, for movie rentals, for everything, it's getting ridiculously expensive to keep up with Bill Maher, "Big Love," Elvis Costello's "Spectacle" and "Taxicab Confessions." How do you justify spending nearly $200 a month (including high speed Internet) on entertainment that increasingly, I'm told, can be accessed online?

You can't. But think about your eyes, for once: Do you want to come home from a hard day at the office and sink into your easy chair only to spend more time staring at a computer screen? Is "Lost" really worth it? And for those techno sophisticates who watch the Internet on their TV screen, all I can say is this: No Facebook image is worth it.

All this parsing of lifestyle choices is too stressful. I feel my diastolic level going up just writing this. Clearly, the sacrifices we need to make are going to have to occur in less sensitive areas. Like energy. Do we really need to run the washer and dryer more than a couple of times a month? Can't we sleep just as comfortably with the thermostat at 58 or 60? Call me Ozzie and my wife Harriet, but we're completely into the idea of washing the dishes by hand.

Saying stuff like "Honey, I'll dry" and "Pass the detergent" is taking our marriage places it's never been. And who knows, when these bad times are over and happy days are here again, we'll be able to save up for that $7,000 espresso machine Intelligentsia is featuring - and, of course, that $300 grinder - without breaking a sweat. In the spirit of the old Zell, we'll give away every 11th drink to a friend or neighbor. One shot or two.

London Polar Bear Sculpture Stranded On The Thames

A new sculpture floating in the Thames River is catching eyes and raising awareness of melting ice caps. The sculpture, a realistic-looking polar bear stranded on an iceberg in the Thames, reminds onlookers that there are already victims of global warming:

A total of 15 artists spent two months constructing the 20ft by 20ft square structure, which was launched at 6:30am before travelling up the Thames, stopping beside Tower Bridge and the Houses of Parliament. The structure weighing, 1.5 tonnes, was winched into place.

The event coincides with the Eden Channel's Fragile Earth series, presented by Sir David Attenborough.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

After 26 tickets, driver in fatal crash still had license

The driver believed responsible for a wreck that killed three children in South Miami-Dade had a history of traffic infractions but kept his license.
Drunk driving, speeding, driving the wrong way on an expressway ramp -- in eight years, Gabriel Delrisco has been ticketed 26 times in Miami-Dade County for traffic infractions of all types.

But Delrisco, the suspect in the red-light wreck that killed three children in South Miami-Dade Sunday, always did enough to keep his license, records show.

That's not unusual in Miami-Dade's swollen traffic court system, lawyers say.

Since 2001, judges granted Delrisco nine ''withholds of adjudication,'' meaning he pleaded no contest, paid fines and attended traffic school. But those cases were not considered convictions and no points were added to his driving record, ensuring he kept his license.

Sometimes, police officers failed to show up in court. On some traffic stops, they cited the wrong laws. Other times, prosecutors decided there wasn't enough evidence to pursue cases.

On Sunday, Delrisco's driver's license was in good standing.

His attorney, Abe Koss, calls him a ``hard-working, decent person.''

''He has been trying to contact the husband and wife who lost their three children to offer his deepest condolences,'' Koss said. ``He feels terribly.''

Delrisco, 40, a divorced father of two, runs a medical lab company called Mobile Ultrasounds. A former dump truck driver, he has a commercial driver's license, records show.

He is recovering from surgery at Jackson Memorial Hospital.

''Did he probably deserve an adjudication with points on his record? Sure. However, the reality is, a more harsh treatment in court would most likely not have avoided this tragedy,'' said defense attorney Mark Eiglarsh, who is not involved in the case.

Florida Highway Patrol troopers are awaiting results of blood-alcohol tests before deciding whether to charge him.

Koss says Delrisco's driving history is ''irrelevant'' to Sunday's crash, which happened when his SUV plowed into the back of Hector Serrano's minivan at a red light at South Dixie Highway and Southwest 211th Street. The impact killed Hector, 10; Esmeralda, 7, and Amber, 4.

Koss suggested the brakes of Delrisco's black Chevrolet Trailblazer may have failed, but he said the investigation is just beginning.

''And that would be the reason there were no skid marks,'' Koss said.

Delrisco's first two Miami-Dade citations came in 2001: failing to stop at a stop sign and not having a license plate.

He pleaded guilty, paid $139.20 in fines and attended traffic school.

His most serious traffic violation: Also in 2001, when Pinecrest police charged him with driving under the influence.

A first-time DUI offender, Delrisco got the mandated punishment. He lost his license for six months and was ordered to serve 100 hours of community service and six months' probation.

After his license was restored, infractions mounted. Twice, his license was suspended temporarily for failing to appear in court.

In November 2002, he was charged in Florida City with leaving the scene of an accident. The charges were later dropped.

In June 2004, records show, Homestead police charged him with reckless driving. He was booked into jail and posted bond. Less than four months later, that charge, too, was dropped.

Most recently, in January 2008, a Florida state trooper ticketed Delrisco for driving the wrong way on a Palmetto Expressway ramp at Northwest 122nd Street. The charge was dismissed when the trooper did not show up in court.

For all his infractions, mainly moving violations, Delrisco has notched only 10 points against his driving record since 2001, according to state records. That's nowhere near the number required to spur a suspension. The threshold is high.

Under Florida law, a driver's license can be suspended for 30 days for recording 12 points in 12 months; three months for recording 18 points in 18 months; or one year for getting 24 points in 36 months.

Miami lawyer Robert Reiff, a drunken-driving specialist, said the traffic court system is geared toward keeping fines flowing into government coffers while keeping drivers on the road. He is not involved in the case.

''It's all about the money. Especially now in these economic times, it will be even more about money,'' he said.

Eiglarsh, the defense attorney, also stressed that traffic-related withholds of adjudication are necessary in a county as large as Miami-Dade. Without them, more trials would overburden courts and police departments.

''The system would shut down,'' he said.

Man freezes to death after city limits electricity

93-year-old man had more than $1,000 in unpaid power bills

BAY CITY, Mich. - A 93-year-old man froze to death inside his home just days after the municipal power company restricted his use of electricity because of unpaid bills, officials said.

Marvin E. Schur died "a slow, painful death," said Kanu Virani, Oakland County's deputy chief medical examiner, who performed the autopsy.

Neighbors discovered Schur's body on Jan. 17. They said the indoor temperature was below 32 degrees at the time, The Bay City Times reported Monday.

"Hypothermia shuts the whole system down, slowly," Virani said. "It's not easy to die from hypothermia without first realizing your fingers and toes feel like they're burning."

'Limiter' device installed
Schur owed Bay City Electric Light & Power more than $1,000 in unpaid electric bills, Bay City Manager Robert Belleman told The Associated Press on Monday.

A city utility worker had installed a "limiter" device to restrict the use of electricity at Schur's home on Jan. 13, said Belleman. The device limits power reaching a home and blows out like a fuse if consumption rises past a set level. Power is not restored until the device is reset.

The limiter was tripped sometime between the time of installation and the discovery of Schur's body, Belleman said. He didn't know if anyone had made personal contact with Schur to explain how the device works.

The body was discovered by neighbor George Pauwels Jr.

"His furnace was not running, the insides of his windows were full of ice the morning we found him," Pauwels told the Bay City News.

Power shut off if bills unpaid
Belleman said city workers keep the limiter on houses for 10 days, then shut off power entirely if the homeowner hasn't paid utility bills or arranged to do so.

He said Bay City Electric Light & Power's policies will be reviewed, but he didn't believe the city did anything wrong.

"I've said this before and some of my colleagues have said this: Neighbors need to keep an eye on neighbors," Belleman said. "When they think there's something wrong, they should contact the appropriate agency or city department."

Schur had no children and his wife had died several years ago.

Bay City is on Saginaw Bay, just north of the city of Saginaw in central Michigan.

More companies force workers to take time off

By Eve Tahmincioglu

So you’re thinking the worst is now behind you because you survived a round of layoffs, accepted a pay cut and are doing the job of two people.

Think again. There’s a new cost-cutting measure exploding among employers — furloughs.

Many companies, universities and governments across the country are forcing their workers to take a day or two off a month, or to take a week off during a given quarter.

There’s one catch — no pay.

Earlier this month, newspaper chain Gannett Company announced it would force all its workers to take one week off during the first quarter without pay. And a week before that, California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger ordered state offices to close two Fridays a month, meaning state workers would end up with smaller paychecks.

Even President Barack Obama alluded to the growing use of furloughs in his inauguration speech when he said, "the selflessness of workers who would rather cut their hours than see a friend lose their job." But in many cases it's a company forcing the unpaid time off rather than selfless workers looking to cut their paychecks.

Increasing reliance on furloughs
Furloughs have been around for years. In the past, they were mainly used in manufacturing during temporary plant closures. Now, organizations in various sectors appear to be rediscovering furloughs — and are using them in unprecedented numbers.

But firms that use furloughs on a regular basis to prop up the bottom line are not only risking low morale among the rank and file: They also walk a tight rope when it comes to wage and hour laws. While hourly workers can be furloughed as often as managers at private employers want, salaried employees that are not entitled to overtime cannot be furloughed repeatedly, says Loren Smith, a spokesman for the U.S. Department of Labor.

Frequent deductions in pay create a situation where you are treating salaried workers like hourly workers, he says. “Employees can lose their exempt status and might be entitled to overtime in the future.”

Despite such restrictions, this recession has companies increasingly using furloughs as a secret weapon. Last year, the number of employees who did not work their full work week because of their employer's economic conditions reached levels not seen in any of the nation’s previous downturns dating back to the 1955, the earliest numbers available from the Labor Department.

In December, 6 million workers were classified as “working part time for economic reasons because of slack work or business conditions,” nearly double the 3.1 million figure during the same month in 2007, the first month of the recession.

“The use of furloughs has become the new thing,” says John Stapleford, senior economist at Moody’s

While Stapleford says furloughs have been utilized during past downturns, the numbers during this recession are unheard of: “I don’t remember them ever before being used like this.”

He believes that many companies are hedging their bets that the economy will turn around soon, so they don’t want to lay off too many workers and then risk having to spend big bucks to rehire and train new employees.

Firms can also keep their unemployment insurance rates down if they give workers unpaid leave for a few days, he adds, because most employees won’t be eligible for jobless benefits.

His prediction: More and more workers should expect unpaid leave in their futures.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Escape to Milwaukee

MILWAUKEE - When it comes to winter getaways, many of us think warm: Cabo, Jamaica, Miami. These are the literal hot spots, where bone-chilling winter blahs melt like so many snowflakes into sandy beaches, tropical drinks and balmy sunsets. But a quick jaunt to Cabo, Jamaica or even Miami isn't always an option, for obvious reasons: money, timing and availability.

Consider, then, the rogue winter excursion: Consider heading into the cold instead of warmth. Consider trekking north instead of south. Consider the urban retreat instead of the beach getaway.

In other words, consider Milwaukee.

(It should be noted that as I'm writing this a few days before you're reading this, Miami had a high of 81 F. Milwaukee's was 5 F. But Milwaukee has butter burgers.)

Sure, it's cold there. Big deal. You can handle it. Plan a weekend full of fireside relaxing and comfort-food dining. And shopping. And indoor sightseeing. And Old World culture. Milwaukee, after all, is a metropolis, which means we will feel right at home.

So what's the advantage of heading to a freezing city?

For starters, the traffic -- or lack thereof. There's hardly any congestion in Milwaukee, even during Friday rush hour. Plus, there's parking everywhere -- much of it free, or shockingly cheap. A quarter will buy you an hour.

And then there's the food. Beyond the bevy of brats and cheese curds, Milwaukee's dining scene is surprisingly satisfying. Yes, I did have a butter burger -- correction: I had a veggie butter burger. (Note to vegetarians: You'll do fine here.) But I also indulged in a leisurely Saturday night dinner for two at a restaurant whose executive chef was nominated last year for a James Beard award. Everything right down to the dessert was perfect, and the bill was less than $175 for the two of us, including drinks, tax and tip.

Consider, too, the fact that Milwaukee knows the cold well, and has planned accordingly. Should you visit the Milwaukee Art Museum (and you should), take your time in the parking garage -- it's heated. The museum itself, of course, is fabulous. Beyond the new wing designed by starchitect Santiago Calatrava, there's an enormous permanent collection that rivals most major cities'. It houses one of the largest collections of Georgia O'Keeffe paintings in the states, a cool gift shop and stunning views of Lake Michigan. Not to mention, its exhibitions are top notch. Don't tell the Art Institute of Chicago, but I kind of like Milwaukee's art museum better.

I also like its coffee better. Milwaukee's Intelligentsia, so to speak, is Alterra Coffee Roasters, and there are a half-dozen outposts (my favorite is the Fifth Ward Foundry) at which one can sip the strong stuff; eat a melt-in-your-mouth provolone, cheddar and pepperjack grilled Wisconsin cheese sandwich; and linger awhile.

Friday night fish frys are virtually everywhere in this town -- winter and summer -- and some are better than others. I took my chances on a new place in the suburbs, namely for the fact that I'd read it boasted a fireplace. Still dusted with snow from a big storm the week prior, the Pleasant Valley Inn was a cozy wintry oasis, right down to the snowman stationed at the entryway. The lighting is dim, the soundtrack is Frank Sinatra, and wood paneling is everywhere. Oh, and the fish fry wasn't half bad. Besides, everything tastes better fireside.

Actually, everything is better fireside. Even sleeping. Such was the rationale for booking a semi-pricey (for Milwaukee) room at the Euro-style boutique Hotel Metro. It's housed in a historic art deco building in the East Town neighborhood, and it's all suites, a number of which have gas fireplaces. Further winter relaxing comes courtesy of a rooftop spa with a saltwater hot tub, a sauna … and a mini-workout room in which to burn off some of that guilt stomached with all the good food here.

Speaking of food … That delectable Saturday night dinner for two took place at Bacchus, the newest restaurant in Milwaukee's renowned chain of Bartolotta Restaurants, founded by brothers Paul and Joe Bartolotta. It's named for the Roman god of wine, and how: Bacchus has hundreds of wines on offer, from reasonably priced glasses of Australian shiraz to a $1,200 bottle of Bordeaux. As for dinner? Flawless. The brothers are also responsible for Bartolotta's Lake Park Bistro, poised north of downtown in a stunning location overlooking Lake Michigan. It's excellent for dinner but famous for its Sunday brunch, a prix fixe with three perfect courses of casual French bistro fare. The creme brulee, by the way, is rich enough to earn Milwaukee its Cream City nickname all over again.

Beyond its restaurants, Milwaukee is a brew town, and there's no shortage of pubs at which to drink the sudsy stuff -- or learn how it's made. A tour of the Miller Brewing Co. is free, as are two complimentary samples at its conclusion. Microbreweries tend to be a bit more generous. The Sprecher Brewing Co., for instance, a tiny operation headquartered just down the street from Solly's Grille (home of the aforementioned veggie butter burger), offers a brief tour and four samples for $3, plus unlimited quaffing of its tasty root beer and sodas, and the beer-sampling glass is yours to keep when you leave.

Milwaukee's brew town legacy extends to architectural tours -- good news for gloomy days. The Pabst Mansion, on the edge of the Marquette University campus, is the massive graystone residence built for beer baron Capt. Frederick Pabst in 1892, and it's a true mansion, by every definition of the word: It's grand, it's old, it's hand-crafted, and you're not allowed to touch anything. But it's warm inside.

Also exceptionally warm: the Milwaukee Public Museum's butterfly conservatory, where it's a balmy 80 F year-round. The rest of the permanent exhibits are rather dated. "The Streets of Old Milwaukee," which showcases European immigrants' 1880s abodes, opened in 1965 -- and doesn't appear to have changed much since. But big-time visiting exhibits, like the current "Body Worlds," are a regular feature, and when coupled with admission to the Daniel M. Soref Planetarium, the $15 twofer ticket is a fine way to while away a winter afternoon.

If you venture into the cold at night, parking is a godsend, even in hip 'hoods like the East Side. On my Friday night visit, I scored a spot right in front of Hooligan's Super Bar, a 70-year-old neighborhood favorite that draws a diverse local crowd. There are a rotating 32 brews on tap, including local microbrews like Lakefront and Sprecher, and hundreds more taps decorate the walls. Across town at the Old German Beer Hall on Old World Third Street, parking was a little tougher, but worth it: Pints of Munich-brewed Hofbrauhaus flowed here like, well, beer, occasionally into oversized glasses shaped like boots -- the accessory of choice. The runner-up? An antiquated cross-country ski to which five shot glasses were affixed so that brethren can happily drink (or spill) in unison.

I challenge Miami to show me that kind of camaraderie.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Obama to Bush: I Can Release Your Records. Don't Like It? Sue.

On his first day in office, President Obama put former president Bush on notice. His administration just released an executive order that will make it difficult for Bush to shield his White House records--and those of former Vice President Dick Cheney--from public scrutiny by invoking the doctrine of executive privilege. Shortly after taking office, Bush handed down his own executive order, amending the Presidential Records Act to give current and past presidents, along with their heirs, veto power over the release of presidential records, which are considered the property of the American people.

"[Obama]'s putting former presidents on notice that if you want to continue a claim of executive privilege that [Obama] doesn't think is well-placed, you're going to have to go to court," says Anne Weismann, the chief counsel for Citizens for Ethics and Responsibility in Washington (CREW).

During the campaign, Obama promised to "nullify attempts to make the timely release of presidential records more difficult." (A transition spokesperson promised Mother Jones essentially the same thing when we asked a few weeks ago.) That was a reference to former president Bush's infamous Executive Order 13233, which gave current and former presidents and vice presidents, along with their heirs, unprecedented authority to block the disclosure of White House records. But Obama's taken his campaign promise a step further. While revoking 13233, Obama has also put forth a far stricter interpretation of executive privilege:

[T]he Executive Order on Presidential Records brings those principles [of openness and transparency] to presidential records by giving the American people greater access to these historic documents. This order ends the practice of having others besides the President assert executive privilege for records after an administration ends. Now, only the President will have that power, limiting its potential for abuse. And the order also requires the Attorney General and the White House Counsel to review claims of executive privilege about covered records to make sure those claims are fully warranted by the Constitution.
Weismann explains:

[Obama]'s basically saying if there's a dispute, and a former president thinks something should be covered by executive privilege and Obama doesn't agree, then Obama would direct the Archivist to release it [despite the former president's claim of privilege]. The only option a former President would have at that point would be to go to court and sue. [Obama]'s set up a process to review these claims which requires the Attorney General and White House Counsel to agree that these claims should be invoked, which indicates that it won't be either casually invoked or casually defended.
In Obama's remarks on Wednesday morning, he said that, "Going forward, anytime the American people want to know something that I or a former President wants to withhold, we will have to consult with the Attorney General and the White House Counsel, whose business it is to ensure compliance with the rule of law. Information will not be withheld just because I say so. It will be withheld because a separate authority believes my request is well grounded in the Constitution." The effect of that particular phrase is enormous, as emphasized by the response of a reader over at Talking Points Memo who works for the Justice Department. "That highlighted phrase has signaled a significant discussion around these parts." You can be certain that Obama's early moves to promote government transparency and accountability will be the subject of discussion and debate for a long time to come.

TurboTax Doesn't Prompt Users to Pay Self-Employment Taxes? Or Just Geithner's Copy of the Software?

In today's confirmation hearing, Treasury Secretary nominee Tim Geithner said he used TurboTax to prepare his returns for the years in question where he failed to pay self-employment taxes — even though he collected reimbursement from his employer, the International Monetary Fund.

Senator Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, asked, "Did the software prompt you to pay those taxes?"

"Not to my recollection," Geithner answered.

Do any TurboTax users know otherwise from experience?

UPDATE: A reader responds, "I assure you that Turbotax asks very specifically if you got a 1099 or a W2 from your employer. I know it, you know it, the American people know it!"

Geithner added that the error is his, not the software's, but again, if the software that he used to prepare his taxes reminded him of this provision of the tax code, and he still didn't pay, it looks worse, and tougher and tougher to believe that they were "completely unintentional" as he said in his opening statement.

Maybe this isn't worth voting against his confirmation for, maybe it is. But it increasingly looks like Geithner had several reminders, didn't pay the taxes, and then collected the reimbursement — and this is aside from deducting the summer-camp expenses as child care, etc. It's disturbing to see a guy universally regarded as smart and having good judgment repeatedly evading tax laws and making increasingly implausible claims that it was a simple oversight — and perhaps more disturbing to see most lawmakers shrugging their shoulders at it and insisting it's no big deal.

ANOTHER UPDATE: From another reader who prefers to remain nameless:

I've used TurboTax since 2004, so I can't speak to the prior versions. I've also paid self-employment taxes in all years I've used the software (my wife has her own business). The answer is it depends on how the income is entered. If it's something that is obviously subject to SE taxes such as Schedule C business income, TurboTax doesn't prompt you — it just fills out the Schedule SE and includes the tax on your 1040. To NOT pay it at that point, you would have to manually go into the Schedule SE form and zero it out — probably overriding several "you better have a good reason for feeling you don't owe this tax cuz we think you do" warnings along the way. Not knowing how he entered his IMF income — was it 1099 or something else — it's hard to say how TurboTax would have handled it, but my experience with the software is that in general it probably would not have prompted — it would have simply included the tax and correspondiing schedules.

But another reader says that based on his experience with the software, the software might well have told Geithner he was putting himself at risk for an audit:

Yes Turbo Tax does ask the user if they are self-employed. Assuming the answer is yes, then TT leads you through all of the relevant tax and deduction questions. Even if you happen to click past the tax questions, prior to submitting your form TT summarizes all of your answers and performs a mini-audit**. If you answered yes to Self-Employment and entered ZERO taxes, you will be prompted that there is a potential IRS Audit issue.

**TT uses this audit feature to up-sell users to purchasing a separate product for audit/accounting purposes. This audit is touted as to inform the user of potential problems with the return that may raise a red flag with the IRS.

Mr. Geithner by saying “Not to my recollection,” . . . is hoping that plausible deniability will get him through the hearings.

Hmmm: "About 42 million taxpayers file their taxes digitally with TurboTax software maker Intuit Inc., the clear market leader." About 42 million Americans are going to hear Geithner's answer and say, "that doesn't match up with my experience."

YET ANOTHER UPDATE: The answers from my accountant and TurboTax-using readers continue to flow in:

I'm a CPA in New York and I have many self employed clients. I've used several different softwares over the years between working at various firms and working for myself, and I can tell you that it doesn't matter which software you use, you have to purposefully leave out the self employment tax. Unless of course he bought the one copy of TurboTax with the glitch for 4 consecutive tax years. What are the odds?

And . . .

I've been using TurboTax since I was in B-school, beginning with the 1999 tax year. I've been paid as an employee (W-2) and as an independent contractor (1099). In every iteration that I have used, the program at some point during the "Income Interview" has specifically asked me if I had received a 1099 form. TurboTax doesn't prompt you to pay taxes; it merely calculates your tax liability (or refund) based on the information that you provide.

The only way to avoid a 1099 tax liability is to not enter the 1099 information.

And . . .

I have been using TurboTax since 2001. I bought it specifically because I had started my own 1-man business and wanted to get my self-employment taxes correct.

You enter your business (or contractor) income, and it calculates what you owe, and it fills in the box for you. End of story.

I suspect Geithner did not help himself with that answer.

01/21 11:13 AM

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

In ‘Geek Chic’ and Obama, New Hope for Lifting Women in Science

NY Times: "With the inauguration of an administration avowedly committed to Science as the grand elixir for the nation’s economic, environmental and psycho-reputational woes, a number of scientists say that now is the time to tackle a chronic conundrum of their beloved enterprise: how to attract more women into the fold, and keep them once they are there.
Researchers who have long promoted the cause of women in science view the incoming administration with a mix of optimism and we’ll-see-ism. On the one hand, they said, the new president’s apparent enthusiasm for science, and the concomitant rise of “geek chic” and “smart is the new cool” memes, can only redound to the benefit of all scientists, particularly if the enthusiasm is followed by a bolus of new research funds. On the other hand, they said, how about appointing a woman to the president’s personal Poindexter club, the President’s Council of Advisers on Science and Technology? The designated leaders so far include superstars like Harold Varmus, a Nobel laureate, and Eric Lander, genome meister.
The Rosalind Franklin Society, a group devoted to “recognizing the work of prominent women scientists,” has suggested possible co-chairwomen for the panel. Its candidates include Shirley Ann Jackson, a nuclear physicist and president of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, and Shirley Tilghman, a molecular biologist and president of Princeton University. Others have proposed Jacqueline Barton, a chemist and MacArthur fellow at the California Institute of Technology. Or, given the increasing importance of brain research, how about a prominent female neuroscientist like Nancy Kanwisher of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology or Carla Shatz of Stanford University?
“People say, oh, we shouldn’t have quotas, but diversity is a form of excellence, and there are plenty of outstanding women out there,” Jo Handelsman, president of the Franklin society and a microbiologist at the University of Wisconsin, said in an interview. “You don’t have to lower your standards in the slightest — you just have to pay attention.”
Some would like to see novel approaches to treating systemic problems that often work against women’s scientific ambitions. Mary Ann Mason and Marc Goulden of the University of California, Berkeley, have gathered extensive data showing stark male-female differences in the family structure and personal lives of academic researchers at the top tiers of the profession. "

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Our world may be a giant hologram

DRIVING through the countryside south of Hanover, it would be easy to miss the GEO600 experiment. From the outside, it doesn't look much: in the corner of a field stands an assortment of boxy temporary buildings, from which two long trenches emerge, at a right angle to each other, covered with corrugated iron. Underneath the metal sheets, however, lies a detector that stretches for 600 metres.

For the past seven years, this German set-up has been looking for gravitational waves - ripples in space-time thrown off by super-dense astronomical objects such as neutron stars and black holes. GEO600 has not detected any gravitational waves so far, but it might inadvertently have made the most important discovery in physics for half a century.

For many months, the GEO600 team-members had been scratching their heads over inexplicable noise that is plaguing their giant detector. Then, out of the blue, a researcher approached them with an explanation. In fact, he had even predicted the noise before he knew they were detecting it. According to Craig Hogan, a physicist at the Fermilab particle physics lab in Batavia, Illinois, GEO600 has stumbled upon the fundamental limit of space-time - the point where space-time stops behaving like the smooth continuum Einstein described and instead dissolves into "grains", just as a newspaper photograph dissolves into dots as you zoom in. "It looks like GEO600 is being buffeted by the microscopic quantum convulsions of space-time," says Hogan.

If this doesn't blow your socks off, then Hogan, who has just been appointed director of Fermilab's Center for Particle Astrophysics, has an even bigger shock in store: "If the GEO600 result is what I suspect it is, then we are all living in a giant cosmic hologram."

The idea that we live in a hologram probably sounds absurd, but it is a natural extension of our best understanding of black holes, and something with a pretty firm theoretical footing. It has also been surprisingly helpful for physicists wrestling with theories of how the universe works at its most fundamental level.

The holograms you find on credit cards and banknotes are etched on two-dimensional plastic films. When light bounces off them, it recreates the appearance of a 3D image. In the 1990s physicists Leonard Susskind and Nobel prizewinner Gerard 't Hooft suggested that the same principle might apply to the universe as a whole. Our everyday experience might itself be a holographic projection of physical processes that take place on a distant, 2D surface.

The "holographic principle" challenges our sensibilities. It seems hard to believe that you woke up, brushed your teeth and are reading this article because of something happening on the boundary of the universe. No one knows what it would mean for us if we really do live in a hologram, yet theorists have good reasons to believe that many aspects of the holographic principle are true.

Susskind and 't Hooft's remarkable idea was motivated by ground-breaking work on black holes by Jacob Bekenstein of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem in Israel and Stephen Hawking at the University of Cambridge. In the mid-1970s, Hawking showed that black holes are in fact not entirely "black" but instead slowly emit radiation, which causes them to evaporate and eventually disappear. This poses a puzzle, because Hawking radiation does not convey any information about the interior of a black hole. When the black hole has gone, all the information about the star that collapsed to form the black hole has vanished, which contradicts the widely affirmed principle that information cannot be destroyed. This is known as the black hole information paradox.

Bekenstein's work provided an important clue in resolving the paradox. He discovered that a black hole's entropy - which is synonymous with its information content - is proportional to the surface area of its event horizon. This is the theoretical surface that cloaks the black hole and marks the point of no return for infalling matter or light. Theorists have since shown that microscopic quantum ripples at the event horizon can encode the information inside the black hole, so there is no mysterious information loss as the black hole evaporates.

Crucially, this provides a deep physical insight: the 3D information about a precursor star can be completely encoded in the 2D horizon of the subsequent black hole - not unlike the 3D image of an object being encoded in a 2D hologram. Susskind and 't Hooft extended the insight to the universe as a whole on the basis that the cosmos has a horizon too - the boundary from beyond which light has not had time to reach us in the 13.7-billion-year lifespan of the universe. What's more, work by several string theorists, most notably Juan Maldacena at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, has confirmed that the idea is on the right track. He showed that the physics inside a hypothetical universe with five dimensions and shaped like a Pringle is the same as the physics taking place on the four-dimensional boundary.

Dean ending 30-year political career

WASHINGTON - Outgoing Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean said Friday he would have liked to work in the Obama administration, but instead is embarking on a life in the private sector after nearly 30 years in politics.

Dean told The Associated Press in an interview that he is weighing where next to take a career that has moved rapidly from family doctor to Vermont governor to presidential candidate to national party boss. This Wednesday, he ends a term as chairman in which Democrats recaptured the White House, seized majorities in Congress and picked up governorships.

Some of his supporters have been upset that after all he's done for Democrats, President-elect Barack Obama did not pick him for an administration job. When asked how he felt, Dean said he would "punt on that one."

"Obviously, it would have been great," Dean said in a telephone interview from his home in Burlington, Vt. "But it's not happening and the president has the right to name his own Cabinet, so I'm not going to work in the government it looks like."

Dean said he plans to make some money delivering speeches and share ideas about campaigns and technology with center-left political parties around the world. He said politicians in other countries are very interested in the technology that he used so successfully to raise money and organize his 2004 primary campaign and that Obama took to incredible new levels for his bid.

Dean also improved technology at the Democratic National Committee, building a database that tracks voters across the country. That database is now available to Democrats running for all levels of government, and each one that uses it adds more information from the voters they contact, which helps future candidates. Oddly, Dean said, the long divisive Democratic primary between Obama and Hillary Rodham Clinton helped the party by building the database since both were using it.

Dean said the other accomplishment he's most proud of is putting party staff in every state, even Republican strongholds. Other Washington insiders, such as Obama's White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel, ridiculed the idea at first as a waste of resources. It ended up being credited by many observers as helping to contribute to Obama's victory over Republican John McCain in traditionally red states.

Dean said Obama was "very complimentary and kind about the 50-state strategy" when the two talked in Chicago's Grant Park after his Election Night victory speech. Others who overheard the exchange say Obama told Dean that he couldn't have won without him.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Under 30? Looking for a job? You're not alone

Christine Chase, 24, searches for a job on her computer in her apartment in Campbell, Calif. Chase was laid off from her contractor job at AT&T in the Silicon Valley in August.
The land of milk and honey is souring for Generation Y, just as its members get their careers into full swing.
With the unemployment rate skyrocketing, employees under 30 have the most reason for worry. Joblessness is far higher among younger people than for those later in their careers.
For workers under 29, the unemployment rate jumped to more than 11 percent in December, compared with under 9 percent a year ago, according to Labor Department figures. That is far worse than the overall rate of 7.2 percent, up from 4.9 percent a year ago. The rate for teenage workers, from 16-19, is far worse -- approaching 20 percent. For workers in their 30s and older, the rate is still under 7 percent, and generally declines as workers get older.
The staggering jobless numbers for twentysomething workers are no surprise to Lindsey Rhein, 24, of Placentia, Calif.
She’s been out of work for nearly four months after getting laid off as a legal assistant for a construction company. She’s applied to over 700 jobs and has gotten only seven interviews, leading nowhere.
Even with a master’s degree in forensic psychology and a bachelor’s in sociology, she hasn’t been able to land a sales associate job at Target, and she can’t even get a call back from McDonald's, where she applied for the fast food chain’s management training program two months ago.
FACT FILE Jobless by age
Younger workers have been especially hard hit in the current downturn.
Age Rate
16-19 18.9%
20-29 9.8%
30-39 6.6%
40-49 5.4%
50-59 5.6%
60-64 4.8%
Total U.S. 7.2%
Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics
The experience has shocked Rhein.
“We were told it was our generation's time to shine, that we could achieve our dreams plus more,” she says. “When I was laid off I thought finding another job was going to be cake.”
At a time when the nation is struggling with one of the worst economic downturns since the Great Depression, Gen Yers like Rhein are facing a rude, job-hunting awakening. They often have to stand in line behind their more senior counterparts as any companies lucky enough to be hiring take their choice of more seasoned job applicants.
So baby boomers rushing to get Botox or dress hipper in order to compete in a tough job market may want to reconsider.
Older workers seem to have a leg up on the youngsters. It’s a harsh reality that happens in almost any downturn, economists and labor experts say, but this one has been particularly hard on younger workers because many were blindsided.
“Recessions almost always have the same consequences — experience pays off,” says Edward Stuart, economics professor at Northeastern Illinois University.
Breaking down job numbers
A sector-by-sector look at employment over the past decade.
Given that this is a “macro-economic recession,” he adds, the job losses have been widespread, across almost all industry groups, making it even harder on younger workers, most of which have never experienced a severe economic downturn. “New entrants into the labor force tend to be younger people, and companies don’t want to hire them now.”
Another factor keeping the jobless rate high among younger workers may be their unwillingness to accept any job that’s offered, says Todd Steen, professor of economics at Hope College in Holland, Mich.
“When you’re younger you’re willing to look a little more, maybe move around or live with parents,” he says. “If you’re 50 with a mortgage, you’ll do anything to work hard.”
Indeed, James Anderson, 29, says, “I could have had a job by now if I lowered my expectations on salary and the job.”
Anderson, who earned a degree in electrical engineering from the University of Michigan in 2007, was laid off in October from his contract position at General Motors’ research and development center in Detroit. After a fruitless job search in the area he has decided to move to Boston to live with his sister because he believes there are more job opportunities in the Northeast.
He’s not happy to be moving away from where he grew up, but he hopes the move will lead to his goal of getting a job in the computer industry.

Beam me up: Scientists left baffled as mysterious columns of coloured light appear in the night skies

These stunning images show mysterious columns of light streaming into the sky above the town of Sigulda in Latvia at the end of last month.

Taken by designer Aigar Truhins with a standard digital camera, the photographs have prompted excited online discussions among amateur astronomists all over the internet.

'My son exclaimed, 'The aliens are coming!'' Truhins was quoted as saying.

The mysterious lights prompted excited discussion on the internet

'It certainly looked that way,' he added.

But experts are agreed there may be a more prosaic explanation - ice crystals in the air.

The air above the town was notably cold and filled with suspended ice crystals.

It is believed that the columns were formed by those reflecting light from the bright streetlamps and other lights on the ground - beaming it back downwards again.

Skies all over Europe have been filled with such natural phenomena during the cold snap of recent weeks.

But finally the experts agreed on one explanation...

The lights were said to be a reflection caused by the light from streetlamps on the ground hitting ice crystals suspended in the cold air

Scientists at the website said: 'Truhin’s pillars are not the ordinary kind. Even eading experts in atmospheric optics can’t quite figure them out

'These pillars are mysterious. They have unexplained curved tops and even curved arcs coming from their base.

'Arcs in rare displays like these could be from column crystals to give parts of tangent arcs, others could be the enigmatic Moilanan arc or even the recently discovered reflected Parry arc.

'We do not know – so take more photos on cold nights!'

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Missing White House E-Mails Traced, Justice Aide Say

By R. Jeffrey Smith
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, January 15, 2009; Page A09
A Justice Department lawyer told a federal judge yesterday that the Bush administration will meet its legal requirement to transfer e-mails to the National Archives after spending more than $10 million to locate 14 million e-mails reported missing four years ago from White House computer files.

Civil division trial lawyer Helen H. Hong made the disclosure at a court hearing provoked by a 2007 lawsuit filed by outside groups to ensure that politically significant records created by the White House are not destroyed or removed before President Bush leaves office at noon on Tuesday. She said the department plans to argue in a court filing this week that the administration's successful recent search renders the lawsuit moot.

Hong's statement came hours after U.S. District Court Judge Henry H. Kennedy Jr. ordered employees of the president's executive office -- with just days to go before their departure -- to undertake a comprehensive search of computer workstations, preserve portable hard drives and examine any e-mail archives created or retained from 2003 to 2005, the period in which e-mails appeared to be missing.

Hong said private contractors had helped find the e-mails by searching through an estimated 60,000 tapes that contain daily recordings of the entire contents of the White House computers as a precaution against an electronic disaster.

Her remarks prompted Anne Weisman, the counsel for one of two plaintiffs in the lawsuit, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), to say, "I'll believe it when I see it." Weisman said she hoped the administration's efforts to recover the e-mails can be verified by an independent expert, noting that officials have repeatedly declined to detail the procedures they used. She also said questions persist about whether backup tapes still existed for all of the days for which e-mails were reported missing.

Meredith Fuchs, counsel for the other plaintiff, a historical group known as the National Security Archive, said the Justice Department's statement was "striking" because the admission that 14 million e-mails had to be recovered showed "the level of mismanagement at the White House" of its historically significant records. She said, "For the past year and a half, they said, 'Don't worry, don't worry, leave us alone.' Now they say, at the last minute, they have solved it. I want to see the evidence."

Kennedy's order was the latest in a series of rulings about the fate of Bush administration records that have been unfavorable to the White House. Bush aides had long contended that the plaintiffs lacked standing to sue, and they had resisted a court order requiring that White House preserve the backup tapes that were used to recover the e-mails; the courts rejected both positions.

Last week, a different judge overrode White House objections and ordered the administration to search for information that CREW is seeking on White House visitors during the Bush tenure. Another judge turned aside White House objections to handing copies to aides of President-elect Barack Obama of documents related to the controversial firings of U.S. prosecutors in 2006, which Congress has demanded to see. Still to be decided, possibly in coming days, is a lawsuit by CREW demanding the preservation of vice presidential records that aides to Dick Cheney have said he alone can decide to withhold or discard.

The dispute over recovery of the missing e-mails was provoked by the disclosure four years ago that the White House, in switching to a new internal e-mail system shortly after Bush's election, had abandoned an automatic archiving system meant to preserve all messages containing official business. Under the new system, any of the 3,000 or so regular White House employees could access e-mail storage files, enabling them to delete messages.

An internal White House report noted in 2005 that e-mails from specific periods appeared to be missing, including key moments related to the invasion of Iraq and to a federal probe of the leak of Valerie Plame Wilson's classified employment with the CIA. White House officials called that study flawed after congressional investigators released it.

Once the e-mails are transferred to the National Archives, federal law allows them to be requested under the Freedom of Information Act after a five-year interval.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Harper’s Index

Lots to digest but here's a sampling:
Number of vehicles in the motorcade that transports Bush to his regular bike ride in Maryland: 6

Estimated total miles he has ridden his bike as president: 5,400

Portion of his presidency he has spent at or en route to vacation spots: 1/3

Estimated number of juveniles whom the United States has detained as enemy combatants since 2002: 2,500

Minimum number of detainees who were tortured to death in U.S. custody: 8

Minimum number of extraordinary renditions that the United States has made since 2006: 200

Date on which USA Today added Guantánamo to its weather map: 1/3/05

Number of incidents of torture on prime-time network TV shows from 2002 to 2007: 897

Number on shows during the previous seven years: 110

Portion of all U.S. income gains during the Bush Administration that have gone to the top 1 percent of earners: 3/4

Increase since 2000 in the number of Americans living at less than half the federal poverty level: 3,500,000

Percentage change since 2001 in the average amount U.S. workers spend on out-of-pocket medical expenses: +172

Estimated percentage by which Social Security benefits would have declined if Bush’s privatization plan had passed: –15

Number of Republican officials who have been investigated by the Justice Department since 2001: 196

Number of Democratic officials who have been: 890

Number of White House officials in 2006 and 2007 authorized to discuss pending criminal cases with the DOJ: 711

Number of Clinton officials ever authorized to do so: 4

Years since a White House official as senior as I. Lewis Libby had been indicted while in office: 130

Number of U.S. cities and towns that have passed resolutions calling for the impeachment of President Bush: 92

Percentage change since 2001 in U.S. government spending on paper shredding: Estimated value of Henry Paulson’s Goldman Sachs stock when he became Treasury Secretary and sold it: $575,000,000

Estimated value of that stock today: $238,000,000466

Tribune to launch tabloid for newsstands

The Chicago Tribune on Monday will hit the streets -- and its rival Chicago Sun-Times--with a newly reformatted tabloid-size version of itself for weekday sales at area commuter stations, newsstands and newspaper boxes, the Tribune announced today.
Home delivery subscribers will continue to receive the Tribune's traditional broadsheet edition, which will have the same editorial content as the single-copy tabloid version with minor differences in headlines, photos and captions because of the new size, the paper said.

The tabloid-size street-sale edition will remain priced at 75 cents, though copies of Monday's debut will be free as part of a launch promotion. RedEye, the free commuter tabloid the Tribune launched in 2002, will remain unchanged. The Chicago Sun-Times -- the Tribune's tabloid-size rival -- sells for 50 cents.

Unemployed? Wants You to Laugh

They found that people wanted humor, even in a cheerless economy.
In one television spot, a construction worker clings to a beam, crying and whimpering; the camera then pans up to show he is only a few feet off the ground. In another, a crew of emergency medical technicians jumps out of an ambulance as heroic music plays. They run to a car accident — and an E.M.T. faints.
“Are you in the right job?” the ads ask.
It is a high-profile campaign that promotes Monster’s redesigned Web site. Ads began running during the Golden Globes on Sunday, and are scheduled during the Super Bowl and the January season premiere of “Lost.”
•With the ads and the redesigned site, Monster is trying to attract not only the unemployed, but also people who currently have jobs, which it calls “passive seekers.” That’s because Monster is paid when employers list jobs and when they contact a candidate. The more résumés employers like, the more revenue Monster should get.
“That passive seeker, if you think about it, a lot of passive seekers are the best candidates,” said Ted Gilvar, Monster’s chief global marketing officer.
Monster has added three features to the site, based on the 40 million résumés it has collected in its nine years in business, that are intended to attract passive seekers.
One presents profiles of jobs, called Career Snapshots. Enter “fire ranger,” and users can review duties (direct crews during forest fires, ensure fire-regulation compliance at campsites); the rate of job growth in the industry from 2006 to 2012 (12.1 percent) and the number of similar jobs posted on Monster (more than 1,000).
The second is called Career Benchmarking. Users enter information about their career, education, salary and benefits and see how they compare with others in their field.
The third is called Career Mapping. Users enter a starting job and an ending job, and Monster plots how other people who have made that transition have done it. To go from nanny to spy, for instance, one suggested path is nanny, to youth behavioral counselor, to probation officer, to police officer, to intelligence analyst/security specialist, to intelligence analyst/imagery.
Monster lists relevant and available jobs on the pages showing those tools, in the hopes that passive seekers will click on them and submit a résumé.
“It’s a typical funnel. The more people you draw at the top, the more people come through,” Mr. Gilvar said. “This notion of dislodging the passive seeker is an attractive thing.”
Monster’s job postings have fallen because of the economy, Mr. Gilvar said, though employers were still hiring in areas like information technology, manufacturing and health care.

In Michigan, Bank Lends Little of Its Bailout Funds

TROY, Mich. — The bad bets made by executives at Independent Bank of Michigan are on display in spots across the state: a defunct bowling alley, a new but never occupied shopping center and the luxurious Whispering Woods Estates, which offers prime lots for never-constructed dream homes.
Keith Lightbody, a senior vice president at Independent Bank of Michigan, and Stefanie Kimball, its chief lending officer. “We need to make loans that are reasonable in this day and age,” she said.
Now it is the federal government making the big bet here.
The Treasury Department has invested $72 million out of the $700 billion in federal bailout funds to help prop up this community bank, which traces its roots back 144 years in Michigan. It is a small chunk of the giant rescue fund being wagered by Washington to encourage banks like Independent to resume lending and jump-start the frozen economy.
But Independent, hard put to find good borrowers in a suffering economy, and fearful of making the kind of mistakes that got it into trouble in the first place, is not doing much lending these days. So far it is using all of the government’s money to shore up its own weak finances by repaying short-term loans from the Federal Reserve. “It is like if you are in an airplane and the oxygen mask comes down,” said Stefanie Kimball, the bank’s chief lending officer. “First thing you do is put your own mask on, stabilize yourself.”
This is not what the Treasury Department had in mind when it started this program, saying it would give the nation’s “healthy banks” enough money to start lending again, so that people could buy homes and businesses could invest and create jobs, thereby invigorating a disintegrating economy.
A close look at Independent Bank’s handling of its government money demonstrates just how much harder this has turned out to be, and the conflicting challenges that banks across the United States are confronting in the new bailout era. Like hundreds of other banks, it is caught between the government’s push to increase lending and its own caution.
As of Tuesday, 257 financial institutions in 42 states had received $192 billion in capital injections from the Treasury’s Troubled Asset Relief Program, or TARP, out of $250 billion set aside for this purpose. Seven giant banks — like JPMorgan Chase and Citigroup — have received more than 62 percent of the total so far, and have gotten most of the attention.
But it is the smaller community banks like Independent that are seeing the largest number of investments, with 186 banks so far getting allocations of less than $100 million. With little public attention, this money in recent weeks has been streaming out to community banks across the nation, in dollops as small as $1 million — the amount set aside for Independent Bank of East Greenwich, R.I. Ultimately, more than 1,000 banks are expected to take part in the program.
While most of the banks that have received money appear to be relatively healthy, dozens of other banks that received federal funds are, like Independent Bank of Michigan, financially stressed by a high volume of delinquent loans.
Bailout Is Questioned
Economists say the decision by banks like Independent to use the federal money for purposes other than lending, while perhaps disappointing, is not surprising, given that the Treasury Department did not honor its plan to give the money only to healthy banks.
“It’s a matter of logic — when you are in a perilous position, like many of them are, you try to bolster your balance sheet,” said Alan S. Blinder, a monetary policy economics professor at Princeton. “But this is a real flaw in the program.”

Monday, January 12, 2009

National Safety Council Urges Cellphone Ban for Drivers "In half a dozen states and many cities and counties, it is illegal to use a hand-held cellphone while driving — but perfectly all right to talk on a hands-free device.
The theory is that it’s distracting to hold a phone and drive with just one hand. But a large body of research now shows that a hands-free phone poses no less danger than a hand-held one — that the problem is not your hands but your brain.
“It’s not that your hands aren’t on the wheel,” said David Strayer, director of the Applied Cognition Laboratory at the University of Utah and a leading researcher on cellphone safety. “It’s that your mind is not on the road.”
Now Dr. Strayer’s research has gained a potent ally. On Monday, the National Safety Council, the nonprofit advocacy group that has pushed for seat belt laws and drunken driving awareness, called for an all-out ban on using cellphones while driving.
“There is a huge misperception with the public that it’s O.K. if they are using a hands-free phone,” said Janet Froetscher, the council’s president and chief executive. “It’s the same challenge we had with seat belts and drunk driving — we’ve got to get people thinking the same way about cellphones.”
Laboratory experiments using simulators, real-world road studies and accident statistics all tell the same story: drivers talking on a cellphone are four times as likely to have an accident as drivers who are not. That’s the same level of risk posed by a driver who is legally drunk.
Why cellphone use behind the wheel is so risky isn’t entirely clear, but studies suggest several factors. No matter what the device, phone conversations appear to take a significant toll on attention and visual processing skills."

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Scientists hear mystery boom from space

LONG BEACH, Calif. - Space is typically thought of as a very quiet place. But one team of astronomers has found a strange cosmic noise that booms six times louder than expected.

The roar is from the distant cosmos. Nobody knows what causes it.

Of course, sound waves can't travel in a vacuum (which is what most of space is), or at least they can't very efficiently. But radio waves can.

Radio waves are not sound waves; they are electromagnetic waves, situated on the low-frequency end of the light spectrum. Many objects in the universe, including stars and quasars, emit radio waves. Even our home galaxy, the Milky Way, emits a static hiss (first detected in 1931 by physicist Karl Jansky). Other galaxies send out a background radio hiss as well.

But the newly detected signal, described here at the 213th meeting of the American Astronomical Society on Wednesday, is far louder than astronomers expected.

There is "something new and interesting going on in the universe," said Alan Kogut of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md.

A team led by Kogut detected the signal with a balloon-borne instrument named ARCADE (Absolute Radiometer for Cosmology, Astrophysics and Diffuse Emission).

In July 2006, the instrument was launched from NASA's Columbia Scientific Balloon Facility in Palestine, Texas, and reached an altitude of about 120,000 feet (36,500 meters), where the atmosphere thins into the vacuum of space.

ARCADE's mission was to search the sky for faint signs of heat from the first generation of stars, but instead they heard a roar from the distant reaches of the universe.

"The universe really threw us a curve," Kogut said. "Instead of the faint signal we hoped to find, here was this booming noise six times louder than anyone had predicted."

Detailed analysis of the signal ruled out primordial stars or any known radio sources, including gas in the outermost halo of our own galaxy.

"You'd have to pack them into the universe like sardines," said study team member Dale Fixsen of the University of Maryland. "There wouldn't be any space left between one galaxy and the next."

The signal is measured to be six times brighter than the combined emission of all known radio sources in the universe.

For now, the origin of the signal remains a mystery.

"We really don't know what it is," said team member Michael Seiffert of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif.

Not only has it presented astronomers with a new puzzle, it is obscuring the sought-for signal from the earliest stars. But the cosmic static may itself provide important clues to the development of galaxies when the universe was much younger, less than half its present age. Because the radio waves come from far away, traveling at the speed of light, they therefore represent an earlier time in the universe.

"This is what makes science so exciting," Seiffert said. "You start out on a path to measure something — in this case, the heat from the very first stars — but run into something else entirely, some unexplained."

An Extremist Makeover?


In the past week, I’ve twice been close enough to Dick Cheney to kick him in the shins.

I didn’t. It’s probably a federal crime of some sort. But a girl can fantasize. I did, however, assume the Stay-away-from-me-you’ve-got-cooties stance that Jimmy Carter used when posing with Bill Clinton at the presidents’ powwow in the Oval.

The first time was Tuesday, when Cheney left the ceremony where he gave the oath of office to senators. The senators seemed thrilled, especially Joe Biden, who was getting sworn in for just two weeks and was excitedly showing off a family Bible the size of a Buick. But I thought it gave the ceremony a satirical edge to have the lawless Vice presiding over lawmakers swearing to support and defend the Constitution that he soiled and defiled — right in the heart of the legislative branch he worked to diminish.

The second time I crossed paths was Thursday night, at a glitzy party at Cafe Milano for Brit Hume, stepping down as a Fox anchor. It required extreme defensive maneuvers — much zigging and zagging — to avoid Cheney, Wolfie and Rummy, all three holding court and blissfully unrepentant about the chaos they’ve unleashed on the world.

“My conscience is clear,” Rummy volunteered to Bob Woodward, talking about how he’s interviewing people for his memoir.

Woodward was stunned. “I was as speechless as I was in July 2006 when I interviewed him and he said he was not a military commander, that he could make the case that he was ‘by indirection, two or three steps removed,’ ” Woodward told me afterward.

At least Ernst Stavro Blofeld would have the decency just to leave the scene.

From Gaza to the unemployment figures to the $10.6 trillion debt, things keep spiraling while W. keeps fiddling. Just as when he was in the National Guard and didn’t bother to show up, now, as the scabrous consequences of his missteps shake the economy and the world, he doesn’t bother to show up. He’s checked out — spending his time on more than a dozen exit interviews that do nothing to change his image as a president who was over his head and under Cheney’s spell.

Asked by People magazine what moments from the last eight years he revisited most often, W. talked passionately about the pitch he threw out at the World Series in 2001: “I never felt that anxious any other time during my presidency, curiously enough.”

Asked by Fred Barnes and Bill Kristol of The Weekly Standard if he had made progress in some areas for which he hasn’t gotten credit, the president put trying to privatize Social Security at the top of his list. It’s frightening to think where a lot of people would be now if that effort had succeeded.

After he leaves office, W. wants to go on more bike rides, because biking through Katrina was not enough. He wants to write a memoir, even though the offers are not pouring in as they did for Laura. And he wants to encourage debate at his presidential library on “big ideas.”

The vamoosing Vice has no apologies about turning America into a country that tortured; indeed, he denies it ever happened. “Torture,” he told Barnes, “that word gets thrown around with great abandon.”

He’s going back to Casper, Wyo., and said he’s giving “serious thought” to writing a book, so he can continue his extremist makeover. The only thing he can do now is shoot a big lie across the bow and see if it lands.

Cheney’s theory of executive “unitary” power and pre-emptive war and frightening the world was a theory of Constitutional thuggishness.

Asked last week by Mark Knoller of CBS Radio in one of his exit interviews to name the “biggest mis-impression” people had about him, Cheney replied with a laugh, “That I’m actually a warm, lovable sort.”

'Atlas Shrugged': From Fiction to Fact in 52 Years

Some years ago when I worked at the libertarian Cato Institute, we used to label any new hire who had not yet read "Atlas Shrugged" a "virgin." Being conversant in Ayn Rand's classic novel about the economic carnage caused by big government run amok was practically a job requirement. If only "Atlas" were required reading for every member of Congress and political appointee in the Obama administration. I'm confident that we'd get out of the current financial mess a lot faster.
Many of us who know Rand's work have noticed that with each passing week, and with each successive bailout plan and economic-stimulus scheme out of Washington, our current politicians are committing the very acts of economic lunacy that "Atlas Shrugged" parodied in 1957, when this 1,000-page novel was first published and became an instant hit.
Rand, who had come to America from Soviet Russia with striking insights into totalitarianism and the destructiveness of socialism, was already a celebrity. The left, naturally, hated her. But as recently as 1991, a survey by the Library of Congress and the Book of the Month Club found that readers rated "Atlas" as the second-most influential book in their lives, behind only the Bible.
For the uninitiated, the moral of the story is simply this: Politicians invariably respond to crises -- that in most cases they themselves created -- by spawning new government programs, laws and regulations. These, in turn, generate more havoc and poverty, which inspires the politicians to create more programs . . . and the downward spiral repeats itself until the productive sectors of the economy collapse under the collective weight of taxes and other burdens imposed in the name of fairness, equality and do-goodism.
In the book, these relentless wealth redistributionists and their programs are disparaged as "the looters and their laws." Every new act of government futility and stupidity carries with it a benevolent-sounding title. These include the "Anti-Greed Act" to redistribute income (sounds like Charlie Rangel's promises soak-the-rich tax bill) and the "Equalization of Opportunity Act" to prevent people from starting more than one business (to give other people a chance). My personal favorite, the "Anti Dog-Eat-Dog Act," aims to restrict cut-throat competition between firms and thus slow the wave of business bankruptcies. Why didn't Hank Paulson think of that?
These acts and edicts sound farcical, yes, but no more so than the actual events in Washington, circa 2008. We already have been served up the $700 billion "Emergency Economic Stabilization Act" and the "Auto Industry Financing and Restructuring Act." Now that Barack Obama is in town, he will soon sign into law with great urgency the "American Recovery and Reinvestment Plan." This latest Hail Mary pass will increase the federal budget (which has already expanded by $1.5 trillion in eight years under George Bush) by an additional $1 trillion -- in roughly his first 100 days in office.
The current economic strategy is right out of "Atlas Shrugged": The more incompetent you are in business, the more handouts the politicians will bestow on you. That's the justification for the $2 trillion of subsidies doled out already to keep afloat distressed insurance companies, banks, Wall Street investment houses, and auto companies -- while standing next in line for their share of the booty are real-estate developers, the steel industry, chemical companies, airlines, ethanol producers, construction firms and even catfish farmers. With each successive bailout to "calm the markets," another trillion of national wealth is subsequently lost. Yet, as "Atlas" grimly foretold, we now treat the incompetent who wreck their companies as victims, while those resourceful business owners who manage to make a profit are portrayed as recipients of illegitimate "windfalls."
When Rand was writing in the 1950s, one of the pillars of American industrial might was the railroads. In her novel the railroad owner, Dagny Taggart, an enterprising industrialist, has a FedEx-like vision for expansion and first-rate service by rail. But she is continuously badgered, cajoled, taxed, ruled and regulated -- always in the public interest -- into bankruptcy. Sound far-fetched? On the day I sat down to write this ode to "Atlas," a Wall Street Journal headline blared: "Rail Shippers Ask Congress to Regulate Freight Prices."
In one chapter of the book, an entrepreneur invents a new miracle metal -- stronger but lighter than steel. The government immediately appropriates the invention in "the public good." The politicians demand that the metal inventor come to Washington and sign over ownership of his invention or lose everything.
The scene is eerily similar to an event late last year when six bank presidents were summoned by Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson to Washington, and then shuttled into a conference room and told, in effect, that they could not leave until they collectively signed a document handing over percentages of their future profits to the government. The Treasury folks insisted that this shakedown, too, was all in "the public interest."
Ultimately, "Atlas Shrugged" is a celebration of the entrepreneur, the risk taker and the cultivator of wealth through human intellect. Critics dismissed the novel as simple-minded, and even some of Rand's political admirers complained that she lacked compassion. Yet one pertinent warning resounds throughout the book: When profits and wealth and creativity are denigrated in society, they start to disappear -- leaving everyone the poorer.
One memorable moment in "Atlas" occurs near the very end, when the economy has been rendered comatose by all the great economic minds in Washington. Finally, and out of desperation, the politicians come to the heroic businessman John Galt (who has resisted their assault on capitalism) and beg him to help them get the economy back on track. The discussion sounds much like what would happen today:
Galt: "You want me to be Economic Dictator?"
Mr. Thompson: "Yes!"
"And you'll obey any order I give?"
"Then start by abolishing all income taxes."
"Oh no!" screamed Mr. Thompson, leaping to his feet. "We couldn't do that . . . How would we pay government employees?"
"Fire your government employees."
"Oh, no!"
Abolishing the income tax. Now that really would be a genuine economic stimulus. But Mr. Obama and the Democrats in Washington want to do the opposite: to raise the income tax "for purposes of fairness" as Barack Obama puts it.
David Kelley, the president of the Atlas Society, which is dedicated to promoting Rand's ideas, explains that "the older the book gets, the more timely its message." He tells me that there are plans to make "Atlas Shrugged" into a major motion picture -- it is the only classic novel of recent decades that was never made into a movie. "We don't need to make a movie out of the book," Mr. Kelley jokes. "We are living it right now."
Mr. Moore is senior economics writer for The Wall Street Journal editorial page.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Revealed: the environmental impact of Google searches

From The Sunday Times
January 11, 2009

Performing two Google searches from a desktop computer can generate about the same amount of carbon dioxide as boiling a kettle for a cup of tea, according to new research.

While millions of people tap into Google without considering the environment, a typical search generates about 7g of CO2 Boiling a kettle generates about 15g. “Google operates huge data centres around the world that consume a great deal of power,” said Alex Wissner-Gross, a Harvard University physicist whose research on the environmental impact of computing is due out soon. “A Google search has a definite environmental impact.”

Google is secretive about its energy consumption and carbon footprint. It also refuses to divulge the locations of its data centres. However, with more than 200m internet searches estimated globally daily, the electricity consumption and greenhouse gas emissions caused by computers and the internet is provoking concern. A recent report by Gartner, the industry analysts, said the global IT industry generated as much greenhouse gas as the world’s airlines - about 2% of global CO2 emissions. “Data centres are among the most energy-intensive facilities imaginable,” said Evan Mills, a scientist at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in California. Banks of servers storing billions of web pages require power.

Though Google says it is in the forefront of green computing, its search engine generates high levels of CO2 because of the way it operates. When you type in a Google search for, say, “energy saving tips”, your request doesn’t go to just one server. It goes to several competing against each other.

It may even be sent to servers thousands of miles apart. Google’s infrastructure sends you data from whichever produces the answer fastest. The system minimises delays but raises energy consumption. Google has servers in the US, Europe, Japan and China.

Wissner-Gross has submitted his research for publication by the US Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers and has also set up a website “Google are very efficient but their primary concern is to make searches fast and that means they have a lot of extra capacity that burns energy,” he said.

Google said: “We are among the most efficient of all internet search providers.”

Wissner-Gross has also calculated the CO2 emissions caused by individual use of the internet. His research indicates that viewing a simple web page generates about 0.02g of CO2 per second. This rises tenfold to about 0.2g of CO2 a second when viewing a website with complex images, animations or videos.

A separate estimate from John Buckley, managing director of, a British environmental consultancy, puts the CO2 emissions of a Google search at between 1g and 10g, depending on whether you have to start your PC or not. Simply running a PC generates between 40g and 80g per hour, he says. of CO2 Chris Goodall, author of Ten Technologies to Save the Planet, estimates the carbon emissions of a Google search at 7g to 10g (assuming 15 minutes’ computer use).

Nicholas Carr, author of The Big Switch, Rewiring the World, has calculated that maintaining a character (known as an avatar) in the Second Life virtual reality game, requires 1,752 kilowatt hours of electricity per year. That is almost as much used by the average Brazilian.

“It’s not an unreasonable comparison,” said Liam Newcombe, an expert on data centres at the British Computer Society. “It tells us how much energy westerners use on entertainment versus the energy poverty in some countries.”

Though energy consumption by computers is growing - and the rate of growth is increasing - Newcombe argues that what matters most is the type of usage.

If your internet use is in place of more energy-intensive activities, such as driving your car to the shops, that’s good. But if it is adding activities and energy consumption that would not otherwise happen, that may pose problems.

Newcombe cites Second Life and Twitter, a rapidly growing website whose 3m users post millions of messages a month. Last week Stephen Fry, the TV presenter, was posting “tweets” from New Zealand, imparting such vital information as “Arrived in Queenstown. Hurrah. Full of bungy jumping and ‘activewear’ shops”, and “Honestly. NZ weather makes UK look stable and clement”.

Jonathan Ross was Twittering even more, with posts such as “Am going to muck out the pigs. It will be cold, but I’m not the type to go on about it” and “Am now back indoors and have put on fleecy tracksuit and two pairs of socks”. Ross also made various “tweets” trying to ascertain whether Jeremy Clarkson was a Twitter user or not. Yesterday the Top Gear presenter cleared up the matter, saying: “I am not a twit. And Jonathan Ross is.”

Such internet phenomena are not simply fun and hot air, Newcombe warns: the boom in such services has a carbon cost.

No pardon for 'Two Buck Chuck' creator

Two Buck Chuck is the popular nickname for Charles Shaw, an inexpensive wine brand made by the Bronco Wine Company, based near Modesto.

The company's chief, Fred Franzia, plead guilty in 1993 to conspiracy to defraud, for passing off cheap grapes as more expensive zinfandel.

He has been trying to clear his record but president bush turned down his request for a pardon.

Flirting class offered to German computer geeks

Students will learn to text coquettishly — and cope with rejection
BERLIN - Even the most quirky of computer nerds can learn to flirt with finesse thanks to a new "flirting course" being offered to budding IT engineers at Potsdam University south of Berlin.
The 440 students enrolled in the master's degree course will learn how to write flirtatious text messages and emails, impress people at parties and cope with rejection.
Philip von Senftleben, an author and radio presenter who will teach the course, summed up his job as teaching how to "get someone else's heart beating fast while yours stays calm."
The course, which starts next Monday, is part of the social skills section of the IT course and is designed to ease entry into the world of work. Students also learn body language, public-speaking, stress management and presentation skills.
"We want to prepare our students with the social skills needed to succeed both in their private life and their work life," said Hans-Joachim Allgaier, a spokesman for the institute at Potsdam University where the course is being offered.

Seattle P-I up for sale; could go online-only

By Seattle Times staff

Hearst Newspaper President Steven Swartz announces to the Seattle P-I newsroom a 60-day process to sell the newspaper.

Jan. 9, 2009: News reports say Hearst puts P-I up for sale, preparing to close it.

The Seattle Post-Intelligencer, which first rolled off the presses in 1863 and has been the state's longest-publishing newspaper, is up for sale.

The newspaper's staff was called into a closed meeting today by Publisher Roger Oglesby. Present at the meeting was Hearst Newspaper President Steve Swartz, who told the newsroom that Hearst Corp. is starting a 60-day process to find a buyer.

If a buyer is not found, Swartz said, possible options include creating an all-digital operation with a greatly reduced staff, or closing its operations entirely.

In no case will Hearst continue to publish the P-I in printed form, Swartz said.

Regardless, he said, if no buyer is found, the P-I as a newspaper will not publish after the two months is up.

Swartz discounted rumors that Hearst, the P-I's owner since 1921, was interested in buying The Seattle Times newspaper.

He said the P-I has had operating loses since 2000, losing around $14 million this past year. Greater losses are anticipated this year, he said.

"Our journalists continue to do a spectacular job of serving the people of Seattle, which has been our great privilege for the past 88 years," Swartz said in a news release. "But our losses have reached an unacceptable level, so with great regret we are seeking a new owner for the P-I."

The announcement stunned the newspaper's staff, which first heard about the pending sale via television news reports Thursday night. The staff was called into a noon meeting today and given the news.

"I'm really, really distraught ... I was not expecting this," said longtime P-I environmental reporter Robert McClure.

For years, the staff had entertained the hope that Hearst would buy the family-owned Seattle Times, which Hearst has indicated it has wanted to do for years. But Swartz, who took over as president of Hearst newspapers last year, had other ideas.

"They were always out to buy the Times," McClure said. "I just didn't think they were going to fold up their tent and go home."

P-I breaking news editor Candace Heckman said the staff appeared stunned in the newsroom after the meeting.

"People cried, people are still crying, editors are slamming their doors," she said. "There's talking of drowning their sorrows."

Several people have since left the building. A few people are working on stories, but, "I am looking around a newsroom that is not working very much."

Longtime P-I columnist Joel Connelly met reporters outside the globe-topped P-I building overlooking Elliott Bay. He said the newsroom resembled a "yellow jacket nest." Connelly said he rode down the elevator with Managing Editor David McCumber, who Connelly said summed up the morning with a single profanity.

Kathy George, attorney for the Committee for a Two-Newspaper Town, said the group will explore options to see whether the P-I can be preserved. (The group emerged during the last JOA lawsuit to advocate for both newspapers' survival.) But she said it was not immediately apparent what the committee could do.

Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels this afternoon released a statement that said in part: "Newspapers may have fallen on hard times, but no one doubts their value in our democracy. Across the country, newspapers have cut staff and shuttered their doors, and we are all a little poorer ... Whatever the outcome, this is a big change for Seattle."
Seattle's daily newspapers: A timeline

The P-I is the oldest morning newspaper in the state of Washington.

The early years

1867: The newspaper Weekly Intelligencer, the origin of the Post-Intelligencer, is founded in Seattle.

1881: The Intelligencer combines with the Post to become the Post-Intelligencer.

1896: The Seattle Daily Times' new owner, "Colonel" Alden Blethen, publishes his first edition to challenge the older, more conservative P-I.

The middle years

1921: William Randolph Hearst takes over the Seattle Post- Intelligencer, revealed when Hearst's first editorial appears.

1930: The Ridder brothers of New York and St. Paul, Minn., buy a minority interest in The Times.

1936: A Newspaper Guild strike suspends publication of the P-I for nearly four months.

1946: The Blethen family fends off a hostile takeover attempt by the Ridder family.

1953: A Newspaper Guild strike suspends publication of The Times for three months.

The later years

1983: The Hearst Corp. and The Seattle Times Co. form a joint-operating agreement (JOA) in which the larger Times handles advertising, printing, promotion and distribution for both newspapers, but each continues to run separate, competing newsrooms. The P-I publishes mornings Monday-Saturday; The Times publishes Monday-Friday afternoons, Saturday-Sunday mornings.

1986: The P-I, no longer needing printing presses, moves into a new building on Elliott Avenue West, installing its trademark globe there.

2000: After renegotiating the JOA, The Times switches to morning publication, going head-to-head with the P-I. Later in the year, Newspaper Guild workers at the P-I, alongside those at The Times, go on strike. The P-I strike ends first, after 38 days, with the approval of a new contract.

2003: The Seattle Times attempts to end the JOA, but The Hearst Corp. sues The Times to stop the action. A long legal battle follows, and Hearst threatens to sell the P-I if the proceedings don't speed up. Cartoonist David Horsey wins a second Pulitzer Prize.

2006: McClatchy buys Knight Ridder, inheriting its Times stake.

2007: Hearst and The Times Co. settle new terms of the JOA.

Seattle Times staff reporters Sharon Chan, Bob Young, Mike Carter, Warren Cornwall, and Jim Brunner contributed to this report.