Thursday, April 30, 2009

Pageant official: We paid for Prejean’s implants

She confirms that group paid for Miss California’s breast enhancement

LOS ANGELES — Shanna Moakler, co-executive director of the Miss California Organization, has confirmed the group behind the pageant paid for Miss California Carrie Prejean’s breast implants, weeks before she competed in Miss USA.

In a new interview with Access Hollywood’s Billy Bush, Shanna confirmed the news.

“Did you guys pay for it?” Billy asked Shanna directly.

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“Yes,” Moakler said. “We did.”

The organization paid for Carrie’s breast enhancement prior to her competing in the Miss USA pageant, which was held in Las Vegas, almost two weeks ago.

“It was something that we all spoke about together,” Shanna said referring to herself, Carrie and Keith Lewis, Shanna's co-executive director. “It was an option and she wanted it. And we supported that decision.”

Shanna, a former Miss USA herself, defended the Miss California Organization’s decision to pay for the elective surgery.

“Breast implants in pageants is not a rarity. It’s definitely not taboo. It’s very common. Breast implants today among young women today is very common. I don’t personally have them, but you know — they are,” she added.

Shanna supported Carrie’s plastic surgery, however, she had a hard time standing behind Carrie’s opinion against gay marriage in her answer to a question from Perez Hilton during the Q&A portion of the Miss USA competition.

“The night of the show, I wrote Carrie and I congratulated Carrie and I also told her her answer, for me, did hurt feelings,” Shanna told Billy.
Carrie is still involved in a media frenzy, sparked by her controversial response at the Miss USA pageant, and Shanna claims the young woman has been avoiding responding to her Miss California bosses.

“We’ve tried really hard [to get in contact] and she keeps referring us to her mother and her PR person,” Shanna claimed. “That’s also sad for me… because, you know, there’s no hate here. I don’t hate Carrie Prejean. I supported her and I still stand behind her.”

When asked if stripping Carrie of her crown was a possibility, Shana said they need to see how things work out.

“I don’t want to fire her! I think she’s a great, young girl, and I got into pageants, because I want to help young girls. I want to guide young girls. I know what pageants [did] for me and I know what it can do for young women and also working within the community,” Shanna said.

“I don’t want to fire Carrie. I want her to use her platform, because this is her platform, I didn’t know she was this passionate about it … I’m glad I know now and I support and will help her, but …” she trailed off.

“Since you can’t communicate, when do you say, ‘Alright, come back and follow the Miss California itinerary and get on board or we’re going to fire you?’” Billy asked.

“I guess we’re all going to have to wait and see how that plays out because I don’t have the answers for that,” Shanna said.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Rising number of children allergic to fruit and vegetables

Soaring numbers of children are being diagnosed with allergies to fruit and vegetables.

Doctors have seen the numbers rise by as much as five times in some areas of the country, putting children at risk of asthma.

Experts fear the rising tide of intolerance to fruit and veg could be the new peanut allergy, which affects one in 50 children.

Symptoms of the new phenomenon - known as 'oral allergy syndrome' - include swelling in the mouth and throat, which in the worst cases can lead to severe breathing difficulties.

The syndrome is linked to hay fever, a seasonal condition. But because fruit and veg are consumed all year round, the effect is more debilitating.

Dr Pamela Ewan, an allergy consultant at Addenbroke's Hospital in Cambridge, said cases or oral allergies to fruit and veg were rising, particularly among children.

'We have seen a big rise in the number of cases in the past four to five years,' she said. 'It is a bit like the peanut was the epidemic of the 1990s.

'I think fruit and vegetables are becoming the epidemic now. In terms of numbers, fruit and vegetables are the new form of peanut allergy.'

She added: 'We think fruit and vegetables are healthy, which they mostly are, but you can be allergic to them. Early on when we first picked is up, it was passed off as not being serious. It began with fairly mild itching in the mouth.

'But now we are seeing people who are getting really severe throat closure, a significant swelling at the back of the throat which can impede breathing.'

Figures are hard to come by, but in south Wales, the numbers being diagnosed have gone up from one for every 100,000 of the population to five - in just six years.

A Building Devoted to the Science of Space Captures Its Mystery

Chronicle of Higher Education: "If the California Institute of Technology asked you to design a new building for its astronomers and astrophysicists, you'd want it to be as smart and as interesting as they are, wouldn't you? That, clearly, is how the architecture firm Morphosis greeted Caltech's commission for the Cahill Center for Astronomy and Astrophysics some five years ago.
Morphosis, led by Thom Mayne, created a building nearly as intriguing as the night sky. The brown cement-panel exterior is a mysterious misalignment of planes interrupted by unexplained rifts. The interior is a whole geometry's worth of angles and volumes that come together at a staircase stolen from some other dimension. It's a staircase that wants to be both a telescope and what a telescope sees — and it easily takes the prize as American higher education's most fascinating set of steps.
The 100,000-square-foot building, which opened early this year, brings together some 300 faculty members and graduate students who have been scattered across Caltech's campus. Among them are both astronomers, who study the skies, and astrophysicists, who create the instruments astronomers use. The building is meant "to anneal the cultural schism" between members of the two groups, says Andrew Lange, chair of the division of physics, mathematics, and astronomy, as well as to bring together graduate students who until now may have been more familiar with objects in other galaxies than with peers on other research teams.
"We've put shoulder to shoulder people developing technology in all different wavelengths," Lange says, although he admits that some of the building's tricks are decidedly low-tech. For instance: Coffeepots and mailboxes have been "strategically located" to encourage the building's occupants to interact.
Cahill's top two floors hold faculty and graduate-student offices and conference rooms, connected by hallways that veer off slightly this way and that, and whose walls are not always plumb. One of the conference rooms — Lange's favorite — is open to passers-by so that graduate students "can learn as they walk," he says. Corridors that cut across the building from front to back are referred to as "stitches" and end in small social spaces with floor-to-ceiling glass — these are the rifts visible in the exterior. The first floor is split between public spaces — a 148-seat auditorium and a small library — and suites for engineers who run several observatories that Caltech operates."

Film Critic Roger Ebert Alive and Kicking at EbertFest

Abbie Hoffman once said, "I live in Woodstock Nation." That's not for me, but I'd gladly take up citizenship in EbertNation if it's anything like attending EbertFest, the annual festival in Champaign, Illinois where Roger Ebert champions a handful of movies he loves.
The fest's slogan could be "the friendliest, easiest film festival in the world" because it takes place over a leisurely five days (this year it ends Sunday), with about a dozen movies on display at the Virginia Theatre, a grand old movie palace with a giant balcony (where I like to sit in the front row as close to center as possible).
This is my third year at EbertFest so I have no idea what it was like when Ebert was robustly healthy and able to speak and interview and generally hold court but the warmth on display the last few seasons is something special. First, there's the affection from the crowd for a local boy done good. (This year, Ebert has donated $1 million to his alma mater the University of Illinois and the city put up a plaque by the home where he was born.)
They're just as enthusiastic over his delightful wife Chaz, who is a bit more New Age-y than Roger despite being a successful trial lawyer. (Really, did Ebert have to be successful in love as well as his career?) Chaz has hosted the festival more and more in the last few years as Roger's health has proved problematic. In 2007, Roger was mostly an encouraging presence. Last year, he couldn't attend at all due to a setback.
This year, he's looking vigorous and happy, coming out on stage with a cane to greet the filmmakers and using a computerized voice (dubbed Sir Lawrence, thanks to its British accent) to read out introductions that Ebert has typed. Like Dick Clark showing up for New Year's Eve despite a stroke, Ebert is damned if he's gonna miss his own festival and not say something. It's lovely to see the audience in hushed anticipation as Ebert flips open his laptop and then triggers Sir Lawrence to read off paragraph after paragraph of the words he's composed.
But perhaps the most unique aspect of all is the affection between Ebert and filmmakers. Everyone knows Roger Ebert is a world-class film critic; the Pulitzer Prize committee got it right when they made him the first one in that genre to receive the Pulitzer for criticism. But he's really an enthusiast. Yes, Roger will dissect a bad movie as easily as he praises a good one. But he's always been more interested in encouraging talent than in taking shots at people who stumble. Since he never minces words even about his favorite filmmakers, it's a credit to Ebert that artists know he is always on their side.
I've been quietly astonished at how many filmmakers have come to the festival and spoken about the direct encouragement they got from Ebert or just the strength they took from his reviews. Werner Herzog is perhaps the most famous example of this. But filmmaker after filmmaker talks about getting an email from Ebert wishing them luck on their first project (prompted by a request of a family member or friend) or the joy of knowing Roger liked their film. Movie critics have always pushed for recognition of those actors and directors they appreciate, but there's usually a wall dividing them. Pauline Kael wasn't exactly all warm and fuzzy, was she?
But Roger loves movies, really loves them and that enthusiasm comes through in his seemingly effortless writing, which for decades has managed to treat each new movie as worthy of discussion, worthy of respect. Roger may not give your movie a thumbs up, but just knowing that he has thought about it and mulled it over and come up with some insight can be its own reward.
I thought Ebert was too quick to praise filmmaker Ramin Bahrani. I appreciated his debut Man Push Cart and thought it showed great promise but Ebert saw deeper and didn't hedge his bests: this is a major talent, he said, bringing that film to EbertFest a few years ago. Since then, Bahrani has improved by leaps and bounds. His second movie Chop Shop was very good indeed (it's at this year's fest) and the just-released Goodbye, Solo is better still (it will be on my Best of the Year list for 2009) and proof that Ebert was right. Bahrani was recently given a "genius" grant by the Guggenheim Foundation, which is awfully nice. But it wouldn't surprise me if he was more moved when Roger told him on Thursday that he'd just added Chop Shop to his ongoing series Great Movies, an online (and book) compilation of new pieces discussing the best films of all time.
A thumbs up from Ebert is still the highest accolade (other than an Oscar) that a movie can get. EbertFest is like a week-long thumbs-up for artists who have labored on documentaries, animated films, and thoughtful features for years with even the prospect of a commercial release seeming dim at best. And then they enter heaven: warm, intelligent, insightful appreciation from the best critic around and a heartland audience -- far from the coasts where "art" films and documentaries are supposed to flourish -- that laughs and cries and applauds their work in a grand old movie palace of their dreams.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Computer Program to Take On ‘Jeopardy!’ "YORKTOWN HEIGHTS, N.Y. — This highly successful television quiz show is the latest challenge for artificial intelligence.
What is “Jeopardy”?
That is correct.
I.B.M. plans to announce Monday that it is in the final stages of completing a computer program to compete against human “Jeopardy!” contestants. If the program beats the humans, the field of artificial intelligence will have made a leap forward.
I.B.M. scientists previously devised a chess-playing program to run on a supercomputer called Deep Blue. That program beat the world champion Garry Kasparov in a controversial 1997 match (Mr. Kasparov called the match unfair and secured a draw in a later one against another version of the program).
But chess is a game of limits, with pieces that have clearly defined powers. “Jeopardy!” requires a program with the suppleness to weigh an almost infinite range of relationships and to make subtle comparisons and interpretations. The software must interact with humans on their own terms, and fast.
Indeed, the creators of the system — which the company refers to as Watson, after the I.B.M. founder, Thomas J. Watson Sr. — said they were not yet confident their system would be able to compete successfully on the show, on which human champions typically provide correct responses 85 percent of the time.
“The big goal is to get computers to be able to converse in human terms,” said the team leader, David A. Ferrucci, an I.B.M. artificial intelligence researcher. “And we’re not there yet.”
The team is aiming not at a true thinking machine but at a new class of software that can “understand” human questions and respond to them correctly. Such a program would have enormous economic implications."

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Indian Business Students Snap Up Copies of 'Mein Kampf'

Booksellers told the Daily Telegraph that while it is regarded in most countries as a 'Nazi Bible', in India it is considered a management guide in the mould of Spencer Johnson's "Who Moved My Cheese".

Sales of the book over the last six months topped 10,000 in New Delhi alone, according to leading stores, who said it appeared to be becoming more popular with every year.

Several said the surge in sales was due to demand from students who see it as a self-improvement and management strategy guide for aspiring business leaders, and who were happy to cite it as an inspiration.

"Students are increasingly coming in asking for it and we're happy to sell it to them," said Sohin Lakhani, owner of Mumbai-based Embassy books who reprints Mein Kampf every quarter and shrugs off any moral issues in publishing the book.

"They see it as a kind of success story where one man can have a vision, work out a plan on how to implement it and then successfully complete it".

Jaico Publishing House, one of the publishers in India, said it reprints a new edition of the book at least twice a year to meet growing demand.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Idaho Judge, Orders Defendant's Mouth Taped Shut

POCATELLO, Idaho — An eastern Idaho judge who lost patience with the disruptive behavior of a defendant ordered court officials to tape the man's mouth shut with duct tape during a court hearing. The unusual move was ordered by 6th District Judge Peter D. McDermott during a probation violation hearing for Nicklas Frasure, 23.

Frasure was convicted of felony theft in 2008, but the judge retained jurisdiction for sentencing depending on Frasure's response to treatment. In October, Frasure was released from a state mental hospital in Blackfoot.

He is accused of violating his probation by not taking prescribed medication.

During the hearing, witnesses told the judge that Frasure's behavior had been strange and erratic since his release from the state hospital. They also said he has not been taking his medication and has been consuming alcohol, factors also contributing to mood and emotional swings.

Probation officer Julie Guiberson testified that Frasure is a threat to himself and others.

During Monday's hearing, Frasure interrupted the proceedings with repeated verbal outbursts and unusual behavior and ignored several orders from McDermott to restrain himself. After another series of outbursts, McDermott told bailiffs to silence Frasure.

The bailiffs then found a roll of duct tape, tore off a piece and put it over Frasure's mouth, according to the Idaho State Journal.

"He's obviously not mentally competent," Frasure's lawyer Kent Reynolds told the judge.

Monday, April 20, 2009

What 420 Means: The True Story Behind Stoners' Favorite Number

On a related note:
Warren Haynes, the Allman Brothers Band guitarist, routinely plays with the surviving members of the Grateful Dead, now touring as The Dead. He's just finished a Dead show in Washington, D.C. and gets a pop quiz from the Huffington Post.

Where does 420 come from?

He pauses and thinks, hands on his side. "I don't know the real origin. I know myths and rumors," he says. "I'm really confused about the first time I heard it. It was like a police code for smoking in progress or something. What's the real story?"

Depending on who you ask, or their state of inebriation, there are as many varieties of answers as strains of medical bud in California. It's the number of active chemicals in marijuana. It's teatime in Holland. It has something to do with Hitler's birthday. It's those numbers in that Bob Dylan song multiplied.

The origin of the term 420, celebrated around the world by pot smokers every April 20th, has long been obscured by the clouded memories of the folks who made it a phenomenon.

The Huffington Post chased the term back to its roots and was able to find it in a lost patch of cannabis in a Point Reyes, California forest. Just as interesting as its origin, it turns out, is how it spread.

It starts with the Dead.

It was Christmas week in Oakland, 1990. Steven Bloom was wandering through The Lot - that timeless gathering of hippies that springs up in the parking lot before every Grateful Dead concert - when a Deadhead handed him a yellow flyer.

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"We are going to meet at 4:20 on 4/20 for 420-ing in Marin County at the Bolinas Ridge sunset spot on Mt. Tamalpais," reads the message, which Bloom dug up and forwarded to the Huffington Post. Bloom, then a reporter for High Times magazine and now the publisher of and co-author of Pot Culture, had never heard of "420-ing" before.
The flyer came complete with a 420 back story: "420 started somewhere in San Rafael, California in the late '70s. It started as the police code for Marijuana Smoking in Progress. After local heads heard of the police call, they started using the expression 420 when referring to herb - Let's Go 420, dude!"
Bloom reported his find in the May 1991 issue of High Times, which the magazine found in its archives and provided to the Huffington Post. The story, though, was only partially right.
It had nothing to do with a police code -- though the San Rafael part was dead on. Indeed, a group of five San Rafael High School friends known as the Waldos - by virtue of their chosen hang-out spot, a wall outside the school - coined the term in 1971. The Huffington Post spoke with Waldo Steve, Waldo Dave and Dave's older brother, Patrick, and confirmed their full names and identities, which they asked to keep secret for professional reasons. (Pot is still, after all, illegal.)
The Waldos never envisioned that pot smokers the world over would celebrate each April 20th as a result of their foray into the Point Reyes forest. The day has managed to become something of a national holiday in the face of official condemnation. This year's celebration will be no different. Officials at the University of Colorado at Boulder and University of California, Santa Cruz, which boast two of the biggest smoke outs, are pushing back. "As another April 20 approaches, we are faced with concerns from students, parents, alumni, Regents, and community members about a repeat of last year's 4/20 'event,'" wrote Boulder's chancellor in a letter to students. "On April 20, 2009, we hope that you will choose not to participate in unlawful activity that debases the reputation of your University and degree, and will encourage your fellow Buffs to act with pride and remember who they really are."
But the Cheshire cat is out of the bag. Students and locals will show up at round four, light up at 4:20 and be gone shortly thereafter. No bands, no speakers, no chants. Just a bunch of people getting together and getting stoned.
The code often creeps into popular culture and mainstream settings. All of the clocks in Pulp Fiction, for instance, are set to 4:20. In 2003, when the California legislature codified the medical marijuana law voters had approved, the bill was named SB420.
"We think it was a staffer working for [lead Assembly sponsor Mark] Leno, but no one has ever fessed up," says Steph Sherer, head of Americans for Safe Access, which lobbied on behalf of the bill. California legislative staffers spoken to for this story say that the 420 designation remains a mystery, but that both Leno and the lead Senate sponsor, John Vasconcellos, are hip enough that they must have known what it meant. (If you were involved with SB420 and know the story, email me.)
The code pops up in Craig's List postings when fellow smokers search for "420 friendly" roommates. "It's just a vaguer way of saying it and it kind of makes it kind of cool," says Bloom. "Like, you know you're in the know, but that does show you how it's in the mainstream."
The Waldos do have proof, however, that they used the term in the early '70s in the form of an old 420 flag and numerous letters with 420 references and early '70s post marks. They also have a story.
It goes like this: One day in the Fall of 1971 - harvest time - the Waldos got word of a Coast Guard service member who could no longer tend his plot of marijuana plants near the Point Reyes Peninsula Coast Guard station. A treasure map in hand, the Waldos decided to pluck some of this free bud.
The Waldos were all athletes and agreed to meet at the statue of Loius Pasteur outside the school at 4:20, after practice, to begin the hunt.
"We would remind each other in the hallways we were supposed to meet up at 4:20. It originally started out 4:20-Louis and we eventually dropped the Louis," Waldo Steve tells the Huffington Post.
The first forays out were unsuccessful, but the group kept looking for the hidden crop. "We'd meet at 4:20 and get in my old '66 Chevy Impala and, of course, we'd smoke instantly and smoke all the way out to Pt. Reyes and smoke the entire time we were out there. We did it week after week," says Steve. "We never actually found the patch."
But they did find a useful codeword. "I could say to one of my friends, I'd go, 420, and it was telepathic. He would know if I was saying, 'Hey, do you wanna go smoke some?' Or, 'Do you have any?' Or, 'Are you stoned right now?' It was kind of telepathic just from the way you said it," Steve says. "Our teachers didn't know what we were talking about. Our parents didn't know what we were talking about."
It's one thing to identify the origin of the term. Indeed, Wikipedia and Urban Dictionary already include references to the Waldos. The bigger question: How did 420 spread from a circle of California stoners across the globe?
As fortune would have it, the collapse of San Francisco's hippie utopia in the late '60s set the stage. As speed freaks, thugs and con artists took over The Haight, the Grateful Dead picked up and moved to the Marin County hills - just blocks from San Rafael High School.
"Marin Country was kind of ground zero for the counter culture," says Steve.
The Waldos had more than just a geographic connection to the Dead. Mark Waldo's father took care of real estate for the Dead. And Waldo Dave's older brother, Patrick, managed a Dead sideband and was good friends with bassist Phil Lesh. Patrick tells the Huffington Post that he smoked with Lesh on numerous occasions. He couldn't recall if he used the term 420 around him, but guessed that he must have.
The Dead, recalls Waldo Steve, "had this rehearsal hall on Front Street, San Rafael, California, and they used to practice there. So we used to go hang out and listen to them play music and get high while they're practicing for gigs. But I think it's possible my brother Patrick might have spread it through Phil Lesh. And me, too, because I was hanging out with Lesh and his band when they were doing a summer tour my brother was managing."
The band that Patrick managed was called Too Loose To Truck and featured not only Lesh but rock legend David Crosby and acclaimed guitarist Terry Haggerty.
The Waldos also had open access to Dead parties and rehearsals. "We'd go with [Mark's] dad, who was a hip dad from the '60s," says Steve. "There was a place called Winterland and we'd always be backstage running around or onstage and, of course, we're using those phrases. When somebody passes a joint or something, 'Hey, 420.' So it started spreading through that community."
Lesh, walking off the stage after a recent Dead concert, confirmed that Patrick is a friend and said he "wouldn't be surprised" if the Waldos had coined 420. He wasn't sure, he said, when the first time he heard it was. "I do not remember. I'm very sorry. I wish I could help," he said.
Wavy-Gravy is a hippie icon with his own ice cream flavor and has been hanging out with the Dead for decades. HuffPost spotted him outside the concert. Asked about the origin of 420, he suggested it began "somewhere in the foggy mists of time. What time is it now? I say to you: eternity now."
As the Grateful Dead toured the globe through the '70s and '80s, playing hundreds of shows a year - the term spread though the Dead underground. Once High Times got hip to it, the magazine helped take it global.
"I started incorporating it into everything we were doing," High Times editor Steve Hager told the Huffington Post. "I started doing all these big events - the World Hemp Expo Extravaganza and the Cannabis Cup - and we built everything around 420. The publicity that High Times gave it is what made it an international thing. Until then, it was relatively confined to the Grateful Dead subculture. But we blew it out into an international phenomenon."
Sometime in the early '90s, High Times wisely purchased the web domain
Bloom, the reporter who first stumbled on it, gives High Times less credit. "We posted that flyer and then we started to see little references to it. It wasn't really much of High Times doing," he says. "We weren't really pushing it that hard, just kind of referencing the phrase."
The Waldos say that within a few years the term had spread throughout San Rafael and was cropping up elsewhere in the state. By the early '90s, it had penetrated deep enough that Dave and Steve started hearing people use it in unexpected places - Ohio, Florida, Canada - and spotted it painted on signs and etched into park benches.
In 1997, the Waldos decided to set the record straight and got in touch with High Times.
"They said, 'The fact is, there is no 420 [police] code in California. You guys ever look it up?'" Blooms recalls. He had to admit that no, he had never looked it up. Hager flew out to San Rafael, met the Waldos, examined their evidence, spoke with others in town, and concluded they were telling the truth.
Hager still believes them. "No one's ever been able to come up with any use of 420 that predates the 1971 usage, which they had established. So unless somebody can come up with something that predates them, then I don't think anybody's going to get credit for it other than them," he says.
"We never made a dime on the thing," says Dave, half boasting, half lamenting.
He does take pride in his role, though. "I still have a lot of friends who tell their friends that they know one of the guys that started the 420 thing. So it's kind of like a cult celebrity thing. Two years ago I went to the Cannabis Cup in Amsterdam. High Times magazine flew me out," says Dave.
Dave is now a credit analyst and works for Steve, who owns a specialty lending institution and lost money to the con artist Bernie Madoff. He spends more time today, he says, composing angry letters to the SEC than he does getting high.
The other three Waldos have also been successful, Steve says. One is head of marketing for a Napa Valley winery. Another is in printing and graphics. A third works for a roofing and gutter company. "He's like, head of their gutter division," says Steve, who keeps in close touch with them all.
"I've got to run a business. I've got to stay sharp," says Steve, explaining why he rarely smokes pot anymore. "Seems like everybody I know who smokes daily, or many times in a week, it seems like there's always something going wrong with their life, professionally, or in their relationships, or financially or something. It's a lot of fun, but it seems like if someone does it too much, there's some karmic cost to it."
"I never endorsed the use of marijuana. But hey, it worked for me," says Waldo Dave. "I'm sure on my headstone it'll say: 'One of the 420 guys.'"

Friday, April 17, 2009

How Barack Obama resurrected The Dead

LOS ANGELES – He's still got a little work to do on the economy, but already President Barack Obama has accomplished at least one task that had appeared all but impossible just a year ago: He's put The Dead back on the road.
As the core surviving members of the Grateful Dead, once the world's biggest concert draw, barrel across the country for the first time in five years, bass player Phil Lesh says they have Obama, and also Lesh's youngest son, Brian, to thank.
After Lesh, who had never publicly supported a presidential candidate, threw his lot in with Obama, he was anxious to do a benefit concert for him. But he was all but done with The Dead, so it was going to feature his other band, Phil and Friends.
"My son Brian said, 'No Daddy, you've got to get The Dead together because it will be so much more meaningful and important,'" the musician chuckled during a recent phone interview.
One benefit performance led to another and then an inaugural ball concert. Next thing they knew, Lesh, guitarist Bob Weir and drummers Mickey Hart and Bill Kreutzmann were back together.
"It came off so well that we thought we owe it to ourselves to play again," Lesh said. "It brings out something in all of us, in our gestalt and our totality, that we can't deliver, we can't find anywhere else."
For the tour, which got under way Sunday in Greensboro, N.C., and runs through the middle of next month, the band is breaking out what Lesh calls the Grateful Dead classics. The musicians will cherry-pick from 160 songs honed during weeks of rehearsals.
"We actually played 13 days in a row at one point. Not bad for a bunch of old beasts," laughed Hart.
But, all four say, there is still plenty of original music to be found in the jamming at the band's four-hour shows and in a rhythm section rearranged by the drummers.
"We didn't want to go out and just do the same thing," said Kreutzmann, who with Hart wrote new percussion parts for the tour.
The only thing missing is the group's iconic lead guitarist Jerry Garcia, whose death from a heart attack in 1995 prompted the band to drop Grateful from it's name and to all but abandon what had been 30 years of nearly nonstop touring. Warren Haynes replaces him for this tour.
"We all miss him every day," said Lesh. "At the same time, we're still here on Earth and we're still making music. And by God we'll continue to make music until we drop."

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Johann Hari - You are being lied to about pirates

Read full article at HuffPo

blogged from my phone

America's Coolest Small Towns, Circa 2009

In a country where bigger is usually considered better, more than 100,000 small town residents have voted to have theirs crowned the "Coolest Small Town in America."

The poll was conducted by Budget Travel magazine, whose editor in chief, Nina Willdorf, revealed the top ten on The Early Show Wednesday.

She says the magazine was looking for Main Street, U.S.A. -- places where you find real people, excited to be part of their communities. And the results help readers discover up-and-coming towns.

To qualify, and town has to have a population of less than 10,000: "We're talking small towns, not small cities," Willdorf says.

As for what makes a town "cool," it's very subjective, Willdorf explains. It's not an exact science, but in general, there are three really good markers for a small town:

You have to be able to get a good cup of coffee

When people leave for the big city, they realize they've made a mistake and come back home

You'll see more art galleries than country stores. "This is not quaint America," Willdorf remarked to co-anchor Harry Smith." "This is cool America!" Smith quipped.

In order, the top ten in the poll were:

1) Owego, N.Y. (NOT Oswego, N.Y.)
2) Rockland, Maine
3) Grinnell, Iowa
4) Vevay, Ind.
5) Huntingdon, Pa.
6) Onancock, Va.
7) Jim Thorpe, Pa.
8) Mineral Point, Wis.
9) Silverton, Ore.
10) Port Royal, S.C.

Some details on them:

1. Owego, N.Y. (24,692 votes) (NOT to be confused with Oswego, N.Y.
The scene in Owego looks like it's straight off a postcard: a mix of quaint streets, local pride, and outdoor beauty of the Finger Lakes.
Located: About 200 miles northwest of NYC in New York's Finger Lake region
Population: 3,794
This spring, Owego revealed a new River Walk, a revamped waterfront area, with new storefronts and amenities along the Susquehanna River.
This is the kind of place where people don't lock their doors; it's authentic America. Historic buildings are being repurposed in cool ways; the former county jail has been transformed into a restaurant where you can have a pulled pork sandwich in what used to be a cell-block. I mean, what's more fun than that?

2. Rockland, Maine (23,261 votes)
This quintessential Northeastern harbor town has experienced a sort of renaissance in the past decade.
Located: About 40 miles from the Augusta, the capital, on Rockland Harbor in mid-coast Maine
Population: Nearly 8,000
The Strand Theater, one of the few remaining one-screen theaters in the country, shows indie films, documentaries, and classic movies.

3. Grinnell, Iowa (9,233)
An eclectic small town that blends the charm of a rural community with the quirkiness of a college town.
Located: About 55 miles from the capital, Des Moines.
Population: 9,205
Known for its historic architecture, especially the Jewel Box Bank designed by Louis Sullivan, who was Frank Lloyd Wright's mentor.

4. Vevay, Ind. (7,947)
The quintessential Midwestern one-stoplight town.
There's literally only one stoplight in this one-mile-long hometown.
Located: On the Indiana side of the Ohio River, Vevay sits almost exactly between Louisville and Cincinnati
Population: 1,622
They're big on wine here, and every weekend before Labor Day, Vevay hosts the Swiss Wine Festival, where visitors can taste over 100 local wines, take riverboat cruises, and try their skills at the Midwest Championship Grape Stomping Competition.

5. Huntingdon, Pa. (5,926)
A diverse college town set in the midst of the Appalachian Mountains.
Located: Central Pennsylvania, about 200 miles west of Philadelphia and 124 miles east of Pittsburgh
Population: 6,198
Juniata College hosts a series of performances from top musicians in classical and folk music. Baker Peace Chapel, a granite circle that sits atop a secluded hill, which was designed by artist and architect Maya Lin. That's some pretty serious architecture for such a small town!

6. Onancock, Va. (5,805 votes)
An old-school fishing village with remarkable views of the Eastern Shore from the surrounding water.
Located: About 181 miles from Washington, D.C. and 161 miles from Richmond.
Population: 1,406
This is a town best seen from the water. The most prominent historic landmark at the wharf, the Hopkins and Bro. Store, dates to 1842, and was the point of exit for farm goods leaving the shore. Today it's THE place to eat on the waterfront. The guitar-playing chef Johnny Mo serves up crab cakes and original music.

7. Jim Thorpe, Pa. (3,920 votes)
An old mining town along the Lehigh River, Jim Thorpe sits below two mountains ranges that are considered some of the top mountain-biking terrain in the US.
Located: At the base of the Pisgah and Flagstaff Mountains in eastern Pennsylvania, just 80 miles north of Philadelphia
Population: 4,878
A growing number of artists from New York and Philadelphia-ranging from silversmiths, ceramicists, painters, and photographers, are opening galleries downtown, which have extended hours the second Saturday of each month.

8. Mineral Point, Wis. (3,142 votes)
A rural English village filled with 19th century stone cottages surrounded by Wisconsin's rolling hills dotted with farms
Located: Southwest Wisconsin, 50 miles over from Madison
Population: 2,538
There's a growing artist community; you can find organic greens!

9. Silverton, Ore. (3,142)
An artsy, liberal town, that's perfect for nature lovers (It's the gateway to Oregon's largest state park, and it's home to the Oregon Gardens, an 80-acre botanical park).
Located: About 45 miles South of Portland
Population: 9,433
Silverton's also been dubbed the Mural City. Visitors can pick up a walking map of downtown to tour the 14 mural, including one by Norman Rockwell.

10. Port Royal, S.C. (2,256 votes)
Located: Between the Beaufort River and Battery Creek, in South Carolina's low country, 72 miles down shore from Charleston.
Population: 4,766
Quintessential Southern charm that the locals really embrace.

Thursday, April 09, 2009

South Park creators given signed photo of Saddam Hussein

During his captivity, US marines forced Saddam, who was executed in 2006, to repeatedly watch the move South Park: Bigger, Longer And Uncut, which shows him as gay, as well as the boyfriend of Satan. He was also regularly depicted in a similar manner during the TV series.
The admission comes with the show's 13th season already running in the US. It will celebrate its 12th anniversary later this year.

The show, which satirises a wide range of topics, including religion, sexuality and mental illness, has won a number of awards including three Emmys for Outstanding Animated Programme.
Recent episodes have seen Barack Obama using his Presidential victory as a way to steal jewels from Washington in an Oceans 11-style heist.
It also recently depicted the United States Treasury as deciding economic measures by cutting the head off a chicken and letting it run on a game show style board, landing on a decision.
Stone, 37, said both he and Parker, 39, were most proud of the signed Saddam photo, given to them by the US Army's 4th Infantry Division.
He said: "We're very proud of our signed Saddam picture and what it means. Its one of our biggest highlights.
"I have it on pretty good information from the marines on detail in Iraq that they showed Saddam the movie.
"Over and over again – which is a pretty funny thought.
"That's really adding insult to injury."

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Dog overboard found four months later

Yahoo News:: "SYDNEY (AFP) – A pet dog that fell overboard in rough seas off Australia has been reunited with its owners after surviving alone on an island for four months, reports said.
Sophie Tucker, apparently named after a late US entertainer, fell overboard as Jan Griffith and her family sailed through choppy waters off the northeast Queensland coast in November.
The dog was believed to have drowned and Griffith said the family was devastated.
But out of sight of the family, Sophie Tucker was swimming doggedly and finally made it to St Bees Island, five nautical miles away, and began the sort of life popularised by the TV reality show "Survivor."
She was returned to her family last week when Griffith contacted rangers who had captured a dog that had been living off feral goats on the largely uninhabited island, in the faint hope it might be their long-lost pet.
When the Griffiths met the rangers' boat bringing the dog to the mainland they found that it was indeed Sophie Tucker on board.
"We called the dog and she started whimpering and banging the cage and they let her out and she just about flattened us," Griffith told the national AAP news agency."

Monday, April 06, 2009

FBI database links long-haul truckers, serial killings

Los Angeles Times: "The growing database includes more than 500 female victims, most of whom were killed and their bodies dumped at truck stops, motels and other spots along popular trucking routes crisscrossing the U.S.
By Scott Glover
April 5, 2009

The FBI suspects that serial killers working as long-haul truckers are responsible for the slayings of hundreds of prostitutes, hitchhikers and stranded motorists whose bodies have been dumped near highways over the last three decades.
Federal authorities first made the connection about five years ago while helping police link a trucker to a string of unsolved killings along Interstate 40 in Oklahoma and several other states. After that, the FBI launched the Highway Serial Killings Initiative to track suspicious slayings and suspect truckers.
A computer database maintained by the FBI has grown to include information on more than 500 female crime victims, most of whom were killed and their bodies discarded at truck stops, motels and other locations along popular trucking routes crisscrossing the U.S.
The database also has information on scores of truckers who've been charged with killings or rapes committed near highways or who are suspects in such crimes, officials said. Authorities said they do not have statistics on whether driving trucks ranks high on the list of occupations of known serial killers.
But the pattern in roadside body dumps and other evidence has prompted many investigators to speculate that the mobility, lack of supervision and access to potential victims that come with the job make it a good cover for someone inclined to kill.
"You've got a mobile crime scene," one investigator said. "You can pick a girl up on the East Coast, kill her two states away and then dump her three states after that."
Although some local police agencies have been briefed on the program, the FBI had not publicized its existence outside law enforcement until earlier this year, when officials agreed to show The Times the inner workings of the operation and share details of some of their cases."

Sunday, April 05, 2009

Israel: Women Photoshopped From Cabinet Picture To Cater To The Ultra-Orthodox

In this combination of an originally transmitted image,top, and a digitally altered image that appeared in the Israeli ultra-orthodox newspaper Yated Neeman , show Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, center left, President Shimon Peres, center right, and members of Netanyahu's new government as they pose for an official photo at Peres' residence in Jerusalem Wednesday, April 1, 2009. In the bottom photo from the newspaper Yated Neeman,female cabinet ministers Limor Livnat, to the right of Netanyahu, and Sofa Landver , to the left of Netanyahu have been removed and replaced by Ariel Atias and Moshe Kachlon respectively.Two women serve in Israel's new Cabinet, but some Israelis would rather not see them. Newspapers aimed at ultra-Orthodox Jewish readers tampered with the inaugural photograph of the Cabinet, erasing ministers. (AP Photo/Menahem Kahana,Yated Neeman)
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JERUSALEM — Two women serve in Israel's new Cabinet, but some Israelis would rather not see them.
Newspapers aimed at ultra-Orthodox Jewish readers tampered with the inaugural photograph of the Cabinet, erasing ministers Limor Livnat and Sofa Landver.
Ultra-Orthodox newspapers consider it immodest to print images of women.
The daily Yated Neeman digitally changed the photo, moving two male ministers into the places formerly occupied by the women.
The weekly Shaa Tova simply blacked the women out, in a photo reprinted Friday by the mainstream daily Maariv.
No response was available from the two papers.
During the election, campaign posters featuring female candidate Tzipi Livni were defaced near ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods.

Saturday, April 04, 2009

Nearly 70 discarded syringes found along US 6

Two of at least 46 insulin syringes lie along the side of U.S. 6 between Webster Park, Spring Valley and Peru. Area law enforcement officials aren't sure where the needles came from, but don't expect there's a connection to heroin or other drugs.
By Allison Ryan
Mark Barron of Webster Park left his home for an evening run on March 19. Planning a long run, he turned east on U.S. 6 and headed toward St. Bede Lane. As he watched his feet pound the shoulder of the road, he noticed something unusual.
“I looked at what I thought was a cigarette butt because it was orange. But it turned out to be more. It was a needle,” Barron said.
Barron counted three syringes on that first run. The next day, tracing the same path, he counted 10 — then, slowing to look closer on his way back, he was shocked when he tallied 48 syringes between St. Bede Lane and Webster Park, on the south side of U.S. 6.

Barron said he alerted Spring Valley and Peru police officers to his discovery, and later heard from Spring Valley police chief Mike Miroux that a Spring Valley officer had picked up 20 syringes. More than a week after that clean-up effort, this reporter counted 46 syringes along the shoulder of the road between Blue Collar Bikes, Spring Valley and Redeemer Lutheran Church, Peru. Their presence leaves unanswered questions about public safety.

Where do they come from?
The syringes found along U.S. 6 (and two of the same design found further north and west in Peru) appeared to be of a design intended for insulin injection, according to Jim Rietgraf, a pharmacy director at Illinois Valley Community Hospital, who examined a photo of one syringe.
“Every pharmacy in the world sells them,” he said.
Intended for small needles in 28-31 gauge, the syringes are sold empty in boxes of 100, Rietgraf said. And there's no way of knowing, by looking at one whether it has been used or what may have been inside.
"You could shoot up whatever you desired," Rietgraf said.
How dangerous are they?
Of course, it's never safe to have needles along a roadside. Spring Valley police were seen Thursday morning picking up the scattered syringes along the roadside.
"We have a lot of people that ride bikes and job along there," Miroux said.
Because of the quantity - the first 20 that Spring Valley officer picked up were all found in one location - and the caps found on both the plunger and needle ends of most syringes, Miroux said it's likely most were unused.
Peru police chief Doug Bernabei said given the number of syringes found it's "not very likely" they are related to drug use.
"There's probably some other explanation," Bernabei said. He added the portion of U.S. 6 between St. Bede Lane and Steinberg's Furniture is unincorporated LaSalle County and therefore is patrolled by state police or LaSalle County Sheriff's Office.
But that line of thinking doesn't satisfy Barron.
"I can see absolutely no reason why somebody would accidentally drop an unused syringe," Barron said "I think it's naive to think that it's not been used."
Barron connects the needles to the recent arrest of two Webster Park residents for unlawful possession orf a controlled substance (heroin) with intent to deliver, speculating customers would use the drug immediately and discard the needle on their way out of town.
"If you're going to use a needle and then put it some place before you throw the needle out the window, you're going to put the cap back on before putting it in your pocket," Barron said.
What does this say about heroin use in the area?
Without knowing what the needles were for, it's impossible to tell whether their presence is related to drug use.
Miroux said no investigation is pending into the syringes found along U.S. 6. Spring Valley police are investigating an unrelated incident in January in which obviously used needles were found at a different location in Spring Valley. Those needles have been sent to the Illinois State Police crime lab for analysis.
"We're doing everything possible to make arrests when it comes to people using illicit drugs," Miroux said. "At this point, we've got one case down there (at the crime lab) and we're waiting to see what the results of that are before we send another one down there."
Felonies in LaSalle County are on pace for the lowest total since 2004, when the heroin epidemic first struck. Prosecutors attribute the low total to two factors: First, inclement winter weather that suppressed crime, and second, the transition period at the end of the Illinois State Police Zone 3/LaSalle Task Force and the start of the new Tri-County Drug Enforcement Narcotics Team beginning in March.
Chief deputy assistant LaSalle County State's Attorney Brian Vescogni said he anticipates that the new task force will find no shortage of heroin cases to keep them busy for the rest of the year - and bring LaSalle County's felony total back to recent, record totals.
"I don't think it (heroin usage) has gone down at all," Vescogni said.
In Bureau County, State's Attorney Pat Herrmann said since Jan. 1, his office has only received heroin charges for four individuals, though he believes other crimes were heroin-related.
Bureau County generally has fewer felonies per year than LaSalle County, but Herrmann siad he could not compare this year's crime rate to a "Typical" year for the county.
"There is no typical when it comes to heroin use," Herrmann said. Arrests seem to come in cycles. "It hasn't ended. I would love to tell the people of Bureau County the heroin problem is done with, but that's not the case."
Miroux allowed the needles might be related to the arrests Barron cited, and said he would keep an eye on the area.
"The problem in Webster Park has been resolved and I think people in that area are satisfied with the outcome," Miroux said, With the syringes cleaned up and the alleged Webster Park dealers off the street, Miroux said he would change his own jobbing route to keep an eye on the area and see if the problem returns.

Friday, April 03, 2009

Birthers form "citizen grand jury," "indict" Obama"Having been stymied at every turn by the courts, by elected officials and by the facts, the "Birthers" -- those people who believe Barack Obama is not eligible for the presidency -- are now getting even more creative. In the movement's latest big action, a group in Georgia formed a "citizen grand jury" and "indicted" Obama on charges including fraud and conspiracy to commit fraud.
This is no April Fool's joke; the people behind it are deadly serious. Georgia resident Carl Swensson, who took the lead in forming the "grand jury," has even been aping a prosecutor's language in discussing his actions, saying he can't discuss the indictment in detail because of the possibility Obama will be prosecuted. And he's sent the indictment to the U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Georgia and the state attorney general, among others.
Swensson claims the authority to do this under a rather novel interpretation of the Magna Carta, the 13th century document laying out the rights of British nobles. It appears Swensson based his legal reasoning on the arguments of a tax denier named William Thornton. (As Jason Zengerle wrote in the latest New York Times Magazine, tax deniers are a whole other subset of conspiracy theorists, who rely on similarly creative and frivolous arguments in an attempt to get out of paying federal income taxes. They're almost always unsuccessful.)"

Thursday, April 02, 2009

Has dark matter’s destruction been detected?

By Clara Moskowitz
updated 9:38 p.m. CT, Wed., April. 1, 2009
When dark matter is destroyed, it leaves behind a burst of exotic particles, according to theory. Now scientists have found a possible signature of these remains. The discovery could help prove the existence of dark matter and reveal what it's made of.

No one knows what dark matter is, but scientists think it exists because there is not enough gravity from visible matter to explain how galaxies rotate.

An Italian satellite called PAMELA (Payload for Antimatter Matter Exploration and Light nuclei Astrophysics), launched in 2006 to measure radiation in space, found an overabundance of particles called positrons, which are the antimatter counterpart to electrons (matter and antimatter annihilate each other).

This positron signature could have a variety of causes, but a prime candidate is dark matter, the intangible stuff thought to make up about 98 percent of all matter in the universe. When two dark matter particles collide they can sometimes destroy each other and release a burst of energy that includes positrons.

"PAMELA found a number of positrons much higher than expected," the mission's principal investigator Piergiorgio Picozza told "Many think this could be a signal from dark matter, because for positrons this behavior fits very well with many theories of dark matter."

Potentially huge for physics
The finding, detailed in Thursday's issue of the journal Nature, is not a total surprise, but it could make a huge splash if confirmed.

"This kind of signal for dark matter has been predicted as a possible leading signature for over two decades, and [the PAMELA scientists] are seeing just the kind of things one might expect," said University of Michigan astrophysicist Gordon Kane, who was not involved in the research. "There's a very good chance that this is the most important discovery in basic physics for decades."

Positrons are often created when cosmic rays interact with atoms in the gas and dust between stars. But this source cannot produce enough positrons to account for PAMELA's findings. Another possibility is that the positrons PAMELA found were produced by dense spinning stars called pulsars. To distinguish between this option and dark matter, more data will be necessary, either from PAMELA or from the Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope, launched last year.

"We hope to have detected dark matter, but now we need other verification coming from other experiments," Picozza said.

Decades-old mystery
Even so, some scientists are excited to have come so close to possibly discovering the presence of dark matter, which has eluded researchers since it was first conceived in the 1930s.

Commentary: Is Obama skidding or crashing?

by Penn Jillette
(CNN) -- Counterintuitive action makes a fellow feel smart. When I first got my driver's license, I took my old Ford Falcon into the Greenfield Public High School parking lot when it was freshly covered with fresh powder on top of wet slippery Western Massachusetts snow and ice. I turned fast, gunned it and lost control of the car in a skid.
I turned into the skid and instantly gained control of my car. Telling someone to turn into a skid, that's crazy talk. It seems so wrong, but my Dad knew it worked. Dad suggested I do it over and over in the parking lot, so I would conquer my intuition to be ready when a real emergency arose on a real road. Counterintuitive actions prove we can trust real knowledge and do the opposite of what we feel makes sense.
I'm a fire-eater. There is some technique to fire-eating, but most of the practice goes into learning that one's mouth is wet enough, most of the heat goes up enough, and cutting the oxygen leg off the fire triangle (it's now a fire tetrahedron, but I learned fire-eating a long time ago) with one's mouth really does put the fire out.
It took watching a professional whom I trusted do it -- a lot of trust and a lot of practice -- before my first reaction, when my mouth started to burn from the lit torch in my mouth, was to put the torch deeper in my mouth, close my mouth around the torch and put it out.
Handling fire seems like a superpower. There are whole seminars and self-help jive centered on fire-walking, which is hustled as "mind over matter," or "empowerment" but is really just counterintuitive physics. As long as the fire walk is set up right and you keep moving, you can even hope and pray to be burned, while yelling counter-self-help slogans such as "I do not have any power to do this" and "universe, please burn my little piggies," and you'll be fine.
Whether it's fire walking or knowing that the Earth is round, everyone seems to dig counterintuitive thinking. Many dig it when our president explains we're going to spend our way out of debt. That's way against all the intuition we've developed in our adult lives. Spending our way out of debt doesn't work often, does it? It's crazy talk. Didn't a lot of people try that spending out of debt thing?
I live in Vegas, and I see people by the side of the road with cardboard signs who seem like they might have tried that spending their way out of debt thing. Or maybe they tried the all too intuitive "crack will make me feel healthy again" thing. I don't know.
Didn't lots of people try piling up debt on credit cards and buying houses they couldn't afford in hopes of solving all their financial problems? I've tried spending more than I was going to earn (remember, I was carny trash, that's why I know how to eat fire), and it way didn't work. Spending more money than I had to spend put me more in debt, just like my silly intuition warned me.
President Obama is so damn smart. He just drips smart. He clearly understands stuff that we could never understand. He's trustworthy. If Obama were teaching fire-eating, we would all learn fast. If he told you that the burns would be minor and the fire would go out when you closed your mouth, you'd believe him. If I weren't twice his weight, I'd fall back with my eyes closed into his caring arms in one of those cheesy '70s church trust exercises. He could talk me into anything.
Obama tells us that we can spend our way out of debt. He tells us that even though the government had control over the banks and did nothing to stop the bad that's going on, if we give them more control over more other bank-like things, then they can make sure bad stuff doesn't happen ever again. He says we can get out of all those big wars President Bush caused by sending more troops into Afghanistan. And I don't know. I really don't know.
I trusted my Dad that turning into a skid would work. I trusted my carny mentor, Doc Swan, that closing my mouth around a burning torch would put it out. They were right. Maybe the United States borrowing more money than I could imagine in a billion years with a billion computers and a billion monkeys typing on them, will get us out of financial trouble. I really don't know. It's certainly true that many counterintuitive things are true, and when you have the guts to do something counterintuitive that works, it's really cool. It's a superpower under our yellow sun.
But there are some things that are just intuitive. Did you know, that if you're going 100 mph, directly at a very, very thick, reinforced concrete wall, and you speed up, so you're accelerating right when you hit the wall that the accident you have is going to be much worse than if you'd jammed on the brakes as soon as you saw the wall at the end of the street? Did you know that? It's exactly what everything you know and feel would tell you, and it's exactly true. Most times when you're driving, or playing with fire, or handling money, the thing that makes sense to you is also true.
I way hope we're turning into a skid and not accelerating into a concrete wall.
Note: Reading this article does not give you the information you need to really eat fire, fire walk or even turn into a skid. Do not try any of it. You really need a trained professional to teach you, and most important you need to sign something that says Penn Jillette and CNN are not in any way responsible for your inevitable injuries.

For laid-off, a lesser problem: What to do today

Some reconnect with family, other start hobbies, some just wait
NEW YORK - A few days after she was laid off last month, Dina Schipper's husband asked if she could make sure the dry cleaners came to pick up his shirts.
It was a perfectly routine domestic request, something she'd have done without thinking twice while she was working. But now it sent Schipper, who'd been media relations director at a New Jersey science museum for a decade, into a tailspin of self-doubt. "I was thinking, 'Oh no, is this what I have become?'" she says.
The recession claimed more than 650,000 jobs for a record third straight month in February, and similar painful losses are expected when the government releases March figures on Friday. Unemployment, already at a 25-year peak at 8.1 percent, is expected to rise to 8.5 percent. More than 4 million have lost jobs during the downturn.
For all but the very luckiest ones, the overriding question is, "How will I support myself and my family?" But along with that comes another immediate question, more mundane but vexing nonetheless: "How do I spend my time?"
"Losing your job is akin to identity theft," says Nancy Collamer, a career counselor in Connecticut and author of "You're robbed not only of a sense of who you are, but of what you were supposed to be doing on a daily basis."
That's something Joe Urbanski has struggled with every day for the two months since he lost his job as a computer programmer for a security company in O'Fallon, Mo. He had no severance payment, and is now trying to live on $135 a week in unemployment benefits.
To make things worse, three days after he was laid off, Urbanski's girlfriend of three years ended the relationship. Now Urbanski, 54, needs to find both a job and a new apartment.
He spends about three hours a day online, searching job sites. Beyond that, there's little to do. "I feel aimless, empty ... worthless is also a good word to describe it," Urbanski says. "I've had jobs for 30 years. It's devastating."
Urbanski says he spends some time reading science fiction books, and some time watching TV. "But honestly, sometimes I just sit and stare out the window," he says.
Andrew Lisy, laid off from a Wall Street job two months ago, counts himself among the luckier ones. At 24 and with nobody to support, the Manhattan bond trader was just beginning his post-college career. He figures he has the savings and severance pay to tide him over for six months.
His approach has been to immerse himself in new projects as he ponders the next step. He spends many hours each day on a social networking site he's created, The Free Agents (, where members can meet others recently unemployed, and swap tips on life between jobs.
Since being laid off Andrew Lisy has started a Web site for those in a similar situation, and polished his cooking skills.
He's working out more, and has thrown his energy into becoming a better cook. "The other day I bought a vegan cookbook," he says. "I'm not a vegan, but I'm trying to cook all vegan to challenge myself. It's easier than you might think." The one luxury he allows himself: More sleep. He used to get up at 5 a.m for work. Now he sleeps 'til 9 or 10.