Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Kids write Santa this year for basic needs instead of toys

USA Today: "Santa Claus and his elves are seeing more heartbreaking letters this year as children cite their parents' economic troubles in their wish lists.
U.S. Postal Service workers who handle letters addressed to Santa at the North Pole say more letters ask for basics — coats, socks and shoes — rather than Barbie dolls, video games and computers.

At New York City's main post office, Head Elf Pete Fontana and 22 staff elves will sort 2 million letters in Operation Santa, which connects needy children with "Secret Santas" who answer their wishes.

Fontana, a customer relations coordinator for the Postal Service, has been head elf for 15 years.

"The need is greater this year than I've ever seen it," he says. "One little girl didn't want anything for herself. She wanted a winter coat for her mother.""

Friday, December 10, 2010

Duct-tape crimes: ‘There, I Fixed It’ taps our inner MacGyvers



A wise man (or woman) once said: “All of life’s problems can be solved with two things — duct tape and WD-40. If it moves and it shouldn’t, you need duct tape. And if it doesn’t move and it should, you need WD-40.”
If this quote speaks to you on any level, you may already be a fan of There, I Fixed It, a blog that harnesses photographic evidence of ingenious do-it-yourselfers gone wild.
More about Home & Garden
Move over, man caves: Moms want ’em, too
Small projects to spruce up your home
Martha Stewart shares her top 50 kitchen tips
Video: Interior decorating myths debunked
Is that staph on your sweater? 10 germ hideouts
It’s a site worth visiting at this time of year as you hunt down the perfect present for that weekend warrior on your gift list. After perusing photos of, say, a car engine’s air intake hose replaced by a Pringles can, or a water pipe repaired with a dog chew toy and a C-clamp, you might opt to get your DIY-er a nice, safe fruitcake instead of a new set of tools.
There, I Fixed It is part of the ever-growing Cheezburger Network, a collection of sites beloved by Web surfers who adore a) zany humor, b) zany photos and c) photo-caption-writing contests. The network includes I Can Has Cheezburger? (funny cat photos), I Has a Hotdog (funny dog photos) and FAIL Blog (funny photos of, well, complete and utter failures).

http://thereifixedit.failblog.org/
This fix-it job appeared under the headline, "Good news is you can never get rear-ended."
At the helm of the network is Ben Huh, a 33-year-old Seattle resident who knows how to tap into the general mood of the Internet at any given moment in time. He said There, I Fixed It works because it touches people’s everyday lives.
“People think to themselves, ‘I thought about doing that, but I didn’t actually do it,’ ” Huh said. “It’s actually kind of genius, but in a horrific way.”
Brilliant — and dangerous
All of the photos that run on the site (and on other Cheezburger sites) are submitted by users. They get screened by living, breathing employees who make sure they’re appropriate for online publication, and then the community of users takes over. Users vote for their favorite images and determine which ones appear on the home page.
Gallery: THAT’S how you fixed it?? (on this page)
Huh has a staff of about 50 people overseeing more than 40 sites, which, combined, get 16.5 million unique visitors a month. His growing company relies on Web advertising, and it also makes money from sales of books, T-shirts and other merchandise.

Cheezburger Network
Ben Huh, 33, has an uncanny ability to tap into the general mood of the Internet.
FAIL Blog is the Cheezburger Network’s most popular site, and next up is I Can Has Cheezburger. There, I Fixed It is another biggie for the company; Huh said it gets millions of page views each month.
He said the fix-it photos that come pouring in each day never cease to fascinate.
“Some of the simple ones are kind of genius, but kind of dangerous,” Huh said. “This one person had wired an LCD TV on top of their showerhead. It’s kind of ingenious in that it’s not going to get wet — but do you really need to watch TV that badly?”

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Google News Politics: Anti Sarah Palin Post Gets Google Censorship Read more: http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/blogs/abraham/detail?entry_id=77695#ixzz1

Yep. You read that correctly: "Google News Politics: Anti Sarah Palin Post Gets Google Censorship." That's another way of saying this blogger's Zennie62.com blog was not included in Google News after a blog post called "Will Sarah Palin Ever Shut Up?"

Prior to Friday, November 19th, when that post, and others on Zennie62 for that day were included on Google News, then taken off and moved to Google Blog Search, Zennie62.com had become a major presence on Google News, outperforming many news sites, and showing a way toward a positive future for media that can be done by anyone. A truly democratic effort. But what's Google News?

Google News is a news aggregator that places the "news of the day" from news websites, blogs, and now videos, into categories for content consumption by people like you and me. It was created by Google Google's principal scientist Krishna Bharat, and launched September 2002.

According to the Online Journalism Review, Krishna's objective was to create a news portal that helped sort through the "flood" of information produced online after September 11, 2001.

In 2003, Krishna said that Google News was "a force for democracy."

Yeah. Right.

Unfortunately, given the way this blogger was handled this week, that's not true at all in 2010.

Google News has evolved to become a force for censorship, a protector of traditional news sites against the dreaded independent blogs and bloggers like me, and a breakwater against harsh, muckraking criticism of the high-and-mighty named Sarah Palin. Google News is starting to look more like a dictatorship than a representation of democratic America.

If I post on SFGate.com, that's a traditional news site, but having the same post at Zennie62.com, suddenly became an issue for Google News after my deliberately controversial attack on the PR system that's pushing Former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin at an unwilling public. Now, the Zennie62.com blogger's stepped out of his "place" and here's Google News to push him back there.

To repeat, Sarah Palin is pushed by Fox News, CNN, and even MSNBC, and television shows like Dancing With The Stars at an American public, thousands of times a day on a daily basis. That, coupled with Palin's recent comments that she's considering running against President Obama in 2012, make it look as if we're being "primed" to "accept" the idea of Palin as President. Or, to go a step further, America's being brainwashed to accept the idea.

Just a search on Google News for Sarah Palin today, Tuesday, November 23rd, 2010 at 9:45 PM EST reveals posts on her, her daughter Bristol, and a quarter-page below three conservative blogs, Red State (on Google News?), NewsBusters, and PowerLine. Liberal blog competitors are nowhere to be seen at all.

But go over to Google Blog Search and search for Sarah Palin, and the Liberal blogs appear: The Daily Beast, TMZ.com, Palinfacts.com, and VF Daily, to name a few, all with negative posts about Sarah Palin's new TV show Sarah Palin's America. Hey, Zennie62.com is there as well, now. (All the Liberal blogs together in the basement! Let's party!)

Why are The Daily Beast and VF Daily not on Google News? That's news in itself.

But the overall finding that Liberal blogs have been banished to Google Blog Search, and Conservative blogs are visible on Google News is alarming. So much for Google News being Krishna's "Force for Democracy."



Read more: http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/blogs/abraham/detail?entry_id=77695#ixzz16WjsIpUw

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Robert Reich (The Perfect Storm)

Robert Reich (The Perfect Storm): "It’s a perfect storm. And I’m not talking about the impending dangers facing Democrats. I’m talking about the dangers facing our democracy.

First, income in America is now more concentrated in fewer hands than it’s been in 80 years. Almost a quarter of total income generated in the United States is going to the top 1 percent of Americans.

The top one-tenth of one percent of Americans now earn as much as the bottom 120 million of us.

Who are these people? With the exception of a few entrepreneurs like Bill Gates, they’re top executives of big corporations and Wall Street, hedge-fund managers, and private equity managers. They include the Koch brothers, whose wealth increased by billions last year, and who are now funding tea party candidates across the nation.

Which gets us to the second part of the perfect storm. A relatively few Americans are buying our democracy as never before. And they’re doing it completely in secret.

Hundreds of millions of dollars are pouring into advertisements for and against candidates — without a trace of where the dollars are coming from. They’re laundered through a handful of groups. Fred Maleck, whom you may remember as deputy director of Richard Nixon’s notorious Committee to Reelect the President (dubbed Creep in the Watergate scandal), is running one of them. Republican operative Karl Rove runs another. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, a third.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Scientists suggest that cancer is purely man-made

PhysOrg: "Cancer is a modern, man-made disease caused by environmental factors such as pollution and diet, a study by University of Manchester scientists has strongly suggested.

The study of remains and literature from ancient Egypt and Greece and earlier periods – carried out at Manchester’s KNH Centre for Biomedical Egyptology and published in Nature Reviews Cancer – includes the first histological diagnosis of cancer in an Egyptian mummy.
Finding only one case of the disease in the investigation of hundreds of Egyptian mummies, with few references to cancer in literary evidence, proves that cancer was extremely rare in antiquity. The disease rate has risen massively since the Industrial Revolution, in particular childhood cancer – proving that the rise is not simply due to people living longer.
Professor Rosalie David, at the Faculty of Life Sciences, said: “In industrialised societies, cancer is second only to cardiovascular disease as a cause of death. But in ancient times, it was extremely rare. There is nothing in the natural environment that can cause cancer. So it has to be a man-made disease, down to pollution and changes to our diet and lifestyle.”
She added: “The important thing about our study is that it gives a historical perspective to this disease. We can make very clear statements on the cancer rates in societies because we have a full overview. We have looked at millennia, not one hundred years, and have masses of data.”"

Monday, September 27, 2010

At 113 degrees, downtown L.A. hits all-time record high

LA Times: "It's not just you. Monday turned out to be the hottest day ever recorded -- at least in downtown L.A.
At 12:15 p.m., the weather station at USC hit the 113-degree mark, breaking the old all-time high of 112 set on June 26, 1990.
It makes Monday the hottest day ever since records in downtown L.A. started being kept in 1877, said Stuart Seto of the National Weather Service.
Seto said the record was impressive, "especially after such a cool summer."
As of noon, Weather.com reported that Santa Monica had hit 106, West Hollywood was at 111, and Long Beach was at 107.
The National Weather Service warned of extreme heat and red-flag fire dangers Monday. A small fire broke out in Ladera Heights but was quickly put out. Another small brush fire was contained Sunday night in South Pasadena.
On the energy front, California consumers were expected to use more than 45,000 megawatts by peak afternoon hours, said Gregg Fishman, a spokesman for Cal-ISO, which coordinates power for 85% of the state's grid. "

Monday, September 20, 2010

Baltimore honors late rocker Frank Zappa with bust


BALTIMORE — Rocker Frank Zappa was born in Baltimore but gained greater popular acclaim in Europe than in the United States. On Sunday, devout European fans of the late musician brought his mustachioed likeness back home in the form of a bronze bust.
Several hundred fans gathered on a sweltering afternoon as city officials dedicated the bust of the ponytailed rocker outside an east Baltimore library. The bust is a replica of another in a public square in Vilnius, Lithuania, and was donated to the city by Zappa enthusiasts in the small Baltic nation.
"The spirit of Frank Zappa is alive and well in Baltimore," Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake said.
The mayor joined Zappa's widow, Gail, and three of his grown children in watching as a curtain was drawn back to reveal the bust set atop a 12-foot steel pole. Later, Zappa's son, Dweezil, took the stage with his tribute band, Zappa Plays Zappa.

Zappa was known for everything from novelty rock songs to elaborate classical compositions. He died of prostate cancer in 1993 at 52.
Sunday's ceremony marked the 25th anniversary of Zappa's testimony before Congress on freedom of expression for recording artists, though the scheduling was coincidental. Zappa had testified against proposed warning labels about lyrical content, calling them a path to censorshiop.

Monday, August 16, 2010

DRAMATIC DRIFTWOOD WASHES ASHORE


This huge piece of driftwood washed up on the beach at La Push, a small community in Clallam County, Washington.

La Push, surrounded by the lush forest of the Olympic National Park, is located on the northwest coast of Washington’s most westerly peninsula, at the mouth of the Quillayute River.

The tree is a Sequoia Semper Virens, or Costal Redwood, only grown in Monterey, California.

It would have travelled hundreds of miles before being washed up on the beach at La Push.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Suit alleges Disney, other top sites spied on users

A lawsuit filed in federal court last week alleges that a group of well-known Web sites, including those owned by Disney, Warner Bros. Records, and Demand Media, broke the law by covertly tracking the Web movements of their users, including children.

Attorneys representing a group of minors and their parents filed the suit Tuesday in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California, records show. The suit alleges that Clearspring Technologies, a software company that creates widgets and also offers a way to serve ads via widgets, is at the center of the wrongdoing.
Web site operators such as Disney, Playlist.com, and SodaHead are "Clearspring Flash Cookie Affiliates," the plaintiffs allege in their suit. Clearspring set "Flash cookies on (affiliate site) users' computers...online tracking device(s) which would allow access to and disclosure of Internet users' online activities."
The Web sites working with Clearspring knew users weren't just tracked at sites owned by affiliates, but were followed without their knowledge wherever they went online, the defendants wrote in their suit.
Clearspring and Disney representatives were not immediately available for comment Saturday. A representative for Warner Music Group, parent company of Warner Bros. Records, declined to comment.
A similar lawsuit was filed last month against Clearspring rival Quantcast, as well as a host of that company's clients, including ABC and NBC. The same law firms that filed that suit--Parisi & Havens, and the Law Office of Joseph Malley--were responsible for filing the recent complaint.
All the news lately about Web privacy--or the lack thereof--is enough to make anyone paranoid about logging on. The Wall Street Journal recently published an expose on Web privacy and concluded that "one of the fastest-growing businesses on the Internet...is the business of spying on Internet users." And we've seen controversies over privacy at Google and at Facebook. While Congress is looking into improving privacy protections for Web users, it would seem some people are going to take up the issue in court.
The suit against Clearspring was filed on the same day that researchers from UC Berkeley issued a report on how more than half of the Internet's best known Web sites use Adobe's Flash technology to surreptitiously gather information about their users, according to a report in Wired.com.

Man Scrawls World’s Biggest Message With GPS ‘Pen’


One man drove 12,238 miles across 30 states to scrawl a message that can only be viewed using Google Earth. His big shoutout: “Read Ayn Rand.”

Nick Newcomen did a road trip over 30 days that covered stretches from the Pacific to the Atlantic Ocean. First, he identified on a map the route he would need to drive to spell out the message. He put a GPS device in his car to trace the route he would follow. Then, he hit the road.

“The main reason I did it is because I am an Ayn Rand fan,” he says. “In my opinion if more people would read her books and take her ideas seriously, the country and world would be a better place — freer, more prosperous and we would have a more optimistic view of the future.”

Newcomen, unlike previous GPS artists, actually traveled the lines he traced on the map. He used a GPS logger (Qstarz BT-Q1000X) to “ink” the message. Starting his trip in Marshall, Texas, he turned on the device when he wanted to write a letter and turned off the device between letters. The recorded GPS data was loaded into Google Earth to produce the image above.

“The first word I wrote actually was the word ‘Rand’, then I went up North to do the word ‘Read’ and finished it with ‘Ayn,’” says Newcomen.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Breath test may be able to detect common cancers

An "electronic nose" could be used as a simple breath test to detect lung, breast, bowel and prostate cancers, Israeli scientists said Wednesday.
Using the sensor to pinpoint chemical variations, the team found they could not only distinguish between healthy and malignant breath but also identify the four different common tumor types.
While more work is needed to develop the technology, the early success could lead to the development of a cheap, easy-to-use and portable test to help diagnose cancer earlier.
"If we can confirm these initial results in large-scale studies, this new technology could become a simple tool for early diagnosis of cancer along with imaging," said Abraham Kuten of Technion Israel Institute of Technology.
Kuten and his colleagues studied the breath of 177 people -- some healthy and some with various types of cancer -- to detect the different chemicals emitted from the surface of cancer cells as they grow.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

'I Write Like' Website Goes Viral, Authors Bewildered

NEW YORK — For anyone who has ever thought Charles Dickens was lurking inside his or her prose, a new website claims it can find your inner author.

The recently launched I Write Like has one simple gimmick: You paste a few paragraphs that exemplify your writing, then click "analyze" and – poof! – you get a badge telling you that you write like Stephen King or Ernest Hemingway or Chuck Palahniuk.

The site's traffic has soared in recent days and its arrival has lit up the blogosphere. Gawker tried a transcript from one of the leaked Mel Gibson phone calls. The suggested author: Margaret Atwood.

The New Yorker found that an invitation to a birthday party was James Joycean. Many others were aghast to discover they wrote similarly to "The Da Vinci Code" scribe Dan Brown.

The New York Times tried putting in actual novels, such as "Moby-Dick." Herman Melville, it turns out, writes less like himself than King, according to I Write Like.

Atwood, herself, tried the site only to discover she also apparently writes like King. "Who knew?" she tweeted.

Obviously, I Write Like isn't an exact science. But simply the idea of an algorithm that can reveal traces of influence in writing has proven wildly popular.

Though the site might seem the idle dalliance of an English professor on summer break, it was created by Dmitry Chestnykh, a 27-year-old Russian software programmer currently living in Montenegro. Though he speaks English reasonably well, it's his second language.

"I wanted it to be an educational thing and also to help people write better," he said.

Chestnykh modeled the site on software for e-mail spam filters. This means that the site's text analysis is largely keyword based. Even if you write in short, declarative, Hemingwayesque sentences, its your word choice that may determine your comparison.

Most writers will tell you, though, that the most telling signs of influence come from punctuation, rhythm and structure. I Write Like does account for some elements of style by things such as number of words per sentence.

Chestnykh has uploaded works by about 50 authors – three books for each, he said. That, too, explains some of its shortcomings. Melville, for example, isn't in the system.

But Chestnykh never expected the sudden success of the site and he plans to improve its accuracy by including more books and adding a probability percentage for each result. He hopes it can eventually be profitable.

"I think that people really like to know how they write, even if it's not accurate results," said Chestnykh. "Still it's fun for them."

It's easy to find a laugh. Obama's Oval Office speech in June? David Foster Wallace. Lady Gaga's lyrics to "Alejandro"? William Shakespeare.

Whatever the deficiencies of I Write Like, it does exude a love of writing and its many techniques. The site's blog updates with inspiring quotations from writers, and Chestnykh – whose company, Coding Robots, is also working on blog editing and diary writing software – shows a love of literature. He counts Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Agatha Christie among his favorites.

"I had a typewriter when I was 6 years old," he said. "But I'm not a published writer and I don't think I write very good."

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Which came first, the chicken or the egg?

It is an age-old riddle that has perplexed generations: Which came first, the chicken or the egg?
Now British scientists claim to have finally come up with the definitive answer: The chicken.
The scientific and philosophical mystery was purportedly unraveled by researchers at Sheffield and Warwick universities, according to the Daily Mail newspaper.
The scientists found that a protein found only in a chicken's ovaries is necessary for the formation of the egg, according to the paper Wednesday. The egg can therefore only exist if it has been created inside a chicken.
The protein speeds up the development of the hard shell, which is essential in protecting the delicate yolk and fluids while the chick grows inside the egg, the report said.
"It had long been suspected that the egg came first but now we have the scientific proof that shows that in fact the chicken came first," said Dr. Colin Freeman, from Sheffield University's Department of Engineering Materials, according to the Mail.
"The protein had been identified before and it was linked to egg formation, but by examining it closely we have been able to see how it controls the process," he said.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

NASA delivers Mars in high definition


A virtual rendering of the planet Mars, provided by the WorldWide Telescope program, is centered on Arsia Mons, one of the suggested targets for a human mission to the Red Planet.
NASA is partnering with Microsoft Research's WorldWide Telescope to offer half a billion high-resolution images of Red Planet sights, ranging from past rover tracks to future landing zones for Mars-bound astronauts. The collaboration is part of NASA’s public-private strategy for making cosmic imagery more widely available to students and space fans.
"We want to have this be an example of what public outreach means ... not just putting things up on a website, but really connecting with an audience," Chris Kemp, chief technology officer for information technology at NASA Headquarters, told me today.
"Our hope is that this inspires the next generation of explorers to continue the scientific discovery process," Pete Worden, director of NASA's Ames Research Center in California, said in today's announcement about the project.
The virtual Mars database was unveiled today at a gathering for researchers at Microsoft's headquarters in Redmond, Wash. (Microsoft and NBC Universal are partners in the msnbc.com joint venture.) It's now available as part of the latest version of the WorldWide Telescope as well as WWT's Web-based client.
The good stuff includes a new series of Mars-themed guided tours, narrated by a couple of NASA's best-known Marsologists, Carol Stoker and Jim Garvin. Stoker's tour addresses the question"Is there life on Mars?" and focuses on the findings of NASA's Phoenix Mars Lander. Garvin traces the three geological ages of Mars (Noachian, Hesperian and Amazonian) and points out three of the leading sites for future human missions to Mars:
• Jezero Crater in Nili Fossae, which provides a window on the Noachian age, when water is thought to have flowed freely on Mars.
• Mangala Valles, whose channels may record the transition between that ancient warm, wet planet and the current cold, dry world.
• Arsia Mons, one of Mars' giant shield volcanoes, which is the site of glacial deposits as well as caves that could provide a haven for human visitors.
You can zoom in on high-resolution views of the planet, fly over mountains and craters and touch down for a virtual landing on the Martian surface. "The new Mars experience allows people to feel as though they're actually there," Dan Fay, director of Microsoft Research's Earth, Energy and Environment effort, said in a NASA news feature.
The dataset includes 13,000 gigapixel-scale images from the main camera on NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, known as the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment or HiRISE for short. Those giga-images are blended with 74,000 images from an earlier probe, Mars Global Surveyor, then broken down into mosaics that comprise a half-billion smaller pictures.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

India fights surge in honor killings

KODERMA, India — When Nirupama Pathak left this remote mining region for graduate school in New Delhi, she seemed to be leaving the old India for the new. Her parents paid her tuition and did not resist when she wanted to choose her own career. But choosing a husband was another matter.
Her family was Brahmin, the highest Hindu caste, and when Ms. Pathak, 22, announced she was secretly engaged to a young man from a caste lower than hers, her family began pressing her to change her mind. They warned of social ostracism and accused her of defiling their religion.
Days after Ms. Pathak returned home in late April, she was found dead in her bedroom. The police have arrested her mother, Sudha Pathak, on suspicion of murder, while the family contends that the death was a suicide.
The postmortem report revealed another unexpected element to the case: Ms. Pathak was pregnant.
“One thing is absolutely clear,” said Prashant Bhushan, a social activist and lawyer now advising Ms. Pathak’s fiancĂ©. “Her family was trying their level best to prevent her from marrying that boy. The pressure was such that either she was driven to suicide or she was killed.”
In India, where the tension between traditional and modern mores reverberates throughout society, Ms. Pathak’s death comes amid an apparent resurgence of so-called honor killings against couples who breach Hindu marriage traditions.
This week, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh ordered a cabinet-level commission to consider tougher penalties in honor killings.
In June, India’s Supreme Court sent notices to seven Indian states, as well as to the national government, seeking responses about what was being done to address the problem.
The phenomenon of honor killings is most prevalent in some northern states, especially Haryana, where village caste councils, or khap panchayats, often operate as an extralegal morals police force, issuing edicts against couples who marry outside their caste or who marry within the same village — considered a religious violation since villages are often regarded as extended families.
Even as the court system has sought to curb these councils, politicians have hesitated, since the councils often control significant vote blocs in local elections.
New cases of killings or harassment appear in the Indian news media almost every week. Last month, the police arrested three men for the honor killings of a couple in New Delhi who had married outside their castes, as well as the murder of a woman who eloped with a man from another caste.
Two of the suspects are accused of murdering their sisters, and an uncle of the slain couple spoke of their murders as justifiable.
“What is wrong in it?” the uncle, Dharmaveer Nagar, told the Indian news media. “Murder is wrong, but this is socially the best thing that has been done.”
An ancient attitude
Intercaste marriages are protected under Indian law, yet social attitudes remain largely resistant. In a 2006 survey cited in a United Nations report, 76 percent of respondents deemed the practice unacceptable. An overwhelming majority of Hindu couples continue to marry within their castes, and newspapers are filled with marital advertisements in which parents, seeking to arrange a marriage for a son or daughter, specify caste among lists of desired attributes like profession and educational achievement.
“This is part and parcel of our culture, that you marry into your own caste,” said Dharmendra Pathak, the father of Ms. Pathak, during an interview in his home. “Every society has its own culture. Every society has its own traditions.”
Yet Indian society is also rapidly changing, with a new generation more likely to mix with people from different backgrounds as young people commingle on college campuses or in the workplace.
Ms. Pathak had studied journalism at the Indian Institute of Mass Communications in New Delhi before taking a job at a financial newspaper. At school, she had met Priyabhanshu Ranjan, a top student whose family was from a middle-upper caste, the Kayastha.
“The day I proposed, she said, ‘My family will not accept this. My family is very conservative,’ ” Mr. Ranjan recalled. “I used to try to convince her that once we got married, they would accept it.”
Ms. Pathak deliberated over the proposal for months before accepting in early 2009. Convinced her family would disapprove, she kept her engagement a secret for more than a year, until she learned that her father was interviewing prospective Brahmin grooms in New Delhi to arrange a marriage for her. Her parents were also renovating the family home for a wedding celebration.

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

Annual "Mud Day" Celebration Lets Kids Get Dirty


Rachael Natiw (L), age 12, of Canton, Michigan, and her friend Alyssa Braun, age 12, of Canton, relax in a giant lake of mud at the annual Mud Day celebration July 8, 2008 in Westland, Michigan. Sponsored by the Wayne County Parks Department, the event consists of 200 tons of topsoil mixed with 20,000 gallons of water, and about 1000 children 12 and under.

Sunday, July 04, 2010

Indians 'Shocked,' 'Offended' By Joel Stein's TIME Article

Joel Stein says he was going for humor in his opinion piece, "My Own Private India," which ran in Monday's TIME Magazine. But the Indian-American community — members of which serve as the butt of many of Stein's jokes — aren't laughing.

Stein's piece focuses on the cultural changes immigration has brought to his hometown of Edison, N.J. since he grew up there in the 1970's and 80's:

"I am very much in favor of immigration everywhere in the U.S. except Edison, N.J. The mostly white suburban town I left when I graduated from high school in 1989 — the town that was called Menlo Park when Thomas Alva Edison set up shop there and was later renamed in his honor — has become home to one of the biggest Indian communities in the U.S., as familiar to people in India as how to instruct stupid Americans to reboot their Internet routers....

For a while, we assumed all Indians were geniuses. Then, in the 1980s, the doctors and engineers brought over their merchant cousins, and we were no longer so sure about the genius thing. In the 1990s, the not-as-brilliant merchants brought their even-less-bright cousins, and we started to understand why India is so damn poor.
Stein's cracks are not exclusively directed at Indian immigrants — he pokes fun at himself and his (presumably white) childhood friends:

"The A&P I shoplifted from is now an Indian grocery. The multiplex where we snuck into R-rated movies now shows only Bollywood films and serves samosas," wrote Mr. Stein. "The Italian restaurant that my friends stole cash from as waiters is now Moghul, one of the most famous Indian restaurants in the country. There is an entire generation of white children in Edison who have nowhere to learn crime."
Several organizations have responded with outrage, criticizing TIME's decision to publish the article. For example, the advocacy group South Asian Americans Leading Together (SAALT) issued a statement and online petition in response to Stein's piece.

"Most offensive is his remarkably blasé tone about the discrimination and hate crimes that targeted the New Jersey South Asian Community during the 1980s," the SAALT statement reads.

Both Stein and TIME have issued online apologies, saying they never intended to offend readers.

TIME statement:
We sincerely regret that any of our readers were upset by Joel Stein's recent humor column "My Own Private India." It was in no way intended to cause offense.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

The Curious Case of Bill Murray

In a feature story in this week’s issue, Entertainment Weekly asks Bill Murray about his elusive, unpredictable ways and uncovers exactly what it takes for filmmakers to get him into their movies nowadays.
Bill Murray is Hollywood’s White Whale. There have always been sightings of the enigmatic actor, and a generation of young filmmakers came in to the biz with the Quixotic dream of eventually landing him for their passion projects. Wes Anderson (Rushmore) pulled it off. So did Sofia Coppola—though it took her months to get him to call her back before he even read Lost in Translation. Today, in lieu of an agent or publicist, Murray makes do with a 1-800 number, where producers, studio heads, and journalists can leave their messages at the beep. “Getting in touch with Bill Murray remains one of life’s greatest mysteries,” says Rob Burnett, executive producer of Late Show with David Letterman. “The plus/minus on that return call can be anywhere from 24 hours to six months. That’s just how it is.”
What’s odd is that Murray is often hiding in plain sight. There he is, toying with the gallery at Pebble Beach. There he is, playing himself in a web-short about hyper-vigilant fact-checkers. There he is, rooting for his beloved Cubs at Wrigley Field, or tending bar in Austin, or reading Emily Dickinson poems to beefy New York construction workers. Heck, he once showed up at Monmouth Park, the New Jersey racetrack where I worked while in college, and signed my brother’s program with the baffling but beautiful line, “Forty percent discount after 6 p.m. — Bill Murray.”
There’s a scene in Groundhog Day where Murray’s calendar-challenged Phil Connors plays chicken with an approaching train and then says, “I’m not going to live by their rules anymore!” Murray has done the same thing in his own career. He has his own code, and woe to the costar, the grip, or the studio executive who violates it. During the filming of Groundhog Day, producers pleaded with Murray that he hire a personal assistant to facilitate better communications between the studio and their star. Murray acquiesced, sort of, hiring a deaf-mute who spoke only American Sign Language. Don’t worry, Murray explained, I’m going to learn sign language. “That’s anti-communication,” says Groundhog Day director Harold Ramis. “You know, ‘Let’s not talk.’”
In a feature story in this week’s issue, Entertainment Weekly asks Bill Murray about his elusive, unpredictable ways and uncovers exactly what it takes for filmmakers to get him into their movies nowadays.
Bill Murray is Hollywood’s White Whale. There have always been sightings of the enigmatic actor, and a generation of young filmmakers came in to the biz with the Quixotic dream of eventually landing him for their passion projects. Wes Anderson (Rushmore) pulled it off. So did Sofia Coppola—though it took her months to get him to call her back before he even read Lost in Translation. Today, in lieu of an agent or publicist, Murray makes do with a 1-800 number, where producers, studio heads, and journalists can leave their messages at the beep. “Getting in touch with Bill Murray remains one of life’s greatest mysteries,” says Rob Burnett, executive producer of Late Show with David Letterman. “The plus/minus on that return call can be anywhere from 24 hours to six months. That’s just how it is.”
What’s odd is that Murray is often hiding in plain sight. There he is, toying with the gallery at Pebble Beach. There he is, playing himself in a web-short about hyper-vigilant fact-checkers. There he is, rooting for his beloved Cubs at Wrigley Field, or tending bar in Austin, or reading Emily Dickinson poems to beefy New York construction workers. Heck, he once showed up at Monmouth Park, the New Jersey racetrack where I worked while in college, and signed my brother’s program with the baffling but beautiful line, “Forty percent discount after 6 p.m. — Bill Murray.”
There’s a scene in Groundhog Day where Murray’s calendar-challenged Phil Connors plays chicken with an approaching train and then says, “I’m not going to live by their rules anymore!” Murray has done the same thing in his own career. He has his own code, and woe to the costar, the grip, or the studio executive who violates it. During the filming of Groundhog Day, producers pleaded with Murray that he hire a personal assistant to facilitate better communications between the studio and their star. Murray acquiesced, sort of, hiring a deaf-mute who spoke only American Sign Language. Don’t worry, Murray explained, I’m going to learn sign language. “That’s anti-communication,” says Groundhog Day director Harold Ramis. “You know, ‘Let’s not talk.’”

Thursday, June 24, 2010

There's more water on the moon than anyone thought


(Reuters) - There is far more water on the moon than just about anyone thought and it is likely widespread deep under its surface, according to a report released on Monday.


Recent moon missions have shown frozen water in shadowed craters on the moon's surface, and ice under the gray dust. It could have been carried there by bits of comets as asteroids hitting the surface, however.

But a new study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science shows there is much more water on the moon than that -- findings important for future moon missions.

"Water may be ubiquitous within the lunar interior," the researchers concluded in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

"For over 40 years we thought the moon was dry," said Francis McCubbin of the Carnegie Institution of Washington, who led the study.

"We found that the minimum water content ranged from 64 parts per billion to 5 parts per million -- at least two orders of magnitude greater than previous results."

The water is not immediately accessible -- it is incorporated in the rocky interior of the moon, according to the report, published here

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Bilderberg 2010: What we have learned

A huge agenda of global issues was crammed into four days of 'secret' meetings by a mysterious group of power brokers. But who elected them and why are we paying for them?

Weary and bramble-scratched, elated by the press coverage, and sick of riot vans and lukewarm Spanish omelette baguettes, we return from Bilderberg 2010 with the following thoughts uppermost in our tired mind:
• 'Global cooling' is on the cards
Check out the agenda for Bilderberg 2010: "Financial reform, security, cyber technology, energy, Pakistan, Afghanistan, world food problem, global cooling, social networking, medical science, EU-US relations." That list is a window into your future. Don't think for one minute that it isn't. And don't ignore it, because it isn't ignoring you.
I love how "social networking" must fry the Bilderbergian mind. On the one hand, as Zuckerberg of Facebook says, privacy is no longer a social norm so it's okay to milk the networking sites for information, social trends and dissident thinking; however, you can't stop the people from arranging a meet-up to discuss internet censorship or the rights and wrongs of "global cooling". Speaking of which, Bill Gates (Bilderberg 2010) is funding "cloud whitening" technology; trials start soon. Global dimming isn't just something that happens every time Big Brother starts. On the basis of this agenda, I think we can expect a lot of statements about cutting-edge cloud-technology trials in the next 12 months. If it works in Dubai, it can work in Britain too...
• You can't keep a good story down
If I had to pick the point when Bilderberg finally broke through into mainstream news, it would be when the BBC News Blog published a round-up of Bilderberg reports. Twelve months ago, this would have been barely conceivable. This year, Kissinger must be spitting chips.
• People love their 'leaders'
I know this sounds peculiar, or at least it does to me, but this year's Bilderbloggings have quite commonly been met with outrage at the idea that we should submit Bilderberg to greater scrutiny. You hear people talk about the delegates at Bilderberg as their "leaders", and you see the delegates mythologised as the greatest and the best – whose benign Olympian machinations should progress untroubled by the interference of public and press. "Leaders" like the CEO of Royal Dutch Shell, and the chairman of Kissinger Associates Inc.
I'm baffled to the point of punching tree trunks to witness the determination of some folk to throw themselves in front of these heads of corporations and presidents of banks and to wave their arms protectively, yelping: "Leave them alone! Let them strategise for the good of the world in peace! How could they possibly have a frank discussion with our politicians if we were privy to it? Stop this unseemly prying!" I mean, seriously. The day that Marcus Agius, chairman of Barclays, strategises for my good is the day he repays me the hundreds of pounds of bank charges he's been levying on me since my schooldays. The day that Peter Voser, CEO of Royal Dutch Shell, sits around a table with the express concern of making the world a better, more beautiful place for all of us, is the day that my arse grows teeth and eats my hat.
Do this: Look at the list of participants and ask yourself one simple question: what's their bottom line?

Thursday, June 03, 2010

For ‘99ers,’ a job can feel like a mirage


They call themselves “99ers,” because they have exhausted the maximum 99 weeks of unemployment benefits.

Their savings have been depleted, along with their dreams of a comfortable financial future. In many cases, their credit is shot too after years of living on the financial edge and relying on plastic to cover the most basic expenses.

They have lost many things: homes, cars, valuables, relationships, health insurance, even the cell phones and computers that provide the lifeline to the one thing they need most — a job.

For some, it is any job — a job washing dishes, cleaning toilets or taking orders at McDonald’s. Others, even in the face of such dire financial hardship, still refuse to accept a menial job that offers far less money — and respect — than their previous positions as managers, teachers, architects or administrative assistants.

Desperate for work, some 99ers, such as Florida native Diana Johnston, have gone back to school in the hopes that they can reinvent themselves as nurses or technicians. But the cost of education deters some, including 35-year-old Jeremy Hawking, who questions the wisdom of taking on more debt when he is already struggling to make ends meet.

The 99ers lost their jobs in mid-2008 or before, meaning they were among the earliest victims of a tenacious recession that took hold in December 2007. Yet they could be among those who will have the hardest time getting a new job even now that companies have warily started hiring again.

That’s because being unemployed can build on itself as people lose the financial means to apply for jobs or go to job interviews, get worn down by the stress of being jobless and no longer have the most up-to-date skills.

As of May 1, there were around 419,000 people collecting “Tier IV” unemployment benefits — the last stage of payments before a worker exhausts all unemployment aid available under the federal unemployment extensions, according to the Department of Labor. The DOL does not have data on how many people have exhausted 99 weeks of benefits since the recession began.

The situation is especially worrisome in this recession, in which millions of jobs have been lost and few, so far, have come back. That has left employers free to be extremely picky about who they hire.

“We’re in this humongous hole, and we just hit bottom,” said Sylvia Allegretto, an economist with Institute for Research on Labor and Employment at UC Berkeley. “We’re just starting to climb out of it.”

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Keeper of secrets


N A VERY short time, Julian Assange has become one of the most intriguing people in the world. The mysterious Australian founder of the whistleblower website WikiLeaks is as elusive as the public servants, spooks and - he assures me - cabinet ministers who regularly drop their bombshells from the anonymity of his cyberspace bolt-hole.

Of no fixed address, or time zone, Assange has never publicly admitted he is the brains behind the website that has so radically rewritten the rules in the information era. (He acknowledges registering a website, Leaks.org, in 1999, but denies ever having done anything with it.) He has never even admitted his age - although this is not so hard to work out from the parts of his life that journalists have so far been able to piece together.

''Are you 38?'' I ask. He gives an unintelligible response. So that's a yes? ''Something like that.''

Far more tantalising, however, is what he says are some very, very big leaks to come - apparently within weeks. ''Right now we are sitting on history-making stuff,'' he says.

Wikileaks appeared on the internet three years ago. It acts as an electronic dead drop for highly sensitive, or secret information: the pure stuff, in other words, published straight from the secret files to the world. No filters, no rewriting, no spin. Created by an online network of dissidents, journalists, academics, technology experts and mathematicians from various countries, all with similar political views and values apparently, the website also uses technology that makes the original sources of the leaks untraceable.


(Full article linked in title. Very interesting - worth checking out)

Bechdel Test

“The Bechdel test” requires a movie to pass three questions:

1) Does it have two or more women in it (who have names) ?

2) Do they talk to one another?

3) Do they talk to one another about something other than a man?

Many movies apparently don’t pass the test…

Monday, May 24, 2010

After keeping us waiting for a century, Mark Twain will finally reveal all

The great American writer left instructions not to publish his autobiography until 100 years after his death, which is now

Exactly a century after rumours of his death turned out to be entirely accurate, one of Mark Twain's dying wishes is at last coming true: an extensive, outspoken and revelatory autobiography which he devoted the last decade of his life to writing is finally going to be published.

The creator of Tom Sawyer, Huckleberry Finn and some of the most frequently misquoted catchphrases in the English language left behind 5,000 unedited pages of memoirs when he died in 1910, together with handwritten notes saying that he did not want them to hit bookshops for at least a century.

That milestone has now been reached, and in November the University of California, Berkeley, where the manuscript is in a vault, will release the first volume of Mark Twain's autobiography. The eventual trilogy will run to half a million words, and shed new light on the quintessentially American novelist.

Scholars are divided as to why Twain wanted the first-hand account of his life kept under wraps for so long. Some believe it was because he wanted to talk freely about issues such as religion and politics. Others argue that the time lag prevented him from having to worry about offending friends.

One thing's for sure: by delaying publication, the author, who was fond of his celebrity status, has ensured that he'll be gossiped about during the 21st century. A section of the memoir will detail his little-known but scandalous relationship with Isabel Van Kleek Lyon, who became his secretary after the death of his wife Olivia in 1904. Twain was so close to Lyon that she once bought him an electric vibrating sex toy. But she was abruptly sacked in 1909, after the author claimed she had "hypnotised" him into giving her power of attorney over his estate.

Their ill-fated relationship will be recounted in full in a 400-page addendum, which Twain wrote during the last year of his life. It provides a remarkable account of how the dying novelist's final months were overshadowed by personal upheavals.

"Most people think Mark Twain was a sort of genteel Victorian. Well, in this document he calls her a slut and says she tried to seduce him. It's completely at odds with the impression most people have of him," says the historian Laura Trombley, who this year published a book about Lyon called Mark Twain's Other Woman.

"There is a perception that Twain spent his final years basking in the adoration of fans. The autobiography will perhaps show that it wasn't such a happy time. He spent six months of the last year of his life writing a manuscript full of vitriol, saying things that he'd never said about anyone in print before. It really is 400 pages of bile."

Twain, who was born Samuel Langhorne Clemens, had made several attempts to start work on autobiography, beginning in 1870, but only really hit his stride with the work in 1906, when he appointed a stenographer to transcribe his dictated reminiscences.

Another potential motivation for leaving the book to be posthumously published concerns Twain's legacy as a Great American. Michael Shelden, who this year published Man in White, an account of Twain's final years, says that some of his privately held views could have hurt his public image.

"He had doubts about God, and in the autobiography, he questions the imperial mission of the US in Cuba, Puerto Rico and the Philippines. He's also critical of [Theodore] Roosevelt, and takes the view that patriotism was the last refuge of the scoundrel. Twain also disliked sending Christian missionaries to Africa. He said they had enough business to be getting on with at home: with lynching going on in the South, he thought they should try to convert the heathens down there."

In other sections of the autobiography, Twain makes cruel observations about his supposed friends, acquaintances and one of his landladies.

Parts of the book have already seen the light of day in other publications. Small excerpts were run by US magazines before Twain's death (since he needed the money). His estate has allowed parts of it to be adapted for publication in three previous books described as "autobiographies".

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Panera Bread Combines Free Markets and Nonprofits in Missouri

In a test run to see if expenses can get covered at the end of the day, Panera Bread has opened a unique new location in Clayton, MO that combines the benefits of nonprofit status with the fundamental principle of the free market system: let the market determine what an item is worth. But it adds a unique qualifier to the traditional concept of the need determining price: human nature.


The menu is exactly the same as other Panera locations (sick foodies can check that out here if they aren’t familiar with Panera’s offerings) but instead of charging a fixed price for each item, this special little spot will ask only what customers can afford. “Take what you need, leave your fair share,” says the sign at their entrance, just in case one is confused by such a foreign transaction model. No prices? Do we even know how to value items independently any more?

Panera is hopeful that the “Cares Cafe” model will thrive and grow to a series of donation-based stores that rely more on empathy than capitalism. “Hopefully we’ll be able to open them across the country, but our original St. Louis location must succeed first!” tweeted the fine folks behind Panera’s official Twitter account.

Can someone confirm Missouri rules on sales taxes related to the sale of food? And is it a sale if the exchange is really a donation? I’m really confused.

Anyway, not everyone is thrilled about this concept. Though it is obviously well-intentioned, the donation model may not necessarily transfer outside of St Louis. Trends consultant Marian Salzman reality-checked USAToday saying “while young people are very much attuned to helping out and making a difference, if they find themselves sitting next to other customers with whom they don’t feel comfortable, they’re not coming back.” You know, as in the possibility of homeless and otherwise destitute individuals (of which our country has plenty nowadays) lounging around with the nerve to eat a cheap meal.

Hedging against operating losses, this particular location has one slight difference from other Panera stores: its bread (except for sandwich bread) is really day old product from other locations around the St Louis metro. Hey, nothing wrong with getting the most out of inventory with a horrible turnover rate.

In the end, it’s hard to say whether this nonprofit experiment will float but if it does, Panera wants to open two more within six months. Good luck with that.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Bank Of America Protest: Dozens Storm Bank Branch In DC

Dozens of noisy purple-shirted SEIU protesters stormed a Bank of America branch near the U.S. Capitol on Monday, forcing the bank to close down as confused customers looked on and tellers retreated to an interior room.

Other groups from SEIU and National People's Action were set to stage protests at BofA's and JPMorgan Chase's lobby shops downtown as part of a daylong anti-K Street extravaganza.

A security guard told HuffPost the branch would be closed only temporarily.

From there, the group blocked an intersection in D.C.'s tiny Chinatown, then stopped by a Citibank branch. "Corporate greed has got to go!"

At 11:00 a.m., hundreds of protesters from SEIU and National People's Action merged at the offices of Democratic superlobbyist Tony Podesta, who boasts Bank of America among his massive client list. "We're fired up to take down Wall Street," they chanted.

The group is now headed to K Street.

Friday, May 07, 2010

Journalists Sue St. Paul, Minnesota Over 2008 Republican Convention Arrests



The three were among an estimated 40 to 50 journalists who were arrested covering street protests at the convention in downtown St. Paul, along with about 800 demonstrators and bystanders.

The lawsuit, filed in federal court in Minnesota, alleges that authorities violated the First Amendment freedoms of Goodman, her producers and other journalists by interfering with their right to gather news.

Goodman's daily program airs on over 750 radio and TV stations in North America.

"During the RNC, law enforcement arrested journalists without probable cause, physically assaulted them, detained them for lengthy periods, and searched and seized their belongings, including their cameras, video, and other media equipment, even though many of these individuals displayed their press credentials prominently and repeatedly identified themselves as members of the media," the lawsuit alleges.

Goodman, and her producers Nicole Salazar and Sharif Abdel Kouddous, are asking the court to issue a permanent injunction against authorities to prevent interference with their journalistic rights in the future; to declare the actions that restricted their work unconstitutional; and to award unspecified compensatory and punitive monetary damages, including reimbursement for lost or damaged property and medical expenses.

Salazar and Kouddous were arrested Sept. 1, 2008, on the opening day of the convention as riot police massed near the convention hall. The complaint says they were visibly wearing their press passes and holding their equipment and identified themselves as journalists.

The complaint says Salazar was videotaping as officers corralled journalists and bystanders in a parking lot. It says the officers pushed her to the ground, knocking her video camera from her hands. Officers slammed Kouddous against a wall after he shouted to officers arresting Salazar that she was a member of the press. And it says Goodman was arrested and pushed to the ground after she went to the arrest site and asked officers to release her producers.

Salazar was left bloodied with cuts, scratches and bruises on her face, the complaint says. Kouddous suffered injuries that it says resulted in long-term numbness in his hands, chest pains for several weeks, and scars on his arms. Goodman experienced several weeks of pain and tingling from her left elbow to her thumb as a result of handcuffs that were too tight, it says.

Thursday, May 06, 2010

Activist spied on? Man wins settlement


A 22-year-old antiwar activist from The Evergreen State College will get $169,000 as part of a settlement with the State Patrol and two other law-enforcement agencies over allegations that their officers engaged in political spying and harassment.

A 22-year-old anti-war activist from The Evergreen State College will get $169,000 as part of a settlement with the State Patrol and two other law-enforcement agencies over allegations that their officers engaged in political spying and harassment.

Philip Chinn was arrested on suspicion of drunken driving by state patrol troopers in May 2007, while traveling to an anti-war protest at the Port of Grays Harbor in Aberdeen.

According to court documents, Chinn was pulled over after police had broadcast an "attempt to locate" his car, which was described as containing "three known anarchists."

The criminal charge was dismissed after tests showed Chinn had no alcohol or drugs in his system. Chinn sued last year, alleging false arrest and violations of his right to free speech.

The State Patrol has agreed to pay Chinn $109,000, and the city of Aberdeen and Grays Harbor County each will pay $30,000 toward the settlement. The three agencies have also agreed to pay his lawyer's fees, which the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) estimates at more than $375,000.

The ACLU took up Chinn's cause because it believes the case and other allegations suggest that spying on dissidents by local enforcement, at the behest of the military, "appears to be far more pervasive than we had thought," said ACLU spokesman Doug Honig.

A spokesman for Joint Base Lewis-McChord says the military did not provide any intelligence to law enforcement in the Chinn case.

In the spring of 2007, Chinn was a student at Evergreen and was involved in protesting the use of civilian ports for military purposes, according to one of his attorneys, Lawrence Hildes. Materiel intended for Iraq was being moved through the ports at Aberdeen, Olympia and elsewhere, and there had been a number of public protests.

Documents filed by Chinn's attorneys state that "state and local law-enforcement agencies, military entities and others" responded to the protests by developing "incident-action plans" aimed at disrupting them. The service branches involved allegedly include the Army, the Navy and the Coast Guard, according to court pleadings.

"Based on assumptions regarding individuals associated with anarchist philosophies, the Action Plan was designed to deter and prevent individuals believed to be 'anarchists' or associated with anarchists from participating in the anti-war demonstrations," according to the documents.

The lawsuit alleges that Chinn was under surveillance when he left his house in Olympia headed for a protest in Aberdeen on May 6, 2007.

Aberdeen Police Assistant Chief Dave Timmons acknowledged that his detectives had been watching Chinn and others as the city geared up to respond to the planned protest. Similar protests in Tacoma and Olympia earlier had turned violent, with arrests and vandalism, and Timmons said "we wanted to be aware of what their plans were."

Dow throws a party, mainly zombies attend

Bucolic Prospect park in Brooklyn, NY played host to a bizarre spectacle on Sunday, as a dramatically under-attended Dow-sponsored "Run for Water" was infiltrated and turned upside down by hundreds of furious activists, including a hundred dressed as Dow spokespeople.

New Yorkers who came to the park expecting a light run followed by a free concert found themselves unwitting extras in a macabre and chaotic scene as runners keeled over dead, Dow-branded grim reapers chased participants, and a hundred fake Dow representatives harangued other protesters and and handed out literature that explained Dow's greenwashing program in frank detail.

The actions called attention to Dow's toxic legacy in places like India (the Bhopal Catastrophe), Vietnam (Agent Orange) and Midland Michigan (Dioxin Contamination), and to the absurdity of a company with serious water issues all over the world sponsoring the Live Earth Run For Water.

After race cancellations in London, Milan, Berlin, and Sweden, on-site Dow brand managers were in damage-control mode. But their job was made harder by the hundred fake "Dow" spokespeople who loudly but clumsily proclaimed Dow's position ("Our race! Our earth!" and "Run for water! Run for your life!"), spoke with many runners, screamed at the other protesters, passed out beautifully-produced literature, and all in all looked a whole lot better than the real Dow reps, who seemed eager to make themselves scarce.

"I don't know what's going on here," said Tracey Von Sloop, a Queens woman who attended the race. "All I know is these people are both crazy, and Dow is f*ing sick. I'm outta here."

The event was the latest blow to Dow's greenwashing efforts, the most visible element of which is the "Human Element" multi-media advertising campaign, one of the most expensive, and successful, marketing efforts in recent history. It even won an "Effie Award" for the most effective corporate advertising campaign in North America.

"Effective," perhaps -- but also completely misleading. To name just a few examples of Dow's water-related issues: Dow refuses to clean up the groundwater in Bhopal, India, site of the largest industrial disaster in human history, committed by Dow's fully-owned subsidiary, Union Carbide. As a result, children continue to be born there with debilitating birth defects. Dow has also dumped hundreds of millions of pounds of toxic chemical byproducts into wetlands of Louisiana, and has even poisoned its own backyard, leaving record levels of dioxins downriver from its global headquarters in Midland, Michigan.

"We thought it must be a joke when we first heard that Dow Chemical Company was sponsoring a run for clean water," said Yes Woman Whitney Black. "Sadly, it was not. One of the world's worst polluters trying to greenwash its image instead of taking responsibility for drinking water and ecosystems it has poisoned around the world? What an awfully unfunny way to start off Earth Week. We decided the event needed a little comic relief."

Irony was piled on irony throughout the race, which Dow absurdly claimed was going to be "the largest solutions-based initiative aimed at solving the global water crisis in history." At one point, organizers were caught on tape dramatically throwing out excess water left over because of an embarrassingly low turnout.

Groups organizing the action included the Center for Health, Environment and Justice, the International Campaign for Justice in Bhopal, New York Whale and Dolphin Action League, the Vietnam Agent Orange Relief and Responsibility Campaign, the Wetlands Activism Collective, Global Justice for Animals and the Environment, Kids For A Better Future, The Yes Men, and hundreds of assorted volunteers, activists and mischief makers.

Monday, May 03, 2010

Milwaukee Considers Arizona Travel Ban

MILWAUKEE – When the Milwaukee Common Council meets Tuesday, Aldermen may consider a controversial proposal to boycott certain Arizona businesses because of that state’s new immigration law.

Supporters say the Arizona law helps law enforcement officers deal with illegal immigration. However, critics say the law encourages racial profiling. A draft of the Milwaukee resolution was introduced Monday. It calls for city employees to stop traveling to Arizona for conventions or other events. It also prevents the city from making “investments in financial institutions with companies based in or having a major presence in the State of Arizona.” Alderman Jim Witkowiak sponsored the measure, which also includes language to encourage the federal government to take action on immigration reform issues. Witkowiak said he was angry about the Arizona law. “Basically, what they’re proposing leaves the door open for possible racial profiling which is a thing of the past and I hope never gets resurrected,” he said. Witkowiak has the support of Voces de la Frontera, an advocacy group that sponsored a rally in Milwaukee on Saturday to denounce the Arizona law. “Sometimes, unfortunately, it does take hitting people in the pocket book to really get them to do the right thing,” said Voces de la Frontera executive director Christine Neumann-Ortiz. However, most alderman oppose the boycott portion of the resolution. “I think we need to take a better look at this before we decide to boycott it,” said Alderman Robert Puente. Mayor Tom Barrett also said he opposed the resolution. “We would be punishing people in Arizona who had no part of this. Instead, I’m going to put my resources and my energy into trying to urge the Federal government to address the immigration issue,” Barrett said. Late Monday, Witkowiak said he was considering revising the resolution to remove the sections about boycotting certain Arizona businesses. He indicated there was enough support on the common council to pass a resolution encouraging the federal government to take action but said there were not enough votes to pass economic sanctions against Arizona businesses.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Dnt Txt N Drv

Oprah Winfrey in the NY Times:
"WHEN I started out as a TV reporter in Nashville in 1973, a death from drunken driving was big news. One person killed by a drunken driver would lead our local broadcast. Then, as the number of drunken driving deaths across the country continued to rise, the stakes for coverage got even higher. One death wasn’t good enough anymore. Two deaths — that would warrant a report. Then a whole family had to die before the news would merit mention at the top of the broadcast. The country, all of us, had gotten used to the idea of drunken driving. I just kept thinking: How many people have to die before we “get it”?
Fortunately, we did get it, and since 1980, the number of annual traffic fatalities due to drunken driving has decreased to under 15,500 from more than 30,000. But in recent years, another kind of tragic story has begun to emerge with ever greater frequency. This time, we are mourning the deaths of those killed by people talking or sending text messages on their cellphones while they drive.
Earlier this month, I visited Shelley and Daren Forney, a couple in Fort Collins, Colo., whose 9-year-old daughter, Erica, was on her bicycle, just 15 pedals from her front door, when she was struck and killed by a driver who was distracted by a cellphone. I think about Erica’s death and how senseless and stupid it was — caused by a driver distracted by a phone call that just couldn’t wait.
Sadly, there are far too many stories like hers. At least 6,000 people were killed by distracted drivers in 2008, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, and the number is rising. A lot of good work already is happening to try to change this. President Obama signed an executive order banning texting while driving on federal business. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood is pushing for tougher laws and more enforcement. States are passing laws, too. Local groups are gaining strength, spurred by too many deaths close to home.
But we are hesitant to change. I saw this firsthand when I instituted a policy at my company that forbids employees from using their phones for company business while driving. I heard countless stories about how hard it was for people to stop talking and texting while driving. Everyone is busy. Everyone feels she needs to use time in the car to get things done. But what happened to just driving?"

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Toxic Airborne Fungus From Oregon Spreading Across West Coast



Cryptococcus gattii is an airborne fungus usually found in the tropics. But researchers announced today that new, deadly strains are thriving in Oregon, and spreading. These strains kill 25% of people who come into contact with them.

A paper published this afternoon in PLoS Pathogens offers details on the new strain of C. gattii, and how it came to the Pacific Northwest. After several local animals died from exposure to the airborne fungus, researchers realized that this wasn't an imported problem - the animals had lived their whole lives in Oregon, so they couldn't have been exposed in the tropics. There must be a local version of the toxic fungus. They gathered a sample and examined its genome, only to discover that this was a new strain of an already-virulent lifeform. They dubbed these strains VGII.

Said researcher Edmond Byrnes III:

This novel fungus is worrisome because it appears to be a threat to otherwise healthy people. Typically, we more often see this fungal disease associated with transplant recipients and HIV-infected patients, but that is not what we are seeing yet.
How did a tropical toxin wind up in Oregon? The researchers believe climate change may have something to do with it. Plus, these new strains are probably better adapted to the region. They likely evolved from an outbreak of C. gattii in British Columbia in 1999. The fungus then spread to Washington and Oregon.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Real-life Avatar - James Cameron speaks out against dam in Brazilian Amazon



A real-life Avatar conflict is playing out in the Brazilian Amazon as indigenous groups fight against the construction of a giant hydroelectric dam in the heart of the rainforest, the Oscar-winning director James Cameron has warned.

The planned Belo Monte dam, approved in February, has drawn fury from environmental and Indian groups who say it will destroy a vast area of rainforest and the way of life of dozens of indigenous communities.

As the Brazilian Government prepares to open the project to bids, the director of the sci-fi phenomenon has become an international champion of the campaign against it, and of the tribes which he says are ready to lay down their lives to protect their lands.

“I’m drawn into a situation where a real-life Avatar confrontation is in progress,” Mr Cameron said as he arrived in Brazil along with the film’s stars Sigourney Weaver and Joel David Moore. “What’s happening in Avatar is happening in Brazil and places like India and China, where traditional villages are displaced by big infrastructure projects,” he said, referring to the film’s depiction of a conflict on the fictional planet of Pandora between the Na’vi race and a human army bent on exploiting its minerals.

Mr Cameron attended protests in the capital, Brasilia, on Monday before travelling with the actors up the Xingu river, the Amazon tributary where the dam is planned, to visit indigenous communities.

He said Belo Monte was “going to be an ecological disaster” and insisted that “the knowledge of indigenous people, who learned how to live with nature” was one of Brazil’s greatest resources.

Mr Cameron is not the first celebrity to throw the international spotlight on to the project, originally planned 20 years ago but abandoned amid widespread criticism at home. That campaign was spearheaded internationally by the British rock star Sting, who returned to Brazil in November to urge the government to listen to tribal leaders.

The £11 billion dam would be the third largest in the world, with a generating capacity of 11 Gigawatts; a contribution the government says is vital to meeting rising energy needs. But critics note it will flood 500 square kilometres of rainforest and divert the river’s flow away from tens of thousands of indigenous people who depend on it for their survival. An estimated 20,000 people will be displaced.

Best places to spot UFOs

It was just another winter night in Stephenville, Texas, when Steve Allen, a 30-year aviation veteran, saw something that defied all logic—an eerily silent, mile-wide craft ringed in lights that would “rearrange themselves” racing across the sky at what he estimated to be 3,000 miles per hour.

“I don’t know if it was a biblical experience or somebody from a different universe, but it was definitely not from around these parts,” Allen told a reporter from the Empire-Tribune after the sighting on Jan. 8, 2008. Similar reports poured in from across Erath County.

The Stephenville Lights incident wasn’t a onetime event—another mass sighting followed in October 2008, and individual reports from the area still trickle in. This corner of Texas along with the eastern Nevada desert are fast emerging as the U.S.’s newest UFO “hot spots”—places with the best odds of a spotting. Similarly active places exist around the globe, with some even attracting a new kind of tourist.

These days, it seems people can’t get enough of the UFO phenomena. Television shows such as the History Channel’s UFO Hunters and alternative radio programs like Coast to Coast AM—where an estimated three million listeners tune in each night to hear from hardworking UFO investigators, among other thought-provoking interviewees—are more popular than ever.
Sightings, too, are on the rise, according to MUFON, or the Mutual UFO Network, which has more than 3,000 members in 25 countries and 750 trained field investigators worldwide. The 41-year-old organization is one of the go-to places to report a sighting; it receives some 400 a month in the U.S. alone.
“Of course, 80 percent of these sightings can be explained. But 20 percent are truly unidentified objects, and those are the ones that will make your hair curl,” says MUFON’s international director, Clifford Clift.
Believing the time is right, even the famed SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) Institute is conducting its first-ever public conference this year devoted to the age-old question: are we alone? SETIcon, slated for Aug. 13–15, in Santa Clara, Calif., will also unveil the institute’s newest scientific advances in its ongoing search for intelligent life from other planets.
“Using radio telescopes, we hope to trip across a planet with inhabitants clever enough to build radio transmitters,” says senior SETI astronomer Seth Shostak. “If we do so, then the proof won’t be limited to fuzzy photos, secret government documents, or personal anecdotes. It will be up in the sky—where anyone can check it out.”
Mexico City, for example, has been a near-constant sky-watch since the solar eclipse of 1991, when a UFO was captured on video among the cloud shadows. Since then, whole fleets—literally hundreds of unexplained lights—have appeared over the world’s largest city. Or take Warminster, England, near Stonehenge, where for the past 50 years nighttime overhead visitations and mysterious booming noises have been considered ho-hum normal.

Thursday, April 08, 2010

16-year-old accuses mom of Facebook slander

ARKADELPHIA, Ark. - The mother of a 16-year-old boy said she shut him out of his Facebookaccount after reading he had driven home at 95 mph one night because he was mad at a girl. His response: a harassment complaint at the local courthouse.

"If I'm found guilty on this it is going to be open season" on parents, Denise New, the mother, said Wednesday.

New, of Arkadelphia, Ark., said many of her son's postings didn't reflect well on him, so after he failed to log off the social networking site one day last month, she posted her own items on his account and changed his password to keep him from using it again.

"The things he was posting in Facebook would make any decent parent's eyes pop out and his jaw drop," Denise New said. "He had been warned before about things he had been posting."

Lane New, who lives with his grandmother, filed a complaint with prosecutors who approved a harassment charge March 26. His mother said she was doing what any good parent would do.

"Just because I don't have custody doesn't mean I don't care about him," Denise New said.

Neither New would say Wednesday which items on his Facebook site the boy had found slanderous.

"I probably made maybe three, maybe four actual postings — the rest of it was a conversation between my son, me and his personal friends," Denise New said.

In his handwritten complaint to prosecutors, Lane New wrote "Denise first hacked my Facebook and changed my password. She also changed the password to my e-mail so I could not change it. She posted things that involve slander and personal facts about my life."

Monday, March 29, 2010

As economy sours, vendors crowd Venice Beach

LOS ANGELES - Sand and surf are the least of the attractions making Venice Beach one of Los Angeles' top tourist draws.

On summer weekends, some 150,000 exhibitionists and gawkers flock to the neighborhood to see and be seen in a Bohemian rhapsody of bongo-bangers, dreadlocked artists and acrobatic gymnasts.

In recent months, though, that freewheeling hippie circus has gotten edgy thanks to a stubbornly sour economy heightening competition for the 200 peddler spaces along the 1.5-mile long asphalt strip bordering the beach.

That has longtime storeowners and artists steamed, and residents in the rapidly gentrifying neighborhood clamoring for a clamp down on the increased noise and transients.

"It's become a real free-for-all, really aggressive," said Therese Dietlin, who has distributed alternative political literature for nine years on the boardwalk, which is lined with cafes, medical marijuana clinics and souvenir shops.

Recently, she said, a woman selling Buddhas and incense kicked her table across the boardwalk claiming that Dietlin had set up her table in her space. "It never used to be like that," she said.

The city has responded with new rules to give more people a chance at a space on the strip, but the peak summer season looms more chaotic than ever.

For the first time, the city has been giving out all the vendor spaces in its weekly lotteries. People from as far away as New York and Florida are participating, said Victor Jauregui, senior director of the Venice Beach Recreation Center, which runs the lottery.

The number of performers wanting a spot has jumped by 80 percent over the past year, while the number of vendors has doubled. That's led to some boisterous raffles.

Man Files $530K Lawsuit Against Neighbor For Using WiFi, iPhone, Dimmer Switches

Beware your home electronics -- your phones, wireless routers, even your dimmer switches -- because they might be making your neighbor ill. Or at least that's what one man in New Mexico is saying in a lawsuit against a technology-loving former friend.

According to the plaintiff, he'd bought his current house in Santa Fe, NM, because it was the least likely one to trigger his "electromagnetic sensitivities." But then when a friend of his purchased the home that backed up to his property, he claims her constant use of electronics was causing him nausea, vertigo, aches, dizziness, arrhythmia and insomnia.

The plaintiff says he asked the defendant to curb her use of the devices he believed were triggering his sensitivity, but "basically, she refused."

So he's suing for $530,000.

For her part, the defendant says she attempted to comply with her friend's requests, but felt harassed.

"I decided to bring it all to an end, stop trying to accommodate a neighbor and attempted to start concentrating on my own life again," she said. "Being the target of this lawsuit has affected me very adversely... I feel as if my life and liberty are under attack for no valid reason, and it has forced me to have to defend my very basic human rights."

The Wisdom of Woz

The Wisdom of Woz
Why Apple's cofounder wants two iPads.

By Daniel Lyons | NEWSWEEK
Published Mar 26, 2010

Steve Wozniak stopped working at Apple in the late 1980s, but he's never stopped being a fan. Daniel Lyons caught up with Woz as he was driving through a snowstorm in Green River, Wyo., on his way to judge a high-school robotics competition.

What do you think of the iPad?
I'm out here on the road with four cell phones and two GPS devices, trying to look at maps, and I wish I had an iPad with me now.

The iPad will change the way you use computers, read books, and watch TV—as long as you're willing to do it the Steve Jobs way.

Do you think it will be a big hit?
The iPad could lower the cost of acquiring computers for students. I think it's going to be huge in the education market. Think about students going off to college. They want an Apple product, but their parents don't want to spend that much. Now they have the ideal thing. They can go to college and someone may have a whacked-out $6,000 laptop, but the guy with the iPad will get all the attention.

Who else is the target audience for this?
My wife's parents—they're not ready for the complicated computer world. They have these old computers. But the iPad simplifies things. It's like a restart. We all say we want things to be simpler. All of a sudden we have this simple thing.

What about you?
At first I thought, this is not for me. I have the iPhone for mobility and a computer for my computer life. With the iPhone there are certain things it just doesn't do well, mostly in browsing. It's horrible to navigate a map on an iPhone because of the screen size.

So have you ordered one?
I've ordered one for a friend. Then I ordered two for myself. One with the Wi-Fi and one with the 3G. And I'll go to the store on Friday night and wait in line, just for fun.


What phones do you have with you now?
I have two iPhones, a [Google] Nexus One, a [Motorola] Droid, plus a Garmin [GPS] and TomTom [GPS]. I turn them all on at the same time, plus the navigation system in my Prius.

Monday, March 22, 2010

The five most promising cost controls in the health-care bill

Ezra Klein in the Washington Post:
"It's hard to overstate how important the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) -- which makes the official judgments on how much bills cost and save -- is in Washington. But the rest of the country doesn't know what the CBO is, and it doesn't care. "Washington may live and die by the pronouncements of the Congressional Budget Office," wrote pollsters Doug Schoen and Scott Rasmussen in the Wall Street Journal, "but 81 percent of voters say it's likely [health care reform] will end up costing more than projected."

That's left Democrats in a worst-of-both-worlds situation: They've built a bill that Washington's toughest scorekeeper says will cut the deficit by more than a trillion dollars over 20 years. They're getting attacked for the taxes and Medicare reforms that save all that money. But the country doesn't believe the savings are real.

One of the problems Democrats have had is that it's very easy to understand the one thing the bill does to spend money -- purchase insurance for people who can't afford it -- and considerably harder to explain the many things it does to save money. Another is that a lot of the savings have to do with changing how medicine is practiced, which people are less familiar with than how insurance is purchased.

But the fact that the cost controls are complicated and numerous doesn't mean they're absent, or that they won't work. So here are five of the bill's best ideas, and how they're meant to work."

Friday, March 19, 2010

In Bid to Sway Sales, Cameras Track Shoppers

NYTimes.com: "The curvy mannequin piqued the interest of a couple of lanky teenage boys. Little did they know that as they groped its tight maroon shirt in the clothing store that day, video cameras were rolling.
At a mall, a father emerged from a store dragging his unruly young son by the scruff of the neck, as if he were the family cat. The man had no idea his parenting skills were being immortalized.
At an office supply store, a mother decided to get an item from a high shelf by balancing her small child on her shoulders, unaware that she, too, was being recorded.
These scenes may seem like random shopping bloopers, but they are meaningful to stores that are striving to engineer a better experience for the consumer, and ultimately, higher sales for themselves. Such clips, retailers say, can help them find solutions to problems in their stores — by installing seating and activity areas to mollify children, for instance, or by lowering shelves so merchandise is within easy reach.
Privacy advocates, though, are troubled by the array of video cameras, motion detectors and other sensors monitoring the nation’s shopping aisles.
Many stores and the consultants they hire are using the gear not to catch shoplifters but to analyze and to manipulate consumer behavior. And while taping shoppers is legal, critics say it is unethical to observe people as if they were lab rats. They are concerned that the practices will lead to an even greater invasion of privacy, particularly facial recognition technology, which is already in the early stages of deployment."

Monday, March 15, 2010

Religious, racial, sexual -- hate is hate

CHICAGO SUN-TIMES : "Opening shot ...
In the spring of 1760, a well-born Scottish lawyer named James Boswell, freshly minted from the University of Glasgow, ran off to London to seek his fortune.
It was a rash act for the heir to a sprawling estate called Auchinleck. But upon arrival in London, the 20-year-old Boswell did something even more reckless -- he secretly became a Catholic.
"Reckless" isn't merely my opinion -- here's how Frederick A. Pottle, Sterling professor of English at Yale University, described the potential repercussions of Boswell's conversion:
"If this submission to the Roman Church had become known, the consequences would have been very serious. As a professed Roman Catholic, Boswell could not have been an officer in the Army or Navy, could not have been a barrister or advocate, could not have been elected to Parliament or even have voted for a member, could not have held any place under Government; finally, could not have inherited the estate of Auchinleck."
Professor Pottle does not speculate as to whether Boswell could have attended a prom, but we can make an educated guess: No.
Arbitrarily deciding what people we dislike are permitted to do is, alas, a practice not confined to Georgian England.
Last week, Constance McMillen, 18, a senior in Mississippi, drew nationwide attention because her school district canceled the prom at Itawamba Agricultural High School rather than allow McMillen, a lesbian, to attend with her date.
This is actually progress, in that five years ago the school would have simply barred McMillen. But with legal rulings emphasizing that discrimination against blameless individuals is bad, even if you're discriminating against them because they're homosexuals, the district figured that scrapping the dance altogether was the safer route. Better to disappoint the entire senior class than allow one gay couple to dance unopposed.
This follows in the fine Southern tradition of clinging so tightly to old hatreds that, when the rule of law tries to pry your grip away, you prefer to lose your fingers before letting go."

Meet the people who are percolating in the Coffee Party

Atlanta, Georgia (CNN) -- In one chair sits a rural retiree, his financial security shot in the slump, a humble Southerner who's never thought much about politics. In another seat is a born Northerner, an inner-city native, a relative of a civil rights giant. And nearby, circling a table, are an economist, an artist, a onetime John McCain supporter and a long-haired guy who's rich in Woodstock memories.
Meet these members of the Coffee Party Movement, an organically grown, freshly brewed push that's marking its official kickoff Saturday. Across the country, even around the globe, they and other Americans in at least several hundred communities are expected to gather in coffeehouses to raise their mugs of java to something new.
They're professionals, musicians and housewives. They're frustrated liberal activists, disheartened conservatives and political newborns. They're young and old, rich and poor, black, white and all shades of other.
Born on Facebook just six weeks ago, the group boasts more than 110,000 fans, as of Friday morning. The Coffee Party is billed by many as an answer to the Tea Party (more than 1,000 fewer fans), a year-old protest movement that's steeped in fiscal conservatism and boiling-hot, anti-tax rhetoric.
This new group calls for civility, objects to obstructionism and demands that politicians be held accountable to the people who put them in office.
Are you at a Coffee Party gathering? Share your images, story
"The government has become so broken that the will of the people has been lost in the political game," said Stacey Hopkins, 46, coordinator of the Atlanta, Georgia, chapter. "And the only voices you're hearing are the ones of those who are screaming the loudest. They have a right to their views, but they don't have the right to speak for all Americans."
At a recent Coffee Party planning meeting at Manuel's Tavern, an Atlanta political institution, about 40 people gathered to speak for themselves. They brought their own stories of why they were there.
The one who was "never active in this stuff"
Politics? It never spoke to John Purser, who's preferred the simple life. At 69, he lives in a two-room house on a rural dirt road in Carroll County, drives a 26-year-old Ford pickup and takes odd jobs to get by. He cuts grass, chops wood and does handyman work. Earlier this week, he freed a bird from someone's house and "got paid with a bottle of whiskey," he said with a laugh.
He doesn't need much. Never has. But Purser, who worked in maintenance for Delta Airlines for 30 years, has seen the little security he might have had -- his retirement money, for example, and his home's value -- fall apart in recent years. And he just doesn't understand why some fancy executive should earn millions. His own daddy made $12 a week building roads for the Work Projects Administration during the Great Depression.
"Our country was a hell of a lot worse off then, and we came together, and we did something," he said. "I'm not that smart. I don't know the dollars and cents. But I'm just looking for something different."

Friday, March 12, 2010

Take your royalty checks, SoundExchange begs

LAtimes.com: "When John Boydston got an e-mail from SoundExchange saying he had several thousand dollars in unclaimed royalties, he did what most sensible people would do. He ignored it.
To the rock musician from Atlanta, "money for nothing" meant a song by Dire Straits, not a stranger contacting him out of the blue promising to cut him big checks.
But then he got the message again six months later. Curious, he called SoundExchange.
"Sure enough, they had a sizable amount of money for me," said Boydston, 51, whose band Daddy a Go Go includes his two teenage sons. "It was several thousand dollars. That's not a ton of money. But for a guy who makes CDs in his basement, it was enough to finance my next album."
Boydston's money came from royalties that SoundExchange has squirreled away on his behalf since 2001, when Congress created the nonprofit to collect royalties from digital music streams on Internet, satellite radio and cable television. So far, the group has distributed about $360 million to more than 45,000 artists and copyright holders.
But at any given time, about 25% of the money SoundExchange gets from online music services such as Pandora, XM Radio and Last.fm can't be distributed because the artists can't be tracked down. Currently, that amounts to about $50 million. And with the rising popularity of Internet radio, the cash pile has been growing, said John Simson, SoundExchange's executive director.
The problem stems from what Simson calls "bad data." Music services have been required by law since 2001 to send royalty payments to SoundExchange for the songs they stream online. But they often provide scant details. Stations routinely get promotional discs in the mail that aren't properly labeled, so the performers often go uncredited. Other times, music services keep sloppy records of the songs they play. Some tunes, for example, are titled "Unknown" and performed by "Various Artists.""