"God Bless the Dream, the Dreamer and the Result." 

Friday, October 31, 2008

Scariest Flicks for Halloween

It's Halloween, so grab the popcorn and scare yourself silly. Salon counts down ghoulish classics guaranteed to do the trick.

The Exorcist (1973): Despite the years and the hype, this tale of diabolical possession is still Hollywood's most ominous venture into the supernatural.
Halloween (1978): The movie that spawned countless psycho-slasher imitations remains the best of its kind.
The Shining (1980): That hotel is still the scariest place on Earth no matter how often it gets revisited.
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974): Possibly the scariest movie ever made, until the slaughter starts lunging into slapstick territory.
Night of the Living Dead (1968): George Romero's "zombie epiphany" is the unrivaled king of the undead genre.

Downturn Hammers Magazine Industry, Too

The economic downturn is taking its toll on magazines, forcing layoffs and budget cuts as publications face fewer advertising dollars, Women’s Wear Daily reports; the trouble is compounded as production costs soar while readers turn to the Internet. Magazine ad revenue fell 5% in the first three quarters of 2008, to $18.4 billion, with an 8.8% drop in the third quarter.

Condé Nast Publications will absorb Men’s Vogue into Vogue, and plans layoffs throughout its titles, which include Portfolio and the New Yorker. Time Inc. is cutting 600 jobs; McGraw-Hill has dropped 270. “I don’t care if this isn’t technically a recession yet—it is for us,” Time’s CEO said. And the forecast remains bleak for ad spending growth this year and next.

Undecided Voters Agree: Choosing Is Tough

Undecided voters want one thing from John McCain and Barack Obama: a reason to vote for one of them—or not. “I’m waiting for one of them to shoot himself in the leg,” one torn Floridian tells the LA Times. "I just don't trust politicians," says an Ohio auto worker. The 11th-hour deciders last made a difference in 1960, but they could prove vital once again.

Undecided voters constitute 6% of Florida’s electorate and 8% in Ohio—stats large enough to possibly tip the election but also rouse the ire of fellow voters. “I just don’t trust politicians,” said an Ohio union member, while a teacher sighed, “If somebody would just drop the act, drop the script, have a candid moment. If I could ever see that.”

JPMorgan Plans Relief for $110B in Mortgages

JPMorgan Chase will help distressed homeowners by reducing interest rates or principal balances for $110 billion in mortgages, Bloomberg reports. The restructuring applies to clients of Washington Mutual, which JPMorgan agreed to buy last month. Foreclosures will be suspended on all loans for the next 90 days while the relief efforts are implemented.

“We felt it is our responsibility to provide additional help to homeowners during these challenging times,” said a JPMorgan executive. The program is expected to help 400,000 families, in addition to 250,000 who have already received relief on their home loans. The bank will also open 24 counseling centers in states with high default rates.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Robin Hood, Beware: The Rich Get Poorer

Barack Obama and John McCain have sparred over the country’s income gap, but that gap is shrinking rapidly, Robert Frank writes in the Wall Street Journal. Financial crises always knock the rich down a peg, and this one is no different. One economist predicts the top 1%’s share of all income will fall to 18-19% during the next year, down from 23-24% last year.

Is growing equality good news? “Only if you don’t like rich people,” says one analyst. “It's not like their share decline brings improvements for the middle class.” Some say it’ll put a damper on calls to increase taxes on the rich, but it’s important to note that the rich usually bounce back—as was the case after the 1990 and 2000 recessions.

Turning Tricks, or 'Trick or Treat'?

No, your eyesight isn't hexed: Young girls really are dressing like French maids and prostitutes every Halloween. And their skirts will only get higher, because pop culture has drowned out any last echo of parental advice, author Diane E. Levin tells the Los Angeles Times. The co-author of So Sexy So Soon says that the ramifications of girls' pre-tween sexiness obsession go far beyond objectification at an early age.

As girls dress more like women, and women like girls, men are struggling to distinguish sexual boundaries. And parents are feeling increasingly at war with popular culture. How did we get here? Deregulation of television in the early 1980s, Levin says; with the boob tube so dominant, parents' only in is to "help children make sense" of pop culture, "not just to give them the 'right' answers, but to hear what they have to say about it too."

Cell-Seeking Man Traps Arm in Train Toilet

Talk about a dropped call: a man got his arm stuck in a French train toilet yesterday trying to retrieve his cell phone, the BBC reports. The high-speed commuter train was stopped for 2 hours as firemen sawed through pipes. They carried the 26-year-old out on a stretcher, "with his hand still jammed in the toilet bowl, which they had to saw clean off," one witness said.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Life Giving You Lemons? Buy a White Shirt

Seeing red in the markets and less green in their wallets, many newly unemployed businessmen are opting for white in their wardrobe, the Telegraph reports. Sales of white shirts are rising at London clothiers as consumers opt for a fresh start amidst economic turmoil. “A plain white shirt sends out the message that you are astute, professional and flexible, “ said one industry expert.

One retailer noticed a 50% spike in whites shirt sales since August. “The 1980s Gordon Gekko look is dead,” said one store manager, referring to the blue shirt/white collar hybrid Michael Douglas made famous in Wall Street. Some customers will always prefer bold looks, but “plain white, plain blue or Bengal stripes seems to be what is in favor.”

Six Key Misconceptions About Women Voters

The campaigns are desperate to know what makes women voters tick, but much political thinking is still marred by gross misconceptions about the key group. MSNBC lists the most egregious:

Women are a homogenous voting bloc. Not only do they not share a common geography, attitude or philosophy, but even categories like “soccer mom” and “security mom” fail to accurately capture the groups they describe.
Women vote less often. While unmarried females vote less than their married counterparts, women vote more often than men.
Women favor female candidates. The so-called “affinity effect” is the most persistent misconception about women voters, but analysis of congressional races shows women care more about party affiliation than gender.
The "gender gap" is growing. Identified when women preferred Bill Clinton to Bob Dole by a dozen points. Polls suggest it will shrink, even to zero, in this race.
Women drive the gender gap. In fact, men have been getting more conservative over the past 25 years.
Women only care about “women’s issues.” Men and women generally care about the same issues—Iraq in ’04, the economy today.

Vikings Recast as Cultured Fashionistas

Vikings were just as interested in preening and handicrafts as they were in war and pillaging, the Telegraph reports. In a bid to educate youngsters who could well have Viking ancestry, British researchers are trying to change the popular view of the Norse explorers. "It seems that the Vikings may not have been as hairy and dirty as is commonly imagined," says a Cambridge University guide.

“The truth is that their culture was very artistic and they were keen to make an impression because they (wanted) to cultivate a certain look,” a Cambridge professor said. They wore baggy pants and jewelry (no horned helmets) and were well groomed. A burial ground unearthed in England shows they were interred with weapons, but also with crafts and riding equipment. “They were a settled and remarkably civilized people,” said an archaeologist.

Top Cars We Should Scrap

The possibility that one of Detroit's Big Three automakers is headed for the scrap heap left US News and World Report wondering which cars Americans could live without. Here are some top candidates:

Jeep Commander: This boxy model gets 16 mpg and it shows: sales are down 55%.
Dodge Durango: Even the hybrid version of this SUV hasn't stopped sales from falling an astonishing 54%.
Suzuki Forenza: So bland that you're forgiven if you've never noticed one on the road.
Dodge Nitro: Despite its decent mileage, it can't keep up with competition from Honda or Toyota.
Buick LaCrosse: This car still comes with optional porthole-style windows. Enough said.
Chevy Trailbla

Docs Stop Taking Insurance, Offer 'Boutique' Care

Increasing numbers of doctors are bagging the insurance model to offer much better service to fewer patients, at a much higher cost, the Baltimore Sun reports. Many doctors are struggling to pay their own bills, and the quality of service they offer patients is suffering. But such “boutique” care threatens to create two separate medical systems. “I just think it’s morally wrong,” says one patient.

“Primary-care doctors are seeing 30 to 40 patients a day—that's too many. It's not about the money. It's about having the time to spend with your patients to keep them healthy,” says one internist. While it’s unknown exactly how many doctors have switched, there were 146 boutique doctors nationwide in 2005. Now, there are at least 260 in just 24 states and Washington, D.C.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

No, Blogging Isn't Dead

A recent Wired magazine article argued that blogging is out, that mainstream media have taken the practice over, and one-time bloggers have moved on to social networking tools like Twitter, Facebook, and Flickr. Not so, responds Allyson Kapin on Fast Company. Witness the 175,000 new blogs created daily and 570,000 posts a day.

Investors are still pouring money into blogs, too, and analysts project the big blog hosts to pull in $300 million this year. “Twitter and things like it are a moment in a timestream,” says one social-media expert. “Blogs are a bit more anchored, and allow us to stay within a context. The other tools are good, but they don't replace blogging.”

Everything Must Go: Hard Times Create Yard Sale Boom

Yard sales are on the rise nationwide as the economy heads for the cellar, the New York Times reports. Flyers for sales cover lampposts in formerly booming communities as struggling homeowners seek to raise cash from selling off all the non-essentials—even children's toys. Many of the bargain-hunters are in equally dire straits themselves.

"You can get great deals,” said one shopper. "Sad to say … Because everybody’s losing their homes.” So big is the current boom in yard sales that some communities have restricted the number of sales a household can have per year. But experts say that with all the goods Americans accumulated during the 20-year-boom, the deals won't end any time soon.

Prenatal Screening Advances Create Agonizing Choices

Advances in prenatal screening have given parents-to-be a clearer window into the health of their unborn children—and the dramatic increase in information can lead to wrenching choices. Tests are now able to detect many genetic disorders—but they are not always reliable, or able to predict specific outcomes, the Wall Street Journal reports. That can lead to awful dilemmas for parents deciding whether to continue a pregnancy.

The Journal tells the story of a couple who were told that their unborn son had a rare genetic condition that could kill him before he was a year old. The father and doctors encouraged termination, but the mother, a Catholic who regretted an earlier abortion, argued that the diagnosis could be wrong. The baby is now 20 months old, and his new geneticist has confirmed the mother’s belief. But the child's health is precarious, he is significantly disabled, and the burden on the family has been overwhelming.

Bailout Expands to Include Big Insurers

The Treasury’s bailout is moving beyond banks to include major insurance firms hurt by bad investments, the Washington Post reports. Companies such as MetLife, the Hartford, and Prudential hope to be covered in the plan, under which the government would provide money in exchange for ownership stakes. Big insurers provide a safety net for a variety of transactions, so the consequence would be far-reaching if one collapsed.

The move was needed in part to prevent worried investors from leaving insurance firms for companies, such as banks, that were already included in the bailout. Meanwhile, AIG has said it may need federal support beyond the $123 billion it has received as it attempts to recover from backing bad mortgage investments. If insurance companies need backing, what’s “the next domino to fall?” asks an analyst.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Airfares May Sag in '09: Report

The slumping economy may bring some good to the travel industry: Domestic airfare and hotel rates could fall next year as strapped individuals and companies think twice about globetrotting. A slash in oil prices, down to half of summer’s record high, has also brought airlines relief, Reuters reports. In its annual forecast, American Express sees declining demand as travel budgets become a “boardroom issue.”

Outsourcing Still Alive and Well

Reports of the death of outsourcing have been greatly exaggerated, three specialists in the field write in strategy+business. While a few big companies such as Dell and Apple have scaled back on customer service operations overseas, these decisions remain the exception to the rule, no matter what you read in the mainstream business press. The practice simply makes too much economic sense to disappear.

Three-fourths of 600 US companies said they plan to increase customer service outsourcing for a host of reasons, including rising fuel prices and a lack of skilled workers in this country. Yes, the costs of offshore labor are rising, but the "sheer number of new entrants into the skilled labor pool in developing countries will keep offshore labor prices competitive relative to the US for the foreseeable future."

Trendy Pomegranates Have a Downside, Too

Those five bottles of pomegranate juice you drink per day to help you live longer? Turns out they could be hurting you, reports the Chicago Tribune. Pomegranates, which have reached “superstar status” because of their alleged health benefits, can interfere with a number of drugs, including Crestor and Lipitor. "I do not recommend this product at this time," said one pharmacy professor.

Advocates of the “it” fruit cite studies showing the juice can decrease cholesterol and slow cancer. One large pom-juice maker spent millions on research, including a study seeming to disprove claims of the fruit’s danger. Doctors warn, however, that more study is needed. For now, you should keep your intake low: health benefits can be attained from one 8-ounce glass daily.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Iran Nabs 'Spying' Pigeons

Two pigeons are under arrest in Iran after the alleged avian spies were found hovering near the nation's uranium-enrichment plant at Natanz, the Telegraph reports. The first, a black one, was caught wearing espionage gear—a metal ring held by “invisible” strings. The birds may have been communicating what they saw of Tehran's controversial underground nuclear facility.

Turkish UFO Video Deemed 'Genuine'

Video taken of strange objects in the night sky over Turkey has been deemed authentic by UFO researchers there, the Sun reports. A night watchman shot the video over multiple nights earlier this year, and it shows hovering craft and strange constellations of lights. A UFO researcher who verified the tape says “physical forms of UFOs and their metallic structures are clearly noticeable.”

What’s more, the researcher said, “in the close-up of some footages of the objects, entities in them can be distinctly made out.” The institute that carried out the verification said no fakery or computer animation was involved. The man who turned in the two-hour tape was overjoyed. “I was very excited when I saw them and I want the world to know that UFOs do exist.”

Crisis May Cost World 20M Jobs

The financial sector is slashing workers, and Silicon Valley employees are dropping like prices on last year's iPod. What industry is next? All of them, Moira Herbst writes in BusinessWeek. Every company relies on credit and consumer purchasing power, making this an “equal-opportunity recession,” a staffing agent says. The damage could be 20 million jobs globally, Reuters adds.

Construction, real estate, financial, and auto companies will be worst hit as jobs disappear next year. Various governments and agencies are scrambling to pump resources into the global economy to mitigate this crisis, which could break a global unemployment record. Countries with strong domestic markets, like China, are expected to fare better than those immersed in the globalized economy.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Tip Your Hats to Tampa

The improbable has happened. The Tampa Bay Rays have ousted the defending champion Red Sox. Sportswriters, start your fawning:

The Rays won this thing with “talent, talent, talent,” which trumps experience every time, writes Bob Ryan in the Boston Globe. “The best team in the American League is going to the World Series.”
Besides, the Rays played like grizzled veterans, writes George Vecsey of the New York Times, thanks to a “lineup full of heroes doing the big things and the small things.”
"With everyone expecting them to fold under the weight of the memory of that horrible collapse at Fenway Park, the Rays came up bigger than ever," writes Marc Lancaster of the Tampa Tribune.
As for Red Sox Nation? They’ll be okay; 2004’s World Series counted for a lot. “Now, an October loss is just a loss,” writes Seth McAdams of the Boston Herald. “The Red Sox go home, spirits down, heads high.”

Man Jailed After Tryst With Car-Wash Vacuum

A 29-year-old Michigan man was been jailed over the weekend for “receiving sexual favors from a vacuum” at a car wash, the Saginaw News reports. The policeman who—responding to a call of “someone acting suspicious”—discovered the man in the act said, “I've seen some strange things, but this is the weirdest thing I ever heard.”

Himalaya Adventurers Find 'Yeti Tracks'

The legendary abominable snowman of the Himalayas remains camera-shy, but a Japanese team has made a breakthrough, discovering what the lead researcher says are yeti footprints. "Myself and other team members have been coming to the Himalayas for years and we can recognize bear, deer, wolf and snow leopard prints and it was none of those," Yoshiteru Takahashi told AFP upon his team's return from a 6-week mission.

"The footprints were about 20 centimeters long and looked like a human's," he said of the 8-inch imprints.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Painting Price Spells Gloom for Economy

A Lucian Freud painting expected to sell for more than $12 million at Christie’s today went for only $9.4 million, a sign that even super-rich buyers of contemporary art are cutting back in the financial crisis, the Daily Telegraph reports. The art world anxiously awaited the sale of Freud’s portrait of Francis Bacon, a potential harbinger of future demand for high-end art.

“There is a lot of apprehension in the trade,” an art insurance company spokesman told the Independent before the sale. Art sales have been tough elsewhere, too. Last week at Sotheby’s, Andy Warhol’s series of skulls sold for $7.4 million, falling short of the expected $8.6 million bid. Sotheby’s total art sales on Friday were almost $14 million less than predicted

Bankers to Reap $70B Despite Crash

Wall Street’s top banks are set to pay their financial workers more than $70 billion in salary and bonuses this year—a tenth of the $700 billion in taxpayer money committed to the bailout—despite the huge drops in share price and cash shortages they are experiencing, the Guardian reports. Morgan Stanley, for example, will dole out $10.7 billion, which at one point last week was more than the bank’s market value.

One bank source said that while the payouts would seem high to a “normal person,” the bonuses are all performance-based. But critics say firms with shaky capital positions shouldn’t dump billions into bonus pools. The CEO and top traders at Germany’s Deutsche Bank, for example, are waving millions in payouts. “It may well be that by the end of the year the banks start to review the situation,” said one source.

Economy May Cripple Chicago Spire Project

The sputtering economy could topple plans to erect the nation’s tallest skyscraper, reports the Chicago Tribune. Consultants on the construction of the Chicago Spire have filed liens, with celebrity architect Santiago Calatrava seeking more than $11.3 million and a Chicago-based firm demanding $4.85 million. The developer’s spokesman acknowledged the economy’s effect on the project, calling the market “the 800-pound gorilla in the room.”

But “these guys have been paid well,” she added, insisting sales at the Spire, which would be one of the world’s tallest buildings, are going “very well.” More than 30% of its units have been sold. Along with the city’s bid to host the 2016 Summer Olympics, the Spire marks Chicago’s aspirations to become a global city.

How Green Is Too Green?

How far would you go to reduce your ecological footprint? Would you run your car on waste vegetable oil? Use your lawn as a bathroom to save water? Huddle for body heat? Unplug the fridge? Some 7% of the population is “dark green,” the New York Times reports, though the jury’s still out on whether the so-called "carborexics" are eco-heroes or borderline obsessive-compulsive.

One man is keeping all the trash he generates in a year and blogging about the pileup, while another is working on a movie and book on spending a year without harming the planet. “What these people are doing is fantastic, needed, and catalytic,” an environmental author says. A psychiatrist, however, worries that it’s a sign of disorder—if “you’re criticizing friends because they’re not living up to your standards of green, that’s a problem.”

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Teens Acting Out Ninja Turtles Get Lost in NY Sewer

Ninja Turtles they ain’t: Three teenagers pretending to be the mutated heroes in a Queens sewer got lost and had to be rescued by firefighters yesterday, the New York Daily News reports. “These three idiots were playing Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and wanted to go into the sewers,” said a police source. The two boys above 16 are being charged with criminal trespassing.

Joe the Plumber's Story Line Springs a Few Leaks

Tired of Joe the Plumber? His life has been turned upside since he became an unintentional media celebrity, the New York Times notes. Among the odds and ends:

He is a single father, 34, whose real name is Samuel J. Wurzelbacher.
He does plumbing work for a contractor but is not a licensed plumber. Ohio doesn't require it, but Toledo does. He works in Toledo and lives in its suburbs.
He owes nearly $1,200 in back taxes.
Explaining why he initially challenged Obama: “You know, I’ve always wanted to ask one of these guys a question and really corner them." He complained that he "still got a tap dance," adding, "almost as good as Sammy Davis Jr.”
He called Social Security "a joke" and said: "I have parents. I don't need another set of parents called the government."

FBI Opens Preliminary ACORN Probe

The FBI is investigating whether the community activist group ACORN helped foster voter registration fraud around the nation. A senior law enforcement official says the agency is looking at results of recent raids on ACORN offices in several states for any evidence of a coordinated national scam. The group denies such a conspiracy, though it has acknowledged that some employees—now fired—handed in falsified forms with names such as "Mickey Mouse."

ACORN, the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, says it has registered 1.3 million young people, minorities, and poor and working-class voters for this year's election. Most tend to be Democrats, and Republicans, including John McCain, have blasted the group and criticized Barack Obama for his ties to it. At least 8 states are investigating.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Powell Busts a Move at Concert for Africa

Colin Powell wowed the crowd at a concert showcasing African music in London last night by singing and dancing with a Nigerian hip-hop band, the Daily Telegraph reports. Before climbing on stage, the former secretary of state made a speech highlighting his African-American heritage and calling on the world to help Africa prosper through trade.

"I never thought I would see Colin Powell dance Yahoozee," said the organizer of the Africa Rising festival. "He showed that common touch.”

Working-Class Anger May Boil Over Soon

For a while now, the divide between rich and poor has gotten bigger, but it "hasn't sparked an outright political revolt," writes Reihan Salam in the Atlantic. That could change soon. Our fragile, 20-year "consumption compromise"—the era of cheap goods and cheap credit keeping economic discontent at bay among the working class—has come undone. With the cost of living rising and workers feeling the pinch, a frustrated electorate is looking for a man with a plan—and coming up short.

Sure, the GOP promises to "Drill, Baby, Drill" to lower gas prices, but "what will they do to address skyrocketing food prices and health care premiums," writes Salam. As for the Dems' promise of redistribution, "can an increased flow of transfers keep up with the rising cost of a middle-class life without choking off economic growth?" It won't do the right or the left much good to try to restore the consumption compromise; it's time for them to "do nothing less than rethink our way of life."

Phillies Head to World Series

Jimmy Rollins got the Phillies rollin' with a leadoff homer, and they kept right on going. Next stop, the World Series. Rollins homered in the first inning, Cole Hamels pitched his third gem of the playoffs, and Philadelphia beat the bumbling Los Angeles Dodgers 5-1 tonight to win the NL championship series 4-1 for its first pennant since 1993.

The NL East champions took advantage of three errors by shortstop Rafael Furcal in the fifth inning and shrugged off another home run by Manny Ramirez. Now, the Phillies go for their second World Series title beginning Wednesday night at Tampa Bay or Boston. The Rays lead the Red Sox 3-1 in the ALCS, which resumes Thursday night at Fenway Park.

Watch for These Layoff Signs

More than 750,000 American jobs vanished this year, and more cuts are likely amid the current crisis. MarketWatch offers red flags that a pink slip is coming:

Colleagues get fired: You are not immune, even if your boss says so.
Training budgets dwindle: They are "not sure if everyone is going to be there," a career manager says.
Job postings disappear on Internet sites.
Budget woes, especially at publicly traded companies: If the firm misses targets, cutbacks help the bottom line.
The gossip mill churns. Yes, take it with a grain of salt, but pay attention.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Sinking 401(k)s Raise Debate on How to Save

Tumbling stock markets have cracked open the piggy bank that many Americans use to store retirement savings—401(k) accounts—sparking fresh debate about how best to save money, the Washington Post reports. Supporters argue that 401(k)s offer bigger rewards than traditional pensions, which are less exposed to market turbulence. But they lose more on average too—between 7.2% and 11.2% over the last year.

Critics argue that plummeting 401(k)s hurt the economy in other ways, like forcing people to work past age 65, freezing young people out of the job market. "That has a perverse effect on the business cycle," one analyst said. Either way, experts advise against pulling out of your 401(k) unless you can't sleep at night. Hold on tight, they say, until you regain your losses.

Missing Airbags Threaten Drivers of Used Cars

Used-car buyers, beware: Missing or ruined air bags are posing a threat to unsuspecting drivers’ lives, an NPR investigation finds. Some dealerships put greed over safety and sell cars that have been in accidents without replacing the protective pouches. Instead, they may stick faulty air bags back in the car, or jam paper or beer cans in the empty compartment.

Air-bag fraud often means a little extra cash for dealerships, which sometimes charge insurance companies for airbags they don’t replace, or bill customers for bags they promptly return to suppliers unused. “We have a life-and-death scam on our hands,” says a watchdog. But while the practice has killed several drivers, there’s no official tally showing the magnitude of the problem, he adds.

What to Play When You're Poor

No matter how bad the current financial situation gets, popular music offers something to ease your woes. Hope you haven't pawned that iPod just yet: the LA Times brings you the best in recession-tastic classics:

"Can't Buy Me Love" (Beatles): Single, former Lehman Bros workers will be spinning this one in heavy rotation.
"Fortunate Son" (Creedence Clearwater Revival): It could be worse—you could be broke and drafted...
"Atlantic City" (Bruce Springsteen): ...or hooking up with some unscrupulous characters in Jersey...
"The Israelites" (Desmond Dekker): ...or as bad off as an ancient Hebrew slave...
"Coal Miner's Daughter" (Loretta Lynn): ...or, well, you know.
"Career Opportunities" (The Clash): But the Brits have a point: having no job is better than having a crappy one...right?

Sunday, October 12, 2008

How-To Films for Tough Times

Nothing lifts a Great Depression like a visit to the talkies. Gawker recommends 20 films to watch on your iPhone while standing in tomorrow's bread lines—assuming you haven't already sold your iPhone.

It's a Wonderful Life: How to survive a bank run, and have a Merry Christmas.
Grapes of Wrath: Your Ugg boots won't help you on that long march.
Ironweed: Pick up tips on Depression-era love, even if Jack Nicholson and Meryl Streep do get a little nasty.
Bonnie & Clyde: For a look at a different kind of bank bailout.
Paper Moon: Take notes—you may need tips from this conman and his wily daughter one day.
O Brother Where Art Thou: In case you ever flee prison and have to live off your golden tonsils.
Hallelujah I'm a Bum: And who isn't these days?

Space Tourist Video Gamer Blasts Off

US video game magnate Richard Garriott blasted off into space today aboard a Russian rocket—and all it cost him was $35 million. The "space tourist" was cheered on by his father, a one-time NASA astronaut, Reuters reports. "I can see he is really enjoying it like a little kid in a candy shop," said Garriott's girlfriend. The craft is already in orbit and will dock with the International Space Station in two days.

After ten days in space Garriott will return to earth aboard a Soyuz re-entry capsule which has malfunctioned on its last two flights. "We are a symbol of what people can be doing working together. In space there is no room for politics," said Garriott, referring to tensions between Russia and the US.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Native Americans Seek Wealth From the Wind

Native Americans own some of America's most wind-rich land, and tribal leaders in South Dakota and elsewhere are working to harness the natural power to cash in on the alternative energy boom, the New York Times reports. If they are successful, the projects could work transformations similar to those casinos did elsewhere. "The same thing that brought the buffalo brings the wind,” said a leader of the Rosebud Sioux. "The wind is a gift."

The Rosebud, whose members have an annual income of $7,700 each, are poised to sign a deal to open a wind farm after 5 tortured years of negotiations with a non-Indian developer. And now federal officials can point to the deal as a model for other tribes. "It could be huge," said a liaison with the Energy Department.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Chicago Sheriff Halts Evictions

A Chicago lawman is going to stop enforcing foreclosure evictions because they’re unfair to renters, the Chicago Tribune reports. Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart has a huge and growing eviction list but is refusing to carry out any more mortgage-foreclosure evictions until lenders first figure out who’s actually living at foreclosed properties. Foreclosure evictions in Cook County have more than doubled since 2006.

"The people we're interacting with are, many times, oblivious to the financial straits their landlord might be in," said Dart, who says he is willing to take the risk of being found in contempt of court. "They are the innocent victims here, and they are the ones all of us must step up for and find some way to protect."

Wary Consumers Spell Trouble for Retailers

With the holiday season looming, retailers' only hope may be a genuine Christmas miracle. In reports on last month's business, 71% of retailers missed sales and profits estimates, making it the worst September since data collection began in 2000, MarketWatch reports. Experts widely attributed the dismal numbers to the struggling economy and a dearth of credit, while some stores blamed disastrous weather for low traffic. Only value and off-label stores beat expectations.

“The recent disruptions in the credit and financial markets have had a negative impact on the consumer,” one executive said, explaining his firm’s poor performance. An analyst was clearer: “Consumers are bracing for recession,” he said. The deteriorating economic situation bodes ill for holiday sales, which make up nearly one-fifth of annual totals, the Washington Post reports.

New 'Top-Dog' Careers for Out-of-Work Bankers

Now that the investment-banking party is over, what are all those hotshot bankers going to do? Bloomberg's Matthew Lynn takes a look at potential new "top-dog" careers:

African development. The pioneers who nurture African nations’ industry and infrastructure will be rewarded by the continent’s mineral resources and huge agricultural potential.
Advertising. The industry needs to be restructured to reflect the growing dominance of Internet ads over traditional print and TV.
Water. Storing and distributing the stuff will be a huge challenge in coming years, and those with effective solutions will be in demand.
Live Events. Music is less about the record store and more about the concert these days. New technology lets us stay home, but humans will always want to be social—and willing to pay to go out.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Alsatian Wine Takes Sweet Turn

Fifteen years ago, a few Alsatian wines were sweet, and the rest were dry. But "dry Alsace wines have taken a turn to the sweet side, usually without warning to consumers," Eric Asimov writes in the New York Times. The change occurred at both ends of the market: cheaper wines are being artificially sweetened, and better vintages, using traditional practices, are simply bottling what riper grapes produce.

The rise in sweetness prompted an attempt by the French government to regulate sugar content, but the limits for Alsatian wines are so high they likely won’t make a difference. Some producers are voluntarily rating their wines, but the methods are so obscure that an unwitting oenophile will likely be in the dark. Asimov’s advice? “Know the producer well.”

BlackBerry Storms Onto Touch-Screen Market

Hoping to broaden its corporate image and dethrone the iPhone, Research in Motion unveiled its first touch-screen smart phone today, reports CRN. The BlackBerry Storm will be available later this fall on Verizon’s US network, RIM said. The phone features a unique “clickable” touch screen that depresses slightly and releases with a click, giving it more of a traditional keyboard feel.

"We have seen a lot of me-too products in the touch-screen market—the Storm is clearly differentiated and it reinvents the touch screen," said a telecom consultant to MarketWatch. Like the iPhone, the Storm will have a motion sensor so it can switch between “landscape” and “portrait” modes as the user rotates the handset.

Feds May Take Part Ownership of US Banks

The Treasury Department may take part ownership of many US banks in a bid to encourage lending and shore up confidence, the New York Times reports. Under the proposal, Treasury would give banks cash in exchange for ownership stakes. In theory, that would improve balance sheets and help banks lend to one another and to consumers. The danger is that it could feed the notion of failing banks, or punitive action, and further alarm shareholders.

The $700 billion bailout plan gives Treasury's Henry Paulson, who warned today that the "turmoil will not end quickly" and that more banks will fail, the authority to take such ownership stakes, even in institutions not in dire straits. The plan is gaining favor in Washington and on Wall Street, the Times notes, and resembles one announced by the British government today.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Barenaked Brit Skinny-Dips at Tokyo Palace

A naked Westerner jumped into the moat surrounding Japan’s fortified imperial palace today, Reuters reports, climbing its walls during a chase that lasted more than an hour. Onlookers giggled and snapped photos of the 40-year-old bald man, who claimed to be a British tourist from Spain. He was captured and released; “We are checking on his mental condition now,” a spokesman said.

Forget Snakes: Penguins Get Their Plane Ride

The wayward penguins marooned on Brazil's beaches got a one-way ticket home over the weekend, but ferrying hundreds of birds 2,000 miles is no simple feat, explains Nina Shen Rastogi in Slate. After being fed and tagged, 399 Magellanic penguins were crated and loaded aboard an Air Force plane for a journey to southern Atlantic waters, with military personnel, veterinarians, and biologists in tow.

The trip south turned out easier than the voyage to Brazil: while hundreds washed ashore dead, all survived the journey home. But the adventure isn't over. Officials held 100 birds back after an inspection that “involved checking their weight and the condition of their lungs, mouth, feet, and eyes as well as making sure their feather covers were still waterproof.”