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

Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Top Films of the Year

With most year-end movie lists bask in the glow of award-season contenders, Dana Stevens grudgingly runs through her unranked, alphabetized top 10 on Slate, despite being "allergic to hierarchies, lists, and ranking."

A Christmas Tale: A French film about a crazed family that's "a glorious feast of a movie, with the bitter served right next to the sweet."
The Class: A "whip-smart vérité film about a Parisian teacher" that is only for people who " happen to be interested in love, loyalty, race, class, language, or life."
The Edge of Heaven: It's "everything Crash and Babel should have been."
Encounters at the End of the World: Werner Herzog's take on the South Pole's McMurdo research station is "an invaluable tour of one of the weirdest spots on earth"
Man on Wire: The 1974 tightrope walk between the two World Trade Centers, "was simple and yet breathtaking—just like this documentary."

Just How Bad Was 2008?

If you're under the age of 70, 2008 was probably the worst year you've lived through, reports Bloomberg. Here's why:

In housing, which started the downturn, median resale prices saw a 13% decline, the largest since the 1930s.
Foreclosure rates reached 2.97%, and mortgage delinquency hit 6.99%, both records for the Mortgage Bankers Association, whose statistics go back 29 years.
The securitization of unreliable home loans spread their distress to financial firms, toppling Bear Steans (which survived the '29 crash), Lehman Brothers and Merrill Lynch.
Freezing credit slowed spending, which hammered corporate profits which in turn hammered stocks: the Dow and S&P 500 are down 34% and 39%, respectively, the worst yearly loss since 1931.
US job losses may hit 2.3 million for the year, the most since 1945.
Speaking of the world, China's exports saw their first decline in 7 years; India's took a 12% hit.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Groups Go High-Tech in Push for Obama Jobs

Special interest groups eager to cement plum spots in the Obama administration are using private websites and online databases to angle for positions, Politico reports. Instead of tossing their résumés onto the pile at Change.gov, savvy applicants are casting their lots with these groups, which pore over the resumes and pitch the cream of the crop. There’s no sign it’ll work, but in a field of 320,000 applicants, any edge helps.

Top applicants are seeking endorsements from multiple groups, answering questions online, and otherwise opening themselves up to public scrutiny. “You are going to have to put together a campaign to get into the administration,” said the executive director of the National Women’s Political Caucus, one of 20 women’s groups holding an online résumé drive. “You have to be shameless, really.”

Smiling, Frowning Is Hardwired Into Genes: Study

Facial expressions from smiling to sneering are dictated by human genes that all of us share, a new study suggests. Researchers examined the facial expressions on thousands of photographs of blind and sighted athletes at the 2004 Athens Paralympic Games and the 2004 Athens Olympic Games. They discovered that no matter whether athletes could see or not, victors adopted similar wide grins and losers similar frowns or polite, tight-lipped smiles.

The findings cast doubt on theories that facial expressions are learned and may indicate that universal human expressions arose through evolution, scientists say. "It's possible that in response to negative emotions, humans have developed a system that closes the mouth so that they are prevented from yelling, biting or throwing insults," said one of the researchers, whose work is published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Bright Spots for Tech in 2008

2008 wasn’t a great year for tech or the economy, but some gadget-makers did invest in innovation, the San Jose Mercury News reports. Areas where tech made more than token gains:

Digital cameras grow up: Not only are consumer cameras getting sharper, but some professional models can now record video.
Gaming shows a feminine side: More than half of Wii users are women.
The "digital living room" gets closer: Products by Sling Media and streaming Netflix service bring more of the Internet to your TV.
Smartphones become mini-computers: Apple's App store and a similar effort by Google make customizing your handheld easy and rewarding.
Social networking rises to the top: Not only did the Obama campaign employ the Web to orchestrate victory, but regular old sites like Facebook saw membership skyrocket.

Best in Show: 10 Canine Classics

Man's best friend has been a pet industry in Hollywood for years, drawing fans of cute doggies and horrifying hell hounds alike. Time picks their top canine classics:

Lassie Come Home (1943): In the film before the series, Lassie escapes to reunite with her original owner, braving bad weather, evil people, and British cuisine.
Lady and the Tramp (1955): The story of working-class Tramp giving up his streetwise style for love set the table for modern rom-coms.
Old Yeller (1957): A boy is forced to put down his childhood pet after Old Yeller turns rabid. A classic tearjerker, i men helpless.
101 Dalmatians (1961): Villainous Cruella De Vil’s scheme to turn dalmatian puppies into fur coats became the gold standard for evil.
Cujo (1983): Strung out on booze and cocaine, Stephen King wrote this rabid dog tale of a Saint Bernard tormenting a family trapped in a car
Turner & Hooch, (1989) A drooling pooch and a tidy cop, played by Tom Hanks, pair up to solve a murder and find love. They do both.

Brit, Aussie Actors Find US Success

British and Australian actors are flocking to the US in search of work and finding great success in roles that challenge their mimicry skills, the Chicago Tribune reports. Whether it’s Hugh Laurie on House, Anna Friel on Pushing Daisies, or Simon Baker on The Mentalist, the thespians have found it pays to adopt a new accent.

Marc Hirschfeld, NBC’s executive VP of casting, cites the decline of the British film industry as one factor: "The fact that there isn't as much in the work in the UK as there has been in the past has opened things up for them." The American public loves discovering stars, and “this is a way for America to discover a new star who is not really on the radar for them," Hirschfeld says.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

'Rated R' May Be Coming to a Website Near You

Calling the Internet a “quite dangerous place,” Britain’s culture secretary says he’ll work with the Obama administration on establishing international guidelines to protect children. One idea under consideration: giving websites film-style ratings, the Telegraph reports. “There is definitely a case for clearer standards online,” said Andy Burnham, adding that America’s “change of administration is a big moment. We have got a real opportunity to make common cause.”

Burnham said other possibilities include requiring Internet service providers to offer kid-friendly services and mandating “take down times,” or deadlines, for sites such as YouTube to remove offensive content once they are alerted. “There is content that should just not be available to be viewed,” the secretary said. “This is not a campaign against free speech. Far from it.”

Detroit Ends Season Winless

The Detroit Lions today achieved the perfect record that last season eluded the New England Patriots—only perfectly losing at 0-16, reports the AP. In other NFL games:

The Minnesota Vikings secured their place in the playoffs as a walk-off field goal from Ryan Longwell put them 20-19 over the Giants
Another field goal with seconds left made the Carolina Panthers NFC South champions with a 33-31 victory over the New Orleans Saints.
The Oakland Raiders smashed Tampa Bay’s slim chances of making the playoffs with a 31-24 win.
The Falcons prevailed over the St. Louis Rams 31-27 to nab the No. 5 seed in the NFC.
The Bears lost their chance at the playoffs as Andre Johnson scored two touchdowns to propel the Houston Texans to a 31-24 win over Chicago.

US Schools Need Finance 101

There are complex reasons behind the financial crisis, but one is key: When it comes to money, we’re idiots, Peter Applebome writes in the New York Times. “Insofar as there is a lesson in history,” says an analyst, “it’s that human beings are not very good with large sums of money, anything over $136.” How to solve the problem? Teach good financial habits in school.

“Students have to take math and foreign language and history, but you can graduate from every good school in the country without any exposure at all to how money works,” says a money manager. We’re experts in “buying high and selling low” and “investing in bubbles as transparent as an open window.” A financial education in high school and college can help turn things around.

Hardest-Working Film Actors

Who's the hardest-working actor in show biz? Many would lay claim to the title, but Forbes actually tallied which troupers took on the most meaty roles in big-budget films over the past 3 years:

Morgan Freeman: Hollywood's top worker, he's played in nine films since 2005, including The Bucket List, Evan Almighty, Batman, and Lucky Number Slevin.
Seth Rogen: "He's become Judd Apatow's go-to goof," with eight films over 3 years earning a total of $1.2 billion, more than any other star on the list.
Steve Carell: Over eight films, his roles have ranged from Frank Ginsberg in Little Miss Sunshine to Maxwell Smart in Get Smart.
Queen Latifah: One of 2 women on the list, she took turns in eight flicks, including Stranger Than Fiction, Hairspray, and The Secret Life of Bees.
Samuel L. Jackson acted in 19 films since 2005, including the cult movie Snakes on a Plane.

Friday, December 26, 2008

10 Places Already Feeling Global Warming's Heat

While some consider global warming a cautionary tale of things to come, its effects are already being felt all over the world, reports Scientific American. The worst-hit:

Darfur: The deserts have been crippled by a decades-long drought, and can no longer support farmers or their grazing herds.
America's Gulf Coast: Multiple hurricanes are sending scary signals of what we can look forward to.
Northern Europe: Right now warmer temperatures are ideal for wine production, but wineries will have to move to cooler regions if temperatures keep rising.
Australia's Great Barrier Reef: Going, going, and before long, completely gone. “As the reefs vanish, the fish will surely follow.”
Island nations: The nation of Kiribati became the first to declare its land uninhabitable, and is planning to evacuate the entire population.

US Students Flock North for Cheap Tuition

Cash-strapped Americans with their sights set on college see Canada as an affordable alternative to domestic institutions, the Boston Globe reports. Low tuition fees and a stronger US dollar—it’s worth $1.21 in Canada right now—are luring more high school students in the northeast across the border, with the number of Americans attending Canadian universities up by 50% to 9,000 since 2001.

The current exchange rate is “good for American students. They can have a great education at a great value,” said one Canadian recruiter who, like others, is stepping up his efforts to woo international applicants. US students studying abroad are still eligible for federal financial aid back home too. “With the current economic situation, it’s definitely in the back of my mind,” said one prospective student.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Subscription Model May Pave Way for Electric Car Boom

An Israeli entrepreneur bets you’ll be willing to pay to fuel up your car like you pay your monthly cell phone bill. If Shai Agassi is right, Jim Motavalli writes in Yale Environment 360, it could be the charge electric cars need to succeed. Partnering with nations, cities, and automakers, his Better Place is trying to establish infrastructure for an electric-powered automotive future.

Agassi envisions a network of charging stations in congested areas, and ones that allow you to trade in depleted batteries on long trips—though current batteries are large and difficult to swap. And for his concept to work, he’ll need to raise a lot of money—$1 billion alone for a proposed charging network in the San Francisco Bay area.

Feds May Use Food Stamps to Improve Nutrition

The Obama White House may move to revamp food aid so it encourages healthy eating, reports the Washington Post. One idea gaining favor: Double the value of food stamps if they're used to buy fruits and vegetables. While anti-hunger advocates have long objected to such government meddling, opposition is softening because of a growing body of evidence that links the seemingly opposite notions of hunger and obesity.

The problem is that people on food stamps understandably go for cheap food, but that food is often high in calories and low on nutritional value. Punishing people for such purchases is a no-go because many low-income neighborhoods don't have a full-service supermarket and produce aisle. The idea, instead, is to create incentives to buy wisely. Such programs are already in place at farmers markets in Connecticut, California, and Massachusetts.

Panhandling MIT Grad Gets Job

Out-of-work investment banker Joshua Persky gained a lot of publicity when he hung a sign around his neck reading “EXPERIENCED MIT GRAD FOR HIRE,” and passed out resumes on the streets of Manhattan—but no job offers. His wife and kids left New York to live with family, the Los Angeles Times reports. But Persky kept the faith, and a year later, he’s got a new job.

“By the end of the summer, they were frozen,” Persky, who was laid-off last December, says of would-be employers. When he finally got a job, “it was like a miracle,” his wife says. The couple says they’ve learned to keep hoping, to never give up—and that wearing a sign and begging for a job probably won’t work.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

College Football Still Needs Breakthrough Black Coach

Yesterday’s hiring of Ron English by Eastern Michigan brings the total number of African-American head coaches in major college football to five—out of 119. That miniscule number underscores the barriers black coaches face, and, Michael Rosenberg writes for Fox Sports, the need for a black coach to dissolve those barriers by winning big, like Georgetown’s John Thompson did in college hoops.

College athletic directors, boosters and alumni have the classic image of the head coach, Rosenberg notes: an older white guy. In pro sports, only the team owner has to see past this stereotype, but in college many voices weigh in, and the stereotype is harder to break. College football needs a John Thompson to thrive and be seen as a great coach—not just a great black coach.

Coffee Nations Eye Shares in Starbucks

The world’s coffee growing nations may swoop in to grab cheap Starbucks shares as the ailing company shutters stores and battles declining demand for premium beverages, Reuters reports. Colombia—the third-largest producer—could buy more control over the supply chain by nabbing “an important share” of the Seattle outfit by early 2009. Brazil and Central American growers have also signaled their interest.

Starbucks shares have fallen by 50% in the past year, reaching their lowest point since the company went public, though the company insists consumers’ caffeine demands will weather the recession. “We want to have a position of influence, a voice sufficiently strong to be able to contribute to the development of the company,” says the director of a Colombian coffee-growers union.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Shoppers Turn to Funny, Useful Gifts

Christmas shoppers are thinking small this year, and the gifts they're buying reveal how Americans are coping with recession, USA Today reports. Here's a list of today's trends:

Practical: Nearly half of the most popular items searched for online were boots, according to one mall inventory service. Gifts that help people organize and save time, like USB flash drives, are also popular.
Good quality: Gold sales are up this year and pearl jewelry sales have risen more than 110% over the past 2 years.
Comfortable: Cuddly toys and clothes with "plush fabrics" are selling better this Christmas.
Comic relief: Humor is on a hot streak. Joke books and lava lamps are among one company's best sellers.

300K Have Sent Resumes to Obama (for 8K Jobs)

Barack Obama’s transition team has seen an avalanche of resumes from individuals who want to work in his administration, CNN reports. More than 300,000 have applied for 8,000 positions. Many are new to politics but have impressive careers, says one analyst: “High-level people in private industry want to go all of a sudden into federal government and be part of this administration.”

With applications being accepted through next month, the president-elect enjoys much more interest than his recent peers: George Bush’s transition team received only 44,000 applicants, while Bill Clinton received 100,000. The mountain of applications is “definitely a challenge,” said a transition-team spokesman. “I don’t think any transition has seen anything like this.”

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Creating your own niche

The very act of admitting that you want more puts the balance of your existence in jeopardy. You feel tension between wanting to maintain the security of sameness, however mundane and boring it may be, and the hope and excitement of having what you really want. No matter what the circumstances of your life may be, even it its painful, disrupting the sameness can be scary.

~ Dr. Phil

Everyday or just about every other day I surf my computer to look at job possibilities. Some times I become discouraged when I see the same ole positions and read the same ole postings. The fact that lots of people are unemployed and seeking employment also looms large. After going through a number of these sites, I sigh thinking that my chances are slim too none. My body tenses but I don’t lose faith. I search for ways to stay positive and hopeful.

Call me silly. However I am not ashamed. I want more. I admit there is an ache, a longing of my soul’s desire to help create a world and to be a better person. Just recently my soul spoke and urged me to revisit some papers I received at a workshop. The workshop was called “Creating your own niche.” As I reviewed the papers there was a tug at my heart. I felt both the sensations of risk and utter satisfaction. The papers encouraged me to review work skills and experiences. It also suggested that I write down those gifts and talents that made me unique. The presenter also requested that I research various companies that caught my interest. There were other questions and leadings too. The next step that she asked her reader to do was to write a basic business plan and an executive summary.

I have not gotten to the plan and summary yet. I am still clarifying what I believe about who I am. What I know for sure…. I am a dynamic person. I am a skilled listener. I am also adaptable, self-motivated, passionate, creative and a team player. What am I looking for in a company? I want to work for a company that is equally dynamic and progressive. I want to work for a company that truly cares about their employees, their customers and their community. I want to work for a company that is open to education, new ideas and the expertise of a professional.

I don’t know if this process will work. What is true for now is that this process feels exciting, liberating and empowering. If I don’t go after what I want now, then when will I ever get what I want or at least try? I am ready to reclaim my life and to create new experiences? If you are too, let us do it together with the Creator who walks with us.

I am grateful to the Creator who offers us resources daily and in enormous ways. Each and every one of us can enjoy the benefits of the Creator’s resources if we stay aware. I pray you never lose sight of the Divine.

Sarina Cliff

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Welfare Rolls Rising for First Time Since '90s

Welfare numbers are rising in many states for the first time since public assistance was redefined more than a decade ago, the Washington Post reports. The numbers are still small compared to the days before welfare was retooled to steer people into jobs, but at least a dozen states say welfare rolls have begun climbing, and applications are surging in several others.

Many of those seeking benefits for the first time are middle class Americans who have suddenly lost jobs and savings, fueling fears that the program, focused on getting people into jobs, won't work if there are no jobs to be gotten. "If there is no employment out there to get, then what?" asks one employment manager. Says a Maryland benefits official, "the problem is, what we are seeing here is something that looks more like 1936 than 1996."

Hertz Rolls Out Car-Share Plan

Look out Zipcar—car rental giant Hertz is jumping into the auto-sharing fray with hourly rentals in New York, Paris, and London, reports the New York Times. Hertz Connect customers will pay from $50 to $1,500 annually to subscribe and have access to cars for as little as $8.50 to $10 an hour.

Hertz will offer 35 models, including the young-driver favorites Toyota Prius and Mini Cooper. Renters reserve cars online and use a swipe card to access them at lots scattered around cities. “There’s a market for car-sharing and it’s larger than has been developed to date,” says one Hertz exec, citing plans to expand into some 40 US and international cities next year.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Scottish Docs Give Up Their White Coats

In a move intended to combat the spread of infections, Scotland will forbid doctors to wear the long white coats that have been a symbol of the medical profession for more than a century, the Guardian reports. The country will institute a dress code next year that bans not only the coats—whose cuffs can become contaminated—but also ties and watches. Doctors won’t even be allowed to keep pens in outside pockets.

While some doctors say the coats are bulky and unnecessary, others argue reduced laundry budgets, not the coats, are at fault. In addition to driving down risk, the new dress code will be a cost-cutting measure: All non-doctors will wear a single short-sleeve uniform, as opposed to the 150 different uniforms the national health service currently stocks.

Pets Are Losing Homes, Too

Animal shelters are being filled with pets abandoned because of the recession and home foreclosures. In Massachusetts, a rescue league has seen a 45% jump in owners citing money or housing problems when they surrender a cat or dog. Others are just leaving their pets on the streets or in the houses they must vacate, sometimes with a supply of food, the Boston Globe reports.

The problem has multiplied in some cases because owners are not paying to have their abandoned pets spayed or neutered. "We don't know where to put them. We're all overwhelmed," says the president of an animal shelter. Horses, which cost thousands of dollars a year to care for, are also suffering in the recession: Farms say their paddocks are overflowing.

One Man's Coffee Grounds Are Another's Biodiesel

If lattes seem overpriced now, wait until coffee becomes a precious commodity. An engineering professor spied an opportunity in the layer of oil he found floating in an old cup of coffee one morning. He extracted what was left in some used grounds—about 10%-15% oil by weight—with simple chemistry and produced $1-a-gallon biodiesel, the New York Times reports.

Several hundred million gallons of biofuel could come from the coffee brewed just this year, though that’s only about 1% of the diesel guzzled in the US. Still, a pilot program is being set up with a Nevada roaster to test the waste’s potential. “It won’t solve the world's energy problem,” the prof admits, but it’s the only fuel that leaves a sweet aroma.

Monday, December 15, 2008

States Running Out of Cash for Jobless Benefits

The ranks of the unemployed reached their highest levels since 1982 last week, and about 30 states are running out of money to fund them, the New York Times reports. Some states, including Indiana and Michigan, are already borrowing heavily from the federal government to keep up with jobless benefits, and some are alarmed. “You don’t expect the loans to happen this early in a jobs slump,” says one advocate for low-wage workers. “You would expect that states should have savings.”

But many don’t, particularly those that cut unemployment taxes in good times, and now fear raising them. “Frankly, they created the perfect storm,” said an Indiana unemployment official. California, New York, Ohio, and Rhode Island are among the other states that are inching toward insolvency, says the Times. Burning through $11 million a week, South Carolina recently requested a $15 million loan. “We have never experienced anything like this,” says one official.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Biggest Jerks of 2008

As a tumultuous year winds down, the Guardian asks the question on everybody’s mind: who are 2008’s biggest douchebags? A selection:

Nicolas Sarkozy: “Good God, man, will you put her away just for a second?”
Sarah Palin's advisors: "What you need to do, Sarah, to communicate your folksy down-home attributes, is wink a lot. The world will love it."
Mattel Games: “You took away our Scrabulous. For this, you must surely die.”
The 'hopper' in The Wire who shot Omar: “How could you do it? HOW COULD YOU? You ruined everything!”
Madonna: "Using your mega-concerts to have a pop at your ex … It's just MEAN."

Quick-Thinking Bradford Wins Heisman

Sam Bradford's biggest score: the Heisman Trophy. Oklahoma's amazingly accurate and quick-thinking quarterback won the Heisman tonight after guiding the highest-scoring team in major college football history to the national championship game, the AP reports.

A year after Tim Tebow became the first sophomore to win the Heisman, Bradford became the second and kept the Florida quarterback from joining Archie Griffin as the only two-time winners.

Brazen 'Pink Panther' Heists Stir Ire, Admiration of Cops

A sophisticated cadre of bandits have deserted Serbian battlefields to invade the globe's finest boutiques, the New York Times reports, daringly swiping millions worth of jewels from luxury stores. Interpol has dubbed the crooks—thought to be about 200 ex-soldiers and their relatives from the former Yugoslavia—the Serbian Pink Panthers. “The modus was always the same,” says one Monaco officer.

“Very fast, very well-organized with a plurality of perpetrators, and violent, too.” This month in Paris, thieves dressed in drag snatched a cool $105 million in emeralds, rubies, and diamonds in mere minutes. In Biarritz, others craftily painted a bench to deter pedestrians from loitering in front of a nearby target. Invoking a line from their movie namesake, investigators admire the Panthers’ “unique flair for the dramatic.”

How Cereal Shaped America

We might be eating hockey pucks for breakfast if a 19th-century kitchen accident hadn’t turned John Kellogg’s “barely edible” biscuits into today’s far-tastier flakes, Ian Lender writes in Mental Floss. “The cereal flake is the perfect consumer product,” he says, looking at how cereal shaped American diets, culture, and advertising. “It’s easy to produce, easy to sell, and surprisingly lucrative.” The profit margin? 50%.

Cereal initially caught on because Christians said it’d save us from the sin of a meat-and-whiskey-based diet, but then Kellogg and competitor Charles Post promised healthy bowels, redder blood, and higher IQs. As advertising entered the picture, processed grains launched the career of Walt Disney and helped popularize radio, comic strips, and television. “Cereal producers learned an important lesson: Children are suckers,” Lender writes. “They also realized that kids don’t care about their colons. They want sugar.”

Friday, December 12, 2008

'Intangible' Jobs—Health, Education—Are US' Best Bet

The job market may be hitting rock bottom, but the “intangible" sector of the economy—comprising industries that, like health care and education, produce nothing concrete but have long-lasting effects—could be the best path for development, writes economist Michael Mandel in BusinessWeek. “Tangible” industries—like manufacturing—have shrunk by 1.8 million jobs, but “knowledge-based” industries managed to add 500,000 jobs since the recession began.

These intangibles aren't well measured by the GDP, but they have proved resistant against the current downturn. “This division between the tangible and intangible sectors is a bit messy in practice,” says Mandel, because tech and research sectors fit both categories. But for Barack Obama’s administration, it’s worth asking “whether the shift to intangible production is a sustainable economic strategy over the long run.”

Definitely Not in Recession: Facial Hair

Beards have become the slim silver lining for men laid off amid the recession. Everyone from out-of-work hedge-funders to the Foo Fighters seems to be hirsute, the Wall Street Journal reports. With proper trimming, facial hair can even be carried to job interviews, but most are indulging in the short-lived unruliness before, they hope, returning to corporate America’s rigid grooming requirements.

“They joke with me about it—‘I feel like a real man,’” a Manhattan stylist says of new clients. Adds one laid-off New Yorker: “Everyone who’s lost their job may be changing it up, but I think we’ll all be very happy to go back to a more regular life.”

DC's Moods: Excitement, Audacity, Anxiety

David Brooks "has been working tirelessly to understand the spirit of the American capital," and he lays out three main themes in the New York Times:

This isn't so much a transition as a "season of rebirth.” The impending inauguration feels like an "ancient tribal rite—the purging of sin, the elevation of the pure, the moral regeneration of the nation’s soul." Maybe they’ll sacrifice a goat.
“Second, there is a feeling of audacity sweeping the ruling circles.” America’s powerful treat $300 billion as they once did $3 billion. Health care and energy reform, once giant obstacles, are now mere "subplots" folded in to the economic stimulus.
“And this leads, sad to say, to the third layer of emotion: anxiety.” No really knows if the premises of such dramatic action are sound, and perhaps “some unholiness is being unwittingly and rashly created.”

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Proposed Law Pushes College Football Playoffs

A flustered Texas lawmaker has decided to fix the college football ranking system that he says "constantly misfires" in sending the two best teams to the championship, the AP reports. Rep. Joe Barton is introducing a bill that would "prohibit the marketing, promotion, and advertising of a postseason game as a 'national championship' football game, unless it is the result of a playoff system."

Barton says the BCS system, based on two human polls and six computer ratings, often leaves out worthy teams, citing Southern California in 2003 and undefeated Auburn in 2004. The bill would make the marketing of championship games sans playoffs a federal crime, but doesn't say what constitutes a playoff. This year, Florida (12-1) and Oklahoma (12-1) face-off in Miami for the BCS title.

New Web Browser Targets African Americans

The web may be color-blind, reports Ars Technica, but a new Mozilla-based browser has been tailored specifically for the African-American community. The Blackbird browser, a version of Firefox 3 for Windows XP and Vista, features links that target black news interests, blogs, and resources. Search for “Barack Obama,” for example, and instead of Wikipedia and Chicago Tribune you'll see results from AOL Black Voices and Blogs.BET.com.

Though a targeted browser isn't revolutionary—think Gloss, for women, and Flock, which promotes social networking—its black color scheme and focus have prompted charges of racial exclusivity. But Blackbird’s CEO explains that the aim is actually “inclusion.” It’s an “identity browser” says Ed Young, and its objective is to bring the African-American community closer.

Vitamins Don't Change Cancer Risk: Studies

Two new studies debunk the perception that vitamin supplements help ward off prostate and other cancers, the BBC reports. The trials involving 50,000 men provided the most definitive results yet on the effects of vitamins C and E—or, rather lack thereof—on cancer. One study had planned to trace the effects over 7 years but was curtailed because results were so disappointing.

"Supplements don't substitute for a healthy diet, and some studies have shown that they may actually increase the risk of cancer," says one cancer specialist.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Arrest Will Ripple Beyond Illinois Politics

Rod Blagojevich’s arrest will reverberate well beyond Illinois, Chris Cillizza writes in the Washington Post. Most immediately, it drastically reshapes the race to fill Barack Obama’s Senate seat, which the Illinois governor still has power to fill. If he even makes a pick, it’ll have to be a caretaker with unimpeachable ethics; Dick Durbin, Illinois’ other Democratic senator, wants a special election instead.

It’s possible Blagojevich will step down, but he had said he intended to run for reelection, despite approval ratings in the teens. Nationally, his arrest plays right into the narrative House Minority Leader John Boehner has been preparing—that Democrats have a culture of corruption. Blagojevich spent time in the House, and can now be used as a cudgel against anyone he had ties with.

Monday, December 8, 2008

New Reverse Mortgage Rules Help Homeowners

Reverse mortgages—which allow older homeowners to borrow against their equity without paying it back, as long as they live in the home—have risen in popularity since the federal government raised the limit on borrowing, the Seattle Times reports. The old ceiling for owners 62 and up was about $352,000; the new one, $417,000.

One mortgage officer, who said more calls are coming in, explained that homeowners want to use "the equity in their home instead of selling their portfolio in a bad time." During the mortgage crisis, private lenders and Fannie Mae cut back or stopped providing reverse mortgages. Now, the FHA is the biggest game in town. "It's going to allow those people who own higher-priced homes to access a lot more of the equity of their homes for whatever need they may have," one expert said.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Top Grads Flood Nonprofit for 'Lowly' Teaching Jobs

Students from the nation’s elite colleges are in hot pursuit of low-paying, high-stress jobs, the Washington Post reports. Inspired by Barack Obama’s message of hope and disillusioned by a battered Wall Street, prospective graduates have boosted applications to Teach for America alone by 50%. “I don’t know if anyone could have predicted this,” said a director at the nonprofit, which lands teachers in schools.

TFA’s dizzying popularity hasn’t silenced critics. One veteran educator and blogger says its rise has failed to “address the real problems in education,” and at least three major studies show students taught by TFA teachers score significantly lower than peers on standardized tests. Counters one TFA official, "It doesn't take much to sell the fact that these jobs actually change lives.”

Laid-Off Workers Refuse to Leave Chicago Factory

Laid-off workers at a Chicago window manufacturing company are taking matters into their own hands, staging a sit-in at their former plant to demand severance and vacation pay, reports the Chicago Tribune. Union members have been occupying the plant in shifts since the news—given only three days earlier—that the company would close its doors last Friday.

News of the shutdown came after the company's primary lender, Bank of America, cancelled its line of credit, but some workers are suspicious. "I don't believe somebody woke up on Tuesday and simply decided to shut the doors," said the local congressional rep. Vowed one worker: "We've been here since yesterday, and we aren't going anywhere" until demands are met.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

US Jobs Picture Even Worse Than It Looks

As bad as today’s jobs report seemed, it actually soft-pedals the US employment situation, David Leonhardt writes in the New York Times. In November, 251,000 workers lost their jobs, driving the unemployment rate to 6.7%. But “unemployed” describes only individuals actively looking for work, and the number of Americans out of work or not job-hunting rose by 637,000.

Those 637,000 who moved from “unemployed” to “outside the labor force” actually lowered the percentage of unemployed. Put another way, the share of men over 16 who have a job is lower than it has been since the government began tabulating statistics in the 1940s, while the share of women who are working has never fallen as drastically at any point in history.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

For Crying Out Loud, People, Get a Grip

By Bob Rehak

I think my crying mechanism is broken. I can’t seem to get any moisture to stream forth from my eyes. It may be that I’m tapped out at this point in my life, though I don’t think that I’ve cried more than most people. Is it possible that there’s a reservoir of tears in each of us, and I’ve drained mine?

So I looked into it. Tears come from ducts under our upper eyelids. The tears get spread throughout our eyes as we blink. I always thought that tears came from the lower part of my eyes, like a sink overflowing. Oh well, no reason to cry about it. It also turns out that there are 3 types of tears: Basal tears keep the eyes moist and protect them, like when you’re standing at the train in the middle of winter and it’s 30 below with the wind chill. Reflex tears are used to flush out your eyes when they become irritated, like when you’re standing at the train in the middle of winter and it’s 30 below with the wind chill and the son of Joe Camel decides to light up his cigarette, to fill up his lungs with smoke and keep all that fresh winter air out. Emotional tears spill out of our eyes when we’re in physcal pain, when we’re sad, or when we’re distressed.

I’ve got three varieties of tears to choose from, then, but I can’t seem to turn on the ducts, no matter how hard I try. My basal tears are very limited. It takes extremely cold weather to get even a drip. In the summer, my allergies can start to bother me, but my tears hold back like someone’s got a finger in the dike. My nose, on the other hand, can run like one of those desktop waterfalls that are very soothing, unless you’re human and over 40 years old. Then they just give you the urge to go the bathroom every five minutes. I think my basal tears are trying to be macho. They’re not coming out till I hit the Arctic Circle.

My reflex tears have got no reflexes. You could stick a dried spaghetti noodle in my eye, and I will not tear up, I swear. I’d pull out that noodle, drop it in a pot of boiling water, and call it dinner. (I’d also call a lawyer to sue you for sticking a dried spaghetti noodle in my eye – what were you thinking?).

That only leaves my emotional tears as a backup. But those are backed up, apparently, or they don’t exist. I think they must have been surgically removed when I had a hernia operation when I was 15. Because ever since that time, I don’t cry out in pain. When I was 16, I got my middle finger caught between a belt and a pulley on a lawn tractor. My finger spun around the pulley like it was on Satan’s Tilt-A-Whirl. And yet my only reaction was to squeeze that finger as hard as I could till the pain subsided. I let go last month. But I never cried about it. So pain doesn’t trigger any tears for me. I’m like some kind of Vulcan.

Don’t get me wrong, I do get sad. Everyone does, especially us Cubs fans. But I don’t get sad to the point of saturation. When most people get really sad they reach for a Kleenex and cry it out. I silence it out. When I get sad, I don’t speak. I hit the mute button in my mind and lock it down. It’s probably not healthy, I know, but it’s all I know. I try to turn on the sprinklers, but there’s a kink in the hose somewhere.

So my only chance of crying is from distress. I don’t know if I’ve ever been under distress, other than the time that my sister left me alone on a lake after we capsized a sailboat. And the two times that I saw my wife go under the knife for a C-section (seriously, they should have put up a blanket to block out MY view, too). Still, I didn’t cry any of those times. Come to think of it, I can’t even cry tears of joy, since it’s such an oxymoron, and I’m philosophically opposed to all oxymorons.

It’s not like I don’t have empathy for suffering, because I do. If I see someone crying, I will get a heavy heart. Unless I find out that they’re crying because their car got a scratch or someone died on a soap opera. Then I’ll just roll my eyes or laugh. I’m the same way with reality shows like “Survivor”. Contestants will start crying at Tribal Council about how hard it is to vote off this wonderful member of their new “family”. You know, that precious family member they’ve known for all of 16 days.

I just laugh at that. How else did they think they were going to get closer to that $1 million prize? It’s a game, people. Stop your crying. If you really want something to cry about, try sticking a finger in the motor of a lawn tractor.

College May Be Out of Reach for Most US Kids

Rising tuition costs are putting college out of reach for most Americans, a new report shows. Since 1982, college costs have gone up 439%, but median family income only 147%. That has forced the middle class to increasingly fund higher education through loans. For lower-income families—for whom public universities cost about 55% of their annual income—it may already be unaffordable, reports the New York Times.

Recession dampers the troubling news further, since states will likely increase tuition to balance strained budgets. Florida and Washington have announced 15% and 20% hikes, respectively. If incomes remain stagnant, "we're really going to be in jeopardy. The educational gap between our workforce and the rest of the world will make it very hard to be competitive," the research center's president says.

Slate's New Columnist: Eliot Spitzer

Eliot Spitzer continues his slow creep back into the public eye. The disgraced New York governor will begin writing a regular column for the online magazine Slate, the New York Observer reports. Spitzer's column, called the Best Policy, will debut tomorrow, then appear every other week. It will cover government, regulation and finance, and will focus heavily at first on the current economic mess.

"It was not an epic negotiation," said Slate's Jacob Weisberg. "He was very receptive to the idea. He's got a lot to say and he was very receptive to writing on the subject." Weisberg said he pursued Spitzer after seeing a recent op-ed by him in the Washington Post.

Israeli Salesmen the Kings of the Mall Kiosk

Chances are that shopping-mall cart vendor offering you spa lotions or whimsical toys this Christmas season is an Israeli transplant who knows how to hustle and haggle. Cart owners avoid hiring shyer Americans because "Israelis are natural-born closers," said one marketing director, and they're edging out other Turkish, Chinese, and Indian immigrants who've long been a staple of the kiosk business, reports the Wall Street Journal.

Some shoppers—and other vendors—have complained about the Israelis' aggressive tactics, but they seem to work: Some report making $500 per day on commission. One Turkish cart operator thinks the haggling and hassling are giving carts a bad name, but admits that he wouldn't mind hiring a few Israelis. "They are really good salesmen. You have to admire them."

Monday, December 1, 2008

Angry Users Leave Facebook Ads in Limbo

Facebook is in a bind, Owen Thomas writes on Valleywag. The social network has succeeded in boosting its membership to 120 million, partly by keeping spam to a minimum. But to make money, Facebook needs advertising—which means allowing app developers to bug users with spam on Facebook's News Feed. But when the site allowed it, users got upset and dropped off.

Now app developers are wary of Facebook, which seemed to censor them arbitrarily. Some apps, like iLike and Causes, were allowed to continue, while others were yanked for privacy or spam violations. Thomas suggests Facebook clarify its policy by handing out a rate card to companies to let them run spam on News Feed. "There's no easy answer," he admits. "If there were, Mark Zuckerberg might be more than a paper billionaire by now."

Between Home and Work, Public Life Declines

In the 1980s sociologists introduced the term "third place," neither home nor work, to encompass the bars, restaurants, and other public spaces that allow us to build relationships. Today, with global economic woes besetting even the iconic French cafe culture, our "public living rooms" are shuttering at the moment we need them most, writes LA Times columnist Gregory Rodriguez.

"We fetishize family to the detriment of our collective civic life," writes Rodriguez, closing down opportunities for risk and surprise. While the family and the workplace codify our social roles, the third space allows us to flout them—to meet new people and become new people in turn. Which is why the decline in unstructured public life is so scary: "If the economy does tank totally, all we've really got is each other, and I fear we don't even have that anymore."

Personality Disorders Afflict 20% of Young Adults

In the wake of shootings at Virginia Tech and Northern Illinois University, a new study says nearly 20% of young adults suffer from personality disorders, the AP reports. Obsessive compulsive disorder topped the list, but the problems include anti-social feelings and paranoia, which can lead to violence. Fewer than a quarter of those students receive treatment, the study said.

One analyst said such disorders are overdiagnosed, but others said the study echoed reports of mental health problems among young people. The challenges of life in one's early 20s—striving at school and in work, building relationships, having young families—can trigger the disorders, the study said. Only alcohol and drug abuse are more common problems, afflicting almost a third of the roughly 5,000 people interviewed for the study.