Archive for June, 2009
What NBA teams scored big in the 2009 draft?
The NBA draft this past weekend was surrounded by questions. Who would be picked first among a crowd of lackluster names? There was no “big name” at this year’s draft, no potential Lebron James, no player that analysts could say would turn into another Dwight Howard. In fact, this may have been the mildest draft in recent history in terms of rookie talent. Some analysts looked at the field and saw nothing but a lack of depth — while others prepared for a massive amount of player trading.
That’s exactly what happened.
Teams looked to bolster their lineup with veteran players rather than add an unknown element. Don’t believe me? During or just before the draft, there were more costume changes in the NBA than at Aladdin on Ice.The Cleveland Cavaliers added Shaquille O’Neal to their roster, a feat they probably wish they’d pulled off back at the trade deadline. Before the sports world could say “Shaq-fu” the Orlando Magic traded for Vince Carter from the New Jersey Nets. Two big men moving to two new teams.
You have to remember that both of these big moves came after the fading dynasty of the San Antonio Spurs added the talents of Richard Jefferson (probably for one last big push at the NBA title while Tim Duncan is healthy enough to play) and the Boston Celtics were looking to trade Rajon Rondo and Ray Allen. Even the Denver Nuggets got into the game, trading down in the draft in order to acquire Ty Lawson, a great back up their star Chauncey Billups.
This draft was less about vying for big name players and more about bolstering your team for what appears to be an open ended time in the NBA — sure, the Lakers just won another championship, but that’s after a playoff series that saw teams like the Houston Rockets, Cleveland Cavaliers, Orlando Magic, and Denver Nuggets really come out of their shells and earn a chance at greatness. All those teams have to do is line up the right combination of big and fast, and any one of them could compete for next year’s title.
All that aside, who were the winners and losers of last week’s NBA draft?
One big winner is Blake Griffin, the ex Oklahoma forward selected by the Los Angeles Clippers as the first pick in the 2009 draft. Griffin is seen as a “tough guy”, and he’s certainly athletic. Scouts call him a “hard worker” and his character isn’t marred by incidents on his college campus or any off court legal nonsense.
But does the slection of Griffin make the Clippers a winner? Not even a first round pick seems capable of that. In the past 30 years, the Clips have had only two winning seasons — obviously, they’ve made some high picks in the draft before. While Griffin seems like the best choice out of a weak draft, you have to remember the history of top draft picks in the NBA. There are at least four big name top picks that I can think of that failed miserably — Michael Olowokandi, Kwame Brown, Andrew Bogut, and Kwame Brown — yes, I know I put Kwame down twice. He’s just played that bad. In fact, all three of those top picks have failed to reach a single All-Star game, much less a championship. Greg Oden, the top pick from last year, also comes to mind as a potential bust. Time will tell if the Clips have made a big pick in young Griffin.
A big loser in this year’s draft — the Indiana Pacers. They drafted Tyler Hansbrough with the 13th pick in the draft, leaving many sports fans scratching their heads. Hansbrough is what is known in the NBA as an “in betweener” — he isn’t big enough to guard the league’s top power forwards, but he isn’t fast enough to pair up against small forwards. His style of play was highly suited to the NCAA. It seemed that Hansbrough got every call that came his way, and few of his shots were defended at the level he’ll see in the NBA. The Pacers will be lucky if Hansbrough can get four or five points a game, and at the thirteenth position in the draft, four or five points is not what you’re looking for.
The 2009 NBA draft was a picture of confusion. No one knew who the big players were. Yes, the concensus among sportswriters held that Griffin would be picked first, but after that the predictions were all over the place. Teams that really “won” this offseason are teams that shuffled for veteran players, while some teams made rookie picks that were downright questionable.
What will happen after America withdraws from Iraq?
Though many of Iraq’s larger cities have already been left behind, today (June 30, 2009) marked the official deadline for American troops to pull out of Iraq’s towns and cities. No longer will tanks and roving bands of troops sweep from street to street. Today’s withdrawal marks a much anticipated date for many Iraqis — in fact, many towns have held parades and street festivals in honor of the occasion.
But without an American presence, isn’t it possible that militia groups could take control of certain areas of Iraq? What about the influence of Al-qaeda and other terrorist groups?
Journalists aren’t the only ones worried about this issue. Across the nation of Iraq, parties in celebrations of the withdrawal were cut with emotion — fear that violence would return, worry that America won’t offer the proper rebuilding assistance.
There were no lines of tanks rolling out of Baghdad on Iraqi television, and no crowd of troops marching out of the capital city as today’s deadline approached — the U.S. military has been gradually pulling troops and other combat forces out of Iraq’s larger towns and cities for the past three months. According to the Pentagon, many troops were out of the population centers before this past weekend.
Is this a celebratory time for Iraqis? Publicly, many are celebrating the mass exodus of American forces. Newscasters on national TV network Al-Iraqiya held a countdown to the end of occupation, going so far as to wear Iraqi flags draped across their shoulders. All night, as the deadline approached, Iraqi television showed scenes of people danced and singing in the streets. And though many Iraqis will probably publicly say that they are glad to see the American forces leave their neighborhoods and cities, most will admit to worries about what the future may hold without the protection of the U.S. military.
In fact, Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki warned of an increase in attacks around the withdrawal date — and there were severe attacks in the past couple of weeks. al-Maliki suggested that insurgents would use the pull out to attempt to ignite the kind of sectarian warfare that tore the country apart in 2006 and 2007.
In the past 10 days, a series of large and deadly attacks have killed more than 200 people. These attacks range from bombings targeted at civilians to car bombings. One car bomb in Mosul just before the deadline killed ten Iraqi police officers. In response to the violence, the Iraqi government has urged people to avoid crowded spaces “unless absolutely necessary”.
U.S. officials are optimistic that Iraq’s newly trained police and armed forces can keep the violence in check during the transition period. In fact, according to the Pentagon, violence in Iraw is at its lowest point in the history of the most recent Iraqi conflict, this despite the attention that recent attacks have received.
A little history — American troops moved into Baghdad in early 2003, less than three weeks after launching the initial invasion that took down accused war criminal Saddam Hussein. Then President George W. Bush said the invasion of Iraq was necessary because Saddam Hussein’s government was concealing “nuclear, chemical and biological weapons programs”. We were led to believe that Iraq was willing and able to deal weapons of mass destruction to terrorists.
Unless you’ve been under a rock for five years, you know the rest. After the invasion was complete, inspectors found that Iraq had in fact dismantled illicit weapons programs during UN sanctions in the 1990s. No weapons of mass destruction were found.
But the Americans did find they were involved in a massive regional war. Our armed forces had to fight off insurgency after insurgency, including members of Hussein’s Baath Party, a Shiite Muslim militia now led by anti American clerics and jihadists loyal to a group calling itself “al Qaeda in Iraq”. Mired in a war with no end in sight, more than 4,300 Americans have been killed in Iraq since the time of the invasion.
By the middle of 2006, the Iraqi conflict had basically turned into a civil war. Images of civilians taken out by suicide bombs, or video of bodies being dumped in the streets became a daily reminder of the horror of the conflict. The fighting began to cease in late 2007 after the US committed extra troops (the infamous “troop surge”) and incited a turn against the jihadists by local tribal leaders. Under an agreement signed in last few days as President, Bush ensured that all US forces would be out of Iraq by the end of 2011. In fact, most troops will be gone by August 2010 under the plan for troop withdrawal laid out by Bush’s successor, President Obama.
The 130,000 U.S. troops who remain in the country have a difficult task. They are expected to act as support staff for Iraqi troops and police, but will be unable to act as they have in the past 6 years — they cannot launch operations in cities or other population centers without Iraqi consent. A small number of these Americans will become training staff for Iraqi security forces, also acting in an advisory capacity..
Though there has been speculation in the media in recent months that certain exceptions to the troop withdrawal policy would be made, like in the northern city of Mosul, where troops are still needed, the Iraqi government said this is false. So far, no exceptions been made, and Iraqi troops are already taking over security.
Who will get custody of Michael Jackson’s kids?
Though Katherine Jackson, Michael Jackson’s 79 year old mother, filed for and won temporary guardianship of his three children, and made some moves to take over his estate according to sources, she may not end up as the final guardian of both the estate and the children.
The three children, Michael Joseph Jr.(12), Paris Michael Katherine (11), and Prince “Blanket” Michael II (7), could inherit millions of dollars, depending on the settlement of the estate. The three children, virtually unknown to the public, have been living a secluded and sheltered life with their pop star father.
In an interview with NBC’s “Today” show, Jackson family attorney Londell McMillan had this to say about Katherine Jackson’s custody: “I don’t think there will be anybody who thinks that there is someone better. She is a very loving host of her grandchildren.” Katherine Jackson is no longer married to Joe Jackson. Fans of Michael Jackson know full well about the father that Michael hated so much. The two formally separated in the 1980s. Joe Jackson has yet to be heard from — in fact, on the custody filing, Jackson’s address was listed as “to be provided”.
The mother of Jackson’s two oldest children, Debbie Rowe, made a statement that has created a media frenzy. According to Rowe, Michael Jackson is not the father — rather, she was a surrogate for Jackson, and the semen came from an anonymous sperm bank donor. Reports that Rowe has had no involvement in the children’s lives is unconfirmed at this point, though Rowe went on to say “I know I will never see my children again.” Doesn’t sound like Debbie Rowe wants anything to do with the two children she birthed for Michael Jackson.
What about the other mother? The name of the mother of Jackson’s youngest child is unkown. Until someone comes out of the woodwork to admit they had a child with Jackson, there’s not much chance that Prince Michael II would be taken back into the custody of the mother.
Michael Jackson died Thursday at his home in Los Angeles. This was an unfortunate time for Jackson, as he was scheduled to make a series of performances in London to earn a large amount of money and earn back the affection of millions of fans. Those concerts would have started on June 13.
The three children are currently staying with their grandmother, Katherine Jackson, in the family’s large home in the San Fernando Valley of California. A court hearing on Katherine’s temporary guardianship, to decide if she should become the permanent guardian, will be held August 3rd, 2009 in Los Angeles Superior Court. Before Katherine Jackson learns the fate of her three grandchildren, she will have learned the value of her dead son’s estate — her case for guardianship of the Jackson estate (which is of “unknown” value) will be heard on July 6, 2009.
Katherine Jackson raised nine children with her husband Joseph, and is considered by many to be the likely candidate for guardianship.
Debbie Rowe’s claims for custody grow even more complicated. During her divorce from the King of Pop, she gave up her custody rights to the three children, but then petitioned to have her custody rights restored in 2003. This was a dark time for Jackson — after he was arrested on child molestation charges that year he became a figure of public scorn, and temporarily lost many of his parental rights. After Jackson was acquitted of the charges, the two were forced to come to a custody agreement. Legal analysts across the media have said that Debbie Rowe has a strong claim to the two oldest kid’s custody should she choose to fight for it.
It doesn’t seem likely. Debbie Rowe’s attorney, Marta Almli, issued a statement Saturday to say that Debbie’s only thoughts “at this time” have been about the “devastating loss Michael’s family has suffered.” According to her release, Debbie Rowe requests that Michael’s family, and particularly the children, be spared harmful media attention, and that they “be able to say goodbye to their loved one in peace.” Debbie Rowe, who is a former nurse for Jackson’s dermatologist, married Michael in 1996 but filed for divorce in 1999.
What is the Mediterranean diet?
The Mediterranean diet is not like the Adkins diet or the Skinny Bitch diet — there is no text to read or prescribed rules to follow. In fact, when people say they’re “on the Mediterranean diet” you may be surprised to learn what exactly they’re consuming. Rather than concentrating on eating a certain number of calories, a certain number of meals, or buying expensive pre fabricated meals from a diet system, these people are simply eating the way that people who live in the Mediterranean have eaten for hundreds of years. Specifically, people on “the Mediterranean diet” mimic the way that the people of Greece eat.
Why do they do this? It has become apparent that people who follow the diet of the Greeks tend to live longer. In fact, the people in the world with the longest life span are people who live on the islands surrounding Greece.
Among the thousands of popular fad diets and diet books available to the consumer, the Mediterranean diet is considered heart healthy as well as easy to eat — put simply, the foods you eat on the Mediterranean diet are good. What is it about the Mediterranean diet’s menu that makes it so healthy? You will often hear people suggest that the amount of red wine consumed in parts of Europe makes for healthier hearts, while others place emphasis on consuming good quality olive oils.
A study released Tuesday in the British Medical Journal attempted to answer this question once and for all. Doctors and researchers from Harvard the University of Athens Medical School in Greece looked at the diets and health statistics of more than 20,000 Greek men and women participating in a study known as the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition. Over the course of about eight and a half years, the doctors (led by Harvard’s Dimitrios Trichopoulos and the University of Athens’ Antonia Trichopoulou) compared the relative health of the study’s participants against that patient’s diet — how “Mediterranean” was the diet, and what exactly was it made up of?
What the study found was that certain foods on the Mediterranean menu offer the majority of the nutritional benefits, and that some long held beliefs about the Mediterranean diet may need to be re-evaluated.
According to the study’s author, the date collected indicates that the dominant health components of the Mediterranean diet are “moderate consumption of alcohol, low consumption of red meats, and high consumption of vegetables, fruits, seeds and nuts, and olive oil” are the keys to Mediterranean longevity. While some had suggested that the Greeks’ high consumption of fish, cereals and grains, and a general avoidance of dairy have little to do with their long lives, contradicting what many experts once believed.
Of course, no single study (regardless its length) should be taken as God’s own truth. In responding to the study, one researcher suggested that “examining the Mediterranean diet food by food may not be the best approach.” The Mediterranean diet’s benefit may come from a combination of foods and eating habits, a “diet pattern” that contributes to heart health and longevity as a unit, not as individual pieces in a puzzle. A researcher from Yale, responding to the publication of the study, suggests that “Once you have a mostly plant based diet and eat few processed foods, almost any variation on the theme will be fine.” The suggestion here is that the Mediterranean diet is healthy for what it doesn’t contain as much as what it does.
What to avoid? The Mediterranean diet is basically free from red meat protein and high amounts of sugars and preservatives.
So now that you’re ready to live long and prosper, like the Greeks, how can you use the study’s findings to improve your diet? To live by the Mediterranean diet means to eat large amounts of certain foods.
Fish and Seafood
While researchers are not in agreement about seafood’s ability to contribute to a longer life, some suggest that the health benefits of consuming seafood may be tied directly to two factors — the “fattiness” of the fish and the way it is prepared. Believe it or not, a “fatty” fish can help lower cholesterol, as long as it isn’t deep fried.
This versatile oil is widely used in Mediterranean style cooking, in fact, olive oil has become a symbol for the Mediterranean diet as a whole. While Greece is not the only nation that consumes a large amount of olive oil, they are one of the largest consumers and producers of the product, and eating larger amounts of good quality olive oil along with the other foods in the diet appears to improve your cardiac health and contribute to a longer life.
The healthy reputation of olive oil may be justified, as the authors of the new study into the Mediterranean diet have found that this component of the Greek diet appears to contain much of that diet’s health benefits.
Why? Olive oil is rich in something called monounsaturated fat. This is a fat that scientists believe can lower your total cholesterol and has special impact on the levels of low density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol in the blood — this is the “bad” cholesterol we’re all trying to avoid.
Of course, consuming too much olive oil is just as bad as not consuming enough healthy fat — pouring the stuff all over your food is definitely too much of a good thing.
Don’t forget that olive oil has just as many calories per gram as unhealthy fats. Olive oil does not contain cholesterol that will clog your arteries, but it will almost certainly have a negative impact on your weight should you become too fond of it.
This one is controversial. While some researchers suggest that moderate intake of alcohol contributes to heart health and longevity, others suggest that individuals who consume only a moderate amount of alcohol are healthier to begin with than people who may consume larger quanitities. Regardless of where your opinion lies, it is no secret that the Greeks love their wine.
The debate over what place alcoholic beverages should hold in a healthy diet has been going on for decades. First alcohol was bad, then it was good, now its bad again. Who can you trust?
According to the new study into the Meditteranean diet, a moderate level of alcohol consumption (in Greece this traditionally comes from red wine) appears to have a protective effect against heart disease. That’s right — according to these doctors and researchers, having your glass a day could keep the cardiologist away.
In fact, one doc who participated in the study had this to say about the impact of alcohol on the Mediterranean diet — ” . . . of all the components in the diet, the strongest association [with positive health] was regarding protection from moderate alcohol.”
How does this work? Doctors believe that resveratrol — a compound found in grapes, wine made from grapes, fruits like pomegranates and a few other purple colored foods — is the chemical in some alcohols that has a positive effect on heart health. But along with the benefits of moderate alcohol consumption come some dangers. We all know that too much alcohol can have a devestating impact on heart health, as well as put extra weight on our bodies and potentially damage our livers and internal organs.
So unless you can control your drinking it would be best to skip the bottle and reach for a glass of water.
Fruits and Veggies
Your mother was right. Eating your fruits and veggies can be a major factor in living a long and healthy life.
This fact was verified by the researchers into the Greek diet. In fact, the veggie and fruit heavy meals and snacks of the Mediterranean diet are responsible for a great deal of that diet’s positive health impact.
The more fruits and vegetables in your diet the healthier you will be. Food that comes out of the ground is simply healthier for us than any other food. Fruits and vegetables are full of fiber, vitamins and minerals, and antioxidants. It seems new research appears daily to verify what we already knew about natural foods. The Mediterranean diet suggests that we eat these foods every day, ideally that means consuming at least one fresh fruit or veggie at every meal.
Besides what they contain, fruits and veggies are another healthy food for what they do not have — few calories. Besides absorbing healthy amounts of water and fiber, fruits and veggies are more filling than other heavily caloric foods and fit better into a low calorie diet. Layman’s terms — you can eat more of them without feeling guilty.
The Question of Dairy
Probably even more controversial than the role of alcohol in the Mediterranean diet is the question of dairy. Many doctors are concerned that people avoiding dairy here in America (for health reasons and as part of fad anti dairy diets) is contributing to an epidemic of diseases related to a lack of calcium, such as osteoporosis, broken hips, and other calcium deficiencies. In the Mediterranean diet, dairy products are generally very scarce. Thankfully, according to the new research into the way Greeks eat, doctors don’t feel that the lack of dairy contributed either way to the Greek’s relative health.
If you are going to consume dairy, reach for low fat dairy products. Remember that avoiding dairy altogether could be a dangerous decision. You don’t want to deal with brittle bones later in life.
Nuts and Seeds
The final aspect of the Mediterranean diet that seems to contribute strongly to its success was the presence of large amounts of nuts and seeds.
Nuts and seeds offer a healthy source of unsaturated fatty acids, specific nuts like almonds and walnuts offer a wealth of nutrients including calcium potassium and fiber.
Almonds and walnuts are favorites in the Greek diet, and both have been tied to better heart health through research.
Just like other facets of the Mediterranean diet, nuts and seeds are healthy for what they don’t contain as much as what they do — these foods tend to be free of “bad” fats, as well as sugars and salts if they are properly prepared.
Is the Mediterranean diet for you? If you’re looking to extend your life, increase your heart health, and enjoy the food you’re eating while you do it, the Mediterranean diet is one of the only “diets” approved across the board by doctors. If you don’t think you can handle cutting out red meat, and depending more on fruits, vegetables, nuts, and healthy fats for your calories, you may be better off with a fad diet. After all, if you don’t like what you’re eating, you won’t stick to the diet.
What is Obama’s plan to reform health care?
President Obama’s top priority is well known — health care reform.
Our last Democratic president, Bill Clinton, made an attempt early in his administration to pass some measure of health care reform, famously championed by First Lady Hilary Clinton. Political pundits say that Clinton made his attempt too soon in his presidency, and a major advertising campaign against health care reform most likely sank Clinton’s chance of achieving what some say is impossible — curing America’s terrible health care troubles.
What exactly does President Obama propose? His plan is similar to Clinton’s, but legislators in Washington are attempting to create a bipartisan compromise that would make health care reform practically impossible to defeat.
While Democrats (and a small contingent of Republicans) in the House of Representatives are pushing a very partisan version of Obama’s health care reform bill, major Senate Democrats are working with Republicans to form a compromise that both parties can accept. The Senate’s health committee isn’t acting too rapidly, as they wait for cost estimates from the office of the Congressional Budget on three different plans for health care reform, all centering on requirements for employers. According to Sen. Chris Dodd, a Democrat from Connecticut who is temporarily leading the committee during Sen. Edward M. Kennedy’s treatment for brain cancer, these plans would require employers to provide health coverage for employees or pay a fee into a “pool” to cover the uninsured. How would these plans satisfy Republicans? All three plans would provide employers tax breaks for providing insurance, and Republicans are generally in favor of tax cuts, especially for business. Also, rather than relying on the Federal government to provide health care for Americans, the compromise plan would leave that coverage up to the individual state’s, another nod to Republicans who favor state government over national control. Another of the compromise approaches would require employers to pay in to the federal treasury to cover employees who are covered under so called “public plans”. Still another scenario for health care reform would require employers who don’t provide their employees with health insurance to pay the government a set amount of money per employee per year.
Part of the problem is the upcoming recess in congressional action — July 4 brings with it a time of rest for members of Congress. Most of these representatives will head to their home districts and will likely face tough questions from their constituents about the planned overhaul of the nation’s troubled health care system.
The aforementioned partisan bill brought up by House Democrats last week is being debated in hearings that began today, Tuesday June 23. This draft of the health care reform legislation, written entirely by Democrats without Republican input, would require all Americans to purchase health insurance, much like we are forced to purchase auto insurance, and would put simialr requirements on employers as the bill being tossed about in the Senate.
The problem in the Senate is simply delay after delay. The Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee tossed out a deadline that would have forced the Senate to either pass or vote down their version of the bill by the end of the week. According to those responsible for the end of the deadline, the Senate simply won’t have time to get the bill done before the July 4 recess. The most troublesome bits of the bill are those that deal with the introduction of plan to compete with existing coverage from private insurers — also at odds is what requirements employers would have to deal with in order to provide care to their employees.
Making things even more complicated is the question of cost — many initial estimates showed that the Senate plan would cost over $1 trillion over the next 10 years, a number that Senators of both parties are working to bring down. How will the costs drop? According to Senate sources, there will be deep cuts to Medicare and Medicaid, and a slew of taxes to raise money (much to the chagrin of Republicans) along with the possibility of increased fees on employers who won’t provide health coverage for their employees.
President Obama’s goal — to sign a health care reform bill by October of 2009 — was to control costs and provide health coverage to 50 million uninsured Americans. This now appears in serious doubt, though not for lack of trying on his part and on the part of his fellow Democrats.
A compromise is still possible. Among those working for a bipartisan compromise to the health care bill are Republicans Charles Grassley of Iowa, Mike Enzi of Wyoming, Orrin Hatch of Utah, and Olympia Snowe of Maine — the Democrats working on a compromise are Kent Conrad of North Dakota and Jeff Bingaman of New Mexico.
Whatever became of the Craigslist Killer?
Just a couple of months ago the internet was buzzing with the news of the so called “Craigslist Killer” — an unknown man whose method of murder involved hiring “massage therapists” on Craigslist and then assaulting, robbing, or even killing them.
The Craigslist Killer made such a splash in the news and in the public eye that Craigslist, the popular private retail and real estate website, was forced to shut down that part of their business that advertised “Sexual services” such as massages and exotic dancing.
The man accused of being the Craigslist Killer, Philip Markoff, appeared in court today in Suffolk County for his arraignment hearing.
Markoff, a mild mannered medical student, is accused of killing a masseuse he met via Craigslist. At his arraignment, Markoff spoke in a chillingly confident and even keeled voice, saying he is “not guilty” of any of the seven charges he is facing. His arraignment in Suffolk Superior Court was something of a media madhouse, with cameras and reporters stalking the scene. Markoff is charged with first degree murder and six other charges stemming from a single attack that prosectures say that have evidence he committed. These are not the only charges Markoff may face, as he is purportedly linked to other Craigslist based crimes.
Markoff’s defense attorney John Salsberg did not say much at this arraignment. Salsberg offered no early defense for his client in court or present any argument in favor of bail, probably hoping to avoid attention altogether. John Salsberg asked the judge, Magistrate Gary D. Wilson, to keep the prosecution from repeating the details of Markoff’s alleged crimes, arguing that the repetition of the well known crimes would “poison a potential jury pool” — Magistrate Wilson dismissed that request, as expected, deciding to allow the prosecution to continue reciting the alleged facts of Markoff’s crime. Though the prosecution’s description took quite a while, no new details came out of this recitation. This could be because the case of the Craigslist Killer was so popular in April of this year, and all the details that could have come out have already been squeezed out.
Wearing a plain blue dress shirt and showing little emotion or express, Philip stood and listened to Assistant Suffolk District Attorney Edmond Zabin go over the “brutal nature” of Markoff’s alleged attacks on three women that he supposedly met through Craigslist. Zabin gave particular attention to the details related to the first degree murder charge, pointing out the specific and “brutal” details of the “deadly assault” against 25-year-old Julissa Brisman that occured on April 14, 2009.
As expected, Zabin argued that the defendant Philip Markoff should continue to be held “without bail”. Zabin made reference to the “strength of the evidence at this point against Mr. Markoff, which at this point includes video and electronic and documentary evidence and forensic evidence linking him to all three of these crimes, the least of which is to the murder weapon.” Markoff can be seen looking calm but nervous, even swallowing hard in one photo circulating the newswire.
The Boston Globe reported today that prosecutors in the case told a grand jury that Markoff ‘used another man’s New York driver’s license” to purchase the 9mm automatic handgun allegedly used to kill Julissa Brisman at the Boston Marriott Copley Place hotel in April. Besides hearing from prosecutors, the grand jury gathered for the arraignment heard testimony from Markoff’s alleged victims, witnesses to the crimes, and Markoff’s own fiancee, Megan McAllister, who made a name for herself on the talk show circuit defending Philip. You may remember that McAllister called off the couple’s wedding soon after Markoff’s arrest, though she still claims Markoff is “incapable” of the crimes he’s accused of committing.
The grand jury handed over the seven count indictment late last Thursday. Philip Markoff, who is only 23, was eventually arraigned this morning on charges of first degree murder, one count of armed robbery, one count of armed assault with intent to commit robbery, two counts of armed kidnapping, and two counts of unlawful possession of a firearm. After his arrest on April 20, Philip Markoff pleaded not guilty to charges that are connected to the murder of Julissa Brisman and the violent robbery of Trisha Leffler, who is a 29 year old prostitute from Las Vegas. According to Leffler, Markoff took her debit card, $800 in cash, and $250 in gift cards. The motive? It is unclear, though prosecutors have made mention of Markoff’s incredible gambling debts, said to run into the tens of thousands of dollars. Others speculate that Markoff is a sociopath — a charming and attractive person driven to commit terrible crimes.
In both cases against him, and in the case of a third assault in Rhode Island, Philip Markoff reported used prepaid cellphones and temporary or anonymous e mail addresses to make appointments via Craigslist with victims who had advertised their “erotic services” on the popular website. Allegedly, Markoff then tied his victims up with plastic zip ties and duct tape, incapacitating them so he could have his way.
As for how Markoff obtained the firearm, Suffolk District Attorney Daniel F. Conley said he likely used a driver’s license belonging to a man named Andrew Miller to buy the gun in February. After this detail came out, prosecutors interviewed Andrew Miller and let him go — they do not believe he is connected to the crimes in any way.
Digging Markoff’s grave even deeper, fingerprints belonging to the young medical student were found on firearm registration forms filled out at the time that the gun was purchased.
Markoff’s alleged attacks were “quick and brutal” and his “methods were similar in all the cases”, according to Conley and other prosecutors. According to Conley — “He had a very brief encounter with Julissa Brisman. He bound her hands, he used the same ties that he used on Trisha Leffler, and they had a very, very violent struggle. And, in the course of that struggle, he hit Miss Brisman in the head with his gun. He then pressed the gun into her chest and he fired the gun. She suffered three gunshot wounds, and he fled the grounds.’’ Brisman died of her wounds.
The indictment was handed down only after the grand jury was given evidence (presented by prosecutors) and listened to testimony from multiple witnesses, including two victims and his one time fiancee Megan McAllister. Conley said the office of the prosecution presented “volumes of physical evidence”, including security camera footage from the hotels where the attacks happen that allegedly “clearly shows Markoff entering and leaving each attack”. Evidence presented also included fingerprints recovered from the duct tape used in the process of the crime, and fingerprints frm the plastic ties used to bind Markoff’s alleged victims.
Markoff was attending Boston University School of Medicine at the time of the attacks and his arrest, but officials at that University suspended him when prosecutors filed criminal charges. Before attending Boston University, Markoff graduated from the State University of New York at Albany, which is where he met McAllister.
Why did Kodak stop making Kodachrome film?
Paul Simon’s song about Kodachrome was a huge hit in 1973. In the song, Simon extolled the virtues of the world’s first mass market color film.
“Kodachrome, they give us those nice bright colours / They give us the greens of summers / Makes you think all the world’s a sunny day.”
The world’s a little less sunny today, as the Eastman Kodak Company announces the end of Kodachrome film. Eastman’s Kodachrome film was the first commercially available color film that achieved success. First developed in 1935, Kodachrome film was long the standard for commercial and print photography. Kodachrome film required professional development, due to its “subtractive method”, and as of this writing only one commercial photo developer will work with Kodachrome — a small photo shop in the state of Kansas. So why the sudden decline in the use of Kodachrome, and why is Eastman retiring the once popular film? Eastman says the 74 year old product has been facing dwindling sales for years now due to newer technology, and also cites the fact that almost no labs process the film.
According to Eastman, revenue from Kodachrome film represents “a fraction of one percent” of Kodak’s annual sales. In a statement released today, Eastman Kodak acknowledges that Kodachrome was the world’s first commercially successful color film, but that digital technology and films that are easier to process have curtailed the Kodachrome market.
Eastman Kodak, a Rochester, New York company, has complained that its film business’ profits have evaporated as digital cameras came to dominate the photography world. Chief Executive Officer Antonio Perez said earlier this year that the company lost over $ 4.5 billion in market value in 2008 alone. Perez said the company is “struggling to show investors it has a place in new technology,” and that Kodachrome is not a part of that plan.
It is true that the majority of photographers today prefer digital technology to capture and manipulate images, both still and video. The wide availability of digital technology and the easy with which a user can alter and even publish the digital images has made old film practically obsolete. Even professional photographers — be they taking photos of models or for a more artistic purpose — are switching to digital. According to Eastman Kodak, the company earns as much as 70 percent of its income from commercial and consumer digital businesses rather than film.
Photo labs that are willing to process the old Kodachrome film have literally shrank to one size fits all — Dwayne’s Photo in Parsons, Kansas is the last remaining photo shop that will develop Kodachrome film. Dwayne’s Photo lab will continue processing the film through 2010, for those customers who wish to continue using Kodachrome as long as they can, and the Kodak company has estimated that existing Kodachrome film and other supplies will last until “early fall”. After that, it may be impossible to find Kodachrome.
The news that Kodak is abandoning an obsolete technology may have helped their stock price in the long run — Kodak has lost just 4 cents today and the stock price stands at $2.81. How is this good news? Shares of Eastman Kodak had been on a major slump — dropping 57 percent so far this year. Maybe Kodak’s commitment to move toward new technology has given investors a much needed bit of confidence.
The President of Kodak’s Film division had this to say about the long standing product — “Kodachrome is an iconic product and a testament to Kodak’s long and continuing leadership in imaging technology. It was certainly a difficult decision to retire it, given its rich history.”
For all of its beauty and tradition, Kodachrome film requires a complex and expensive manufacturing process, and an incredibly difficult processing procedure. Compare this to a digital camera, which users can point and shoot, alter the image on a home computer, and print the photo in just a few minutes. A lack of any real processing availability, as well as the features of other films introduced by Kodak over the last 74 years, has created a market where Kodachrome film is simply not neccessary.
What products have replaced Kodachrome? Outside of digital processing, Kodak has constantly added new film products to the market, including seven professional grade still films and the popular Vision2 and Vision3 motion picture films, these nine new products in just the past three years. These new still film products, as well as products not made by Eastman Koda, are the major choice for professional and even many amateur photographers who are looking for quality still and motion picture films.
To retire Kodachrome, Kodak will host an online gallery featuring popular and groundbreaking work made on Kodachrome film. The last few rolls of Kodachrome ever made will be donated to the George Eastman House International Museum of Photography and Film, where photographer Steve McCurry (probably best known for his photograph of “The Afghan Girl” for National Geographic magazine) will shoot one of these last rolls of Kodachrome, and the images will be donated to Eastman House and displayed on the internet.
What is Juneteenth?
Every June 19th, African Americans in as many as forty states across the country celebrate Emancipation Day. Sometimes called Freedom Day or simply Juneteenth (which is a mashup of June and Nineteenth), the day is set aside to remember the passing of the Emancipation Proclamation.
Though President Lincoln’s emancipation proclaiming the end of slavery in the United States was “effective” on January 1, 1863, news of the emancipation moved slowly, due to lack of communication (there was no CNN, no national newspapers) and because white slave owners who may have heard about the emancipation were not likely to deliver the news to their slaves. June 19, 1863 was the day that Union General Gordon Granger arrived with thousands of troops to Galveston, Texas in order to take over control of the state of Texas and deliver the news of emancipation. Not surprisingly, Juneteenth was first celebrated in Galveston, and has since grown into a nearly nationwide celebration of the end of slavery, a black mark on our nation’s history.
Juneteenth is a day for African Americans (and all people of the United States) to commit to each other as a family. It is a day set aside for building communication and brotherhood, or to work together or volunteer on projects to enhance not just African American communities, but all communities. Juneteenth is a day for all people to pray for true peace and liberty for all citizens.
As of 2009, 31 states officially recognize Juneteenth as a holiday, including states as diverse as Alaska, California, Missouri, and New Mexico.
Here’s part of the proclamation read after the seizure of Galveston:
“The people of Texas are informed that, in accordance with a proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free. This involves an absolute equality of personal rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them becomes that between employer and hired labor.”
As you can imagine, the former slaves who lived in the city of Galveston rejoiced, and began dancing and celebrating in the streets for days. The very next year, the first Juneteenth celebration took place in Galveston, quickly spreading around Eastern Texas (the Western part of the state, mostly settled by Germans and other Europeans, were not known to be slave owners, and generally fought against the practice) and eventually spread to the rest of the country.
Juneteenth is usually celebrated with parades, music, parties, and a huge spread of tradtional southern foods served buffet style or as a picnic meal in a park or other meeting place, such as a church or community center. The traditional southern food served on Juneteenth includes barbecue, ham, fried chicken, piles of greens, cakes, pies, homemade bread, home made ice cream, and plenty of local fruits.
Other parts of any Juneteenth celebration include a reading or performance of the Emancipation Proclamation, to remind people what the day is all about, African American genealogy, the singing of traditional songs, and the performance of poems and plays written by African-American writers.
Some activists use Juneteenth as a time to talk openly about African American culture, to talk with other races in America and debunk myths about African Americans, to celebrate historic moments in African American history, and otherwise challenge the notion of what it means to be “black”.
Did the FDA recall the cold remedy Zicam?
Shares of Matrixx Initiatives Inc. plummeted 70 percent on Tuesday as the makers of the popular Zicam cold remedy products were slapped with something akin to an FDA recall.
According to the FDA, use of Zicam (the main ingredient of which is zinc) can lead to temporary or even permanent loss of smell. Still, the FDA stopped short of officially recalling the product.
Cold sufferers should stop using Zicam Cold Remedy, both their popular nasal gel and other zinc containing products, because of the threat of permanent loss of the sense of smell, according to the FDA’s press release issued on Tuesday. Scientists and FDA officials say that the zinc found in Zicam may damage nerves in the nose which are necessary for our sense of smell. Two other big selling Zicam products that will be affected by the Food and Drug Administration’s recall announcement are both the adult and child doses found in Zicam Cold Remedy Nasal Swabs. The FDA reports that over 130 Zicam consumers have reported some loss of smell after using the popular Zicam products in the last decade. This announcement caused Matrixx Initiatives stock price to hit its lowest point ever.
The recall by the FDA comes as a minor shock — normally, the FDA doesn’t get involved with herbal remedies, which Zicam is classified as. In fact, Zicam was never a part of a formal FDA approval process because it is part of that group of remedies which are almost never required to undergo any FDA review before being sold to the public. Zicam is considered a “homeopathic product”. However, when any product sold to Americans appears to be dangerous, the government has the right to step in.
Dr. Charles Lee, head of the FDA’s compliance unit, said this about the recall yesterday. “Loss of the sense of smell is potentially life threatening and may be permanent. People without the sense of smell may not be able to detect dangerous life situations, such as gas leaks or a fire in the house.” For their part, Matrixx Initiatives defended the safety of their products, but did backpedal to say that they will most likely remove them from the marketplace.
Health officials from the FDA and other goverment organizations have said they will ask Matrixx Initiatives executives to hand over a large backstock of consumer complaints (somewhere in the neighborhood of 800 reports) concerning the loss of smell. The FDA says that any document the company has on file related to this claim will be inspected. A new law passed in 2007 requires manufacturers to report these kind of problems with their products, but the FDA is staying mute on the issue of whether Matrixx broke the law or not. The 130 plus reports used by the FDA to make this semi recall are from doctors and their patients, not from Matrixx.
A letter sent to Matrixx Initiatives on Tuesday asked the company very firmly to “stop marketing its zinc based products”, but in truth, the Food and Drug Administrationdid not go so far as to issue a true recall. To bypass the recall process, FDA regulators insisted that Matrixx Initiatives has to submit safety and efficacy data on the drug before attempting to sell it to the public. This means that the next step for Matrixx, if they’d like to continue selling Zicam, is to approach the FDA and seek that organization’s formal approval.
Does Zicam pose a danger to people who use it? Medical records aren’t 100% clear, but do seem to support patient’s claims that the use of Zicam was directly linked to their loss of smell. As for why Matrixx Initiatives would want to continue selling Zicam, the answer is simple. The homeopathic cold remedy market is huge, and Matrixx wants to maintain a piece of that pie. In fact, the worldwide market for homeopathic drugs in general runs into the hundreds of millions.
Unknown to most of the public, Matrixx Initiatives has settled hundreds of lawsuits connected with Zicam out of court in the past ten years, but still claims on its Web site that ” . . . no plaintiff has ever won a court case, because there is no known causal link between the use of Zicam Cold Remedy nasal gel and impairment of smell.” If this were totally true, why would Matrixx be paying off people who sue for damages?
In a statement released late Tuesday, Matrixx Initiatives stated that the safety of Zicam Cold Remedy is “supported by the cumulative science and has been confirmed by a multidisciplinary panel of scientists.” But the FDA says it is unaware of any real scientifc data supporting Zicam’s claims and what they write on the product’s label. Matrixx makes some serious claims about Zicam, including that the drug “reduces cold symptoms”, including “sore throat, stuffy nose, sneezing, coughing and congestion.” If that sounds like a drug label to you, you’re not alone.
Matrixx said it will most likely withdraw the products in question, which earned that company around 40 percent of its $111.6 million in sales in the last year alone.
What is Bunker Hill Day?
Bunker Hill Day is an official holiday in some parts of Massachusetts. Some state employees in Masachusetts, including many in Boston, the state’s largest city, get the day off from work, and schools and local groups commemorate the battle of Bunker Hill with parades, receptions, and other events.
Every June 17th, the people of Boston and Suffolk County, where the battle that launched America’s war for Independence took place, take time out to remember that battle, to honor those who died, and to celebrate America’s freedom.
To celebrate Bunker Hill Day, many people will visit the Bunker Hill Monument in Suffolk County. Lines to get into the monument on this day are especially long, and the adjacent museum is packed with people learning the story of the famous battle and the subsequent war with England. The 2.5 mile Freedom Trail, which winds its way through some of the more historic spots related to the dawn of our country, is another popular destination of Bunker Hill Day.
Besides the expected celebrations — parades, short plays, and barbecues, there are many battle re enactments staged in Boston proper and its suburbs. People come from around the country to participate in these re enactments — where you can find people dressed in authentic costume, firing blanks at rival armies, and pretending to be period farmers and tradesmen while the fighting rages in the background. Re enactments are particularly interesting to students of history, and if you’ve never seen one, Bunker Hill Day is a perfect time to become familiar.
Bunker Hill Day is also a popular time to volunteer at celebrations, or even to take on a major project, such as cleaning up the city of Boston and its surrounding towns, or simply making a cash donation to organizations that protect that city’s rich history. After all, even national monuments need help with cleanup and maintenance from time to time.
There is some controvery beginning to stir this year around Bunker Hill Day. Every citizen of Boston or Suffolk County who works for the state government gets the day off, and everyone who works for the city of Boston can claim that reward as well. Not only do they get the day off, but it is a paid vacation day. The people of Boston are angry about the nearly $5 million tab that results from this celebration, especially considering that the Bunker Hill Parade itself, the one sponsored by the state government, takes place on the weekend before Bunker Hill Day. Many are wondering — isn’t that celebration enough?
This year, an attempt was made in the Massachusetts state legislature to cancel these days off considering the troubling economy. Unfortuantely for those who were angry about paying for a day off for state workers, that legislation failed to pass, thanks to a deadlocked 75-75 vote.
It is likely that the debate over Bunker Hill Day will continue into next year, and as taxpayers get more vocal in their opposition to this paid vacation day for state employees, their representation in the state legislature will likely follow suit. Enjoy this year’s Bunker Hill Day, state employees — it may be the last one you get to celebrate at home.
Did Sammy Sosa use performance enhancing drugs?
If only Sammy Sosa had been warned about the ides of March.
It was the middle of March, 2005, when Sosa stood before Congress and told what we now know was a series of lies. Sosa, who seemed to be struggling with English, spoke through a lawyer, saying that he had “never taken performance enhancing drugs”, had never “injected himself with anything” nor had anyone else ever injected him with anything. Many sports writers and other analysts found Sosa’s sudden “difficulty” with English little more than a smokescreen, but his statement was made.
Now, more than four years later, Sosa’s name is reportedly on a list of 104 players who tested positive for performance enhancing drugs in 2003.
Because the test that Sosa failed was administered before the Congressional hearing took place, Sosa is in some potentially very hot water. During the course of that all day televised hearing, the House Government Reform Committee’s goal was to examining baseball’s apparently weak drug testing program, and determine what the impcat of that program is on on steroid use among teenagers — who tend to idolize professional ballplayers. In the end, after questioning Sosa, Mark McGwire, Rafael Palmeiro, and others, the Committee’s members determined that baseball’s policy was “full of holes” and Congress threatened to legislate tougher testing policies if baseball neglected to do it on their own.
Sammy Sosa, who joined with fellow Congressional interest Mark McGwire during the 1998 season in an historical pursuit of baseball’s home run record, has been named as one of the players testing positive for some sort of performance enhancing drug during that 2003 test, according to lawyers and other sources who have knowledge of the infamous “list of 104″. This fact makes Sosa the latest (and perhaps the most famous) baseball player of the past two decades to be linked to cheating through substances — a group including McGwire, Roger Clemens, Barry Bonds, Alex Rodriguez and Rafael Palmiero.
The lawyers who had knowledge of Sosa’s inclusion on the 2003 list, and who broke this story, did not know and could not name the exact substance for which Sosa tested positive.
Sammy Sosa, who is sixth on baseball’s all time career home run list, last stepped into the batter’s box in 2007. He will likely be brought up on charges of perjury, though no charges have yet been filed. Sosa has been suspected of using performance enhancing drugs in the past, but was never caught during his baseball career, and in fact has never been publicly linked to a positive test of any kind — until now.
That epic homerun battle between Sammy Sosa and Mark McGwire in 1998 is credited with reviving baseball, a sport that was seeing ratings drop, fan interest wane, and profits dwindle. Part of the problem with baseball in the 1990s was a series of labor disputes that resulted in a major lockout and an even larger player’s strike. The lockout in 1990, which was a dispute over the player’s Basic Agreement, wiped out almost all of spring training, set opening day back over a week, and extended the season by about a week. This was just a hiccup compared to the 1994 strike. This strike, basically a dispute over the salary cap, lasted for nearly a year, and led to the cancellation of 948 games as well as the 1994 World Series. Many people believed this strike could destroy America’s game, and the homerun race just four years later likely brought many fans back to the game they love. To watch Sammy Sosa and Mark McGwire knock multiple homeruns per game, sometimes head to head with one another, was a thrill. Little did we know that it was a manufactured thrill.
Sammy Sosa has been digging his own grave for a while now. In the course of a recent interview with the spanish language broadcaster ESPN Deportes, Sosa, who is now 40 years old, said he was “calmly waiting” for his induction into baseball’s Hall of Fame. Unfortunately for Sosa, the fact of this positive test in 2003, when he was playing for the Chicago Cubs, will likely keep him out of that lofty position. Sosa is still set to become Hall of Fame eligible in 2013, but a conviction on perjury would seriously damage his already frail chances of taking a seat among baseball’s elite players. If you want evidence of the difficulty of entering the Hall of Fame as an accused steroid abuser, look at what has happened with Mark McGwire — McGwire has received very few votes on each of the three Hall of Fame ballots his name has been on.
The test that finally caught up with Sammy Sosa was, in fact, the very first test given by Major League Baseball that looked for a wide range of performance enhancers — not just the standard steroids, but the more elusive growth hormones and other enhancement substances. Though the league made certain provisions with the Major League Baseball player’s union, the results of this first test were supposed to remain unknown to the general public — only MLB would know who tested positive, and would use that result to test more in the future as well as hand out penalties to players who tested positive. In fact, Major League Baseball was supposed to destroy the test results. The idea was to “wait and see” — if more than 5 percent of the player’s results were positive during that first test, then Major League Baseball would continue to test the next year. Unfortunately for baseball players, far more than 5 percent tested positive, though we don’t know the exact number yet.
Fast forward to 2005 — for reasons that Major League Baseball has never made clear, those test results from 2003 were never destroyed by the player’s union, and 104 positive results were seized by federal agents who were investigating matters related to distribution of drugs, both performance enhancing and recreational, to athletes. As the player’s union feared, the names of those 104 positive tests have leaked out, slowly but surely. In February, Sports Illustrated reported that superstar and current player Alex Rodriguez was named on the 2003 list. Rodriguez was forced to acknowledge he had used steroids for three years, though he embarassed himself by claiming that he didn’t know what he was being given. Now that Sosa’s name has been disclosed, we are in a holding pattern, waiting for the other shoe to drop.
What is behind the Colorado Rockies’ recent sucess?
On Sunday, June 14, 2009, the streaking Colorado Rockies won a franchise record tying 11th game in a row. This is a stunning turnaround for a team that fired its popular manager after a dismal 18 – 28 starting record. In fact, the Rockies fired their manager just seventeen days ago, on May 29. Obviously, the change in leadership had some kind of impact on the team, as it took only five days apart from their old manager to start this incredible winning streak.
The Rockies new manager, Jim Tracy, is being handed the majority of the credit for this remarkable run, though he would be quick to shift the credit to his players. Tracy is a manager that believes in a soft touch — not the kind of guy who tosses his weight around in the clubhouse, not the kind of manager that will sap a player’s strength for the sake of a single win.
So what is responsible for the Rockies eleven game win streak? You could look at it from a philosophical point of view — the Rockies have more points than their opponents at the end of the game. Or you could credit their big hitters for putting those points on the board in the first place. Whatever force you credit, the Rockies are surprising everyone.
In their most recent win, against the Seattle Mariners on Sunday, Garrett Atkins and Todd Helton had three hits apiece, and the Rockies confidently beat the Seattle Mariners 7-1.
Another interesting stat — Colorado’s starting pitchers have won 10 times during the streak — this shows the skill level of the starting pitchers, and also the strength of the offense. Ten wins for the starters means that the offense has come on strong early in most of these games.
The Rockies now stand with a solid 13-4 record under interim manager Jim Tracy — those four losses all came at the beginning of their stretch with the new manager, including dropping three straight to the slumping Houston Astros. Listening to Todd Helton, probably Colorado’s biggest star, you’d think that the Rockies were in the middle of a playoff race.
“Every day we walk out on the field we expect to win. In the big leagues you’re facing good teams and sometimes it doesn’t happen and that’s why you don’t get too down when things go bad because you can always turn them around.”
This isn’t the first streak for the Rockies in recennt memory — you might remember a time when the Colorado team won 11 straight games from Sept. 16-27, 2007. This included a surge from the back of the pack to win the National League wild card. They won 14 of their last 15 that season, including a one-game playoff against San Diego to win that wild card spot. The Rockies then won seven straight playoff games, a feat known as “Rocktober”. The team swept Philadelphia in the National League Divisional playoff series and also swept the strong Arizona Diamondbacks in the following National League Championship Series before finally succumbing to Boston in that year’s World Series.
Unfortunately for the Rockies, and for MLB ratings, the current sweep is happening in June. However, the Rockies have continued their strong play against the powerful Mariners, a team with four straight series wins under their belt, and 9 wins out of their last 13 games before starting the series against the Rockies this past weekend.
The Rockies are entering uncharted territory this week — the Tampa Bay Rays are headed into Coors Field on Tuesday, June 16 for the first game of a three game series of Interleague Play. Should the Rockies win, they would set a franchise record for consecutive wins.
The Rockies will attempt to set that record against a Rays team with a respectable 34-31 record. Should the Rockies pull off the win, they’d reach the proverbial .500 point, having won as many games as they’ve lost. This from a club that held a dismal 20-32 record before starting their streak .
Don’t forget — if the Rockies win on Tuesday, they will own Major League Baseball’s longest winning streak for the season. The other competitors for this claim are the Red Sox, who won 11 consecutive games from April 15-27. For most of the Rockie’s players, seeking a 12 game winning streak is a new thing. In fact, most of the Rockie’s players weren’t on the roster for the 2007 “Rocktober” sweep. Even though a potential 12 game streak is something these players have never dealt with before, according to the players, this streak has brought the team together. Listen to Helton talk about the streak’s ability to bond players:
“Obviously it has, because we’re playing good baseball right now. We’ve always been confident. I think guys are showing up and saying, ‘Let’s try to make it happen,’ I know on a personal note, I’m showing up and just excited to be here, especially when we’re playing well.”
The only obstacle for the Rockies was a day off on Monday. Sometimes, days off in the middle of a streak can be murder for player’s confidence. Rockies manager Jim Tracy expects the players to continue playing the way they have when they return to the game on Tuesday, saying he’s “fairly convinced” that his team will show up with the same edge they have had for the last two weeks. In fact, Tracy says — “I know they will.”
And that makes all the difference.
What is Hunch?
Hunch.com is another new search engine designed to meet a need that the developers feel isn’t currently met by the wide range of search options now available. What does Hunch do that the other search engines don’t?
According to the brains behind Hunch, the search engine (which has been in development for over a year) helps users search for answers based on the individual making the search. Rather than returning generic results available to anyone who asks a given question, Hunch first learns all about the user’s preferences, dislikes, and internet traffic behavior.
Hunch is launching today, Monday, June 15, 2009. Hunch aims to spit out computer generated advice on actual questions inputted by a user — these can be any number of questions, ranging from basic info searches to lifestyle and even consumer based questions. “What kind of car should I buy?”, “What should I get my girlfriend for our anniversay?”, and even “Which album by the Beatles would I like?” are all fair game. By basing the results on the individual asking the question, Hunch is set up for “the new Internet”, a place that is mostly driven by intuition.
Let’s get one thing straight — Hunch is not a search engine, not by any current definition. Normal search engines, think Google Yahoo, peek around the “open Web” for information, or by gathering various written opinions, as is the case with Amazon.com or other retailers with search engine capability. Unlike all of these, Hunch gives you answers by comparing what it knows about you to what it knows about other users who may be somewhat like you.
Hunch’s founder is Caterina Fake, who you may know from her other big start up, a little site called Flickr.com. Fake has turned Flickr into one of the most popular file sharing sites, and after Yahoo acquired Flick in 2005, Fake was set for life.
How do you use Hunch? It stars out a bit tough. Users will begin the Hunch process by answering questions — a lot of questions. More questions than are on the chain email surveys your college roommate is still sending you. Hunch will propose up to 1,500 questions for you to answer about yourself, a kind of personality test that includes questions about your political positions, how organized you are, your belief in the supernatural, and even basic things like your relationship status and your preference for dogs or cats. Pretty sneaky — once enough people complete this massive questionnaire, Hunch will have a profile of a massive demographic, one that could be the largest collection of personal info in the world.
Hunch wants you to be comfortable with this level of privacy invasion. According to Fake, users of Hunch will become aware of the various demographics they belong to — “Single mothers who prefer dogs and voted for McCain in 2008 but are now considering the Green Party”, etc. Hunch is also very quick to point out that they will not be selling this data to other marketes, but simply using it to provide better results for their users. Unfortunately for Hunch, that “promise” to not sell user’s data is not backed up by any legal document. This means that the site can promise not to sell your data all day long, but until they put it in writing, the data collected by Hunch about your life could be up for grabs in the future. What happens if Hunch is a bomb? Will the bigwigs behind Hunch.com look for easy cash to cover their losses — for instance, by selling their massive demographic data to Wal-Mart or another huge commercial entity?
Getting back to the user process, after Hunch has pigeonholed you into a neat set of personal data, you can begin making requests. Let’s assume you’re looking for that perfect anniversay present — input your request, and the site will ask you a series of questions (normally between five and ten) to help narrow your anniversay gift options by category (jewelry, etc), color, other item specific details, price, etc. The result? A list of gifts or gift ideas that Hunch assumes will perfect fit your basic preferences — all based on that initial question session you voluntarily submitted to.
Early results will not be as strong as results to come in the next few years — this according to Hunch’s main brain, the aforementioned Caterina Fake. The real power of Hunch is its ability to collect data from across the spectrum of web users. The greater the variety of people that Hunch is exposed to, and the more requests that Hunch gives (and then receives feedback on), the better it will tell you exactly what Beatles album you would love.
A direct quote from Caterina Fake — “The measure of a really good piece of social software is whether it gets better or not as people use it. Because Hunch has been in a limited preview to the company’s inner circle, its user base currently lacks diversity.”
Fake said that based on early user feedback, Hunch is “getting it right” four requests out of five, but that Hunch’s developers want to see that number peak at around 95%. Hunch is currently made up of just ten people, though they are a powerful ten. Hunch has raised over $2 million in venture capital during increasingly tight economic times, most of the money comig from Bessemer Venture Partners and General Catalyst Partners.
Hunch is not yet concentrating on turning a profit — the song and dance of every new internet based venture. According to Fake, eventually Hunch will use the large number of user profiles it will generate to sell highly targeted advertising above the level of even Google’s mythical ad scale.
Was the Presidential election in Iran rigged?
On June 12, 2009 Iran held their tenth presidential election. The President of Iran is the highest publicly elected official, though the position is very different from the job done by the President of the United States and other democratic nations. For instance, in Iran the President doesn’t control foreign policy or the military.
Incumbent President Ahmadinejad was expected to face stiff competition, with many analysts in the west expecting his run as President to come to an end. When the results began to surface globally, and Ahmadinejad was declared the winner in a near landslide, cries of irregularities could be heard from just about every news source. In fact, Ahmadinejad’s first victory, in 2005, was met with similar claims. Was the Presidential election in Iran rigged? If so, what does this mean for Iran and for the rest of the world?
The problem with elections in Iran is that there is no monitoring of elections results in Iran. Normally, the ministry of the interior would control election monitoring, but that ministry has stated that the “Council of the Guardians of the Constitution”, a chamber of the 12 most important mullahs, should play that role. Since the Council of the Guardians also does not conduct any election monitoring, it simply isn’t being done.
Candidates for the Presidential elections in Iran are not permitted to be present at polling stations during voting or counting — this is seen as a measure against corruption. At the same time, many of the citizens of Iran, and thus many of the voters, are fully illiterate. To help them to vote, election officials “help” the voters fill in their ballots. If this raises a red flag for you, you are not alone — when election officials “assist” voters, the possibility for election rigging are obvious. Another big difference between Iranian elections and other democratic elections is that there are no “booths” to vote in — all voting is done in public. There couldn’t be a bigger obstacle against voter transparency.
President Ahmadinejad does have a large amount of publicly voiced support in Iran, and it is possible that he won the election, but the sheer size of his win is hotly contested. According to political analysts and experts in Iran, it is simply impossible that Ahmadinejad won the stated 63 percent of the vote. These results seem to have greatly exaggerated the amount of his public support.
Another fishy outcome, according to official results Ahmadinejad won every voting region and was the top candidate across all social classes and ages. As unlikely as this is, without monitoring there is no way for anyone to prove the election was rigged. The problem for Ahmadinejad’s opposition candidates (at least one of whom was quoted as saying the election was “a farce”) is that lack of monitoring. The world just doesn’t know if any or all of Iran’s ten Presidential elections were flawed. All ten elections have occured without monitoring, and the entirety of the election process is conducted by the government.
So what signs are there that the election results may be false? Besides the sheer size of Ahmadinejad’s apparent “victory”, it is interesting to note how early Ahmadinejad was declared the winner. A mere two hours after the closing of polls, Ahmadinejad was “the clear winner”. Why is this strange? Ballots in Iran are counted by hand. How could a solid enough majority of 40 million total votes have been counted in just 120 minutes? Another strange occurence — one of Ahmadinejad’s rivals, Mir Hossein Moussavi, is a member of the ethnic group known as “Azeri Turks”, who live in the Iranian province of Azerbaijan. Yet Ahmadinejad supposedly won that province by a wide margin. Members of the media are likening this loss to a loss by Barack Obama among African Americans in the American Presidential elections of 2008. It is simply unlikely.
Since the results were announced, there has been much anger and protesting on the streets of Iran. The question on a lot of people’s minds — will the violence and anger we are seeing turn into something we should worry about? The answer to this depends on what the opposition candidates do in the next few weeks. Former centrist President Ayatollah Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, who is a founding father of the Islamic republic, feels that the election was stolen from him and that the majority of public support is on his side. The same sentiment is expressed by at least one other major opposition candidate, Mir-Hossein Mousavi. These two candidates have publicly announced their plans to hold more public protests. In other words, this unrest will not be over any time soon.
According to news reports surfacing today, the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has apparently agreed to an investigation into the alleged rigging of the election. Experts on Iran believe that Khamenei won’t actually go through with the investigation unless he believes that his own power is at stake. Still others believe that the Ayatollah was the source of this rigging to begin with — after all, Ahmadinejad is effectively the candidate of the Supreme Leader.
What will be the impact of this election elsewhere in the world? The United States and Europe want to stop Iran from becoming a nuclear force, and Ahmadinejad’s reelection means that the recent aggressive behaviors of Iran towards the West will stay the same. The relationship between the US and Iran will continue to grow more strained. Ahmadinejadis an obstacle to that relationship, as he has been more than willing to trash talk America and push the envelope with regards to nuclear development. Between Ahmadinejad’s denial of the Holocaust and his stance on Israel — saying at one point that he’d like to wipe Israel off the map — there is no hope for a relationship between Iran and the US. But Ahmadinejad’s troubles are not just with outsiders — he has destroyed the Iranian economy, a country that has one of the highest inflation rates in the world as well as one of the highest rates of unemployment. How could a man who so willingly mismanages a country be elected by such a wide margin?
What is Flag Day?
Every year, on June 14, the United States of America celebrates “Flag Day”. Though “Flag Day” is not an official holiday, many towns around the country hold parades and other celebrations to honor the American flag.
Typical ways to honor the American flag are to recite the Pledge of Allegiance, sing our National Anthem (“The Star Spangled Banner”), put on skits depicting the founding of the country, and so on.
In terms of parades, the longest running “Flag Day” celebration is held every year in Quincy, Massachusetts. The “Flag Day” parade in Quincy began in 1952 and this year is celebrating their 59th parade. The single largest “Flag Day” parade is held every year in Troy, New York. This celebration draws around 50,000 people.
“Flag Day” has been celebrated since 1916, when President Woodrow Wilson first issued a proclamation naming June 14th as a day to honor our flag. Why June 14th? The answer is simple — on June 14th, 1777, the second Continental Congress passed a resolution accepting the stars and stripes as our national flag.
“Flag Day” isn’t the only day celebrating our flag — in fact, the entire week of June 14 is designated as “National Flag Week.” During National Flag Week, the President will issue a proclamation urging U.S. citizens to fly the American flag for the length of the week. Also, it is important that the flag is displayed prominently on all Government buildings. Some organizations hold further events in celebration of America’s national flag and everything that flag represents. A big week for veterans, “National Flag Week” celebrates not just the flag itself, or the design on that flag, but also the work that went into its creation — the battles fought and the blood spilled so that America could be a free nation.
Title 36 of the United States Code, Subtitle I, Part A is the “official statute” that calls for the recognition of Flag Day; however the President can use his discretion to officially proclaim the time of observance.
The Betsy Ross Househas been the traditional site of the city of Philadelphia’s observance of Flag Day, even though the story of Betsy Ross’ sewing the original flag has proven to be little more than an urban legend gone wild.
Pennsylvania is currently the only state which celebrates Flag Day as an official state holiday.
What does “Flag Day” mean for the average American? The very least you should do is proudly display the American flag in front of your house. Be sure to display the flag properly — this means placing the American flag at the top of your flag display (no other state flags or nation’s flags may fly above it), ensure that the “Union” of the flag (the field of stars) is facing the correct direction depending on how you are displaying it, and be sure not to allow the American flag to touch the ground as you prepare it for hanging.
Besides proper hanging, there are other things to remember about displaying the red, white, and blue.
1. Fly your flag from sunrise to sunset — don’t leave your flag out overnight unless you have a proper display light.
2. In the morning, raise the flag quickly — a solemn and slow raising is reserved for solemn occasions, which “Flag Day” is not. At sunset, lower it slowly. Always, raise and lower it with a sense of honor.
3. Do not fly the flag in the rain or other bad weather.
4. When flown vertically on a pole, the stars and blue or “union” is at the top and at the end of the pole, away from your house or building.
5. When it is time to put the flag away, fold it, rather than stuffing it into a box.
6. When your flag is old and it is time to retire it, there is a proper retirement ceremony performed normally by Boy Scouts. These old flags are usually burned and buried. Do not throw it in the trash.
What can I do to prepare for TV’s digital transition on Friday?
If you haven’t already worked out a television setup that will allow you to view digital signals, you aren’t quite out of luck.
You may remember that television’s digital transition was supposed to occur this past February. Unfortunately for cable companies, the government stepped in and extended the deadline. The reason? Too many people were simply not prepared. But it wasn’t totally the consumer’s fault.
If you own an analog television, and many of us do, you can still receive televsion through a converter box that sits on top of your television and converts digital cable signals into analog signals that your old school television can recognize. The problem for many people — cost. These converer boxes run for well over $60, including tax. So the government began to issue vouchers for this technology, “coupons” that brought the cost of the converters down to around $24.
Unfortunately for the government, the vouchers were scarce or non existent in many television markets, including in my current home state of New Mexico. This, combined with serious pressure from consumers, led the government to push back the transition date. That day is coming, this Friday, June 12th. After Thursday night, television broadcasters are forbidden from sending out any analog signals.
What can you do if you haven’t already bought your converter box, or subscribed to a service that will ensure you get the new digital signal?
For more information on how to survive the digital transition, visit the FCC’s Web site dedicated to the transition at www.dtv.gov or call their hotline at (888) 225-5322 . To apply for a coupon to help pay for a converter box, go to www.dtv2009.gov.
This Friday will mark the final attempt to make the national transition to all digital television. Older television sets not equipped to receive digital signals can still be used, with the addition of an outboard box as mentioned before. The device is not exactly inconvenient — it is smaller than a DVD player and should easily fit into your home entertainment system.
The voucher program is ongoing. In fact, I found out this morning, via a call to the FCC, that many vouchers are still available.
“We have our guidelines available online free of charge” said the customer service rep from the FCC. When asked what the FCC is most concerned about regarding the transition, the answer was crystal clear: senior citizens. “We’ve been doing everything we can to help seniors get set up with digital.” My representative mentioned, again, that the FCC guidelines were available for free online (and at senior centers and other locations in cities around the nation) and that these guidelines have easy to follow instructions that just about anyone should be able to follow. If a citizen still has trouble installing the box, they can always do what I did, and call the FCC. That number again — (888) 225-5322.
While there was indeed a shortage of converter boxes (not just the vouchers for the boxes), this shortage appears to have ended. Check it out yourself — go to your local Radio Shack, Best Buy, or electronics store of your choice. They likely have converter boxes stacked floor to ceiling. The FCC expects many people to wait until weeks or months after the transition to break down and get a box, and have warned major electronics distributors to be ready for this rush on converters boxes.
If you’re looking to get a voucher at this late hour, go ahead — but you won’t get it in time to buy a cheaper box before the transition, which occurs this Friday, early in the morning. You can go ahead and buy the box yourself, for somewhere between $60 and $70, but it is unlikely that any retailer will take the box back and exchange it for a cheaper one after you’ve opened it.
At my local electronics dealer, converter devices are selling “incredibly well”, according to store manager Danielle Munoz. She added that she was surprised how many people have put off the purchase of their converter box to what literally appears to be “the last moment”. Hey, some of us are procrastinators.
I wasn’t aware of this until I spoke to the FCC, but several major electronics retailers, including Radio Shack, have converter box installers on staff, temporarily, who will go to your home and help you handle the digital transition. At this late date ,you can expect these installers to be booked up.
Some people will attempt to depend on “tabletop” digital antennas, which are smaller and cheaper, and which many people already own, especially in rural areas. Unfortunately, when asked, my friend at the FCC said this was a last ditch effort that people should avoid. The problem lies in signal strength. “Unless you live down the block from the source of the digital signal, you’re out of luck.” It appears that the signals of so called “regional broadcasters” are even weaker, causing people who live in remote areas to wonder if it is even worth purchasing a converter box.
As for why the digital transition was necessary, and why the government is requiring everyone to “go digital” — there’s a simple answer. The FCC says the switch was motivated by the need for emergency services. You see, by forcing commercial television broadcasters off of the analog signal, more analog space is available for police, fire, 911, etc. The end result of the digital transition is that emergency responders will be in better communication with one another.
So, if you’ve put this off to the last minute, your best bet is to go ahead and swallow the $60 or $70 purchase price of the converter box. You simply won’t get your voucher in time to use it.
What is the impact of Fiat’s purchase of Chrysler?
Fiat closed its purchase of Chrysler’s assets on Wednesday, June 10th, 2009. Fiat and Chrysler announced the deal that keeps the 84-year old U.S. automaker afloat during tough times for the auto industry. Chrysler had literally been down to its last few dollars before a government intervention in late 2008. This purchase completes an Obama administration-directed reorganization for Chrysler. Other parts of Chrysler will remain in bankruptcy to be sold or outright closed. Remember, Fiat only purchased the “best assets” of Chrysler.
Fiat Chief Executive Sergio Marchionne became the new CEO of the Chrysler Group LLC after the purchase. The automaker’s former CEO, Bob Nardelli, will return to Cerberus Capital, the one time majority owner of Chrysler, as an adviser. Meanwhile, Fiat’s chief financial officer Richard Palmer has been named CFO of the new company.
In a memo to employees, Marchionne spoke of his optimism about the new company and their outlook for the future. Fiat is known for smaller cars, something that Chrysler has struggled with over the past decade. Said Marchionne:
“There is no doubt in my mind that we will get the job done. This is a bold first step to implement lessons Chrysler and other automakers have learned.”
Marchionne added that Fiat will begin the process of transferring Fiat’s more succesful car technology and powertrains to Chrysler plants worldwide in the next few months. In addition to Fiat, Chrysler Group LLC is also partly owned by a union formed trust company as well as the U.S. and Canadian governments.
The White House was happy about the completion of the deal, and an Obama underling made a statement suggesting that the new alliance is “poised to emerge as a competitive, viable automaker.” The completion of the all important Chrysler sale in just about the advised time frame Obama planned has been seen by industry analysts as a good sign for the company’s prospects. What must Chrysler Group LLC have to do to stay afloat? That’s what General Motors Corp is asking tonight — they are facing a similar fate as Chrysler. GM filed for bankruptcy on June 1, 2009. The GM sale will certainly take longer than the Fiat-Chrysler deal due to the sheer size of GM — the top U.S. based automaker. One thing is for sure — GM will be majority owned by the U.S. government when its sale is completed.
So what does the formation of the new Chrysler Group LLC mean for consumers? What does bankruptcy mean for Joe or Jane Taxpayer if he or she owns a GM or Chrysler or if they are thinking about buying a new one?
The news is good. Even though the companies face some serious legal hurdles before becoming solvent, the consumer probably won’t notice anything different at all. Both GM and Chrysler are still selling cars, after all, even though they have both announced serious plans to cut back on the number of dealers they work with. Don’t forget that the United States government has promised to back the warranties from both companies — this was done to reassure American car buyers. In short, you have nothing to worry about.
The two companies are hoping to gain a new life by making these deals. A reorganization in bankruptcy court means the salvation of hundreds of thousands of jobs that depend on the American auto industry. The federal government, which is busy loaning billions to both companies, hopes that a court approved bankruptcy and corporate reorganization will keep Chrysler and GM from bleeding out financially, and that these companies can eventually be remade into strong players in the world auto market.
So what is GM looking to learn from the collapse and rebirth of Chrysler? The major difference is the size of the companies. Fiat was only able to make this deal with Chrysler because Chrysler is much smaller than GM, and the assets were less expensive.
As the nation’s largest automaker, GM would be one of the largest bankruptcy protection filings ever, if not the largest. Industry analysts are split on that one. However, we know that GM made literally twice as many autos as Chrysler did last year — 3 million produced versus 1.5 million, it doesn’t get much more clean cut than that. GM also employs almost four times as many people as Chrysler. Also, GM has plants and operations in many more countries than Chrysler did. GM is watching the Chrysler deal for tips, but not expecting their transition to run as smoothly.
Part of GM’s plan is to downsize — the company has already made it known that they will do away with the Pontiac brand as part of their efforts to reorganize.
Its important to remember that GM operates globally, while Chrysler is more of a national interest. GM sells cars in over 140 countries, and they own overseas based brands like the Saab (from Sweden), the Vauxhall (from Britain), and the German Opel. Separate deals will certainly have to be struck to resolve international issues related to GM’s overseas holdings. In fact, the German government is already in talks to protect Opel and its 25,000+ workers from a potential GM collapse. Not to mention that GM will have to navigate the bankruptcy law of several foreign countries when filing for bankruptcy in court.
To get a clearer picture of the difference between a GM and Chrysler deal, just look at the amount of money spent on lawyers and other legal assistants who will work in bankruptcy court. Many lawyers and analysts estimate that fees in the Chrysler case will reach in the area of $550 million. Certainly, that’s not chump change — but when you place it up against the estimate for GM’s filing (almost $2 billion) there’s simply no comparison.
What is the “cash for clunkers” program?
Even though unemployment numbers are higher than they’ve been in over twenty years, and people are watching their investments lose value faster than ever before, consumers may just get a huge break from the US government when they go to buy their next car.
It may seem counterintuitive to offer consumers a break on an item that the media would have us believe no one is buying, but let’s be real. People will always have a need for a new vehicle. To spark that interest, the Obama administration has invented an incentive, known as “cash for clunkers”, that would give consumers anywhere from $3,500 to $4,500 off the purchase of a new car — if they meet a few guidelines.
The United States House of Representatives has just approved the “cash for clunkers” legislation. This is great news, but not all that surprising — Democrats far outnumber Republicans in the House, and the legislation was expected to pass, even though Republicans seem to be doing all they can to take Obama out at the ankles. The “cash for clunkers” legislation will offer new car buyers up to $4,500 in incentives if they are willing to trade in their old model gas guzzlers for new environment friendly high mileage cars. The House voted 298-118 in favor of the bill — this represents a “yes” vote from all but nine Democrats, as well as “yes” votes from a measly 59 Republicans. It is difficult for political pundits to answer the question “Why did Republicans not back this legislation?” with anything but an anti-Obama position. However, with control of both the House and the Senate, Democrats shouldn’t have trouble passing just about whatever they want this term.
For consumers to earn “cash for clunkers”, the trade in vehicle must be rated at no more than 18 mpg in order to qualify, meaning “cash for clunkers” will benefit truck, SUV and van owners more than passenger car owners. What’s hilarious to many liberal bloggers is this — wouldn’t you say that most people who own low mileage SUVs are probably conservatives, represented in the House by the same people who attempted to keep “cash for clunkers” down? Regardless of your political opinion on the issue, you have to be optimistic about car dealers have the opportunity to churn up some business.
Further qualifications exist. If you’re buying a car that gets at least 4 mpg more, you’ll instantly get a $3,500 voucher — but it gets better. Pick a car that averages 10 mpg more than your old clunker, and you’ll earn an additional $1,000 credit. The total — $4,500 towards the purchase of your new gas sipping car.
The measure will now move directly to the Senate, where it is expected to pass. If the legislation passes the Senate, it will head back to President Barack Obama for his approval and signature. Obama has been all but a cheerleader for “cash for clunkers”. The program is expected to go into effect within 30 days of Obama’s anticipated signature, but will not be retroactive for car purchases made before that 30 days begins later this year.
There are some restrictions built into “cash for clunkers”. Trade-in cars must have been under insurance at some point during this past year, and trade in cars that are 25 years old or older are not eligible. In part, this will keep people from attempting to trade in any old rust trap they have sitting on cinder blocks in the front yard. The cash for clunkers program is not permanent — the current language clearly designates the program to last for exactly one year from the time of its inception, or “until Federal funding runs out”.
The House says it will spend about $4 billion that had been expected to be allocated toward a now unncessary war supplemental spending bill, rather than using previously allocated dollars. This could be the cause of conservative uproar — unfortunately, the money that was intended to move toward the military’s supplemental spending bill has been made obsolete by the approaching end to major Iraqi occupation.
Don’t worry about dealing with unwilling or scam happy car dealers, either. Dealers will be required to participate in the program by the government, and will also be required to prove that traded in vehicles have been crushed or shredded, and not resold to consumers.
What is the TYM test?
British medical researchers have created a new cognitive test that detects Alzheimer’s disease quickly and accurately. The self administered test, known as TYM or “test your memory”, was developed at Addenbrooke’s Hospital.
Although the mental illness known widely as “dementia” is quite common, with a prevalence of around 13 for every 1000 people aged 65-69 and 122 in 1000 in those over 80, only about half of people affected by this debilitating disease are ever diagnosed. This new test, that evaluates a patient’s cognitive ability, appears to be faster and more accurate than current tests in detecting early dementia, according to the British researchers that developed it. The best news about TYM may be that you can give the test to yourself. No need for a doctor’s visit or a copay.
The TYM test “shows great promise as a screening test for Alzheimer’s or in monitoring response to treatment,” according to lead researcher Dr. Jeremy Brown, who is a consultant neurologist at Addenbrooke’s Hospital in Cambridge. However, he said, “so far it has only been tested in one clinical scenario, and it needs assessment in others.”
People can take the test, which exists as a kind of questionnaire, on their own. However, the results of the test still need to be interpreted by medical professionals and if a medical solution can be found for possible dementia, that too will require a doctor’s care.
Though many in the media are saying so, the researchers do no believe that TYM is a diagnostic test for Alzheimer’s disease. The closest that the Addenbrooke’s Hospital researchers will come to saying this — “It could be useful in identifying people who need further evaluation.” A good TYM score means that it is very unlikely for a specific patient to develop Alzheimer’s. On the flip side, a poor TYM score could have several causes and even more outcomes, such as anxiety or dyslexia. However, a low TYM score does increase the chances that a patient could develop Alzheimer’s disease.
The report is published in the June 9 edition of the British Medical Journal.
How did the TYM test come about? Brown and his fellow researchers gave the TYM exam to nearly 600 people, aged 18 to 95 years old. These subject had no history of neurological disease or brain injury. Brown et al also gave the exam to 139 people who had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s or other cognitive impairment or memory troubles. They then compared the results of the TYM exam with two more commonly used cognitive tests: the “mini mental state examination” and the ‘Addenbrooke’s cognitive examination”, which the participants also were given.
For the TYM, people are usually asked to complete a set of 10 tasks that test their ability to do various mundane things, like give a word’s meaning, copy a sentence, and to do simple math calculations. The test also included some simple “recall” abilities as well testing the patient’s verbal skills. Each task can earn the subject a maximum of 50 points.
An example TYM question might be “Name four animals beginning with the letter “S”.
People who had no history of mental problems took an average of five minutes to complete the test. Their average score on these various tests was a healthy 47 — remember that 50 is the maximum average. However, people with Alzheimer’s or other mental impairment took much longer to finish the test (an average of 11 minutes) and earned an average score of just 33. People with mild memory problems or past head injuries had an average score of 45, the researchers found.
The TYM far outperformed older tests given by the researches, successfully identifying 93 percent of patients with Alzheimer’s. In contrast, the “mini mental state examination” identified a much smaller 52 percent of Alzheimer’s patients, suggesting that the TYM test is more sensitive in detecting mild cases of Alzheimer’s disease. Not to mention that the TYM takes far less time to complete than the mini mental state examination, once thought to be the best tool for identifying the presence of Alzheimer’s disease.
Speaking on behalf of the TYM exam, William Thies, who is vice president of medical and scientific affairs at the Alzheimer’s Association, said “I think the TYM exam needs to be tried in many more places with many more people before it can be widely used.”
Thies is worried about the test’s credibility, and about the buzz the researchers have garnered in a very short time. And Thies has a good point — any medical diagnostic test needs to be tested across broad portions of various population. To be widely accepted, the TYM test needs to take into account the cultural and language differences of different populations. Thies was also skeptical about the small sample size origianlly tested with TYM — just around 660 test subjects. This is hardly a large enough pool to determine if a diagnostic is a success.
If the TYM test meets all of these criterion, it could be a useful tool in identifying people who do not need further evaluation for Alzheimer’s, and allow doctors working with dementia patients to focus on those with legitimate need. In other words, TYM looks like a remarkable tool for triage.
Without a proper diagnosis, patients and care providers cannot access the medical services they need, meaning earlier diagnosis is key to living with dementia. However, early diagnosis is not easy, and as of now, no definitive test exists.
The TYM test was designed to lessen the test operator’s time spent working, and to be suitable for non Dementia specialists to use effectively. The TYM can be completed quickly and accurately under normal circumstances. It is being celebrated as a powerful and valid screening test for the detection of Alzheimer’s disease.
If TYM — test your memory — is to be adopted more widely, though, it has a few hurdles to overcome. Should TYM be altered to take into account a wide range of populations, we could begin to see TYM used in hospitals and doctor’s offices across the world.
For more information about the TYM test, visit:
Who was picked early in the 2009 MLB draft?
As the 2009 Major League Baseball draft began Tuesday night, the air was thick with speculation. There was no clear choice for the first pick, and the question on everyone’s mind was “Who will be number one?”
Yeah, sorry, just kidding. Every analyst and sports writer had the Washington Nationals pegged to pick San Diego State phenom pitcher Stephen Strasburg. That’s just what they did. With the first overall pick in the 2009 draft, the Nationals set in motion a string of events for young Strasburg, most of which involves journalists twiddling their thumbs and wondering “Will he sign with agent Scott Boras?” This pick was a no brainer.
Born in 1988, Strasburg is what is known as a “power pitcher”, with a fastball in the high 90s (he’s been clocked as high as 98 mph) and a slider that regularly clocks 94 or 95. As of the end of May, Strasburg is murdering his competition at the collegiate level. His record is a pristine 13 and 1, with an ERA well under the Mendoza line at 1.32. Strasburg’s most impressive stat might be the 195 strikeouts he’s racked up in just 109 innings pitched. Strasburg was a shoe in for first pick — not just because of his stellar numbers playing for San Diego State, but because he was the only collegeiate baseball players to play for the US Olympic team in Beijing. That kind of invitation is akin to handing you a key to the big boy’s club.
How did Strasburg do in Beijing? He wound up with an ERA of 1.67, playing against some of the best in the world, and earned a win against a tough Netherlands team. During the game against the Netherlands, Strasburg gave up one hit over the course of his seven innings pitched, and eventually lead the US to a bronze medal. Strasburg did earn a loss, against Cuba, but his competitive spirit impressed coaches and players alike.
Strasburg’s advisor (and likely future manager) Scott Boras talks about Strasburg in such glowing terms, it is difficult to imagine him as anything but the next Roger Clemens.
“Brien Taylor was the best high school pitcher I’ve ever seen, and Darren Dreifort was the best college pitcher as far as stuff that I’ve ever seen,” Boras said. “But Stephen Strasburg has better stuff, a better breaking ball and better command. This guy throws 101 mph at times, and 98 was the optimum in the past.”
According to officials with the MLB, Strasburg’s skill has surprised everyone. Even baseball franchises with no prayer of drafting him are watching him pitch just for the beauty of it.
Forget about Kris Benson and other college pitchers who arrived under dark clouds of hype. There’s simply no precedent for the media and managerial frenzy surrounding Strasburg, whose powerful fastball helped him to that 13-1 record this season for the Aztecs. Strasburg’s college coach, Tony Gwynn, has been quoted as saying that Strasburg is “good enough to be the Washington Nationals’ best starter”, or that Strasburg could “slide in immediately behind” Jake Peavy and Chris Young as the No. 3 in San Diego. Regardless of the negative scouting reports promising a return to reality for the young pitcher, dozens of scouts with no stake in Strasburg’s future confirm that he’s the real deal.
Although it’s a given among baseball fans that Strasburg’s contract will surpass one time pitching phenom Mark Prior’s record setting $10.5 million guarantee with the Chicago Cubs in 2001, the exact impact of the Strasburg story has yet to be determined. Should Strasburg break out and have a miraculous rookie season, wherever it may be, we may see a huge boost in the amount of new pitcher contracts.
There has been a little talk about the fact that official scouting reports vary on Strasburg. Many scouts argue that Strasburg is injury prone. Still other analysts like to mention that big name hyped up pitchers tend to fare poorly at the MLB level — think of Ben McDonald, who was a standout at the prep and collegiate levels but couldn’t turn that buzz into a big time career. While nobody can deny Strasburg’s talent — the kid has struck out about half of the batters he’s faced this season, many were considering the selection of Strasburg a “risk”. While the risk of overhyping a player or taking on a guy that is considered injury prone is obvious, most agree that Strasburg was a pick the Nationals simply had to make.
The number two spot, owned by the Seattle Mariners, went to a position player — much to the chagrin of the sports media, who expected the first ten or fifteen spots in the draft to be a pitcher fiesta. Dustin Ackley, an outfielder from the University of North Caroline, is a finalist for the 2009 Golden Spikes award. According to his scouting reports, Ackley is a “natural outfielder”. According to Mariner’s insiders, Ackley might be best suited for a corner outfield position if he makes it to the major leagues.
One of the biggest surprises in the first round of the 2009 MLB draft, according to analysts at ESPN and scouts from the MLB, is the Pittsburgh Pirates selection of Boston College catcher Tony Sanchez with their number four pick. Sanchez was predicted to go much later in the first round, as late as the 28th pick according to some reports, and you’ll hear Pirates fan’s denouncing this selection as just another Pirates mistake. However, to hear analysts talk about this pick, it might be a stroke of genius.
The Pirates are rumored to be going after a young phenom from the Dominican Republic — 15-year old shortstop prospect Miguel Angel Sano. If the bidding war for Sano gets up high enough, the Pirates will need extra cash to put a stamp on the young shortstop. It is like that they took Sanchez, who required a far less expensive stack of cash, to free up the money needed for the bidding war over Sano.
What is Food Inc.?
“Food Inc.” is an upcoming documentary by filmmaker Robert Kenner, probably best known for his film The American Experience, which won an Emmy in 2006.
One of the best reviewed films this year (a quick Google search of the film’s reviews revealed only one negative review, posted by an anonymous blogger), “Food Inc.” promises to be an eye opening experience for Americans, who probably don’t give a second though to exactly what it is they’re eating. Kenner’s goal with “Food Inc.” is to change, or at least slightly alter, that behavior.
You may remember a documentary called “King Corn” a few years back, in which a couple of recent college graduates head to Iowa to raise an acre of corn in an attempt to track where exactly that corn goes. As the two amateur farmers eventually found out, their corn was going, well, everywhere. The two corn producers found corn in just about every item in the grocery store, and learned that the majority of their corn would be used as artificial sweeteners in soft drinks. In fact, the corn they grew wasn’t even edible, it was a product designed to be used in other products, as sweetener, filler, or animal feed. This fact led documentary participant Michael Pollan (also a participant in “Food Inc.”) to state a very scary fact — “The modern farmer can’t even feed himself.”
“Food Inc.” is hoping for a larger appeal, and is enjoying a more massive release, than the under the radar activity of “King Corn”. The new film by Robert Kenner will enjoy a Hollywood-style premiere in New York City, LA, and San Francisco on June 12th before being released in thousands of theatres across the country later in June. While “King Corn” was an arthouse indie film, “Food Inc.” will be available to more Americans, and hopefully, make a larger impact.
According to Kenner, the problem with American eaters (and eaters in other parts of the world) is that we crave the unhealthiest elements in fast food — fatty and practically devoid of real nutrition, this convenient food source quenches our desire for three basic needs: sugar, fat and protein. According to one documentary participant, Polyface Farm owner Joel Salatin, ” . . . we want it faster, fatter, bigger and cheaper.” Salatin is upheld as a successful model of proper and nutritious farming in the film. Salatin raises his livestock without the use of pesticides, growth hormones, or fertilizers. His biggest product is known as “salad bar beef” — cattle that graze on grasses and native forage rather than the corn that most cattle producers use. The problem with corn? Its not meant to be part of cow’s diet, resulting in diseases (like E. coli) which require large amounts of antibiotics. You can see where this is going.
Why don’t more cattle producers use Salatin’s method? This is the big question of “Food Inc.” Our national farming system is set up so that farmers of industrial corn and soy earn subsidies, allowing them to produce cheaper goods for the mass market. This means that cattle producers like Salatin have to charge higher prices. Most Americans will go for the cheaper product every time. This is a fact of life, especially when economic times are hard.
Throughout the film, viewers will learn scary statistics about the state of our national health, which are directly related to our massive consumption of cheaper foods.
Besides statistics and interviews, there are disturbing images throughout “Food, Inc.” The idea, says Kenner, is to “lead viewers to a conclusion that’s hard to swallow”. That conclusion? In plain English, our food and our food choices are making us sick. Our country’s healthcare system is plagued by diabetes and obesity, and this method of farming is harming both the environment and our basic human rights.
There is good news. Unlike many of the scare tactic documnetaries produced in the past (including “King Corn”), “Food, Inc.” offers viewers simple solutions to the problem. Not only is there information in the film to help Americans make better choices, by the distributor of the film, Participant Media, has put out a book to accompany the information found in the film. This book, also titled “Food, Inc.,” will serves as a kind of “field guide” for how to take part in the necessary transition to a sustainable food system.
What are some government websites that can help with foreclosure?
A recently released series of polls and statistics, from diverse entities such as Harris Polls, Freddie Mac, and MetLife Insurance, have come up with some scary numbers related to the housing crisis in America. This data indicates that one in two hundred homes are now facing foreclosure within the next six months. Take a city the size of Washington, DC, and this means that over the course of the next six months, 3,000 homes are likely to be foreclosed. More frightening details — every three months, 250,000 new families enter foreclosure. Probably the scariest figure is that as many as 60% of homeowners polled have no idea where to find information that may help them avoid foreclosure.
Many people are afraid to seek help with their housing situation. There have been plenty of frightening stories on the news about shady foreclosure “counseling” that is little more than a scam designed to take homeowner’s money and provide little assistance if any at all. Still other Americans believe there is nothing that can be done.
Here is a short list of government sponsored websites to assist you and your family if you’re on the road to foreclosure. Rather than taking the risks associated with private “mortgage counselors”, you can start yourself on the road to financial recovery by gathering facts from the government. The websites described below are just a handful of the information and programs available to you from the Federal government.
I hate using this term, but if you’re looking for a “one stop shop”, this Guide to Avoiding Foreclosure from the Department of Housing and Urban Development is just that — a starting point for people looking to avoid foreclosure.
The page is easy to navigate, with most of the major information divided into four categories: Get Help Now, Keep Your Home, Refinance Options, and If You Can’t Keep Your Home.
Under the Get Help Now heading, you will find links to government sponsored foreclosure avoidance counselors, a guide to “talking to your lender”, a link to locating state and federal foreclosure resources, and a link to a program called Hope Now.
Hope Now is an alliance between Housing and Urban Development, mortgage lenders, investors, and government approved mortgage counselors. Hope Now is the place to go for basic questions about foreclosure, to identify a potential scam, and tons of information about President Obama’s “Homeowner Affordability and Stability Plan”. Through the Hope Now program, you can find upcoming Hope Now events in your area. At these events, homeowners will have access to mortgage counselors and other financial experts to assist you in your fight against foreclosure.
Other information found at the HUD Guide to Avoiding Foreclosure is a step by step review of the foreclosure process, a “foreclosure kit”, and a glossary of morgage and foreclosure terms, if you’re having trouble understanding the legal jargon involved.
This site, also sponsored by HUD, displays a large banner up top featuring a no nonsense quote from President Obama.
“We expect you, the American people, to hold us accountable for the results. That is why we have created Recovery.gov-so every American can go online and see how their money is being spent.”
This site will explain what the government is doing with money invested in the Recovery Act.
The Recovery Act is composed of well over $13 billion spent on projects and programs administered by the Department of Housing and Urban Development. Around 75 percent of this money was immediately allocated to state and local recipients of aid in February of this year — just eight days after President Obama signed the Act into law.
Recovery Act investments in HUD programs will generate tens of thousands of jobs, update American’s homes to make them energy efficient, and (most importantly) go toward helping families and communities hardest hit by the economic crisis pick themselves up by their bootstraps and recover. The other 25 percent of Recovery Act funds will be awarded in the coming months. hud.gov/recovery exists to provide transparency in the allocation of all of the Recovery Act funds.
If you want to know what your government is doing to assist you and your community through these tough times, you can look at programs implemented though Obama’s Recovery Act. These programs include a Green Retrofit Program for Multifamily Housing, a Grant for Native American Housing, the Public Housing Fund, Neighborhood Stabilization, and Community Development Grants among many others.
Another program developed by the Obama administration is Making Home Affordable.
President Obama has introduced a comprehensive Financial Stability Plan to address major problems created by the current housing crisis. The goal of these programs is simple — to get our economy back on track. Making Home Affordable is a plan to stabilize the housing market and assist as many as 9 million Americans in reducing their monthly mortgage payments to a level that is affordable.
There are two key components of Making Home Affordable — the Home Affordable Refinance Program which gives up to 5 million homeowners loans owned by Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac the chance to refinance into affordable monthly payments. The second tier of Making Home Affordable is the Home Affordable Modification Program, whichh as committed $75 billion to help keep 4 million Americans in their homes by preventing their foreclosures.
www.MakingHomeAffordable.gov lays out the specifics of these plans, giving homeowners detailed info about these programs along with financial tools and calculators to help homeowners determine if they are eligible for one of these modifications or refinances under the Obama administration’s programs.
This is a no nonsense guide to foreclosure avoidance resources for each of the 50 states.
Simply click on your state on the provided map, or select it from a drop down menu to gain access to government approved foreclosure avoidance counseling.
Put simply, HUD approved housing counseling agencies can give you with the information you need to avoid foreclosure.
If you need help understanding the government’s various foreclosure assitance programs (such as the Making Home Affordable programs) you can use this state by state search tool to find a counseling agency in your area. If you find you are eligible for one of these programs, the HUD counselor will then work with you to compile information to file with your mortgage provider.
Before you give up on your mortgage, or stop making monthly payments figuring it is a lost cause, visit any of the above sites. It is likely that HUD or another government entity can assist you to some degree, at very least getting you in touch with a legit mortgage counselor.
What did Laura Bush say about Obama’s Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor?
At the very end of May, a Gallup Poll was released showing that there is a huge gender gap, among both Republicans and Democrats, in terms of people’s support for the nomination of Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court. While this wasn’t a huge surprise, what did shock some people was the great disparity between women who identify as Republican and their male conservative counterparts.
According to Gallup, 65% of Democratic men approve of Obama’s choice, compared to 70% among females who identify themselves as Dems. The shocker? 33% of Republican women are in favor of the nomination. While this is not a huge amount of support, it is much larger than the same number for Republican men — just 11%.
Liberal bloggers are having a lot of fun with this finding, most of it at the expense of the Republican party. The Daily Kos offered this jab at the beginning of June — “If the Republicans can find new ways to alienate voters, trust them to find it.” The question on the minds of many Democrats puzzled by the incredibly negative response to Sotomayor: Is it because she’s a woman?
The larger question seems to be “Why?” Why would Republicans want to antagonize the first Supreme Court nominee in years that is galvanizing women across the nation?
Adding to the confusion is the reaction of some prominent female Republicans to Sotomayor’s potential spot on the Supreme Court.
Former First Lady Laura Bush called Sonia Sotomayor a “very interesting and good nominee” in a TV interview with “Good Morning America” that aired Monday, June 8th, 2009.
Mrs. Bush said, in part, that “As a woman I’m proud that there might be another woman on the court. So we’ll see what happens, but I wish her well.”
Now, we shouldn’t be too surprised about Laura Bush’s reaction. She was, at times, a strong voice for women from the East Wing of the White House. Included in her tasks as First Lady were spearheading early childhood development programs, as much a part of women’s rights as any other issue, and she created the Women’s Health and Wellness initiative. These are just two of the programs that Mrs. Bush was involved in — regardless of how you feel about the Bush legacy, Laura Bush was an outspoken proponent of women’s issues.
Since Obama nominated Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court, she has been the target of attacks by most of the political right, including Rush Limbaugh’s comment that Sotomayor is a “reverse racist”.
Newt Gingrich joined in the fray, echoing Limbaugh’s statement that Sotomayor is a “racist” — all this for past remarks suggesting a “wise Latina” could provide better justice than a white male who lacked similar experience. The end of that sentence is the key — of course a person with more experience will provide better justice. The political right seems to stop listening to the sentence around the words “white male”. Again, no one should be shocked.
Mrs. Bush is clearly not the only Republican woman looking forward to the presence of a woman on the Supreme court. John McCain’s daughter has blogged about her favorable opinion of Sotomayor, and clearly (according to Gallup) there are many more conservative women willing to back Obama’s choice.
By the way, it isn’t just Republican females who are standing up for Sotomayor. Michael Steele, president of the GOP, said Republicans should recognize the “historic aspect” of Sotomayor’s nomination. Steele, who is not known for his affection for Democrats, is just the latest in a lengthy string of other Republicans, male and female, who are throwing their weight behind Sotomayor’s nomination.
A top Senate Republican is also taking aim at commentators like Rush Limbaugh and Newt Gingrich. Senator John Cornyn, the chair of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, is angry over the suggestion that Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor is a racist.
“I think it’s terrible,” Sen. Cornyn said in an interview with NPR’s “All Things Considered”. “This is not the kind of tone any of us want to set when it comes to performing our constitutional responsibilities of advise and consent.” Cornyn went on to remind listeners that neither Limbaugh or Gingrich are “elected Republican officials”.
While it is heartening to hear big name Republicans supporting our President’s choice for the Supreme Court, there are still many on the right who cling to the notion that Sotomayor is either a racist, unqualified, or vehemently liberal. If you look into her record, she is none of the above. For instance, Sotomayor (as a member of the Appeals Court) presided over 50 cases of racial discrimination, finding in 43 of these cases that discrimination did not take place. She voted on the side of those who felt they were “discriminated” against just 14% of the time.
We have not heard the end of the debate over Sonia Sotomayor. It is unlikely that her nomination will be blocked — the Republicans simply don’t have the votes to pull it off. In fact, some pundits (including Limbaugh) have predicted that Sotomayor already has as many as 80 favorable votes in the Senate.
The reaction of powerful Republicans in government (both male and female) is a good sign for our government. If the game of party politics is slowing even a little, we will all be better off.
How will President Obama create 600,000 jobs this summer?
Monday morning, June 8th, 2009, President Obama delivered a much anticipated promise. Obama, who has been in office for just five months, has finally outlined his plan to create more than 600,000 new jobs this summer. How is he doing it?
If you can think all the way back to late January, a still quite wet behind the ears Obama urged Congress to approve an “accelerated spending plan”. By gaining access to this money at an “accelerated rate”, some of the $787 billion from the economic stimulus package that Congress approved earlier this year would be instantly available for job creation.
Before Rush Limbaugh weighs in with his opinion, let’s point out some facts about this plan. Obama does not believe that this small boost in employment will offset the job losses of recent months. There have been more than 1.6 million jobs lost since Congress approved Obama’s stimulus plan this past February. Unemployment last month reached 9.4%, the highest rate since 1983. It would be ridiculous to assume that a job increase of 600,000 could even put a dent in the rising unemployment problem.
But the president, who will be meeting with his economic advisors and Cabinet at the White House today, will deliver hundreds of thousands of new jobs through an increase in spending on various projects — as many as 1,600 roadway and airport projects, a hiring boost of around 135,000 for public education, maintenance projects at various military bases, and 125,000 summer jobs for youth. All of these new jobs would be supervised by the Department of Labor. Pundits are looking at this boost in jobs not as a stopgap but as a first step on the road to recovery for the American economy.
In a statement issued by the Executive Branch, Obama said “We have a long way to go on our road to recovery, but we are going the right way.”
At today’s Cabinet meeting, Obama and Vice President Joe Biden (remember him?) will present what they’re calling a “Roadmap to Recovery” — an outline for accelerating spending. This acceleration is being conducted under the umbrella of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, which was approved in February. This “Roadmap”identifies 10 government projects set to begin work during the next three months. The direct result of this increase in government activity will be the creation of somewhere around 600,000 jobs. It is important to note that this boost in jobs will take place during the President’s “Second 100 Days” — perhaps to offset complaints from his opponents about meager job creation in his first 100. In fact, if the “Roadmap to Recovery” really does create the number of jobs it promises, the final tally would be over four times the number of jobs (new jobs or “saved” jobs) achieved during those crucial first days in office.
Obama’s statement this morning went on to say that “Our measure of progress is the progress the American people see in their own lives. And until that progress is steady and solid, we’re going to keep moving forward. We will not grow complacent or rest. Surely and steadily, we will turn this economy around.”
The White House claims to have built “a good foundation” in their first 100 days, but many believe the next 100 days must really blow the American people away in terms of economic progress in order to win over the boting public. Many pundits speak of a “Change hangover”, whereby Obama has to start delivering on his campaign promises or he will fall out of the favor of the people. Republicans and other opponents of the Obama administration are still quite critical of the stimulus spending plan, though that plan has long since passed a Democrat-dominated House and Senate with just three votes from the Right — that’s three votes out of 239 potential Republican tallies.
Among all this negativity, what do Republicans think will save the economy? Not much. According to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, the economy is going to “recover on its own”, and can be heard driving this point home in front of any television camera he can find. Calling the “Roadmay to Recovery” nothing more than a “spending binge”, McConnell has no other alternative than to pretend that the economy will somehow “right itself” before Obama’s economic policies have any chance of making an impact.
Obama’s plan is much bigger than just 600,000 jobs — that number is for this summer only. When his economic package passed, Obama promised that as many as 3.5 million jobs could be “created or saved” in the next three years. Without the ability to get that plan on its feet (or to get “shovels in the ground”, pick your own metaphor) unemployment will continue to climb, as it has climbed month after month. At the current rate, unemployment will easily be in the double digits by the start of the summer.
The American people are looking to Obama for an answer. The President’s approval rating on the economy has slid as unemployment has skyrocketed — Obama is now down from an economic approval rating of 59% in February to around 55% in the latest poll. Even scarier for the President is his “disapproval rating” on the economy, which jumped from 30% to 42%. Comparing the two numbers (a drop in “approval” of just 4 points and a burst of “disapproval” of 12 points) suggests that more people who were sitting on the fence on Obama’s economic policies are now willing to say they “disapprove”. On a positive note for Obama and his staff, Gallup’s “consumer mood” index has continued to grown positive since the beginning of March.
So what are the specific areas where jobs are likely to be developed? The targeted projects for accelerated spending, according to the White House, are in these areas:
A total of 125,000 ‘summer youth jobs’ created in partnership with the Department of Labor
2,300 new construction or rehabilitation projects at 400 military bases, undertaken with the Department of Defense
200 new waste and water systems in rural parts of America, this project in conjunction with the United States Department of Agriculture
Environmental cleanup work at 20 sites high on the national priority list, a project of the Environmental Protection Agency
A project of the Department of Health and Human Services to expand service of around 1,100 health centers in all 50 states to provide health care for about 300,000 new patients
Begin new projects at 107 national parks along with the Department of the Interior
The Department of Veterans Affairs will begin improvements to 90 veterans medical centers.
Hire or “save” about 5,000 law enforcement jobs
Rehabilitation and improvement projects at 98 airports, as well as improvement on over 1,500 highways, a project of the Department of Transportation
135,000 education jobs (including teachers, principals and support staff), through the Department of Education
Did David Carradine commit suicide?
Kung fu movie legend David Carradine, who recently revamped his career in Quentin Tarantino’s ‘Kill Bill’ movies, has died at the age of 72.
While there has not yet been confirmation of the reported suicide, reports made by Thai police and officials from the hotel where Carradine was staying during a movie shoot seem to insist that Carradine’s death was anything but natural.
Carradine was found dead in his hotel room in Bangkok, where he was set to shoot a new movie called “Stretch”. The Nation newspaper, citing Thai police sources, is reporting that Carradine was found hanged in his hotel closet and that “it may have been a suicide”. There’s been no other confirmation of that report so far, and Carradine’s agent told The Nation that he believed the actor died of natural causes. This conflicts directly with reports by those at the scene of Carradine’s death. Thai police told the BBC that Carradine was found by a hotel maid “with a rope around his neck and body.”
The Nation report claims that a preliminary police investigation found that Carradine hanged himself with a curtain cord, and that he was dead for at least 12 hours before he was found by hotel staff. The report also states that there were no signs of assault or foul play.
Carradine’s manager, Chuck Binder, is calling the news “shocking.” He reports that Carradine “was full of life, always wanting to work,” and that he was ” . . . a great person.”
Sources at the hotel where the 72-year-old actor was found dead told journalists “We are currently cooperating with the Thai Police who are still investigating the matter. As investigations are presently in progress, we are not in a position neither to discuss this case nor reveal any details pertaining to the case, moreover out of respect for the family members.”
Meanwhile, an employee at The Nation — the Bangkok paper that broke the story of Carradine’s death and potential suicide — spoke with journalists about their reporting, saying that Carradine had been invited to dinner with the film crew on June 3 and did not show up, causing alarm. The film crew was unable to contact him, but believed he was resting “because of his age.”
Carradine’s career is a long and rich one, with over 200 movies and TV shows under his belt, including his most famous roles on the hit ’70s show ‘Kung Fu’ and years later, more than 80 episodes of ‘Kung Fu: The Legend Continues.’ His breakout film role came in 1976, when he played Woody Guthrie in the biopic ‘Bound for Glory.’
Younger movie fans will likely only know him as the title character ‘Bill’ in Quentin Tarantino’s 2003-04 ‘Kill Bill’ movies, in which Carradine played the leader of a group of assassins who was eventually killed by one of his own disciples. Carradine also tried his hand at production and direction, and had roles in many television commercials.
The Carradine family name has a long history in Hollywood besides David. David’s father John Carradine and his brother Keith have also had showbusiness success, with John’s most famous role in the movie Stagecoach, and Keith Carradine is a Tony and Academy award winning actor and songwriter, who appeared more than once with his brother David, including a role in “Kung Fu”.
David Carradine, born John Arthur Carradine in December of 1936, was nominated for four Golden Globe Awards.
What did President Obama say in his speech in Cairo?
Cairo, Egypt is the largest city in the Arab world, with a rich spiritual and political history. By appearing at Cairo’s very modern university, an appearance which was also sponsored by a noted Islamic university, Obama tried once again to paint himself as a man of the modern times, who both respects tradition and wants to move forward in his effort to win over the young people of the world. Let’s not forget that most of the Muslim world is college age or younger.
As for the issues addressed by President Barack Hussein Obama, they will be familiar to anyone who paid attention to Obama’s campaign. He didn’t break out any new policies, but at the same time, did not make any attempt to put a shine on any old Bush policies.
Obama started by delivering his stern belief against “violent extremism,” a term that manages to recognize his tolerance for religious extremism so long as said fanaticism doesn’t express itself violently. Having said that, Obama re expressed his intolerance for the Al Qaeda forces responsible for the 9/11 attacks and any other jihadists who may attack America. President Obama is not afraid of war, he simply wanted to express that war is not necessary in the face of non violent religious extremism.
President Obama then drew a clear distinction between the war in Afghanistan (calling it “a war of necessity”) and the war in Iraq (you guessed it, “a war of choice”), and stated clearly that he opposed the Iraq war from the very start of Bush’s saber rattling. President Obama reiterated that he is withdrawing American forces on a very similar timetable to that which he promised during his Presidential campaign.
The new President went on to remind the crowed gathered in a university courtyard that he has ended the policy of torture during interrogations and that he is in the process of closing the prison at Guantanamo Bay. Obama neglected to mention that closing Gitmo is one of his less popular policies state side.
While expressing his support for a Palestinian state, Obama also stated his opposition to further Israeli settlement in the West Bank. President Obama made it clear that Palestine should be a sovereign nation, then state that he believes Israel has a right to exist as well, speaking of the terror that has been thrust upon the Jewish people. Nonetheless, Obama remained firm in his opposition to the settlement policy of the new Israeli government, which is (by the way) probably the most conservative government in the nation’s young history.
Obama’s speech was much anticipated in Egypt and throughout the Middle East, as reports on Al-Jazeera could hardly contain their enthusiasm for direct attention from the new American leader.
There’s a growing downside to Obama’s appearance in the Middle East — there is certainly a good amount of confrontation waiting for President Obama on the issue of Israeli settlement. On Monday, Israeli Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu announced to the world that he will not honor Presisdent Obama’s request to “halt further Israeli settlement in the West Bank”. On Wednesday, Israel’s interior minister said that settlement in the West Bank may actually accelerate. President Obama clearly lacks the sway necessary in the Middle East to create policy.
Later in his speech, Obama declared his support for Iranian nuclear power and opposition to Iranian nuclear weapons. The government of Egypt invited Iran’s ambassador to attend Obama’s speech, but it is unknown if the Irani ambassador did in fact attend the speech. Why did Egypt want an Iranian official there? Having seen a breakdown of Obama’s prepared speech, it is likely that those in power in Cairo wanted Iran to hear what Obama had to say about the Iranian nuclear program. Leaders in the Middle East are incredibly nervous about the possibility of a nuclear Iran.
Obama continued his balancing act, standing firmly between support for both democratic and reform tendencies. In an area of the world that is still struggling to find a balance between the old ways and the new, President Obama spoke on behalf of women’s rights in the Arab and Muslim worlds. Obama supported the aspirations of Muslim women, saying that some of them “wish to succeed in the secular sense, without lecturing from the American standpoint, which would not be helpful in Afghanistan.”
Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, who has been in power for decades, welcomed Obama to Cairo in stunning fashion, and did speak with him, but was notably absent from this speech. His excuse? The recent death of a grandson, and his need for mourning. Mubarak was not the only political official in Cairo to abstain from attending, as most of Mubarak’s political opponents skipped the speech as well.
President Obama continued, promoting economic development and opportunity for the peoply of Egypt. He was cautious, and recognized that nation’s general fear of both modernization and globalization. Speaking on this issue, Obama declared: “There need not be contradiction between development and tradition. Countries like Japan and South Korea grew their economies while maintaining distinct cultures. The same is true for the astonishing progress within Muslim-majority countries from Kuala Lumpur to Dubai. In ancient times and in our times, Muslim communities have been at the forefront of innovation and education. This is important because no development strategy can be based only upon what comes out of the ground, nor can it be sustained while young people are out of work.”
A recently released Gallup poll found that 11 “essentially Islamic countries” in the Arab world now have favorable views of America, and that these favorable views have in fact risen since Barack Obama became president. Don’t get the wrong idea – most of these countries are not in full on America worship mode, and in fact most of the nations polled appear to be nervous about the transition of leadership. But “waiting and seeing” is a step up from burning our flag.
The good news is that it can only go up from the days of the Bush/Cheney Administration.
As the pollsters at Gallup have noted, “Throughout much of President George W. Bush’s second term, Gallup found U.S. approval ratings in many Arab countries in the single digits and among the lowest in the world.”
Bush ended his final trip to the Arab world as the target of a journalist’s shoes. This journalist quickly became a national hero in Irawq, the country that Bush was seeking to “liberate.” Not only was the shoe tosser a domestic hero, he became an internet meme, with many on the web professing their adoration for a simple act of (slightly) civil disobedience.
Not only did Obama not have to dodge a shoe, or any other piece of clothing, the crowd of 3,000 gathered in the Cairo University auditorium to hear him speak gave the new American president a standing ovation.
And that’s a great start.