Monday, October 5, 2009

California!!

The Guardian (www.guardian.co.uk)
October 4th, 2009

"Will California Become America's First Failed State?"

Los Angeles, 2009: California may be the eighth largest economy in the world, but its state staff are being paid in IOUs, unemployment is at its highest in 70 years, and teachers are on hunger strike. So what has gone so catastrophically wrong?

Written by Paul Harris



Patients without medical insurance wait for treatment in the Forum, a music arena in Inglewood, Los Angeles. The 1,500 free places were filled by 4am. Photograph: John Moore/Getty Images

California has a special place in the American psyche. It is the Golden State: a playground of the rich and famous with perfect weather. It symbolises a lifestyle of sunshine, swimming pools and the Hollywood dream factory.

But the state that was once held up as the epitome of the boundless opportunities of America has collapsed. From its politics to its economy to its environment and way of life, California is like a patient on life support. At the start of summer the state government was so deeply in debt that it began to issue IOUs instead of wages. Its unemployment rate has soared to more than 12%, the highest figure in 70 years. Desperate to pay off a crippling budget deficit, California is slashing spending in education and healthcare, laying off vast numbers of workers and forcing others to take unpaid leave. In a state made up of sprawling suburbs the collapse of the housing bubble has impoverished millions and kicked tens of thousands of families out of their homes. Its political system is locked in paralysis and the two-term rule of former movie star Arnold Schwarzenegger is seen as a disaster – his approval ratings having sunk to levels that would make George W Bush blush. The crisis is so deep that Professor Kevin Starr, who has written an acclaimed history of the state, recently declared: "California is on the verge of becoming the first failed state in America."

Outside the Forum in Inglewood, near downtown Los Angeles, California has already failed. The scene is reminiscent of the fallout from Hurricane Katrina, as crowds of impoverished citizens stand or lie aimlessly on the hot tarmac of the centre's car park. It is 10am, and most have already been here for hours. They have come for free healthcare: a travelling medical and dental clinic has set up shop in the Forum (which usually hosts rock concerts) and thousands of the poor, the uninsured and the down-on-their-luck have driven for miles to be here.

The queue began forming at 1am. By 4am, the 1,500 spaces were already full and people were being turned away. On the floor of the Forum, root-canal surgeries are taking place. People are ferried in on cushions, hauled out of decrepit cars. Sitting propped up against a lamp post, waiting for her number to be called, is Debbie Tuua, 33. It is her birthday, but she has taken a day off work to bring her elderly parents to the Forum, and they have driven through the night to get here. They wait in a car as the heat of the day begins to rise. "It is awful for them, but what choice do we have?" Tuua says. "I have no other way to get care to them."

Yet California is currently cutting healthcare, slashing the "Healthy Families" programme that helped an estimated one million of its poorest children. Los Angeles now has a poverty rate of 20%. Other cities across the state, such as Fresno and Modesto, have jobless rates that rival Detroit's. In order to pass its state budget, California's government has had to agree to a deal that cuts billions of dollars from education and sacks 60,000 state employees. Some teachers have launched a hunger strike in protest. California's education system has become so poor so quickly that it is now effectively failing its future workforce. The percentage of 19-year-olds at college in the state dropped from 43% to 30% between 1996 and 2004, one of the highest falls ever recorded for any developed world economy. California's schools are ranked 47th out of 50 in the nation. Its government-issued bonds have been ranked just above "junk".

Some of the state's leading intellectuals believe this collapse is a disaster that will harm Californians for years to come. "It will take a while for this self-destructive behaviour to do its worst damage," says Robert Hass, a professor at Berkeley and a former US poet laureate, whose work has often been suffused with the imagery of the Californian way of life.

Now, incredibly, California, which has been a natural target for immigration throughout its history, is losing people. Between 2004 and 2008, half a million residents upped sticks and headed elsewhere. By 2010, California could lose a congressman because its population will have fallen so much – an astonishing prospect for a state that is currently the biggest single political entity in America. Neighbouring Nevada has launched a mocking campaign to entice businesses away, portraying Californian politicians as monkeys, and with a tag-line jingle that runs: "Kiss your assets goodbye!" You know you have a problem when Nevada – famed for nothing more than Las Vegas, casinos and desert – is laughing at you.

This matters, too. Much has been made globally of the problems of Ireland and Iceland. Yet California dwarfs both. It is the eighth largest economy in the world, with a population of 37 million. If it was an independent country it would be in the G8. And if it were a company, it would likely be declared bankrupt. That prospect might surprise many, but it does not come as news to Tuua, as she glances nervously into the warming sky, hoping her parents will not have to wait in the car through the heat of the day just to see a doctor. "It is so depressing. They both worked hard all their lives in this state and this is where they have ended up. It should not have to be this way," she says.

It is impossible not to be impressed by the physical presence of Arnold Schwarzenegger when he walks into a room. He may appear slightly smaller than you imagine, but he's just as powerful. This is, after all, the man who, before he was California's governor, was the Terminator and Conan the Barbarian.

But even Schwarzenegger is humbled by the scale of the crisis. At a press conference in Sacramento to announce the final passing of a state budget, which would include billions of dollars of cuts, the governor speaks in uncharacteristically pensive terms. "It is clear that we do not know yet what the future holds. We are still in troubled waters," he says quietly. He looks subdued, despite his sharp grey suit and bright pink tie.

Later, during a grilling by reporters, Schwarzenegger is asked an unusual question. As a gaggle of journalists begins to shout, one man's voice quickly silences the others. "Do you ever feel like you're watching the end of the California dream?" asks the reporter. It is clearly a personal matter for Schwarzenegger. After all, his life story has embodied it. He arrived virtually penniless from Austria, barely speaking English. He ended up a movie star, rich beyond his dreams, and finally governor, hanging Conan's prop sword in his office. Schwarzenegger answers thoughtfully and at length. He hails his own experience and ends with a passionate rallying call in his still thickly accented voice.

"There is people that sometimes suggest that the American dream, or the Californian dream, is evaporating. I think it's absolutely wrong. I think the Californian dream is as strong as ever," he says, mangling the grammar but not the sentiment.

Looking back, it is easy to see where Schwarzenegger's optimism sprung from. California has always been a special place, with its own idea of what could be achieved in life. There is no such thing as a British dream. Even within America, there is no Kansas dream or New Jersey dream. But for California the concept is natural. It has always been a place apart. It is of the American West, the destination point in a nation whose history has been marked by restless pioneers. It is the home of Hollywood, the nation's very own fantasy land. Getting on a bus or a train or a plane and heading out for California has been a regular trope in hundreds of books, movies, plays, and in the popular imagination. It has been writ large in the national psyche as free from the racial divisions of the American South and the traditions and reserve of New England. It was America's own America.

Michael Pollan, author of The Omnivore's Dilemma and now an adopted Californian, remembers arriving here from his native New England. "In New England you would have to know people for 10 years before they let you in their home," he says. "Here, when I took my son to his first play date, the mother invited me to a hot tub."

Michael Levine is a Hollywood mover and shaker, shaping PR for a stable of A-list clients that once included Michael Jackson. Levine arrived in California 32 years ago. "The concept of the Californian dream was a certain quality of life," he says. "It was experimentalism and creativity. California was a utopia."

Levine arrived at the end of the state's golden age, at a time when the dream seemed to have been transformed into reality. The 1950s and 60s had been boom-time in the American economy; jobs had been plentiful and development rapid. Unburdened by environmental concerns, Californian developers built vast suburbs beneath perpetually blue skies. Entire cities sprang from the desert, and orchards were paved over into playgrounds and shopping malls.

"They came here, they educated their kids, they had a pool and a house. That was the opportunity for a pretty broad section of society," says Joel Kotkin, an urbanist at Chapman University, in Orange County. This was what attracted immigrants in their millions, flocking to industries – especially defence and aviation – that seemed to promise jobs for life. But the newcomers were mistaken. Levine, among millions of others, does not think California is a utopia now. "California is going to take decades to fix," he says.

So where did it all wrong?

Few places embody the collapse of California as graphically as the city of Riverside. Dubbed "The Inland Empire", it is an area in the southern part of the state where the desert has been conquered by mile upon mile of housing developments, strip malls and four-lane freeways. The tidal wave of foreclosures and repossessions that burst the state's vastly inflated property bubble first washed ashore here. "We've been hit hard by foreclosures. You can see it everywhere," says political scientist Shaun Bowler, who has lived in California for 20 years after moving here from his native England. The impact of the crisis ranges from boarded-up homes to abandoned swimming pools that have become a breeding ground for mosquitoes. Bowler's sister, visiting from England, was recently taken to hospital suffering from an infected insect bite from such a pool. "You could say she was a victim of the foreclosure crisis, too," he jokes.

But it is no laughing matter. One in four American mortgages that are "under water", meaning they are worth more than the home itself, are in California. In the Central Valley town of Merced, house prices have crashed by 70%. Two Democrat politicians have asked for their districts to be declared disaster zones, because of the poor economic conditions caused by foreclosures. In one city near Riverside, a squatter's camp of newly homeless labourers sleeping in their vehicles has grown up in a supermarket car park – the local government has provided toilets and a mobile shower. In the Los Angeles suburb of Pacoima, one in nine homeowners are now in default on their mortgage, and the local priest, the Rev John Lasseigne, has garnered national headlines – swapping saving souls to saving houses, by negotiating directly with banks on behalf of his parishioners.

For some campaigners and advocates against suburban sprawl and car culture, it has been a bitter triumph. "Let the gloating begin!" says James Kunstler, author of The Long Emergency, a warning about the high cost of the suburban lifestyle. Others see the end of the housing boom as a man-made disaster akin to a mass hysteria, but with no redemption in sight. "If California was an experiment then it was an experiment of mass irresponsibility – and that has failed," says Michael Levine.

Nowhere is the economic cost of California's crisis writ larger than in the Central Valley town of Mendota, smack in the heart of a dusty landscape of flat, endless fields of fruit and vegetables. The town, which boldly terms itself "the cantaloup capital of the world", now has an unemployment rate of 38%. That is expected to rise above 50% as the harvest ends and labourers are laid off. City officials hold food giveaways every two weeks. More than 40% of the town's people live below the poverty level. Shops have shut, restaurants have closed, drugs and alcohol abuse have become a problem.

Standing behind the counter of his DVD and grocery store, former Mendota mayor Joseph Riofrio tells me it breaks his heart to watch the town sink into the mire. His father had built the store in the 1950s and constructed a solid middle-class life around it, to raise his family. Now Riofrio has stopped selling booze in a one-man bid to curb the social problems breaking out all around him.

"It is so bad, but it has now got to the point where we are getting used to it being like this," he says. Riofrio knows his father's achievements could not be replicated today. The state that once promised opportunities for working men and their families now promises only desperation. "He could not do what he did again. That chance does not exist now," Riofrio says.

Outside, in a shop that Riofrio's grandfather built, groups of unemployed men play pool for 25 cents a game. Near every one of the town's liquor stores others lie slumped on the pavements, drinking their sorrows away. Mendota is fighting for survival against heavy odds. The town of 7,000 souls has seen 2,000 people leave in the past two years.

But amid the crisis there are a few sparks of hope for the future. California has long been an incubator of fresh ideas, many of which spread across the country. If America emerges from its crisis a greener, more economically and politically responsible nation, it is likely that renewal will have begun here. The clues to California's salvation – and perhaps even the country as a whole – are starting to emerge.

Take Anthony "Van" Jones, a man now in the vanguard of the movement to build a future green economy, creating millions of jobs, solving environmental problems and reducing climate change at a stroke. It is a beguiling vision and one that Jones conceived in the northern Californian city of Oakland. He began political life as an anti-poverty campaigner, but gradually combined that with environmentalism, believing that greening the economy could also revitalise it and lift up the poor. He founded Green for All as an advocacy group and published a best-selling book, The Green Collar Economy. Then Obama came to power and Jones got the call from the White House. In just a few years, his ideas had spread from the streets of Oakland to White House policy papers. Jones was later ousted from his role, but his ideas remain. Green jobs are at the forefront of Obama's ideas on both the economy and the environment.

Jones believes California will once more change itself, and then change the nation. "California remains a beacon of hope… This is a new time for a new direction to grow a new society and a new economy," Jones has said.

It is already happening. California may have sprawling development and awful smog, but it leads the way in environmental issues. Arnold Schwarzenegger was seen as a leading light, taking the state far ahead of the federal government on eco-issues. The number of solar panels in the state has risen from 500 a decade ago to more than 50,000 now. California generates twice as much energy from solar power as all the other US states combined. Its own government is starting to turn on the reckless sprawl that has marked the state's development.

California's attorney-general, Jerry Brown, recently sued one county government for not paying enough attention to global warming when it came to urban planning. Even those, like Kotkin, who are sceptical about the end of suburbia, think California will develop a new model for modern living: comfortable, yes, but more modest and eco-friendly. Kotkin, who is writing an eagerly anticipated book about what America will look like in 2050, thinks much of it will still resemble the bedrock of the Californian dream: sturdy, wholesome suburbs for all – just done more responsibly. "We will still live in suburbs. You work with the society you have got. The question is how we make them more sustainable," he says.

Even the way America eats is being changed in California. Every freeway may be lined with fast-food outlets, but California is also the state of Alice Waters, the guru of the slow-food movement, who inspired Michelle Obama to plant a vegetable garden in the White House. She thinks the state is changing its values. "The crisis is bringing us back to our senses. We had adopted a fast and easy way of living, but we are moving away from that now," she says.

There is hope in politics, too. There is a growing movement to call for a constitutional convention that could redraw the way the state is governed. It could change how the state passes budgets and make the political system more open, recreating the lost middle ground. Recently, the powerful mayor of Los Angeles, Antonio Villaraigosa, signed on to the idea. Gerrymandering, too, is set to take a hit. Next year Schwarzenegger will take steps to redraw some districts to make them more competitive, breaking the stranglehold of party politics. He wants district boundaries to be drawn up by impartial judges, not politicians. In previous times that would have been the equivalent of a turkey voting for Christmas. But now the bold move is seen for what it is: a necessary step to change things. And there is no denying that innovation is something that California does well.

Even in the most deprived corners of the state there is a sense that things can still turn around. California has always been able to reinvent itself, and some of its most hardcore critics still like the idea of it having a "dream".

"I believe in California. It pains me at the moment to see it where it is, but I still believe in it," said Michael Levine.

Perhaps more surprisingly, a fellow believer is to be found in Mendota in the shape of Joseph Riofrio. His shop operates as a sort of informal meeting place for the town. People drop in to chat, to get advice, or to buy a cold soft drink to relieve the unrelenting heat outside. The people are poor, many of them out of work, often hiring a bunch of DVDs as a cheap way of passing the time. But Riofrio sees them as a community, one that he grew up in. He is proud of his town and determined to stick it out. "This is a good place to live," he says. "I want to be here when it turns around." He is talking of the stricken town outside. But he could be describing the whole state.

This article was amended on 5 October 2009 because we inadvertently referred to the historian, Kevin Starr, as Kenneth.

LINK: http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2009/oct/04/california-failing-state-debt

Friday, September 18, 2009

Adidas vs. Puma!!

New York Times (www.nytimes.com)
November 8th, 2005

"Adidas Versus Puma: Origins of a Rivalry Btween Brothers"


BERLIN — At the opening whistle of a 1970 World Cup finals match, Pelé stopped the referee with a last-second request to tie his shoelaces and then knelt down to give millions of television viewers a close-up of his Pumas.

Pelé was complying with a request by Puma's representative, Hans Henningsen, to raise the company's profile after receiving $120,000 to wear the shoes.

This clandestine advertising was a huge triumph for Puma over Adidas in the early days of the battle for market supremacy in sports merchandise.

Barbara Smit, a Dutch author and journalist, spent five years poring over the archives at Adidas's and Puma's headquarters in the Bavarian town of Herzogenaurach to research Rudolf and Adolf Dassler, the brothers who started making sports shoes in their mother's laundry room in the 1920s before becoming sport and business giants.

Her new book, "Drei Streifen gegen Puma," or "Three Stripes Versus Puma," tracks the rise of the Dassler brothers during Germany's sport-obsessed 1920s, their cooperation with the Nazis, their ugly postwar split and their hatred-driven competition that created separate empires.

"As embittered rivals, the estranged brothers led their respective companies to the top of the world," Smit wrote. "Muhammad Ali, Franz Beckenbauer and Zinédine Zidane became legends in the three stripes of Adidas while soccer god Pelé and Boris Becker achieved global fame in Pumas."

The book chronicles the decline of Adidas (founded by Adolf "Adi" Dassler) and Puma (founded by Rudolf Dassler) as they were caught off guard by Nike and the failure to spot new trends like the boom in running.

Adidas and Puma have recovered from their brushes with disaster as publicly owned companies in the vibrant $17 billion worldwide sports shoe industry, but only after long and messy separations from their family owners.

"I was fascinated by the mixture of this incredible family rift, the business feud and the sporting triumphs, which forged two mighty brands recognized all over the world," Smit said of her book, which draws on U.S. intelligence documents and more than 200 interviews conducted around the world.

Although most of the two companies' production moved to low-cost countries long ago, handmade shoes for some big names, like David Beckham, are still produced in Germany.

Mark Spitz, the American swimmer, was en route to winning seven gold medals in the 1972 Olympics when he was approached by Horst Dassler, the son of Adolf Dassler, in Munich's Olympic village. Dassler asked Spitz to wear Adidas at the medal ceremonies.

"The problem was only that they would probably be covered by the loose-fitting warm-up pants that swimmers wear," Smit wrote. "Dassler told Spitz he should carry the shoes in his hands instead. Spitz got carried away by Dassler's enthusiasm and held up a pair of Adidas 'Gazelles' as he waved to the crowd."

She said Spitz had some explaining to do to the International Olympic Committee after that.

The origins of the split between Rudolf and Adolf are hard to pinpoint, but an Allied bomb attack on Herzogenaurach in 1943 illustrated the growing tension. Adi and his wife climbed into a bomb shelter that Rudolf and his family were already in.

"The dirty bastards are back again," Adolf said, apparently referring to the Allied warplanes. Rudolf was convinced that his brother meant him and his family. The damage was never repaired.

In 1948, the brothers split their business. Adolf called his company Adidas; Rudolf called his Ruda before changing to Puma.

LINK: http://www.nytimes.com/2005/11/08/business/worldbusiness/08iht-SHOES.html

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Not Flying South!!


Discovery (dsc.discovery.com)
Sept. 16, 2009

"Arctic Geese Skip Migration as Planet Warms"

Written by Michael Reilly


In the Fall of 2007, tens of thousands of small arctic geese called Pacific brant (Branta bernicla nigricans) decided not to go south for the winter.

For these long-haul migratory birds, it was a dramatic choice -- they usually spend the cold months munching their favorite eel grass in the waters off Mexico's Baja peninsula. But changes in Earth's climate have so affected them that the barren windswept lagoons of western Alaska are looking more and more appealing.

The trend is likely to continue, according to a new study, affecting not only brant but a host of migratory birds around the globe.

David Ward of the United States Geological Survey in Anchorage has been studying brant behavior for nearly three decades.

When he began back in the 1970s, only around 4000 birds toughed out the winter in Izembek Lagoon, a 25-mile long stretch of protected water on the Alaska Peninsula. Two autumns ago, the number had climbed to 40,000 -- nearly 30 percent of the total population.

"The birds normally wait for a storm system to come down through the Aleutians," Ward said. "They catch the tail winds down south. But the track of storm systems is a little different now."


No Longer Just Summer Birds
A Pacific brant family on the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta in Alaska. Usually these Arctic geese spend the cold months munching their favorite eel grass in the waters off Mexico's Baja peninsula. But changes in Earth's climate have persuaded many to stay in Alaska year-round.


Changing winds have been accompanied by warmer weather, which means less ice covering Izembek's eel grass-rich waters. It's a buffet for the brant, which can feast through the winter without having to make the arduous journey several thousand miles south and back.

Come spring they are the first birds back to the breeding grounds, and often the most successful at raising their young.

In fact, conditions are so good that the geese run the risk of overpopulating, according to Robert Trost of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Portland, Ore. The Pacific brant population hasn't grown much in size over the years, but an increasing food supply could lead to an explosion of birds in the next few years.

"Throughout North America and parts of Asia, geese are most influenced by springtime conditions," he said.

As spring thaws creep earlier in the calendar, geese will be able to raise larger clutches of young.

The honeymoon isn't likely to last. Brant and many other species that live on coastlines could soon see their habitats flooded by sea level rise and swallowed by rampant erosion, two consequences of human-induced global warming.

"Right now it's conjecture to say what the long-term impact will be, but the prognosis is not so good," Trost said.

LINK: http://dsc.discovery.com/news/2009/09/16/birds-migration-warming.html

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Swayze Rules to Live By!!

Patrick Swayze
August 18, 1952 – September 14, 2009


----------------------------

Youtube (www.youtube.com)
Scene from Roadhouse, starring Patrick Swayze.




LINK: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ojPVOhHhwnk

Monday, September 14, 2009

Grade A!!

NC State University - Department of Entomology (www.cals.ncsu.edu)
November 4th, 2003

"Insects in Food"

Written by John R. Meyer

Hat Tip: Clair Z


How many insects did you have for breakfast this morning? The answer may surprise you! Despite advances in pest control technology, it is still not possible to exclude all insects from our food supply. Most agricultural products are already contaminated with insects (or insect products) when they are harvested, and still more gain access during storage.

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) has adopted Grade Standards designed to protect American consumers from inferior agricultural products. The standards set legal limits for spoilage or contamination due to insects and other agents. The highest grade is "U.S. No. 1".

In order to qualify as U.S. No. 1 Grade, the commodities listed below cannot exceed the following limits of contamination:

Ketchup -- 30 fruit fly eggs per 100 grams
Canned corn -- 2 insect larvae per 100 grams
Blueberries -- 2 maggots per 100 berries
Peanut butter -- 50 insect fragments per 100 grams
Curry powder -- 100 insect fragments per 100 grams
Wheat -- 1% of grains infested
Sesame seed -- 5% of seeds infested
Coffee -- 10% of beans infested

Have some more ketchup with your fries!

LINK: http://www.cals.ncsu.edu/course/ent425/text18/food.html

Friday, September 11, 2009

Today's Vampires!!

Slate (www.slate.com)
July 28, 2009

"Vampires Suck"
Actually, they don't. And that's the problem.

Written by Grady Hendrix

Hat Tip: Jimmy


Last week at Comic-Con, the big story wasn't comic books—it was vampires. Some 2,000 young women set up a tent city outside the San Diego Convention Center on Tuesday, sleeping rough so that they could attend the Thursday panel on New Moon, the upcoming sequel to vampire blockbuster Twilight.

It's just another sign of the massive popularity of vampires. Yet, like many people who acquire mega-celebrity, the vampire has developed an eating disorder. Read the books. Watch the movies. You'll see vampires who manage nightclubs, build computer databases, work as private investigators, go to prep school, lobby Congress, chat with humans, live near humans, have sex with humans, and pine over humans, but the one thing you won't see them do is suck the blood of humans.

No, bloodsucking is so yesterday. It's so 1994. It's so Anne Rice. Today's vampire is a good listener. He cares about our love lives and our problems, which is strange because we're supposed to be his food. Humans just assume that we are the center of the universe and so, faced with a literary creation that should, by all rights, just conk us over the head and suck us down like Slurpees, we've decided that we're too fascinating to be eaten. And so the modern vampire stalks, seduces, sleeps with, and cries over us. They don't eat us.

The original Dracula in Dracula loved to drink blood. He has "white sharp teeth, behind the full lips of the blood-dripping mouth." He forces Mina Harker to his bosom, where "[h]er white nightdress was smeared with blood, and a thin stream trickled down [his] bare chest," and he compels her to drink his blood, like a "child forcing a kitten's nose into a saucer of milk. ..." This bodily fluid fetishism was par for the course for the next 79 years, until Anne Rice's Interview With the Vampire, when Ms. Rice started to tweak up the Gothness. In her books, vampires were better known for being immortal than for sucking blood, which makes their fascination with humans even more mysterious: After living among us for hundreds of years, haven't they heard all of our jokes by now?

At least Anne Rice's vampires were still primarily bloodsuckers. The first sign that something was awry came with the introduction of Angel in Buffy the Vampire Slayer. A prime example of the brooding, crying-on-the-inside, leather-jacketed emo boy of the '90s (see also: Dylan McKay, Beverly Hills, 90210; James Hurley, Twin Peaks), Angel was a vampire who had a soul. He fell in love with Buffy, teared up a lot, and believed in random acts of kindness. Angel, in short, sucked. Or, rather, he didn't suck, which was the problem. When he did suck, he took limited amounts of blood from consenting human women, or sucked blood against his will, or sucked rat blood.

Rat blood.

Think about it. Faced with the impact of his diet on humans, Angel accepts a yucky, cruelty-free substitute, then endlessly lectures other vampires about their moral failings because they don't do the same. He's not a vampire—he's a vegan.

But the ladies loved him, and he launched a sensitive-vampire industry. These days, you have Laurel K. Hamilton's Anita Blake: Vampire Hunter series, Charlaine Harris' Sookie Stackhouse novels (from which we derive True Blood), Richelle Mead's Vampire Academy books, and Leslie Esdaile Banks' Vampire Huntress Legends series featuring Damali Richards, a spoken-word artist who fights vampires, a detail which guarantees that I'm rooting for the vampires. But most damaging of all are Stephenie Meyer's Twilight books.

At least Angel, Anita Blake's vampires, Sookie Stackhouse, and most of the rest of them have a lot of sex. But Edward Cullen, immortal star of the Twilight books, does not have sex. Edward tells Bella, his human paramour, that they need to wait until they're married before doing the deed. In the meantime, he's fascinated by her, beguiled by her, he can't stay away from her—but he can't touch her. Instead, he lies next to her in bed and moons over her as she sleeps. Leaving aside the fact that he's a 90-year-old man, this is what stalkers do, not boyfriends.

Just as America's young men are being given deeply erroneous ideas about sex by what they watch on the Web, so, too, are America's young women receiving troubling misinformation about the male of the species from Twilight. These women are going to be shocked when the sensitive, emotionally available, poetry-writing boys of their dreams expect a bit more from a sleepover than dew-eyed gazes and chaste hugs. The young man, having been schooled in love online, will be expecting extreme bondage and a lesbian three-way.

The bigger problem here is that we're breeding sexually incompatible human beings, and vampires are to blame. I can see a time coming when the birth rate is going to precipitously decline. And what that means is that vampires are going to run out of food. But if Charlaine Harris, Laurel K. Hamilton, Stephenie Meyer, and all the others are right about the souls of their emo, Goth, velvet-wearing, crybaby vampire spawn, then maybe some kind of mass, Kurt Cobain-inspired, "You'll miss me when I'm gone," specieswide suicide is what vampires have been after all along.

LINK: http://www.slate.com/id/2223486/

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Back to School Speech!!

The White House (www.whitehouse.gov)
September 8, 2009

"Prepared Remarks of President Barack Obama: Back to School Event, Arlington, Virginia"


The President: Hello everyone – how’s everybody doing today? I’m here with students at Wakefield High School in Arlington, Virginia. And we’ve got students tuning in from all across America, kindergarten through twelfth grade. I’m glad you all could join us today.

I know that for many of you, today is the first day of school. And for those of you in kindergarten, or starting middle or high school, it’s your first day in a new school, so it’s understandable if you’re a little nervous. I imagine there are some seniors out there who are feeling pretty good right now, with just one more year to go. And no matter what grade you’re in, some of you are probably wishing it were still summer, and you could’ve stayed in bed just a little longer this morning.

I know that feeling. When I was young, my family lived in Indonesia for a few years, and my mother didn’t have the money to send me where all the American kids went to school. So she decided to teach me extra lessons herself, Monday through Friday – at 4:30 in the morning.

Now I wasn’t too happy about getting up that early. A lot of times, I’d fall asleep right there at the kitchen table. But whenever I’d complain, my mother would just give me one of those looks and say, "This is no picnic for me either, buster."

So I know some of you are still adjusting to being back at school. But I’m here today because I have something important to discuss with you. I’m here because I want to talk with you about your education and what’s expected of all of you in this new school year.

Now I’ve given a lot of speeches about education. And I’ve talked a lot about responsibility.

I’ve talked about your teachers’ responsibility for inspiring you, and pushing you to learn.

I’ve talked about your parents’ responsibility for making sure you stay on track, and get your homework done, and don’t spend every waking hour in front of the TV or with that Xbox.

I’ve talked a lot about your government’s responsibility for setting high standards, supporting teachers and principals, and turning around schools that aren’t working where students aren’t getting the opportunities they deserve.

But at the end of the day, we can have the most dedicated teachers, the most supportive parents, and the best schools in the world – and none of it will matter unless all of you fulfill your responsibilities. Unless you show up to those schools; pay attention to those teachers; listen to your parents, grandparents and other adults; and put in the hard work it takes to succeed.

And that’s what I want to focus on today: the responsibility each of you has for your education. I want to start with the responsibility you have to yourself.

Every single one of you has something you’re good at. Every single one of you has something to offer. And you have a responsibility to yourself to discover what that is. That’s the opportunity an education can provide.

Maybe you could be a good writer – maybe even good enough to write a book or articles in a newspaper – but you might not know it until you write a paper for your English class. Maybe you could be an innovator or an inventor – maybe even good enough to come up with the next iPhone or a new medicine or vaccine – but you might not know it until you do a project for your science class. Maybe you could be a mayor or a Senator or a Supreme Court Justice, but you might not know that until you join student government or the debate team.

And no matter what you want to do with your life – I guarantee that you’ll need an education to do it. You want to be a doctor, or a teacher, or a police officer? You want to be a nurse or an architect, a lawyer or a member of our military? You’re going to need a good education for every single one of those careers. You can’t drop out of school and just drop into a good job. You’ve got to work for it and train for it and learn for it.

And this isn’t just important for your own life and your own future. What you make of your education will decide nothing less than the future of this country. What you’re learning in school today will determine whether we as a nation can meet our greatest challenges in the future.

You’ll need the knowledge and problem-solving skills you learn in science and math to cure diseases like cancer and AIDS, and to develop new energy technologies and protect our environment. You’ll need the insights and critical thinking skills you gain in history and social studies to fight poverty and homelessness, crime and discrimination, and make our nation more fair and more free. You’ll need the creativity and ingenuity you develop in all your classes to build new companies that will create new jobs and boost our economy.

We need every single one of you to develop your talents, skills and intellect so you can help solve our most difficult problems. If you don’t do that – if you quit on school – you’re not just quitting on yourself, you’re quitting on your country.
Now I know it’s not always easy to do well in school. I know a lot of you have challenges in your lives right now that can make it hard to focus on your schoolwork.

I get it. I know what that’s like. My father left my family when I was two years old, and I was raised by a single mother who struggled at times to pay the bills and wasn’t always able to give us things the other kids had. There were times when I missed having a father in my life. There were times when I was lonely and felt like I didn’t fit in.

So I wasn’t always as focused as I should have been. I did some things I’m not proud of, and got in more trouble than I should have. And my life could have easily taken a turn for the worse.

But I was fortunate. I got a lot of second chances and had the opportunity to go to college, and law school, and follow my dreams. My wife, our First Lady Michelle Obama, has a similar story. Neither of her parents had gone to college, and they didn’t have much. But they worked hard, and she worked hard, so that she could go to the best schools in this country.

Some of you might not have those advantages. Maybe you don’t have adults in your life who give you the support that you need. Maybe someone in your family has lost their job, and there’s not enough money to go around. Maybe you live in a neighborhood where you don’t feel safe, or have friends who are pressuring you to do things you know aren’t right.

But at the end of the day, the circumstances of your life – what you look like, where you come from, how much money you have, what you’ve got going on at home – that’s no excuse for neglecting your homework or having a bad attitude. That’s no excuse for talking back to your teacher, or cutting class, or dropping out of school. That’s no excuse for not trying.

Where you are right now doesn’t have to determine where you’ll end up. No one’s written your destiny for you. Here in America, you write your own destiny. You make your own future.

That’s what young people like you are doing every day, all across America.
Young people like Jazmin Perez, from Roma, Texas. Jazmin didn’t speak English when she first started school. Hardly anyone in her hometown went to college, and neither of her parents had gone either. But she worked hard, earned good grades, got a scholarship to Brown University, and is now in graduate school, studying public health, on her way to being Dr. Jazmin Perez.

I’m thinking about Andoni Schultz, from Los Altos, California, who’s fought brain cancer since he was three. He’s endured all sorts of treatments and surgeries, one of which affected his memory, so it took him much longer – hundreds of extra hours – to do his schoolwork. But he never fell behind, and he’s headed to college this fall.

And then there’s Shantell Steve, from my hometown of Chicago, Illinois. Even when bouncing from foster home to foster home in the toughest neighborhoods, she managed to get a job at a local health center; start a program to keep young people out of gangs; and she’s on track to graduate high school with honors and go on to college.

Jazmin, Andoni and Shantell aren’t any different from any of you. They faced challenges in their lives just like you do. But they refused to give up. They chose to take responsibility for their education and set goals for themselves. And I expect all of you to do the same.

That’s why today, I’m calling on each of you to set your own goals for your education – and to do everything you can to meet them. Your goal can be something as simple as doing all your homework, paying attention in class, or spending time each day reading a book. Maybe you’ll decide to get involved in an extracurricular activity, or volunteer in your community. Maybe you’ll decide to stand up for kids who are being teased or bullied because of who they are or how they look, because you believe, like I do, that all kids deserve a safe environment to study and learn.

Maybe you’ll decide to take better care of yourself so you can be more ready to learn. And along those lines, I hope you’ll all wash your hands a lot, and stay home from school when you don’t feel well, so we can keep people from getting the flu this fall and winter.

Whatever you resolve to do, I want you to commit to it. I want you to really work at it.

I know that sometimes, you get the sense from TV that you can be rich and successful without any hard work -- that your ticket to success is through rapping or basketball or being a reality TV star, when chances are, you’re not going to be any of those things.

But the truth is, being successful is hard. You won’t love every subject you study. You won’t click with every teacher. Not every homework assignment will seem completely relevant to your life right this minute. And you won’t necessarily succeed at everything the first time you try.

That’s OK. Some of the most successful people in the world are the ones who’ve had the most failures. JK Rowling’s first Harry Potter book was rejected twelve times before it was finally published. Michael Jordan was cut from his high school basketball team, and he lost hundreds of games and missed thousands of shots during his career. But he once said, "I have failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed."

These people succeeded because they understand that you can’t let your failures define you – you have to let them teach you. You have to let them show you what to do differently next time. If you get in trouble, that doesn’t mean you’re a troublemaker, it means you need to try harder to behave. If you get a bad grade, that doesn’t mean you’re stupid, it just means you need to spend more time studying.

No one’s born being good at things, you become good at things through hard work. You’re not a varsity athlete the first time you play a new sport. You don’t hit every note the first time you sing a song. You’ve got to practice. It’s the same with your schoolwork. You might have to do a math problem a few times before you get it right, or read something a few times before you understand it, or do a few drafts of a paper before it’s good enough to hand in.

Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Don’t be afraid to ask for help when you need it. I do that every day. Asking for help isn’t a sign of weakness, it’s a sign of strength. It shows you have the courage to admit when you don’t know something, and to learn something new. So find an adult you trust – a parent, grandparent or teacher; a coach or counselor – and ask them to help you stay on track to meet your goals.

And even when you’re struggling, even when you’re discouraged, and you feel like other people have given up on you – don’t ever give up on yourself. Because when you give up on yourself, you give up on your country.

The story of America isn’t about people who quit when things got tough. It’s about people who kept going, who tried harder, who loved their country too much to do anything less than their best.

It’s the story of students who sat where you sit 250 years ago, and went on to wage a revolution and found this nation. Students who sat where you sit 75 years ago who overcame a Depression and won a world war; who fought for civil rights and put a man on the moon. Students who sat where you sit 20 years ago who founded Google, Twitter and Facebook and changed the way we communicate with each other.

So today, I want to ask you, what’s your contribution going to be? What problems are you going to solve? What discoveries will you make? What will a president who comes here in twenty or fifty or one hundred years say about what all of you did for this country?

Your families, your teachers, and I are doing everything we can to make sure you have the education you need to answer these questions. I’m working hard to fix up your classrooms and get you the books, equipment and computers you need to learn. But you’ve got to do your part too. So I expect you to get serious this year. I expect you to put your best effort into everything you do. I expect great things from each of you. So don’t let us down – don’t let your family or your country or yourself down. Make us all proud. I know you can do it.

Thank you, God bless you, and God bless America.

LINK: http://www.whitehouse.gov/MediaResources/PreparedSchoolRemarks/

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Ideal Bowie!!

Spinner.com (http://www.spinner.com/)
August 28th, 2009

"Psychologist Writes 'Ideal' David Bowie Song"

Written by Liz Colville


Dr. Nick Troop, a psychologist and lecturer at the University of Hertfordshire in England, claims he has written the "ideal" David Bowie song. Though some might argue that the Flight of the Conchords' 'Bowie' is the ideal Thin White Duke song, Troops' 'Team, Meet Girls; Girls, Meet Team' is willing to give it -- and Bowie's entire 26-album catalog -- a run for its money. What it lacks in comedic timing it makes up for in scientific accuracy -- and unwitting hilarity. Troop, who leads "a double life as a musician," according to his university page, informs us that he is a "huge Bowie fan," in case that was unclear.

"It turns out that there are some psychological processes embedded within Bowie lyrics that do correlate with how long his albums have spent in the charts," Dr. Troop explains. Apparently, Bowie's inclusion of social words like "talk," "share" and "joy" led to greater financial success than words pertaining to "motion," such as "travel," words about "touching," such as "hug," and words relating to "death," such as "suicide" and "coughing."

Troop supposes that music buyers simply aren't interested in songs about "death" or "touching," then explains how he came up with the song's lyrics, which include the poignant line, "Share, relax, creating humans XXX." Using a program called Linguistic Inquiry and Word Count, Troop generated "pairs" and "triples" of words that might have come from Bowie's own mind, but are so strange they could only have come from a computer's mind.

Troop then puts on his best Bowie voice, straps on an acoustic guitar, and takes it away. What do you think? Would Bowie disown this song?


As a bonus, here's the Flight of the Conchords "Bowie" song!! -- bv

Youtube.com (http://www.youtube.com/)
March 30, 2007

"Flight Of The Conchords - Bowie Song"

Posted by JizzyMcJizz



The mighty folk comedy duo New Zealand's Flight Of The Conchords proform their acid tribute to David Bowie. Enjoy

LINK: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iR2L98gobTQ

Monday, September 7, 2009

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Curb Your Seinfeld!!

Entertainment Weekly (hollywoodinsider.ew.com)
September 2nd, 2009

"Jerry Seinfeld Talks About the Seinfeld Reunion on Curb"

Written by Dan Snierson


The cast of Seinfeld is reuniting on Curb Your Enthusiasm this fall? Giddyup! The multi-episode story line on Larry David’s HBO comedy will follow our favorite pessimist as he recruits Jerry Seinfeld, Jason Alexander, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, and Michael Richards for a reunion show. You can read all about it in this week’s EW, but here are some bonus quotes from Mr. Seinfeld.

On why the cast decided to reunite:
“Doing it with Larry and on his show just seemed like the only possible way it would be fun….We would never do the type of thing that these shows usually do. That wouldn’t be our style. But something like this — that was sillier and a little more offbeat — felt like it might be right for us.”

On possibly passing up big bucks if the gang had held out for a traditional “reunion show”:
“I don’t think we really thought about that. If we were about the money we would have kept doing the show. We were about: ‘What would be the biggest treat for the audience?’”

On getting together at Larry David’s house to write dialogue for the “reunion show” scenes:
“We did have this one scene that Larry and I wrote, as we always did, really fast. We were just boom, boom, boom, like a tennis game where you hadn’t lost any of your skills. We knew each other, we could read the lines, it just goes right through the processor: ‘Oh, I know what to do here. I think you’re over here in this one.’ ‘Why don’t you walk, I’ll follow.’ ‘Yeah, right, right!’ That was a lot of fun.”

On being back on Stage 19 of the CBS Radford lot, where the old Seinfeld sets had been taken out of storage and updated:
“The best analogy is a snow globe. You’re walking into a miniature fake environment that has been recreated. As I told people about it, I could go back in your life 10 years and recast your friends, recreate where you live, everything in it exactly how it was, and now somebody with a headset points at you and you walk in now, and there it was, and you go, ‘Jesus Christ, this is my old life!’ We all felt like it was a very special experience. Just to go back in time in life is a fantasy.”

“One of the coolest moments was to sit down again in that little foursome that we always sat in. Somebody suggested something about some camera shot: ‘Can you switch?’ And we looked at the guy like, ‘Are you kidding?’ Because we would always sit in that exact configuration. There was no way we were going to change now.”

On his contribution to the Curb world:
“They have this running gag on the show where whenever Larry suspects someone of lying, he does this squinty stare into their eyes. And I came up with a heightened version of it, kind of a double test: You stare into their eyes, you look away and then you look back about an inch from their face, with your eyes even wider open.”

On how he feels about the reunion:
“Larry and I both felt like this was a bit of a miracle, the way this fell together. The proof of it is that he — who had really designed the whole thing — had no idea that it would come out like this. He was very surprised. That was the coolest thing.”

On Seinfeld’s 1998 finale:
“Looking back on it as a way to bring all the memorable characters back in a funny situation, I have to say it’s pretty clever. I think people were expecting a memorable episode, one more episode of one of their favorites. And it was not that. But if you’re going to do one last show, we wanted to see all those people again. We wanted to see Babu and the Soup Nazi and all our favorite characters. So we had to come up with a structure where they would all come back. And I thought this was a pretty clever way to do that.”

On the decision to end the show after nine seasons when it was still No. 1:
“I think I was at that point with the show where I was in danger of killing the little thing of joy that’s inside you that makes you want to do anything that’s supposed to be fun. The thing I like is that the show sustained over time. I’m more excited about the show now than I was then, because I see now that it’s taken on this other position in people’s minds. And I do think it relates to the way it ended, because it was kind of a portion control thing. That was in my mind. You give people a certain amount — different amounts create different feelings — and I thought we had given them the right amount.”

LINK: http://hollywoodinsider.ew.com/2009/09/02/jerry-seinfeld-reunion-curb/?xid=partner-cnn-todayslatest-'Seinfeld'%20reunion:%20More%20from%20Jerry
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