Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Monty Python Life of Brian - 3 Wise Men

And now for something completely different...

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WIjBO26qjYM

Junk food as addictive as street drugs

http://www.naturalnews.com/030815_junk_food_addiction.html

Junk food as addictive as street drugs
Thursday, December 23, 2010
David Gutierrez, staff writer

(NaturalNews) Scientists are increasingly becoming convinced that junk food can be just as physically addictive as street drugs like heroin.

Researchers at Rockefeller University have found that foods high in fat and sugar cause the brain to release many of the same pleasure chemicals that produce drug addiction, including cortisol, dopamine, galanin and serotonin. Over time, regular consumption of junk food can create imbalances in these chemicals, leading us to eat more and more in order to restore normal levels.

"They cause us to have more cravings," said Rosa Lopez, of the New York Department of Health. "There are physiological changes."

A recent study by researchers from the Scripps Research Institute confirmed this long-term effect by feeding rats either a healthy diet, a healthy diet plus limited amounts of junk food, or a healthy diet plus unlimited amounts of junk food. While rats in the first two groups remained healthy, rats in the third group binged on junk food and quickly became obese.

"You lose control. It's the hallmark of addiction," researcher Paul Kenny said.

When researchers then directly stimulated the pleasure centers in the rats' brains, they found that the obese rats needed more stimulation than the other rats to achieve the same effect. This suggests that their junk food diet had actually dulled their brain's pleasure centers, creating dependency.

"This is the most complete evidence to date that suggests obesity and drug addiction have common neuro-biological foundations," researcher Paul Johnson said.

Because ending a junk food addiction may be as difficult as quitting smoking, Lopez recommends tackling just one bad habit at first. Cutting out soda can be a good place to start.

"In some ways, you may have to view junk foods the way alcoholics anonymous views alcohol: one bite is too many, and a thousand is not enough," writes Jack Challem in his book The Food-Mood Solution.

Strong Evidence Emerges of BP Oil on Seafloor

http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748704447604576007761183035214.html

BUSINESS
DECEMBER 9, 2010
Strong Evidence Emerges of BP Oil on Seafloor
JEFFREY BALL

A university scientist and the federal government say they have found persuasive evidence that oil from the massive Gulf of Mexico spill is settling on the ocean floor.

The new findings, from scientists at the University of South Florida and from a broad government effort, mark the latest indication that environmental damage from the blowout of a BP PLC well could be significant where it's hardest to find: deep under the Gulf's surface.

The amount of oil that has settled in the sediment—and the extent of damage it has caused—remains unclear. But scientists who have been on research cruises in the Gulf in recent days report finding layers of residue up to several centimeters thick from what they suspect is BP oil.

The material appears in spots across several thousand square miles of seafloor, they said. In many of those spots, they said, worms and other marine life that crawl along the sediment appear dead, though many organisms that can swim appear healthy. How the death of organisms in the sediment might affect the broader Gulf ecology is something scientists are studying.

Tests to determine how much of the material on the seafloor matches the spilled oil are continuing. But the fact that tests now have started to link some oil in the sediment to the BP well could add to the amount of money BP ends up paying to compensate for the spill's damage.

Under federal law, companies found responsible for an oil spill have to pay compensation for the resulting environmental harm. The more BP's oil is found to have polluted the Gulf floor and killed marine life there, the more money the government is likely to press BP to pay.

The test results also raise questions about the possible downsides of the government's use of chemical dispersants to fight the spill.

Under federal direction, about 1.8 million gallons of dispersants were sprayed on the spilled oil in an effort to break it up into tiny droplets that natural ocean microbes could eat up. At the time, officials said the dispersants shouldn't cause oil from the spill to sink to the seafloor. However, more recently, a federal report said dispersants may have helped some spilled oil sink to the sediment.

Scientific teams have reported in recent months finding a strange substance on the Gulf floor, in some cases as far as about 80 miles from BP's ill-fated Macondo well, which blew out in April and spilled an estimated 4.1 million barrels of oil into the Gulf before it was capped.

They have speculated that the substance—found as deep as 2,300 meters below the surface— was oil from the BP blowout. But, until now, they haven't had this evidence from chemical tests.

David Hollander, an oceanographer at the University of South Florida, said in an interview that he and colleagues have just completed tests showing that the chemical profile of oil they found in Gulf sediment matches that from the blown-out BP well.

"The chemical signatures are identical," said Mr. Hollander, who found the contaminated samples in an area of the Gulf floor off the Florida Panhandle. Although it's conceivable the tests could show a false match with the BP oil, "the statistical probability of something like that is unimaginable," Mr. Hollander said.

The federal government also has found oil matching Macondo oil in Gulf sediment, Steve Murawski, a top National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration scientist, said in an interview. He declined to disclose how much sediment contamination the government found, or exactly where in the Gulf it was, saying experts still are analyzing the test results.

The government plans to publish details of its findings later this month.

BP, too, is testing the Gulf environment for oil contamination, and some of its results will figure into the coming federal report. Laura Folse, director of science and technology for BP's Gulf Coast restoration effort, declined to say whether BP found oil matching Macondo oil in the Gulf sediment.

She also said she couldn't comment on Mr. Hollander's findings because she hadn't seen them.

Oil from a given location has a telltale chemical pattern—a distinct mix of the various hydrocarbon compounds that make up oil. Running an oil sample through special machines spits out a graph, or fingerprint, of the amount of each component in that oil.

Normally, scientists draw these fingerprints by measuring certain compounds in oil known as "biomarkers." The federal government used that method in its tests, NOAA's Mr. Murawski said.

Mr. Hollander and his colleagues found their sediment samples lacked enough of those biomarkers to test, he said. So they examined a different set of compounds in the oil. They measured the quantity of two groupings of carbon atoms that each compound contained.

When they compared the resulting graph to one from a known sample of Macondo oil, the graphs were "sitting right on top of each other," signaling a match, Mr. Hollander said.

Mr. Murawski said the method Mr. Hollander used is "accepted" but "not standard," though he stressed he wasn't criticizing Mr. Hollander's work.

Samantha Joye, a University of Georgia oceanographer, also has found what she believes to be evidence of BP oil in Gulf sediment. She is awaiting lab results tracing the chemical fingerprints of sediment samples she took.

On a research cruise in the Gulf that ended Friday, she saw worms that crawl along the Gulf floor "just decimated," she said. But eels and fish, which can swim away, often appeared fine, she said.

The federal government made sure to test sediment in areas where Ms. Joye and Mr. Hollander said they found oil.

Write to Jeffrey Ball at jeffrey.ball@wsj.com

Most dinosaurs were vegetarian, research suggests

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/science/dinosaurs/8214257/Most-dinosaurs-were-vegetarian-research-suggests.html

Most dinosaurs were vegetarian, research suggests
Most dinosaurs were vegetarian rather than meat-eating beasts, research suggests.
Andy Bloxham
21 Dec 2010

While Tyrannosaurus Rex sums up the image of a dinosaur wreaking terror by ripping flesh with powerful jaws, many of its closest relatives were more content nibbling leaves.

A new study of the diet of 90 species of theropod dinosaurs challenged the conventional view that nearly all theropods hunted prey, especially those closest to the ancestors of birds.

Rather it showed that among the most bird-like dinosaurs known as coelurosaurs plant eating was a common way of life.

Their diet may have also helped them survive and exploit new environments becoming the most successful group of dinosaurs throughout the Cretaceous Period, 145-65 million years ago.

Dr Lindsay Zanno of the Chicago Field Museum said: "Most theropods are clearly adapted to a predatory lifestyle, but somewhere on the line to birds, predatory dinosaurs went soft."

Theropods are a group of bipedal dinosaurs colloquially known as "predatory" dinosaurs and include the iconic hunters Tyrannosaurus and Velociraptor.

Among theropod dinosaurs, all modern birds and several groups of their closest extinct relatives belong to a subgroup known as Coelurosauria.

Most were feathered and most intelligent dinosaurs and those with the smallest body sizes also belong to this group.

However researchers have been only left with fossilized bones and teeth to work with and so had to deduce their diets.

For example the bone-crunching teeth and jaws of Tyrannosaurus rex were the tools of a megapredator or that the tooth batteries of Triceratops were used for shearing plant material.

However many coelurosaurian dinosaurs have more ambiguous adaptations such as peg-like teeth at the front of the mouth or no teeth at all so determining their diet has been a challenge.

Dr Zanno added: "These oddball dinosaurs have been the subject of much speculation but until now, we have not had a reliable way to choose between competing theories as to what they ate."

But a small number of fossilized dinosaur dung, stomach contents, tooth marks, the presence of stones within the stomach that serve as a gastric mill for digesting vegetation have been found along with a number of species.

And two dinosaur species preserved locked in the throes of combat have been found to cast light on the mystery of what dinosaurs ate.

The researchers found almost two dozen anatomical features statistically linked to direct evidence of herbivory including a toothless beak.

"Once we linked certain adaptations with direct evidence of diet, we looked to see which other theropod species had the same traits. Then we could say who was likely a plant eater and who was not."

Applying their data on diet, the researchers found that 44 theropod species distributed across six major lineages were eating plants and that the ancestor to most feathered dinosaurs and modern birds had probably already lost its appetite for flesh alone.

Because plant eating was found to be so widespread in Coelurosauria, the hypercarnivorous habits of T. rex and other meat eating coelurosaurs like Velociraptor should be viewed "more as the exception than the rule."

Besides identifying diet, the researchers analyzed whether different groups of coelurosaurs followed the same evolutionary pathways toward an herbivorous diet.

They found that over time, species lost their flesh-rending teeth, developing strange tooth types such as peg, wedge, and leaf-shaped teeth, and ultimately, some lost most or all of their teeth altogether and replaced them with a bird-like beak.

The beaks then continued to evolve into a myriad of forms and help support a high degree of dietary diversity in modern birds.

One theory why they were so successful was that the break up of continents and origin of new habitat opened up new dietary niches for coelurosaurs to explore.

Dr Zanno said: "The ability to eat plant materials may have played a pivotal role in allowing coelurosaurian dinosaurs to achieve such remarkable species diversity.

"But more study is needed to understand what role dietary shifts may play in evolutionary processes."

Because ceolurosaurian dinosaurs include the closest extinct relatives of birds, understanding their biology is also extremely important to understanding how, why, and under what conditions birds evolved and first took flight.

"We don't know what drove the ancestors to birds to take flight," she says, "seeking food in the trees is just one of many possibilities."

Using statistical analysis to find correlations between physical traits and diet could offer a new window as to how evolution works.

"Being able to establish diet in extinct animals with confidence will allow us to start tackling even broader questions, such as whether animals tend to increase in body and diversity when they evolve herbivory."

The findings are published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Beam Me Up: 'Teleportation' Is Year's Biggest Breakthrough


http://www.foxnews.com/scitech/2010/12/17/beam-teleportation-years-biggest-breakthrough/

Beam Me Up: 'Teleportation' Is Year's Biggest Breakthrough
December 17, 2010

Crew members on the Starship Enterprise beamed to alien planets via teleporters. Now scientists are perfecting a way to communicate via a similar technology.

Thanks to physics, and the truly bizarre quirks of quarks, those Star Trek style teleporters may be more than fiction.

A strange discovery by quantum physicists at the University of California Santa Barbara means that an object you can see in front of you may exist simultaneously in a parallel universe -- a multi-state condition that has scientists theorizing that teleportation or even time travel may be much more than just the plaything of science fiction writers.

Until this year, all human-made objects have moved according to the laws of classical mechanics, the rules governing ordinary objects. Toss a ball in the air and it falls back to Earth. Drop a coin from your roof and it falls into your yard. But back in March, a group of researchers designed a gadget that moves in ways that can only be described by quantum mechanics -- the set of rules that governs the behavior of tiny things like molecules, atoms, and subatomic particles.

And the implication -- that teleportation and even time travel may someday, somehow be a reality -- is so groundbreaking that Science magazine has labelled it the most significant scientific advance of 2010.

Physicists Andrew Cleland and John Martinis from the University of California at Santa Barbara and their colleagues designed the machine -- a tiny metal paddle just barely visible to the naked eye -- and coaxed it into dancing with a quantum groove: First, they cooled the paddle until it reached its "ground state," or the lowest energy state permitted by the laws of quantum mechanics (a goal long-sought by physicists). Then they raised the widget's energy by a single quantum to produce a purely quantum-mechanical state of motion.

They even managed to put the gadget in both states at once, so that it literally vibrated a little and a lot at the same time -- a bizarre phenomenon allowed by the weird rules of quantum mechanics.

"When you observe something in one state, one theory is it split the universe into two parts," Cleland told FoxNews.com at the time, trying to explain how there can be multiple universes and we can see only one of them.

Crazy? Maybe. Insanely great science? Absolutely.

Science magazine has just recognized this first quantum machine as the 2010 Breakthrough of the Year. The magazine's editors have also compiled nine other important scientific accomplishments from this past year into a top ten list, appearing in a special feature in the journal's current issue.

"On a conceptual level that's cool because it extends quantum mechanics into a whole new realm," said Adrian Cho, a news writer for Science. "On a practical level, it opens up a variety of possibilities ranging from new experiments that meld quantum control over light, electrical currents and motion to, perhaps someday, tests of the bounds of quantum mechanics and our sense of reality."

Science's list of the nine other groundbreaking achievements from 2010 follows.

Synthetic Biology: In a defining moment for biology and biotechnology, researchers built a synthetic genome and used it to transform the identity of a bacterium. The genome replaced the bacterium's DNA so that it produced a new set of proteins—an achievement that prompted a Congressional hearing on synthetic biology. In the future, researchers envision synthetic genomes that are custom-built to generate biofuels, pharmaceuticals or other useful chemicals.

Neandertal Genome: Researchers sequenced the Neandertal genome from the bones of three female Neandertals who lived in Croatia sometime between 38,000 and 44,000 years ago. New methods of sequencing degraded fragments of DNA allowed scientists to make the first direct comparisons between the modern human genome and that of our Neandertal ancestors.

HIV Prophylaxis: Two HIV prevention trials of different, novel strategies reported unequivocal success: A vaginal gel that contains the anti-HIV drug tenofovir reduced HIV infections in women by 39 percent and an oral pre-exposure prophylaxis led to 43.8 fewer HIV infections in a group of men and transgender women who have sex with men.

Exome Sequencing/Rare Disease Genes: By sequencing just the exons of a genome, or the tiny portion that actually codes for proteins, researchers who study rare inherited diseases caused by a single, flawed gene were able to identify specific mutations underlying at least a dozen diseases.

Molecular Dynamics Simulations: Simulating the gyrations that proteins make as they fold has been a combinatorial nightmare. Now, researchers have harnessed the power of one of the world's most powerful computers to track the motions of atoms in a small, folding protein for a length of time 100 times longer than any previous efforts.

Quantum Simulator: To describe what they see in the lab, physicists cook up theories based on equations. Those equations can be fiendishly hard to solve. This year, though, researchers found a short-cut by making quantum simulators—artificial crystals in which spots of laser light play the role of ions and atoms trapped in the light stand in for electrons. The devices provide quick answers to theoretical problems in condensed matter physics and they might eventually help solve mysteries such as superconductivity.

Next-Generation Genomics: Faster and cheaper sequencing technologies are enabling very large-scale studies of both ancient and modern DNA. The 1,000 Genomes Project, for example, has already identified much of the genome variation that makes us uniquely human—and other projects in the works are set to reveal much more of the genome's function.

RNA Reprogramming: Reprogramming cells—turning back their developmental clocks to make them behave like unspecialized "stem cells" in an embryo—has become a standard lab technique for studying diseases and development. This year, researchers found a way to do it using synthetic RNA. Compared with previous methods, the new technique is twice as fast, 100 times as efficient and potentially safer for therapeutic use.

The Return of the Rat: Mice rule the world of laboratory animals, but for many purposes researchers would rather use rats. Rats are easier to work with and anatomically more similar to human beings; their big drawback is that methods used to make "knockout mice"—animals tailored for research by having specific genes precisely disabled—don't work for rats. A flurry of research this year, however, promises to bring "knockout rats" to labs in a big way.

Hexavalent chromium: Chemical found in drinking water of 31 US cities

http://www.csmonitor.com/Environment/2010/1220/Hexavalent-chromium-Chemical-found-in-drinking-water-of-31-US-cities

Hexavalent chromium: Chemical found in drinking water of 31 US cities
Hexavalent chromium is the pollutant at the heart of 'Erin Brockovich.' The movie recounts the legal battle waged by residents of Hinkley, Calif., who blamed exposure to the chemical for high rates of diseases.
Chris Richard, Contributor / December 20, 2010
Los Angeles

A national survey has found that the drinking water in 31 US cities contains hexavalent chromium, an industrial chemical that was a key concern in the 2000 film "Erin Brockovich."

The findings were released Monday by the Environmental Working Group, which used laboratory tests. It found the highest concentrations of hexavalent chromium, also known as chromium 6, in the drinking water in Norman, Okla.; Honolulu; and Riverside, Calif. Levels ranged from 12.9 parts per billion in Norman to 0.03 ppb in Cincinnati and Boston.

For the 35 cities surveyed the average was .18 ppb. That's three times the “public health goal,” or ideal standard, under consideration by California's Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment.

Scientific and legal debate has raged over the risk posed by hexavalent chromium in drinking water since the 1990s, when the then-obscure legal file clerk Erin Brockovich unearthed evidence that the substance had leaked from a Pacific Gas & Electric natural-gas plant into the groundwater in Hinkley, Calif.

Residents sued, and in 1996 PG&E paid a $333 million settlement to about 600 people who blamed exposure to the chromium 6 for high rates of cancer and other diseases.

The Environmental Working Group picked its subject cities from those listing high levels of total chromium in their water. While the Environmental Protection Agency does not require testing for hexavalent chromium, it does require testing and has set a limit of 100 parts per billion for all variants of the metal, including the healthful chromium 3.

Rebecca Sutton, who oversaw the Environmental Working Group survey, acknowledges that there have been periodic alarms and lawsuits across the country over chromium 6 contamination.

“What this report indicates is that this problem may be more widespread, just at lower levels of concentration,” she says. “These are chronic exposures we're concerned with. A little bit every day can involve increased risk.”

Many researchers say hexavalent chromium is an inhalation carcinogen, but some have claimed that the risks are negligible when the substance is ingested. Still, in 2009, National Toxicology Program scientists reported that their research “clearly demonstrates” that the compound is a carcinogen in drinking water.

Sam Delson, a spokesman for California's Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment, says his agency considers that finding conclusive. The agency is preparing a public health goal of .06 ppb that would be one factor in determining safe exposure levels.

In Norman, Okla, utilities director Ken Komiske says his agency has always monitored its water supplies closely to make sure it meets the federal standard for all chromium. Mr. Komiske says Norman does not test for chromium 6.

“This report is kind of new to us,” he says, adding that his offices fielded about two dozen calls from concerned Norman residents on Monday. “We've been in touch with the state and federal authorities, asking 'What are we supposed to do next?' ”

Ms. Sutton, of the Environmental Working Group, says her organization hopes the survey will prompt more widespread checks for hexavalent chromium contamination, and new federal regulation.

Senate Sacrifices Struggling Homeowners To Budget Gods

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/12/21/senate-sacrifices-trouble_n_799861.html

Zach Carter
zach.carter@huffingtonpost.com
Ryan Grim
ryan@huffingtonpost.com

Senate Sacrifices Struggling Homeowners To Budget Gods
12-21-10

WASHINGTON -- Despite mounting evidence of big banks committing serious fraud in the foreclosure process, the U.S. Senate eliminated $35 million in legal aid to homeowners trying to keep their homes.

The fund was wiped out in order to meet government spending caps advocated by Sens. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) and Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.), but will likely end up costing taxpayers much more in the long run, as wrongful foreclosures burn through the balance sheets of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. The slashing of the foreclosure-assistance fund is just one casualty of Washington's increasing bipartisan push to cut spending across the board.

The $35 million fund was created by the Wall Street reform bill signed into law by President Barack Obama in July, but the Senate never took the additional necessary step of appropriating the money. Even if it had been appropriated, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) last week gave up on passing a budget for next year in the face of Republican opposition to earmarks.

Although the dollar amount is tiny in comparison with other federal housing programs, legal aid funding is a critical to the foreclosure relief effort. Without hiring a good lawyer, it is extremely difficult for borrowers to successfully defend their homes against banks -- even when banks are committing clear-cut violations.

Recent reports suggest severe, nationwide problems with the mortgage system. A survey of 96 attorneys found that banks started foreclosure proceedings on 2,500 borrowers who were negotiating a loan modification. The survey was conducted by the National Association of Consumer Advocates and the National Consumer Law Center.

According to a Dec. 13 report by the Congressional Oversight Panel, Obama's main foreclosure prevention initiative, the Home Affordable Modification Program (HAMP), will reach less than one-fourth of the borrowers it was intended to. And for the lucky few that do get help, the process can require years of legal wrangling. Over 29,000 borrowers have been stuck in trial modifications awaiting permanent relief for at least one year, according to the COP. Under program rules, the trial period is supposed to last for 3 months.

Millions of other homeowners have been improperly denied loan modifications, charged illegal fees, and even improperly evicted. But for the $35 million legal aid fund to ever do borrowers any good, Congress had to actually set aside money for the program. And the Senate Appropriations Committee never did.

As rhetoric about allegedly out-of-control government spending heated up this year, both Obama and members of Congress began touting plans to freeze discretionary spending. Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) and Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) even authored a bill that would have implemented a three-year freeze on spending levels. While the bill never passed, it made new initiatives like the foreclosure relief fund very difficult to get through the appropriations committee, according to Senate aides familiar with the battle. The committee decided to follow the Sessions-McCaskill limit despite the fact that it didn't have the force of law.

McCaskill, who does not serve on the Appropriations Committee, insisted that she was not to blame in an interview with The Huffington Post.

"I'm not an appropriator, so I don't participate in the process of prioritizing. So I can't speak to the priorities that they decided were most important. Clearly, going to Sessions-McCaskill levels of spending, that was a modest cut in what had been submitted by the president. It's still an increase over last year. So I'm trying to figure out why they had to cut a program if in fact this budget reflects an increase over last year's spending, which it does, a little short of two percent," said McCaskill.

Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.), chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, regretted the Senate failure. "We had a big fight in our committee and we won it to, to reauthorize $35 million and we're hoping it gets appropriated," he told HuffPost late last week.

"I think McCaskill is wrong on these things. I understand she's got some worries about her district, but she plays an unconstructive role in this," said Frank. "These kind of restrictions on domestic spending with unlimited spending for the war -- and you always have to talk about both -- is a great mistake. And the liberal community's got to focus more on Afghanistan, Iraq, NATO. NATO is a great drain on our treasury and serves no strategic purpose."

Frank said the overall deficit hysteria has tilted the debate. "The president plays into it with his freeze on domestic spending," he said. "And particularly when you say we're going to stick with where we are, how do you accommodate new things?"

Critics say that targeting legal aid simply makes no sense in the context of the overall federal budget. "This is such a trivial sum -- it's what we spend on the military in about 20 minutes," according to economist Dean Baker, co-Director of the Center for Economic Policy and Research.

What's more, by allowing borrowers to fight improper foreclosures, legal aid funding would almost certainly help ease taxpayer losses from fraudulent home seizures implemented by major banks. Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, the Federal Housing Administration and the Department of Veterans Affairs all provide federal guarantees for mortgages. When those mortgages sour, government agencies are usually better off working out a mortgage modification with a borrower than foreclosing.

But government agencies do not connect with borrowers -- instead, they rely on private sector banks to interact and negotiate on their behalf. Since the banks make money from charging fees and conducting foreclosures, critics allege that banks are improperly pushing borrowers into trouble -- at taxpayers' expense. Legal aid funding to help borrowers could help limit those losses.

"We don't know how many foreclosures this will end up preventing, but given that we are willing to spend over $100 billion a year in tax subsidies to support people owning a home, it certainly seems reasonable to spend $35 million a year -- less than 0.04 percent of this amount -- to give them the chance to stay in their home," Baker said.

Frank said that the fiscal argument is counterproductive and that legal help should be given to homeowners in foreclosure as a matter of social justice. "Let's not make that argument. We don't know and you don't know," he said. "I'm for the money because I think it's a matter of social justice. Let's not try to [make] up that we think it's going to save money in the long run, which we don't know. And that's not why we're doing it."

Regardless, banks clearly come out winners in the plan. Fewer borrowers fighting foreclosures results in more bank revenue from foreclosure fees, and lower expenses for the banks.

"The mortgage servicing industry is broken and that the effects of that broken system are being felt by America's homeowners," Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) told HuffPost. "If not for the tireless efforts of foreclosure attorneys, many families would have mistakenly lost their homes and the fraudulent and corrupt practices of the mortgage servicing industry may have never come to light."

The author of the legal aid provision, Rep. Mel Watt (D-N.C.) expressed frustration over the impasse in an interview with HuffPost, accusing the funds' detractors of using budgetary gimmicks as an excuse to cut a program they didn't support.

"These funds are as important now as they were when we were trying to get them into the bill in the first place," Watt said. "There were some people who didn't want this fund all along. We had to work to get it in there, so it's not surprising that they would try to come up with excuses to take it out."

Banks are likely to benefit from the death of the legal aid package, as borrowers find themselves financially unable to challenge improper fees and foreclosures. But the fund's defeat is doubly unfortunate for struggling homeowners thanks to last week's defeat of a separate legal aid bill in the House.

The U.S. Treasury Department had refused to allow funds for the Wall Street bailout to be spent on legal aid for borrowers, citing a lack of legal authority. That decision came under fire from COP panelist Damon Silvers during a Dec. 16 hearing.

"When hedge funds get money under [the bailout], I believe they get to pay for lawyers, and it puzzles me that a vast amount of TARP money has been expended on legal counsel for the benefit, obviously, of the government. It seems as though lawyers are understood to be a necessary and essential component of all the transactions that HAMP and TARP undertake, except when homeowners need the lawyers."

But Treasury had insisted that because the Wall Street overhaul included a $35 million legal aid fund, a separate fund was not necessary. Last week, House lawmakers from foreclosure-battered states attempted to push legislation that would explicitly authorize Treasury to extend legal aid funds to borrowers, but the bill failed to garner the two-thirds majority needed for passage under fast-track rules.

So troubled homeowners will not be receiving any help from Congress this holiday season. And with soon-to-be-House-Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) opposed to legal aid programs, they are unlikely to get any further assistance next year.

Steve Wozniak to the FCC: Keep the Internet Free

http://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2010/12/steve-wozniak-to-the-fcc-keep-the-internet-free/68294/

Yes, my guard stood hard when abstract threats
Too nobel to neglect
Deceived me into thinking
I had something to protect
Good and bad, I define these terms
Quite clear, no doubt somehow
Ahh, but I was so much older then
I'm younger than that now
-- Bob Dylan

Steve Wozniak to the FCC: Keep the Internet Free
Dec 21 2010

To whom it may concern:

I have always loved humor and laughter. As a young engineer I got an impulse to start a Dial-a-Joke in the San Jose/San Francisco area. I was aware of such humor services in other countries, such as Australia. This idea came from my belief in laughter. I could scarcely believe that I was the first person to create such a simple service in my region. Why was I the first? This was 1972 and it was illegal in the U.S. to use your own telephone. It was illegal in the U.S. to use your own answering machine. Hence it also virtually impossible to buy or own such devices. We had a monopoly phone system in our country then.

The major expense for a young engineer is the rent of an apartment. The only answering machine I could legally use, by leasing (not purchasing) it from our phone company, the Codaphone 700, was designed for businesses like theaters. It was out of the price range of creative individuals wanting to try something new like dial-a-joke. This machine leased for more than a typical car payment each month. Despite my great passion and success with Dial-a-Joke, I could not afford it and eventually had to stop after a couple of years. By then, a San Francisco radio station had also started such a service. I believe that my Dial-a-Joke was the most called single line (no extensions) number in the country at that time due to the shortness of my jokes and the high popularity of the service.

Moving ahead, I have owned four homes in my life. None of these had cable TV, even though one was a new development where the law required cable. None of these had DSL, including my current home, which is only .8 miles up a hill from the populous (constant-homes) town I live in. I pay for a T1 line, which costs many times what DSL runs for about 1/10 the bandwidth. That's as close as I can come to broadband where I live. The local phone providers don't have any obligation to serve all of their phone customers with DSL. They also have no requirement to service everyone living in the geographic area for which they have a monopoly. This is what has happened without regulatory control, despite every politician and president and CEO and PR person since the beginning of the Internet boon saying how important it was to ensure that everyone be provided broadband access.

As a side note, I once phoned the cable company in the town I lived in. I could look from my bedroom window at homes ¾ of a mile away which had cable. I told the cable company that I would be willing to pay the cost of laying cable to my home. The cable company looked into it and got back to me that they could not do this because there were not enough homes on my hill to pay for the monthly rental of running their cable on telephone poles.

In the earliest days of satellite TV to homes, you would buy a receiver and pay a fee to get all the common cable channels. I had a large family (two adults, six kids) and felt like making every room a lot easier to wire for TV. Rather than place a satellite receiver in each room, I'd provide all the common channels on a normal cable, like cable companies do. In my garage, I set up three racks of satellite receivers. I paid for one receiver to access CNN. I paid for another to access TNT. I paid for others to access HBO and other such networks. I had about 30 or 40 channels done this way. I had modulators to put each of these channels onto standard cable TV channels on one cable, which was distributed throughout my home. I could buy any TV I liked and plug it in anywhere in the home and it immediately watch everything without having to install another satellite receiver in that room. I literally had my own cable TV 'company' in the garage, which I called Woz TV, except that I even kept signals in stereo, a quality step that virtually every cable company skipped.

Then I got this idea that I could pretty easily run my signal through the wires in conduits up and down our 60-home neighborhood. The neighborhood had been partially wired for cable before the cable company went bankrupt as the neighborhood was being developed. I phoned HBO and asked how much they would charge me just to be a nice guy and share my signal with 60 neighbors. What came back was an answer that I couldn't do such a personal thing. I had to be a cable company charging my neighbors certain rates and then a percentage of what I was charging, with minimums, had to be paid for HBO. I instantly realized that you couldn't do something nice in your garage as a normal person and I gave up the idea.

The Internet has become as important as anything man has ever created. But those freedoms are being chipped away.

When young, I remember clearly how my father told me why our country was so great, mainly based on the constitution and Bill of Rights. Over my lifetime, I've seen those rights disregarded at every step. Loopholes abound. It's sad. For example, my (Eisenhower Republican) father explained the sanctity of your home and how it could not easily be entered. It was your own private abode. And you had a right to listen to any radio signals that came because the air was free and if it came into your home you had a right to listen to it. That principle went away with a ban on radios that could tune in cell phone frequencies in the days of analog cell phones. Nobody but myself seemed to treat this as a core principle that was too much to give up.

I was also taught that space, and the moon, were free and open. Nobody owned them. No country owned them. I loved this concept of the purest things in the universe being unowned.

The early Internet was so accidental, it also was free and open in this sense. The Internet has become as important as anything man has ever created. But those freedoms are being chipped away. Please, I beg you, open your senses to the will of the people to keep the Internet as free as possible. Local ISP's should provide connection to the Internet but then it should be treated as though you own those wires and can choose what to do with them when and how you want to, as long as you don't destruct them. I don't want to feel that whichever content supplier had the best government connections or paid the most money determined what I can watch and for how much. This is the monopolistic approach and not representative of a truly free market in the case of today's Internet.

Imagine that when we started Apple we set things up so that we could charge purchasers of our computers by the number of bits they use. The personal computer revolution would have been delayed a decade or more. If I had to pay for each bit I used on my 6502 microprocessor, I would not have been able to build my own computers anyway. What if we paid for our roads per mile that we drove? It would be fair and understandable to charge more for someone who drives more. But one of the most wonderful things in our current life is getting in the car and driving anywhere we feel like at this moment, and with no accounting for cost. You just get in your car and go. This is one of the most popular themes of our life and even our popular music. It's a type of freedom from some concerns that makes us happy and not complain. The roads are already paid for. You rarely hear people complain that roads are "free." The government shines when it comes to having provided us pathways to drive around our country. We don't think of the roadways as being negative like telecommunication carriers. It's a rare breath of fresh air.

I frequently speak to different types of audiences all over the country. When I'm asked my feeling on Net Neutrality I tell the open truth. When I was first asked to "sign on" with some good people interested in Net Neutrality my initial thought was that the economic system works better with tiered pricing for various customers. On the other hand, I'm a founder of the EFF and I care a lot about individuals and their own importance. Finally, the thought hit me that every time and in every way that the telecommunications careers have had power or control, we the people wind up getting screwed. Every audience that I speak this statement and phrase to bursts into applause.

That's how the people think. They don't want this to encroach on their Internet freedom.

I was brought up being told that one of the main purposes of our government is to help people who need help. When I was very young, this made me prouder than anything else of my government. I felt that way until the year that the San Jose Draft board voted 5-3 to call me not a student because I'd submitted my grades instead of the proper form, and made me 1A for service in Vietnam. As soon as I got a safe draft lottery number, they sent me a letter saying that they would grant me a 2S student deferment, because then they could get a shot at me in a later year. What was this game? Why was the government doing this sort of thing to a citizen? They aren't always about helping the people.

We have very few government agencies that the populace views as looking out for them, the people. The FCC is one of these agencies that is still wearing a white hat. Not only is current action on Net Neutrality one of the most important times ever for the FCC, it's probably the most momentous and watched action of any government agency in memorable times in terms of setting our perception of whether the government represents the wealthy powers or the average citizen, of whether the government is good or is bad. This decision is important far beyond the domain of the FCC itself.

Sincerely,

Woz

Steve Wozniak is a computer engineer who co-founded Apple Computer, Inc. with Steve Jobs. He created the Apple I and Apple II series computers in the mid-1970s. After earning the National Medal of Technology in 1985, Wozniak left Apple to work on various business and philanthropic ventures.

Fake Net Neutrality: Like Letting Enron Write the Electricity Rules

http://my.firedoglake.com/scarecrow/2010/12/21/fake-net-neutrality-what-does-corporate-capture-look-like/

Fake Net Neutrality: Like Letting Enron Write the Electricity Rules
By: Scarecrow
Tuesday December 21, 2010

David Dayen’s post this a.m. summarizes concerns about the apparent regulatory capture of the Federal Communications Commission, which is about to issue new rules to undermine internet open access, aka, “net neutrality.” NYT coverage is here.

I’ll leave to Tim Karr and others to describe the technical features and sell outs that have allowed the Western World’s Worst internet/broadband structure to become slower, more expensive and more discriminatory than services in other countries. Senator Al Franken gave an excellent speech, worth watching on the full range of policy issues.

It may help to have an analogous framework on how to think about what corporate capture of the internet and broadband service means, not just in terms of speed and coverage but in terms of content and pricing. It’s not just that our service is slower and we face monopoly pricing, it’s that a tiny handful of corporations are seizing control of what we’ll be allowed to watch and read.

Suppose that President Eisenhower had proposed we build an interstate highway system, but we’d allow only three or four large corporations to carve up and own all the main interconnections, determine the tolls and decide who got to drive on them during which hours. The corporations could also decide where the on/off ramps were, which communities they did or didn’t serve, where the routes went, depending on which provided better tax breaks.

And suppose these same companies owned a couple of auto companies, and they could decide whether cars and trucks made by their affiliate companies got better access, more lanes, higher speeds and lower tolls than cars/trucks sold by competitors.

Then suppose the Justice Department and the FTC did not think it their job to enforce the anti-trust laws of the United States, while the federal highway regulators did not believe they should have rules requiring open access, fair pricing, and non-discrimination.

Welcome to the forthcoming US policy on broadband/internet access.

We’re now told that the Democratic appointees on the FCC plan to develop a master plan for how this will all work. But until the Obama Administration and Congress forcefully and clearly direct the FCC to adopt and enforce rules for open, non-discriminatory access to the internet, the FCC has no framework consistent with the public interest for talking about some master plan. I doubt they’re even having a relevant conversation.

We saw an analogous battle over access to another network, the electricity transmission infrastructure. That industry spent over two decades struggling with the concepts of open access, non-discrimination, and efficient pricing. And after some failures and very bad false starts — recall California — we’ve made some progress there.

The electricity transmission system now connects the whole country, but its operation, once wholly balkanized, is now split between two types of system operators.

In over half the country, the transmission system is operated regionally by an independent, non-profit organization overseen by a federal regulator. Each independent system operator (ISO) functions under open access, non-discrimination rules. Every supplier, every generator, regardless of ownership, and every buyer/community/utility gets open access to the entire grid on non-discriminatory terms. Every technology/fuel source — wind, solar, coal, gas, nuclear, etc, can get on the grid just by connecting to the interconnected grid and agreeing to the open access rules. This system keeps the lights on in well over half the country, and the same model functions in about a dozen countries world wide.

However, in the rest of the US — mostly the deep South (think Southern Company) and the West (outside California) — the transmission system is owned and operated in a balkanized fashion by a [usually] private regional utility monopoly that has a vested interest in making sure competitors and/or non-preferred technologies are not given the same access as their own generators. If the owner’s lines are “full” or “congested,” the owners can allow their generators to serve their loads but curtail anyone else. Competitors are not allowed to connect to the grid under the same rules; buyers (e.g., municipal utilities) can’t buy from others and use the owner’s lines without negotiating special access deals and paying fees to the owner. The federal regulators tolerate this discrimination, because they can’t overcome the campaign contributions and political influence the monopolists have in Congress. Sound familiar?

Today’s FCC announcement reminds me of where the California electricity restructuring debate was in 1995, about the time Enron and its trader friends (remember “screw granny”?) were at the height of their influence and they were helping the large utilities write the rules that guaranteed discrimination and included rules that we knew would enable Enron’s gaming the system. Those of us who objected and demanded the system operators function as quasi-public entities and guarantee open access and non-discrimination were accused of being socialists plotting a government takeover, even a Soviet 5-year Plan! We’ve been here before, and what’s coming next will be ugly.

It’s blindingly obvious that “citizens” like AT&T, Verizon and Comcast, the nation’s largest cable provider, should never be allowed to write the rules for the internet and broadband access. Nor should their captured regulators ever sanction discrimination and anti-competitive mergers that allow Comcast to gobble up NBC.

John Chandley

Net Neutrality Advocates Decry FCC 'False' Solution

http://www.commondreams.org/headline/2010/12/21-9

Published on Tuesday, December 21, 2010 by CommonDreams.org
Net Neutrality Advocates Decry FCC 'False' Solution and 'Squandered Opportunity'
Statements by Free Press and ACLU

WASHINGTON - The media advocacy group Free Press released the following statement in response to actions by the FCC today:

FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski. The rule passed by the FCC today does not reclassify wireless broadband service as a telecommunications service, which the ACLU and other proponents of network neutrality have long urged. Treating broadband access as similar to phone service would have allowed the FCC to rely on its broader regulatory authority. By a 3-2 vote Tuesday, the Federal Communications Commission approved new rules intended to prevent Internet providers like AT&T, Comcast and Verizon from acting as gatekeepers on the Web. The rules, however, heavily favor the industry they are intended to regulate, and leave consumers with minimal protections. Democratic Commissioners Mignon Clyburn and Michael Copps voted with Chairman Julius Genachowski, while Republican Commissioners Robert McDowell and Meredith Attwell Baker voted against.

Free Press Managing Director Craig Aaron made the following statement:

“We are deeply disappointed that the chairman chose to ignore the overwhelming public support for real Net Neutrality, instead moving forward with industry-written rules that will for the first time in Internet history allow discrimination online. This proceeding was a squandered opportunity to enact clear, meaningful rules to safeguard the Internet’s level playing field and protect consumers.

“The new rules are riddled with loopholes, evidence that the chairman sought approval from AT&T instead of listening to the millions of Americans who asked for real Net Neutrality. These rules don't do enough to stop the phone and cable companies from dividing the Internet into fast and slow lanes, and they fail to protect wireless users from discrimination. No longer can you get to the same Internet via your mobile device as you can via your laptop. The rules pave the way for AT&T to block your access to third-party applications and to require you to use its own preferred applications.

“Chairman Genachowski ignored President Obama's promise to the American people to take a 'back seat to no one' on Net Neutrality. He ignored the 2 million voices who petitioned for real Net Neutrality and the hundreds who came to public hearings across the country to ask him to protect the open Internet. And he ignored policymakers who urged him to protect consumers and maintain the Internet as a platform for innovation. It’s unfortunate that the only voices he chose to listen to were those coming from the very industry he’s charged with overseeing."

The American Civil Liberties Union released this statement:

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) today passed a new rule clarifying the legal authority of the FCC to enforce network neutrality principles. Network neutrality principles protect free speech online by prohibiting the owner of a network from prioritizing some content on the Internet while slowing other content.

The rule approved today by the FCC includes full network neutrality protections for the wired Internet, which includes cable and DSL service to homes and businesses, but provides lesser protections for wireless broadband service and may allow wireless broadband providers to block certain applications and services that compete with their own applications and services. The American Civil Liberties Union has called for network neutrality protections on both the wired and wireless Internet as important safeguards for free speech.

"Network neutrality principles are essential to protecting the First Amendment rights of Americans who rely on the Internet as a forum for free speech. While the new FCC rule creates stronger network neutrality protections for Americans who use the wired Internet, it fails to provide adequate protections for Americans who rely on wireless broadband service," said Chris Calabrese, ACLU Legislative Counsel. "By creating two sets of regulations – one for the wired Internet and one for wireless broadband – and failing to ground them in the strongest legal protections available, the FCC has failed to protect free speech and Internet openness for all users. The ACLU will continue to fight for full network neutrality protections. Internet openness is key to protecting our First Amendment rights."

The rule passed by the FCC today does not reclassify wireless broadband service as a telecommunications service, which the ACLU and other proponents of network neutrality have long urged. Treating broadband access as similar to phone service would have allowed the FCC to rely on its broader regulatory authority under Title II of the Communications Act to enforce network neutrality principles.

The FCC's weak new "open Internet" rules

http://www.salon.com/technology/dan_gillmor/2010/12/21/fcc_network_neutrality/index.html

Tuesday, Dec 21, 2010
The FCC's weak new "open Internet" rules
A partisan vote on Tuesday displeases everyone. And everyone's right
Dan Gillmor

The neutering of the Internet is now the unofficial policy of the Federal Communications Commission. Contrary to the happy talk from FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski at a rule-making announcement today in Washington, the move is well underway to turn the Internet into a regulated playground for corporate giants.

Tuesday's FCC vote on rules purportedly designed to ensure open and free networks was a 3-2 partisan charade, with Genachowski and the other two Democratic commissioners in favor and the two Republicans against. It did nothing of the sort. The short-term result will be confusion and jockeying for position. Genachowski's claim that the rules bring "a level of certainty" to the landscape was laughable unless he was talking about lobbyists and lawyers; their futures are certainly looking prosperous. The longer-range result will be to solidify the power of the incumbent powerhouses -- especially telecommunications providers and the entertainment industry -- to take much more control over what we do online.

It's almost not worth the trouble of telling you what's in the rules, because they are so meaningless. About the only redeeming feature is a requirement that ISPs be more transparent about how they manage their networks. I would expect to see a bare minimum of compliance here, and little if any enforcement except an occasional wrist-slap, if that.

But when it came to rules that might boost network neutrality -- the notion that end users (you and me) should decide what content and services we want without interference from the ISPs -- the FCC's order paid lip service to the concept while enshrining its eventual demise. In theory, land-line carriers (traditional phone and cable companies, for the most part) won't be allowed to play favorites. In practice, the new rules invite them to concoct new kinds of services that do precisely that.

But even that fuzzy concept won't apply to mobile carriers, which means that discrimination will be explicitly permitted by companies like AT&T and Verizon for customers of the iPhone and iPad, among other devices that are increasingly the most important entry point to the Internet.

The rules are also an open invitation to ISPs to spy on their customers. Genachowski's repeated references to users' right to use "legal" content were code words for the entertainment industry's push to have ISPs become their enforcement arms in the copyright wars. Hollywood wants your ISP to watch everything people do, and then block users who are alleged to be infringing.

If Genachowski and his supporters think that they've done the right thing because they're being attacked from all sides, they're missing the reality. Sometimes, when everyone hates what you've done, you've done the wrong thing.

The FCC majority didn't have the courage, or the political support from the Obama administration (yes, another broken promise), to push for regulations that would address net neutrality in any meaningful way. So the protests from open-Internet folks was immediate, and justified.

Republicans and their house organ, Fox News, talk about Tuesday's vote as a "plan to regulate the Internet," and they're half-right. They mouth platitudes about freedom and liberty. They end up with a free-fire zone for corporations -- an oligopoly of content and services for captive consumers.

But they're right to be wary of regulation, because we've seen the corrosive effect of regulation in so many other arenas already. The FCC is already a captive of telecom companies in its traditional operations. Why would anyone expect this to be any different when it comes to the Internet? And the law of unintended consequences tells us that any regulations would be sure to have effects we can't foresee today. That's the issue the network-neutrality advocates also usually fail to address.

What wasn't on the table in the FCC's deliberations was actual competition. Unlike many other countries, the United States doesn't require Internet providers to share their lines and networks. By "share" I don't mean "give away" -- this is essentially about renting capacity to other companies that want to be ISPs. That's how the Internet got so big so fast in the first place: Phone companies were not allowed to prevent other ISPs from offering service on phone lines, but now they're allowed to prevent similar competition, and the market is a stifling oligopoly as a result.

If you think the Internet should be an enhanced form of cable television, you should be happy where we're heading. If you think it should be the messy and complex result of what innovators want to create, and what customers at the networks' edges want to do with the creations, you should worry.

A longtime participant in the tech and media worlds, Dan Gillmor is director of the Knight Center for Digital Media Entrepreneurship at Arizona State University's Walter Cronkite School of Journalism & Mass Communication. Follow Dan on Twitter: @dangillmor.

FCC Passes Net Neutrality Rules

http://www.tomsguide.com/us/Net-Neutrality-FCC-Julius-Genachowski-broadband-transparency,news-9478.html

FCC Passes Net Neutrality Rules
December 22, 2010
Kevin Parrish

It's the beginning or the end of the Internet, depending on which side of the line you're standing on.

Tuesday the Federal Communications Commission approved new rules that prohibit phone and cable companies from discriminating against or favoring Internet content and services.

The news arrived by way of a presentation in Washington D.C. By FCC chairman Julius Genachowski. According to reports, the FCC's three Democrats voted to pass the new rules and the two Republicans voted against them, calling the rules "unnecessary regulation." Afterward the Republican party on Capitol Hill quickly responded to Genachowski's speech, vowing to block the new negotiations by introducing a "resolution of disapproval."

In the meantime, the new "net neutrality" rules are broken down into six primary components:

1. Consumers and innovators have a right to know the basic performance characteristics of their Internet access and how their network is being managed.

2. Consumers and innovators have a right to send and receive lawful traffic. Consumers can go where they want, say what they want, experiment with ideas-- commercial and social, and use the devices of their choice. The rules thus prohibits the block of lawful content, apps, services and the connection of devices to the network.

3. Consumers and innovators have a right to a level playing field. The FCC rules state that no central authority, public or private, should have the power to pick winners and losers on the Internet. This is essentially a ban on unreasonable discrimination.

4. Broadband providers need meaningful flexibility to manage their networks to deal with congestion, security and other issues. The section also honors the business practice of tiered pricing.

5. The principle of Internet openness applies to mobile broadband. This means that there is only one Internet, and it must remain an open platform despite the device used for access. Mobile broadband providers are thus required to remain transparent and are prohibited from blocking websites or blocking certain applications provided by competitors.

6. The FCC will remain vigilant in promptly enforcing the rules and vigilant in monitoring developments in areas such as mobile and the market for specialized services which may affect Internet openness.

To enforce the new rules, the FCC has launched an Open Internet Advisory Committee that will assist the Commission in monitoring the state of Internet openness and the effects of the rules. It has also launched an Open Internet Apps Challenge at challenge.gov to stimulate app developers into creating tools that will help consumers monitor their own broadband connections.

"Today, for the first time, we are adopting rules to preserve basic Internet values," Genachowski said. "For the first time, we'll have enforceable rules of the road to preserve Internet freedom and openness."

The Most Important Free Speech Issue of Our Time

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/al-franken/the-most-important-free-s_b_798984.html

Al Franken
U.S. Senator, Minnesota
December 20, 2010
The Most Important Free Speech Issue of Our Time

This Tuesday is an important day in the fight to save the Internet.

As a source of innovation, an engine of our economy, and a forum for our political discourse, the Internet can only work if it's a truly level playing field. Small businesses should have the same ability to reach customers as powerful corporations. A blogger should have the same ability to find an audience as a media conglomerate.

This principle is called "net neutrality" -- and it's under attack. Internet service giants like Comcast and Verizon want to offer premium and privileged access to the Internet for corporations who can afford to pay for it.

The good news is that the Federal Communications Commission has the power to issue regulations that protect net neutrality. The bad news is that draft regulations written by FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski don't do that at all. They're worse than nothing.

That's why Tuesday is such an important day. The FCC will be meeting to discuss those regulations, and we must make sure that its members understand that allowing corporations to control the Internet is simply unacceptable.

Although Chairman Genachowski's draft Order has not been made public, early reports make clear that it falls far short of protecting net neutrality.

For many Americans -- particularly those who live in rural areas -- the future of the Internet lies in mobile services. But the draft Order would effectively permit Internet providers to block lawful content, applications, and devices on mobile Internet connections.

Mobile networks like AT&T and Verizon Wireless would be able to shut off your access to content or applications for any reason. For instance, Verizon could prevent you from accessing Google Maps on your phone, forcing you to use their own mapping program, Verizon Navigator, even if it costs money to use and isn't nearly as good. Or a mobile provider with a political agenda could prevent you from downloading an app that connects you with the Obama campaign (or, for that matter, a Tea Party group in your area).

It gets worse. The FCC has never before explicitly allowed discrimination on the Internet -- but the draft Order takes a step backwards, merely stating that so-called "paid prioritization" (the creation of a "fast lane" for big corporations who can afford to pay for it) is cause for concern.

It sure is -- but that's exactly why the FCC should ban it. Instead, the draft Order would have the effect of actually relaxing restrictions on this kind of discrimination.

What's more, even the protections that are established in the draft Order would be weak because it defines "broadband Internet access service" too narrowly, making it easy for powerful corporations to get around the rules.

Here's what's most troubling of all. Chairman Genachowski and President Obama -- who nominated him -- have argued convincingly that they support net neutrality.

But grassroots supporters of net neutrality are beginning to wonder if we've been had. Instead of proposing regulations that would truly protect net neutrality, reports indicate that Chairman Genachowski has been calling the CEOs of major Internet corporations seeking their public endorsement of this draft proposal, which would destroy it.

No chairman should be soliciting sign-off from the corporations that his agency is supposed to regulate -- and no true advocate of a free and open Internet should be seeking the permission of large media conglomerates before issuing new rules.

After all, just look at Comcast -- this Internet monolith has reportedly imposed a new, recurring fee on Level 3 Communications, the company slated to be the primary online delivery provider for Netflix. That's the same Netflix that represents Comcast's biggest competition in video services.

Imagine if Comcast customers couldn't watch Netflix, but were limited only to Comcast's Video On Demand service. Imagine if a cable news network could get its website to load faster on your computer than your favorite local political blog. Imagine if big corporations with their own agenda could decide who wins or loses online. The Internet as we know it would cease to exist.

That's why net neutrality is the most important free speech issue of our time. And that's why, this Tuesday, when the FCC meets to discuss this badly flawed proposal, I'll be watching. If they approve it as is, I'll be outraged. And you should be, too.

Congress sticks it to U.S. farmers with passage of food safety bill

http://www.naturalnews.com/030808_food_safety_bill_American_farmers.html

Congress sticks it to U.S. farmers with passage of food safety bill that will actually cause fresh produce to be more dangerous
Wednesday, December 22, 2010
Mike Adams, the Health Ranger
Editor of NaturalNews.com

(NaturalNews) The U.S. House of Representatives passed H.R. 2751 yesterday with a 216 to 144 vote (yes, many members of the House did not even vote). The so-called Food Safety Modernization Act now heads to the President to be signed into law.

When witnessing such a moment in history when the federal government greatly expands its power over an entire industry, it's important to understand the Law of Unintended Consequences. Virtually everything bad that happens after a bill gets passed is due to this Law of Unintended Consequences.

On the surface, the intention behind the food safety bill seems innocent enough: Let's all protect the food supply and prevent people from getting sick due to e.coli and salmonella exposure. But the reality of the result that emerges from the law is quite different.

Get ready for more dangerous, pesticide-ridden food from south of the border

Because the S.510 / HR 2751 food safety bill places an enormous new burden on U.S. farmers -- yes, even small farms that are supposedly "exempt" -- it's going to drive many farmers out of business.

It will also erect new barriers to farmers entering the food production business, and this is especially true for the small local farmers who grow food for local co-ops, farmers' markets and CSA organizations (Community Supported Agriculture). What we're going to see from all this, then, is the following:

• A reduction in the available SUPPLY of fresh local produce.
• A loss of local farming know-how and food sustainability.
• The financial failure of CSAs, food co-ops and small local markets.
• The loss of countless jobs that were related to local food production.
• An INCREASE in the price of local food, especially organic food.

Food safety bill does nothing to address food imports

At the same time these huge regulatory burdens are thrust upon U.S. farmers, there are no new regulations required for food grown outside the United States.

This means that food coming into the USA from Mexico, Chile, Peru or anywhere else does not have to meet S.510 food safety regulations at all. The FDA, after all, doesn't inspect greenhouses in Mexico or grape farms in Chile which export their products to the United States.

Furthermore, many dangerous chemical pesticides that have been banned in the USA are legal to use elsewhere, and foods treated with those pesticides are perfectly legal to import into the United States. So instead of buying food grown in the United States on small, organic farms, more U.S. consumers are going to be buying food grown elsewhere that's treated with extremely toxic pesticides.

Here are some of the unintended consequences of all this:

• An INCREASE in the importation of fresh produce from other countries.

• A worsening of the agricultural trade imbalance between the U.S. and other nations.

• An INCREASE in the pesticide contamination of fresh produce sold at U.S. grocery stores.

• An INCREASE in agriculture jobs in Mexico, Chile, Peru and elsewhere, even while agriculture jobs are lost in the USA.

• A DECREASE in the overall safety of the food supply because now the proportion of foods imported from foreign countries with little or no regulatory oversight will greatly expand compared to U.S. grown foods.

In effect, then, what Congress has done is impaired the competitiveness of U.S. farms, shifted farming jobs out of the country, increased the pesticide residues in fresh produce sold in U.S. grocery stores and harmed local food security and sustainability by driving small, local farmers out of business.

Such is the nature of the Law of Unintended Consequences. And such is the nature of just about everything that Big Government tries to do when it threatens to "solve problems" by expanding its regulatory control over almost any industry.

We need food security in America

What Congress fails to understand is that we need food security far more than we need more FDA regulations. The knowledge base of local farmers who know how to grow, harvest and distribute food is far more valuable to the security of our nation than preventing a relatively small number of people from getting sick from e.coli each year (even if such a trade-off were a simplistic equation, which it isn't). Because if we lose food security, then we become slaves to the big corporate food producers who are attempting to centralize food production and place food, seeds and crops under their absolute control.

A cynic might even suggest that was the whole purpose of the food safety bill in the first place: To destroy small farmers and centralize food production power in the hands of a few wealthy corporations. Whether that was the intent or not, it is certainly going to be the effect.

What Congress has done with this food safety bill, in effect, is to cripple America's food production know-how and poison the population with far more dangerous pesticide-ridden produce that will now be imported from other countries instead. This bill should have been called the "Mexico Farming Jobs Act" because it's going to shift countless jobs south of the border as farms in the USA realize they simply can't operate under the immense burden of FDA regulatory tyranny.

What's the definition of insanity?

It all makes you wonder what the members of Congress are really thinking. Don't they ever step back and attempt to consider the real-world ramifications of their actions?

Time and time again, the U.S. government seems to do the opposite of what would reasonably be required to solve problems. Think about it: When the U.S. government wanted to stop Wall Street bankers and investment firms from wasting money, it simply handed them a few trillion dollars in new money so they could waste more.

When the government wanted to end debt spending, it spent more debt money out of the foolish belief that you can somehow end your debt by going deeper into it.

When the government claimed it would reduce your health care costs and cover everyone with health insurance, it passed a sick-care law that has only seen health care costs spiraling out of control while insurers cancel policies and end coverage for many children.

And now, the government claims to be making your food safer even though the real impact of the new law will be to make your food far more dangerous while destroying U.S. farming jobs.

This is why those who really know government also know that they who govern best govern the least. Instead of trying to "fix" all the nation's problems by meddling with the actions of hard-working people trying to make a living (such as organic farmers), the government needs to simply get out of the way and let farmers produce their food without the heavy regulatory burden of the FDA -- an agency that we know is frequently engaged in actions that can only be called criminal in nature.

Get ready for skyrocketing food prices in 2011 - 2013

With the passage of this food safety bill, I am now publicly predicting skyrocketing food prices over the next two years. We will see fresh, local produce become increasingly more expensive and more difficult to acquire. Many local farmers will shutter their businesses, and farming know-how will be lost for perhaps a generation. The damage that will be done to America's food security and agricultural base is incalculable.

Such is the price we shall all pay for allowing our representatives in Washington to once again violate our Natural Right to grow food and exchange it for goods or cash with our neighbors. The reason this Natural Right was never even mentioned in the US Constitution, by the way, is because the right to grow your own food without government interference is such an obvious "Natural Right" (a God-given right, or a right that is self-evident) that our forefathers never imagined such a right would be infringed by the federal government.

Or if a right were ever infringed by the federal government, our forefathers were certain that the citizens of the United States of America would exercise their other Constitutional rights to nullify the attempted overreaching authority of the federal government and thereby restore their freedoms. Sadly, such a solution does not work when the majority of the population is lulled into a false sense of freedom by a government that deliberately lies to them on a daily basis. Freedom does not exist with the vast majority of the population has no interest in defending it.

Vegetable gardeners can learn something from marijuana growers

Better buy yourself some heirloom seeds while you have the chance. Plant your stealth garden and cover it with camouflage so the government can't see it and order you to destroy it. Soon, backyard vegetable gardeners will need to operate like marijuana growers and start hiding their food from government's prying eyes.

No doubt the U.S. federal government will start using spy satellites to identify "unregistered gardens" that will be targeted for termination. Soon, small farmers may even be raided by armed FDA agents who terrorize their operations and seize cabbages. Seriously.

It sounds crazy today, I know. But a decade ago, no one thought the government would ever outlaw raw cow's milk and arrest ranchers for selling milk to their neighbors, and that's now happening on a regular basis.

In five years, FDA farm raids may be routine. That is, if there's anything left of the federal government (as we know it) in five years. I'm not sure how long they can keep up the financial house of cards, frankly. Always remember this enlightening fact: The entire federal government is just one paycheck away from collapse. I wonder how long FDA inspectors will keep harassing farmers if their paychecks stop? Remember, FDA employees have no loyalty to anything other than their paychecks. Once the money from Washington stops, the army of FDA mercenaries collapses virtually overnight.

And the resilient farmers of America will win in the end, I have no doubt. If I had to choose to live on a deserted island with either ten North Carolina farmers or ten FDA bureaucrats, the choice would be a no-brainer. Farmers can keep you alive. FDA bureaucrats will only stab you in the back, steal your coconuts, and refuse to do any actual work on their own.

They are, after all, parasites who feed on taxpayer dollars and lend nothing of value to society. If the FDA actually did anything useful at all, it would have banned mercury fillings to protect the public from mercury toxicity.

Book of the Week: TV Sets


From Amazon.com:


TV Sets: Fantasy Blueprints of Classic TV Homes
Mark Bennett (Author)

Hardcover
Publisher: Black Dog & Leventhal Publishers
Published: August 2000


Paperback
Publisher: TV Books
Published: February 1, 1998


Amazon.com Review


This book of architectural blueprints is a loving, if obsessive, tribute to the minutiae of televised domestic life. Author Mark Bennett's excrutiatingly detailed plans span 25 years of television history, from Tiger's doghouse on The Brady Bunch to The Addams Family's entire manor, including Lurch's harpsichord, Gomez's train set, and Uncle Fester's laboratory. Also included are Laverne and Shirley's bachelorette pad, The Jetson's space unit, and Archie and Edith Bunker's Queens row house. Incredibly, all the plans are drawn to be architecturally feasible; that is, one could actually build from them. To accomplish this feat, the author often had to imagine rooms and areas not shown on the television programs, but only referred to, like Ward Cleaver's den or Ralph and Alice Kramden's bedroom. Included are detailed renderings not only of the characters' homes, but their entire towns, such as the whole of Mayberry and a complete layout of Gilligan's Island.

Review

You can almost see the milk and cookies waiting on the kitchen counter for Wally and the Beav. Pages later, in Brooklyn, there's Ralph Kramden's lunch pail on the sideboard, just beside the door to a bedroom we'll never see. Here, in blue on blue, are architectural drawings of the ephemera of our childhoods--the sets of favorite old television shows.
-- The New York Times Book Review, Patricia T. O'Conner

Product Description

Author and artist Mark Bennett compiles his entertaining collection of blueprints extrapolated from the storylines and sets of the 1950s to 1980s television sitcom homes millions of Americans grew up with. An extraordinary work of imagination, these blueprints of TV homes that are as familiar to us as our neighbor's den and backyard give us a fascinating "real life" view that the camera angles never offered.

From Ward and June Cleaver's house to Rob and Laura Petrie's apartment to Mary Richards's Minneapolis bachelorette apartment to the Jetson's "house" in the clouds, each home is lovingly recreated with painstaking precision in the fine blue lines of architectural blueprints. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From the Inside Flap

At 4222 Clinton Way in Los Angeles, a split-level contemporary features three bedrooms, three bathrooms, and a maid's room. Perfect for the six children of Mike and Carol Brady.

At 322 Maple, in the friendly town of Mayberry, is a comfortable two-story wood and shingle house. This is the residence of local sheriff Andy Taylor, his son Opie, and Aunt Bee. Large trees grace the front yard.

At 211 Pine Street, in Mayfield, lives the Beaver, with his brother Wally and his parents Ward and June. Ward's book-lined den and the spacious living room are just right for Wally's teen parties.

These are the homes where our favorite television families lived - the Brady kids; Beaver and Wally; Opie; Lucy and Ricky; Richie Cunningham; Ralph and Alice Kramden; Fred and Wilma Flintstone. These characters were a part of our day-to-day lives, and they live on in our memories and on cable television.

In TV SETS, Mark Bennett has lovingly recreated the blueprints for forty sitcom homes. Working first with small sketches on envelopes and table napkins - and in the days before videocassette recorders - Bennett gathered information on each home before making a formal drawing. The bedrooms, bathrooms, living rooms, doghouses, and, in some cases, such as Mayberry R.F.D., the entire town, have been carefully drawn, all down to the last fascinating detail. Relive your favorite episode as you study the blueprint for the Brady home, he M*A*S*H 4077 compound, or the Addams family mansion. Take a close look at Oscar and Felix's swinging bachelor pad, and marvel at ho Mary Richards managed to squeeze so much furniture into her Minneapolis studio apartment.

A twenty-year labor of love and an extraordinary work of imagination, TV SETS is a witty tribute to the fine details of domestic life on television. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

About the Author

Mark Bennett is a young artist whose blueprints have been shown by galleries in New York, Los Angeles, Seattle, Chicago and Cincinnati. He lives in Los Angeles.

Paperback: 144 pages
ISBN-10: 1575000172
ISBN-13: 978-1575000176

Blueprints courtesy of Artnet.com

Apple Bans Lame WikiLeaks App


http://www.wired.com/threatlevel/2010/12/wikileaks-app/

Apple Bans Lame WikiLeaks App
Kevin Poulsen
December 21, 2010
Categories: Censorship, WikiLeaks

Apple on Monday banned an iPhone and iPad app designed to facilitate access to WikiLeaks’ unfolding cache of leaked U.S. diplomatic cables, putting the company on the growing list of U.S. corporations aligned against the secret-spilling site.

“We removed the WikiLeaks app from the App Store because it violated our developer guidelines,” a spokeswoman told Threat Level, reading from a statement. “Apps must comply with all local laws and may not put an individual or targeted group in harm’s way.”

Apple declined to elaborate. The App Store is the only means of distributing an app that will run on an unmodified iPhone, iPod Touch or iPad. The unofficial WikiLeaks app was approved for sale just three days ago.

The ban follow a string of other corporate attacks on WikiLeaks in the wake of outrage from official Washington over the cable leak. Amazon cut off WikiLeaks hosting, and PayPal, Visa, MasterCard and Bank of America have all blocked donations to the organization.

Had Apple banned the WikiLeaks app for general suckage, it might be defensible. The $1.99 app does nothing more than display WikiLeaks’ Twitter feed and hashtag-search in one tab, and its website in a second. By clicking around the website one can access the State Department cables, the “Collateral Murder” Apache helicopter leak site, and the hundreds of thousands of reports from the Afghan and Iraq wars.

You can do the same thing in Safari by visiting WikiLeaks.ch.

That makes Apple’s move purely symbolic — but scarcely less ominous.

In April, Apple generated controversy when it briefly yanked an app serving cartoons by a Pulitzer Prize winning editorial cartoonist, on the grounds that it contained “content that ridicules public figures” in violation of Apple’s developer guidelines.

You don’t have to agree with WikiLeaks’ methods or publishing standards to recognize that what it does is a form of journalism — most clearly with its current leak. WikiLeaks has so-far published 1,824 of its 251,287 leaked diplomatic cables. Unlike the organizations’ earlier mass leaks, each published cable has been hand-reviewed, and occasionally hand-redacted of some names. WikiLeaks says the review has been conducted by journalists at the newspapers that were provided embargoed access to the leak — a list that includes the Guardian, Der Spiegel and other internationally reputable news organizations.

WikiLeaks and its people haven’t been charged with a crime for publishing U.S. leaks, and they’d have a strong First Amendment defense if they were. And despite concerns voiced from top officials, there has yet to be a documented instance of anyone coming to harm as a result of WikiLeaks’ releases. With news and media organizations (including Wired magazine) betting heavily on iPad apps as a way to get users to pay to read magazines and newspapers, it’s chilling to see Apple double down on its right to censor controversial, but lawfully published, content of indisputable news value.

Kevin Poulsen is a senior editor at Wired.com and editor of the award-winning Threat Level blog. His new book on cybercrime, KINGPIN, comes out February 22, 2011 from Crown.

Follow @kpoulsen on Twitter.

UConn women redefine sports dominance

http://msn.foxsports.com/other/story/UConn-womens-basketball-make-history-89-straight-wins-122110

UConn women redefine sports dominance
Jeff Goodman is a senior college basketball writer for FOXSports.com.
Dec 22, 2010

HARTFORD, Conn.

The ball may be an inch smaller and a couple ounces lighter, the players may not jump as high or even run quite as fast as the men. But there are still fast breaks, crisp passes, jumpers from beyond the 3-point line and even blocked shots.

Contrary to what some have chosen to believe, it is actually the same game.

Two baskets, a ball and five players on each side.

The UConn women won their 89th consecutive game Tuesday night in Hartford, Conn., with a resounding 93-62 victory over No. 22 Florida State. Whether or not you choose to believe it broke UCLA’s men’s streak of 88 straight victories from 1971-74, it’s impossible to discount — and difficult to truly fathom — what the Huskies have done over the past two-plus seasons.

UConn is looking for its third consecutive national title and the last time this program tasted defeat was way back on April 6, 2008 — an 82-73 loss to Stanford in the national semifinals.

But it’s not just the wins. It’s how the Huskies have done it that makes this streak so eye-popping.

Maya Moore and Co. have trailed for a mind-boggling minuscule total of 13 minutes, 21 seconds in the second half since The Road to 89 began — and more than 10 minutes of it came in a victory over No. 2 Baylor on Nov. 16.

The 31-point margin against Florida State was actually less than the 33 points-per-game margin the Huskies have averaged throughout the stretch. Even against ranked teams, UConn has won by nearly 25 points per contest.

"Mind-boggling,” Florida State coach Sue Semrau said after becoming victim No. 89.

It’s difficult to compare the current string of wins put together by the Huskies and the UCLA men.

"I don't want my team to compare themselves to anyone," UConn coach Geno Auriemma said after the win. "I'm not John Wooden, and this isn't UCLA. This is Connecticut, and that's good enough."

They are both amazing feats of complete dominance.

It’s difficult to imagine a more complete basketball player than Moore — whatever gender. The 6-foot senior forward is as smart and heady as just about any male counterpart in the game right now. She can shoot it from deep, get to the basket, distribute the ball, plus rebound and defend.

At one point, the score looked like this: Florida State 27, Moore 26.

Moore finished with a career-high 41 points. She made 15 of 24 shots from the field, was 10 of 11 from the foul line, grabbed 10 rebounds and didn’t commit a single turnover.

Anyone — even former UCLA great Bill Walton — would gladly take those numbers.

Moore and her teammates celebrated on the court after the win, complete with T-shirts with “89 and Counting” on the front and plenty of photo opportunities.

President Barack Obama even interrupted Auriemma’s postgame news conference with a telephone call.

"We have not lost since you have been inaugurated,” Auriemma told him with a huge smile. "How 'bout we keep that stretch going for a couple more years?”

It sounds truly ridiculous, but as long as Moore is wearing a Huskies uniform, this team isn’t going to taste defeat.

UConn men’s star Kemba Walker told me prior to tip-off that the game would be over after 10 minutes. The score midway through the first half was 29-15, and Florida State didn’t have a chance.

Walker’s teammate, freshman Shabazz Napier — who has played pickup with Moore, believes she could play somewhere for a men’s Division I basketball program.

I went into the game thinking he was insane.

I left the Hartford Civic Center thinking Napier may be onto something.

"She’s been at her absolutely best when it was absolutely needed,” Auriemma said of his star senior. "I’ll always remember that and admire her for that.”

This UConn’s women’s team was able to capitalize on UCLA’s streak from more than one-quarter century ago. The outspoken Auriemma has been made out to be the bad guy because he’s brash — even arrogant.

But who can blame him.

The guy is 746-122 in 26 seasons at the helm, has won six national titles and appears to own a monopoly on women’s college basketball these days.

"Like it or not, we made you pay attention,” Auriemma said. "But don’t blame me. I’m just the messenger. We’re just out here to win games.”

And they have done that as well as anyone. Yes, even as well as Wooden’s UCLA teams in the early '70s.

The 20 Worst Songs of 2010 - #1: Train, "Hey, Soul Sister"

http://blogs.villagevoice.com/music/2010/12/the_20_worst_so_19.php

F2K10
The 20 Worst Songs of 2010
#1: Train, "Hey, Soul Sister"
Maura Johnston and Christopher R. Weingarten, Wed., Dec. 22 2010

The future of rock music, right here.

Here are some important things to know about Train's "Hey, Soul Sister."

"Hey, Soul Sister" was the only rock song to land in the Billboard Hot 100's top 10 this year. This is pretty much proof that rock music is dead, right? We're not gonna tell Nickelback to come back because all is forgiven, but this warm washcloth of facepalmy puns and cutey-poo pukulele might be why Captain Beefheart died.

It's pretty much the whitest song to ever have the word "soul" in it, and that includes Death Cab's "Soul Meets Body." There is less soul in the entirety of Train than in the palest single member of Collective Soul. "Hey, Soul Sister" is soul for people who refer to peanut butter and jelly as "soul food." It makes the California Raisins look like the second coming of Sly and the Family Stone. It's so white, Sarah Palin just named it her running mate for 2012.

At its outset, it sounds like that All-American Rejects song that was popular last year. Remember that one? Here, we just Googled it for you. Train, you owe us 20 seconds of our lives back, and we owe All-American Rejects a cut of our vast F2K10 riches.

The chorus is jacked from an even worse place. "Hey Soul Sister" is an orgy where bad ideas trade STDs, and the most syphilitic brain-fart stumbled in drunk from a Smash Mouth show. (For those of you who arrived late, Smash Mouth was a band from the late '90s that was formed when a soul patch met cake frosting. Their wikki-wikki scratching and dorkpie hats did to music what blood-soaked clowns do to the dreams of sleeping children.) Listen to "Hey, Soul Sister" a few times and you'll inevitably be reminded of the "whistling solo" from the Shrek house band's inescapable "All Star." From Smash Mouth, Train picked up an earworm that burrowed into society's asshole, laid 4.7 million iTunes eggs, and gave birth to a grey cloud of banality that covers the Earth.

The lyrics represent the weird hippie fantasies of a yuppie toolbag. Quoth front-nozzle Pat Monahan: "I just wrote on my computer for a while what I saw as a group of beautiful women at Burning Man dancing around the fire. I've never been there before, but that's what I imagined it would be like." Yes, this song is the result of a grown bajillionaire who dresses like a 19-year-old Dane Cook stan sitting pud-handed at his MacBook and writing fan fiction about the fun times hippie girls have at Burning Man. Dude is like five feet and 10 inches of midlife crisis.

How much do you want to bet that the initial rhyme to the word "direction" in the second verse was "erection," and not "Love Connection"? Because, really. Erection.

It makes hashtag rap look poetic. The references to the '80s in "Hey, Soul Sister"--the untrimmed-chest bit, the Mr. Mister and Madonna name-drops, Love Connection--they're all lazier than Garfield in a lasagna coma. Oh, fuck-now they've got us doing it!

The ukulele. The fuck?

It lowered the bar for blowjob references on pop radio. "Your lipstick stains / On the front lobe of my left side brains"? Congratulations, Flo Rida: You just became the front-runner for the National Book Award (Fellatio Division). When the inevitable "keep Train's song out of our precious commercials" movement sprung up, it was called Stop Advertising From Pulling a Train, which is a better sex joke in that it a) makes sense and b) wasn't sung over a ukulele.

The ukulele player looks like Howie Mandel. I mean.

It was the lone pop song to manage cultural ubiquity in a year when that was pretty much impossible. Think about the last time you were stuck in a long line while making a toilet paper run, or were forced to spend time on hold with somebody who assured you that your call was very important, or forgot to DVR Project Runway so you had to sit through all the ad breaks. You probably heard Pat Monahan's weiner warble at some point. That's because "Hey, Soul Sister" is made for those moments when you're forced to do nothing else but listen to it, and it's just catchy enough to rattle around in your head during that downtime's aftermath, disrupting any activities you actually enjoy.

It's never going to die. You thought "Hey, Soul Sister"'s ubiquity on the adult-contemporary charts was enough for it to live on in Walgreens' white-noise perpetuity? Well, there's a country version of the track as well, with the fiddles and vocal harmonies and slide guitar turned all the way up. Somehow the lyrical reference to Madonna is intact -- c'mon, guys, "Loretta" scans just as well, and if you think hard enough you can probably squeeze a reference to "Fist City" in there!

And just think: When your shitty kid marries someone you violently disapprove of 20 years from now, this song -- with its references to blowjobs and songs that were ground into the ground before the kid was a twinkle in your eye -- will serve as the couple's first dance. As you watch your offspring and new in-law twirl around the dance floor, you will reach for a glass of Champagne Loko (President Kid Rock won't try to ban the stuff until he's up for re-election in 2032) and wonder how everything went so, so wrong.