Sunday, November 28, 2010

Top 25 Movies of the 2000s

Not-So-Zeroes for the Zeroes
Robert Sterling,

After releasing The Konformist 25 Turkeys list of Zeroes for the Zeroes, some people emailed wondering if we came up with a best movie list for the decade. Here it is.

Please note that this isn't a personal list, which would be quite different. Instead, this list is based on a secret mathematical formula, which includes information from,, and, along with Google and Yahoo searches. In cases where more than one movie in a series would make the list, either the entire series is cited, or the best example of the series is cited, with the others receiving honorable mention.

1. The Dark Knight (2008)
Honorable Mention: Batman Begins (2005)

2. The Lord of the Rings Trilogy (2001-3)
* The Fellowship of the Ring (2001), The Two Towers (2002), Return of the King (2003)

3. Memento (2001)

4. The Departed (2006)

5. Gladiator (2000)

6. Avatar (2009)

7. Sin City (2005)

8. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)

9. Kill Bill: Volumes 1 & 2 (2003-4)
* Kill Bill: Volume 1 (2003), Kill Bill: Volume 2 (2004)

10. The Prestige (2006)

11. V for Vendetta (2006)

12. Donnie Darko (2001)

13. Amelie (2001)

14. City of God (2003)

15. Pirates of the Caribbean (2003)

16. Requiem for a Dream (2000)

17. WALL-E (2008)

18. No Country for Old Men (2007)

19. Inglourious Basterds (2009)

20. 300 (2007)

21. Slumdog Millionaire (2008)

22. Snatch (2000)

23. Pan's Labyrinth (2006)

24. Finding Nemo (2003)

25. District 9 (2009)

Friday, November 26, 2010

Oregon Senator Wyden effectively kills Internet censorship bill

Oregon Senator Wyden effectively kills Internet censorship bill
Stephen C. Webster
Friday, November 19th, 2010

It's too early to say for sure, but Oregon Senator Ron Wyden could very well go down in the history books as the man who saved the Internet.

A bill that critics say would have given the government power to censor the Internet will not pass this year thanks to the Oregon Democrat, who announced his opposition during a recent committee hearing. Individual Senators can place holds on pending legislation, in this case meaning proponents of the bill will be forced to reintroduce the measure and will not be able to proceed until the next Congress convenes.

Even then, its passage is not certain.

The Combating Online Infringement and Counterfeits Act (COICA) would have permitted a blanket takedown of any domain alleged to be assisting activities that violate copyright law, based upon the judgment of state attorneys general.

"Deploying this statute to combat online copyright infringement seems almost like using a bunker-busting cluster bomb, when what you need is a precision-guided missile," Wyden said.

The act was unanimously approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee yesterday.

"Few things are more important to the future of the American economy and job creation than protecting our intellectual property," said Senator Patrick Leahy, a Democrat from Vermont who co-sponsored the bill.
"That is why the legislation is supported by both labor and industry, and Democrats and Republicans are standing together."

Opponents of the bill insist that many sites which contain allegedly infringing materials also traffic in legitimate data that's constitutionally protected. There's also a fear that whatever action the US takes, other countries will seek to emulate, and some to a much more zealous degree.

Activist group DemandProgress, which is running a petition against the bill, argued the powers in the bill could be used for political purposes. If the whistleblower Web site WikiLeaks is found to be hosting copyrighted material, for instance, access to WikiLeaks could be blocked for all US Internet users, they suggested.

A group of academics, led by Temple University law professor David Post, have signed a petition opposing COICA.

"The Act, if enacted into law, would fundamentally alter U.S. policy towards Internet speech, and would set a dangerous precedent with potentially serious consequences for free expression and global Internet freedom," Post wrote in the petition letter (PDF).

"Blacklisting entire sites out of the domain name system," explained the Electronic Frontiers Foundation (EFF), a privacy and digital rights advocate group, is a "reckless scheme that will undermine global Internet infrastructure and censor legitimate online speech."

The EFF has published a list of Web sites it believes are at highest risk of being shut down under the proposed law. Included in the list are file-hosting services such as Rapidshare and Mediafire, music mash-up sites like SoundCloud and MashupTown, as well as "sites that discuss and advocate for P2P technology or for piracy," such as and P2PNet.

Sir Tim Berners-Lee, often cited as the father of the world wide web, has called Internet disconnection laws in the name of copyright protection a "blight" on the net.

With prior reporting by Daniel Tencer

Antimatter Atoms Trapped for First Time—"A Big Deal"

Antimatter Atoms Trapped for First Time—"A Big Deal"
But no applications for bombs, energy sources, or engines.
November 18, 2010

For the first time, scientists have trapped antimatter atoms — mysterious, oppositely charged versions of ordinary atoms — a new study says.

Though the achievement is "a big deal," it doesn't mean the antimatter bombs and engines of science fiction will be igniting anytime soon, experts say.

But the feat, undertaken a couple of months ago at the Geneva, Switzerland-based European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN), paves the way to the potential solution of a fundamental cosmic conundrum.

Theories predict that antimatter particles and matter particles have opposite electrical charges but are otherwise nearly identical. Whenever the matter and antimatter meet, they self-annihilate in a shower of pure energy.

Yet for all the similarities, scientists think matter and antimatter must differ in some other fundamental way. That's because, even though matter and antimatter should have been created in equal amounts during the big bang, the universe we know is made almost entirely of matter.

"It's a central mystery in physics," said Joel Fajans, a physicist at the University of California, Berkeley, who co-authored the new study, published today in the journal Nature.

The unprecedented trapping of antimatter atoms for study is a key step toward understanding why nature seems to abhor antimatter. (Read about a new material that may help explain why matter and antimatter are out of balance.)

Cliff Surko, a physicist at the University of California, San Diego, called the trapping of antimatter atoms "a big deal."

"This is the next step, and it's a key next step" toward solving that central mystery, said Surko, who did not participate in the research. "It's a relief to have this step in hand."

Antimatter Bonding Activities

For the new experiments, the team used CERN's ALPHA experiment, a tangle of corrugated pipes, electromagnetic "bottles," and other equipment.

First, scientists had to create antiprotons and antielectrons, or positrons, and get them to bond. This formed atoms of antihydrogen, the simplest antimatter element—a feat first achieved in 2002 at CERN.

To make the antiprotons, the team took some of the protons normally used to feed CERN's nearby Large Hadron Collider, smashed them into metal targets, and captured the byproducts. The positrons were captured from a radioactive sodium source.

To get the antiprotons and positrons to bond, the team used an oscillating electric field, nudging the antiprotons into the same energy level as the positrons.

Next came the hard—and unprecedented—part: getting the antimatter particles to sit still.

Aiming for Permanent Antimatter-Atom Incarceration

The major challenge of trapping antimatter is that, once created, the particles are typically too hot and energetic to be trapped.

Fajans likens the task of antihydrogen trapping to games that involve tilting a toy disk to roll a ball bearing into a dimple or hole.

"If the ball is moving too fast, it won't stick in the dimple," Fajans said. "That was our problem with antihydrogen atoms. They were moving too fast to stay stuck in the traps we were making for them."

To slow them down, the team used a series of electric and magnetic fields to cool the antimatter.

Of the millions of antihydrogen atoms the ALPHA team created, only about 38 were cold enough—and slow enough—to be held in a kind of "magnetic bowl" that prevented them from interacting with normal matter.

Because the experiments were intended only to prove that antimatter atoms could be trapped, the team let the antihydrogen atoms go after only two-tenths of a second. But they hope to drastically increase the incarceration time in future experiments.

"Two-tenths of a second is nice, but forever is even better," Fajans said.

And forever may not be so far away. Since the experiments covered in the Nature study, the researchers have created many more antihydrogen atoms and held them for much longer—fodder for a future report.

According to Fajans, "We're doing much better now."

If more antihydrogen atoms can be produced and trapped for longer periods, scientists might finally be able to study them in enough detail to explain their scarcity in our universe, he added.

No Antimatter Bombs?

John Bollinger, of the U.S. National Institute of Standards and Technology in Colorado, agreed that the new results represent a major step forward—with caveats.

"It is a big deal," said Bollinger, who didn't take part in the experiment, "but more big deals need to be achieved before precise studies can be made—for example, extending the lifetime of the trapped antihydrogen and identifying the state ... of the antihydrogen."

As for real-world antimatter applications, UC San Diego's Surko said that the harnessing of antimatter as an energy source—say, for use in weapons or a Star Trek-style propulsion system—remains a far-fetched idea.

"The problem is that ... it takes so much more energy to make than you get out that it's pretty inefficient," he said. "And you have to go to great lengths to confine it for a long time."

NIST's Bollinger was likewise skeptical. "The amount of antimatter that can be trapped is very small," he said.

"Even if the efficiency of the trapping process is increased, it is fundamentally limited by the amount of antiprotons that can be generated. Therefore I do not see applications in terms of new energy sources or weapons."

Giant Bubbles Found in Space

Giant Bubbles Found in Space
An ancient eruption of a supermassive black hole may have inflated the mysteriously huge bubbles that span 50,000 light-years.
Irene Klotz
Wed Nov 10, 2010
Astronomers discover new type of object -- huge bubbles of gamma rays stemming from the heart of the galaxy.
The two bubbles could have been inflated by a past eruption from the supermassive black hole at the center of the Milky Way.
The bubbles span 50,000 light-years across the sky.

An ancient eruption of a supermassive black hole in the Milky Way may have inflated two huge bubbles of gamma rays which were just now discovered and are considered a new type of astronomical object.

"It shows, once again, that the universe is full of surprises," said Jon Morse, director of astrophysics at NASA headquarters.

Combined, the bubbles, which are aligned at the center of the Milky Way, span a vast distance of about 50,000 light-years. The structures are very distinct, with defined edges, and have as much energy in them as 100,000 supernova.

They were found with NASA's Fermi Gamma-Ray Telescope, which surveys the sky every three hours for the highest-energy light.

Among the 1,500 sources of gamma rays Fermi has mapped so far, nothing resembles the bubble-shaped structures, which stretch across more than half of the visible sky, from the constellation Virgo to the constellation Grus.

"You have to ask where could energy like that come from," said astronomer Doug Finkbeiner, with the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics.

Hints of the bubbles appeared years earlier in X-ray surveys and in maps of the cosmic microwave background radiation stemming from the Big Bang explosion.

"We had a hypothesis before Fermi launched that there should be some gamma ray emission in this part of the sky. We were thinking something a bit more modest, maybe something within 10 or 20 or 30 degrees of the center, not these giant structures reaching all the way up to 50 degrees," Finkbeiner said.

Scientists have two possible explanations for the Fermi bubbles. Theory one: a burst of star-formation at the center of the galaxy generated short-lived massive stars with energetic winds that blasted high-energy particles out into space.

Finkbeiner points out that it would take some time to accumulate as much energy as what's inside the bubbles, however. He favors an alternative theory: an outburst from the supermassive black hole lurking in the center of the galaxy.

In other galaxies, astronomers have seen evidence for jets of particles triggered by matter that is being pulled into a black hole, objects that have so much gravitational pull that not even light can escape their grasp.

There's no evidence that the Milky Way's central black hole, which is about 400 million times more massive than our sun, has jets, but astronomers suspect it might have in the past.

"We know it didn't get to be that big by sitting there quietly all the time. It certainly has had big accretion events in the past, where material falls on it and then some of that material comes back out as high-energy particles blasted out in the form of a jet," Finkbeiner said.

"We've never really seen very good evidence of it. This might be the first evidence for a major outburst of the black hole at the center of the galaxy. When it's going full-blast … it would not actually take an enormous amount of time -- maybe 10,000 or 100,000 years -- for it to produce enough energy to create these structures," Finkbeiner said.

"This result is very exciting," added Fermi scientist Simona Murgia, with the SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory in Menlo Park, Calif. "These features could reveal unexpected and very important physical processes in our galaxy that until now we knew nothing about despite the fact that these features could possibly be almost as large as the Milky Way and might have been around for millions of years."

The discovery was unveiled during a teleconference with reporters on Tuesday and is the subject of an upcoming paper in The Astrophysical Journal.

Mobile phone kits to diagnose STDs

Mobile phone kits to diagnose STDs
• Plan aims to cut UK's rate of infection among young
• Many with symptoms 'too embarrassed to go to GP'
Denis Campbell, Friday 5 November 2010

A new test will soon enable STDs to be diagnosed via mobile phone or computer, a move that health experts hope will slow the rising rate of infection among young people

Mobile phones and computers will soon be able to diagnose sexually transmitted diseases under innovative plans to cut the UK's rising rate of herpes, chlamydia and gonorrhoea among young people.

Doctors and technology experts are developing small devices, similar to pregnancy testing kits, that will tell someone quickly and privately if they have caught an infection through sexual contact.

People who suspect they have been infected will be able to put urine or saliva on to a computer chip about the size of a USB chip, plug it into their phone or computer and receive a diagnosis within minutes, telling them which, if any, sexually transmitted infection (STI) they have. Seven funders, including the Medical Research Council, have put £4m into developing the technology via a forum called the UK Clinical Research Collaboration.

Sexual health experts hope it will help reduce the growing number of STIs, which have increased for the last decade and reached a record 482,696 last year. Two-thirds of women reporting a new STI were under 25, as were more than half of men.

The self-testing devices are aimed at technology-savvy young people. Public health experts are concerned that, although most STIs occur among that age group, many are too embarrassed to visit a GP or a genito-urinary medicine clinic to get tested and therefore continue to suffer and potentially pass the disease on. Doctors hope that the ability to obtain a private, confidential diagnosis will overcome their widespread reluctance to take a test.

The developers of the rapid testing devices expect them to be sold for as little as 50p or £1 each in vending machines in nightclubs, pharmacies and in supermarkets, as condoms are. They are drawing on nanotechnology and microfluidics, the creation of miniaturised laboratories.

"Your mobile phone can be your mobile doctor. It diagnoses whether you've got one of a range of STIs, such as chlamydia or gonorrhea and tells you where to go next to get treatment," said Dr Tariq Sadiq, a senior lecturer and consultant physician in sexual health and HIV at St George's, University of London, who is leading the project. "We need to tackle the rising epidemic of STIs, which have been going up and up and up. Britain is one of the worst [countries] in western Europe for teenage pregnancy and STIs. That there's a major embarrassment factor here, especially among young people, makes the situation worse." Some people do not get tested because they choose to do nothing about their symptoms, such as an itch or discharge, or dislike clinics' waiting lists or opening times. With some STIs people can remain infectious, even when the initial symptoms have disappeared.

Self-testing could lead to quicker diagnosis, fewer STIs and patients gaining greater control of their sexual health, as well as the ability to alert recent sexual partners, he added.

Sadiq is head of the Electronic Self-testing Instruments for Sexually Transmitted Infections consortium, which includes experts in microbiology, public health, telecommunications and micro-engineering from medical research institutions, the NHS and industry. The NHS's technology adoption centre, the National Institute of Health and Clinical Excellence and mobile phone operators, including 02, are also involved.

Doctors said the devices could help by removing the need to meet a health professional. "Some people may find going into a doctor's surgery to be tested an intimidating experience, so it's crucial that we find new ways to engage with people," said Dr Marion Henderson, from the MRC's social and public health sciences unit. Some STIs do not always display symptoms, she added. "This is important, particularly for women, as it can lead to future painful pelvic inflammatory disease and even infertility, both of which could be avoided with testing and appropriate treatment."

Prof Noel Gill, head of HIV and STIs at the Health Protection Agency, the government agency that monitors infections and advises on containment strategies, said: "HPA surveillance has shown that the impact of STIs is greatest among young people and we hope that the application of new technology will help to reduce transmission of infection in this age group.

"This is an exciting research and development consortium which will develop new technologies that both improve and expand testing for STIs. As innovations become available, the HPA will co-ordinate large-scale evaluations within a network of collaborating STI clinics," Gill added.

STDs: the facts

A total of 482,696 new cases of sexually transmitted infection were recorded across the UK in 2009, some 12,000 more than in 2008. Of those, 231,433 were in women (up 4%) and 249,605 in men (up 1%).

• Two-thirds of last year's new STI diagnoses in women were among under-25s. For example, 88% of the 127,741 cases of chlamydia, 73% of the 5,434 cases of gonorrhoea and 66% of the 42,095 cases of genital warts among women occurred in that age group.

• Among men, slightly more than half of all the new STIs were in under-25s, including 69% of the 84,863 cases of male chlamydia, 47% of the 49,105 cases of genital warts and 41% of the 11,541 cases of gonorrhoea.

• The most common age at which women get an STI is 19-20, while for men it is 20-23.

'Space-time cloak' could conceal events

'Space-time cloak' could conceal events
Simon Hooper
November 16, 2010
Scientists compare bending light around an event to enabling a pedestrian to cross a road without interrupting the traffic flow.
Scientists publish theory behind "cloak" capable of masking events
Cloak would use metamaterials to change speed of light
"Proof of concept" experiment possible with current technology, scientists claim
Theoretical cloak could have implications for quantum computing

New materials with the ability to manipulate the speed of light could enable the creation of a "space-time cloak" capable of masking events or even creating an illusion of "Star Trek"-style transportation, according to scientists in London.

The cloak, while currently only existing in mathematical theory, takes advantage of the potential properties of "metamaterials" -- artificial materials designed and manipulated at a molecular level to interact with and control electromagnetic waves.

Scientists have previously demonstrated that one possible use of metamaterials could be to render objects invisible by bending light around them. But Professor Martin McCall of Imperial College London says he has now extended the concept of invisibility to a cloak also capable of hiding events both in time and space.

"In some senses our work is mathematically quite closely related to the idea of invisibility cloaking," McCall told CNN. "It's just that we're doing it in space and time instead of just in space. It's added a new dimension to cloaking, quite literally."

In a paper published in the Journal of Optics, McCall said metamaterials made it theoretically possible to manipulate light rays as they enter a material so that some parts speed up and others slow down. This could create "blind spots" in time, masking an event. While the accelerated light arrives at a space before an event has happened, the rest of the light doesn't reach it until after the event.

"If you had someone moving along the corridor, it would appear to a distant observer as if they had relocated instantaneously, creating the illusion of a Star Trek transporter," says McCall. "So, theoretically, this person might be able to do something and you wouldn't notice."

Alberto Favaro, who worked on the project, compared the process to moving a pedestrian across a highway full of traffic by speeding up those cars already at or beyond the crossing point while slowing down the approaching vehicles.

"Meanwhile an observer down the road would only see a steady stream of traffic," said Favaro.

McCall said the theory could have practical implications in the future for quantum computing by opening up new possibilities for signal processing.

"If you have two channels that are carrying information, one of which has a continuous stream of bits on it, our technique can interrupt that stream and then process the other channel as a priority. So it can act as an 'interrupt without interrupt.' The original channels can then be seamed back together as if they'd never been interrupted."

The authors of the paper also joke that the "technology" would have its uses for criminals.

"A safe cracker would be able, for a brief time, to enter a scene, open the safe, remove its contents, close the door and exit the scene, whilst the record of a surveillance camera apparently showed that the safe door was closed all the time," they write.

The metamaterials necessary to create the perfect cloak are still many decades away, McCall said, while any prospect of upscaling the technology to conceal events even lasting a few minutes remains in the realm of science fiction because of the vast scale of the cloak that would be needed.

"Light travels at 100 million meters per second and in order to cloak it you'd need that many meters (of metamaterial), roughly speaking," he said.

But McCall said current optical-fibre technology could be used to construct a "poor man's cloak" capable of demonstrating "proof of concept" by imperfectly hiding events taking place over a few nanoseconds.

"We've provided a theoretical recipe and suggested how the experiment can be done. We believe the proof of principle experiment is available with current technology that experimentalist groups could achieve. It's up to the experimentalists to rise to the challenge," he said.

Ulf Leonhardt, a physicist working on the theory of invisibility technology at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland, said the paper was theoretically interesting but rejected the practicality of an experiment along the lines described by McCall.

"You'd need a very very strong light source and it's not something you can make with commercially available devices that you can buy for a standard university laboratory," Leonhardt told CNN.

But he said research activities in the field of invisibility had exploded since he first published papers on the subject in 2006. While optical cloaking technologies remained a long way off, there have been some very promising experiments involving cloaking soundwaves, he added.

"In acoustics you can definitely say this is working," said Leonhardt. "But it's still far away from being a practical technology for the optical range of the spectrum."


Ellen Brown, November 19th, 2010

The deficit hawks are circling, hovering over QE2, calling it just another inflationary bank bailout. But unlike QE1, QE2 is not about saving the banks. It’s about funding the federal deficit without increasing the interest tab, something that may be necessary in this gridlocked political climate just to keep the government functioning.

On November 15, the Wall Street Journal published an open letter to Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke from 23 noted economists, professors and fund managers, urging him to abandon his new “quantitative easing” policy called QE2. The letter said:

We believe the Federal Reserve’s large-scale asset purchase plan (so-called “quantitative easing”) should be reconsidered and discontinued. . . . The planned asset purchases risk currency debasement and inflation, and we do not think they will achieve the Fed’s objective of promoting employment.

The Pragmatic Capitalist (Cullen Roche) remarked:

Many of the people on this list have been warning about bond vigilantes while also comparing the USA to Greece for several years now. Of course, they’ve been terribly wrong and it is entirely due to the fact that they do not understand how the US monetary system works. . . . What’s unfortunate is that these are many of our best minds. These are the people driving the economic bus.

The deficit hawks say QE is massively inflationary; that it is responsible for soaring commodity prices here and abroad; that QE2 won’t work any better than an earlier scheme called QE1, which was less about stimulating the economy than about saving the banks; and that QE has caused the devaluation of the dollar, which is hurting foreign currencies and driving up prices abroad.

None of these contentions is true, as will be shown. They arise from a failure either to understand modern monetary mechanics (see links at The Pragmatic Capitalist and here) or to understand QE2, which is a different animal from QE1. QE2 is not about saving the banks, or devaluing the dollar, or saving the housing market. It is about saving the government from having to raise taxes or cut programs, and saving Americans from the austerity measures crippling the Irish and the Greeks; and for that, it may well be the most effective tool currently available. QE2 promotes employment by keeping the government in business. The government can then work on adding jobs.

The Looming Threat of a Crippling Debt Service

The federal debt has increased by more than 50% since 2006, due to a collapsed economy and the highly controversial decision to bail out the banks. By the end of 2009, the debt was up to $12.3 trillion; but the interest paid on it ($383 billion) was actually less than in 2006 ($406 billion), because interest rates had been pushed to extremely low levels. Interest now eats up nearly half the government’s income tax receipts, which are estimated at $899 billion for FY 2010. Of this, $414 billion will go to interest on the federal debt. If interest rates were to rise just a couple of percentage points, servicing the federal debt would consume over 100% of current income tax receipts, and taxes might have to be doubled.

As for the surging commodity and currency prices abroad, they are not the result of QE. They are largely the result of the U.S. dollar carry trade, which is the result of pressure to keep interest rates artificially low. Banks that can borrow at the very low fed funds rate (now 0.2%) can turn around and speculate abroad, reaping much higher returns.

Interest rates cannot be raised again to reasonable levels until the cost of servicing the federal debt is reduced; and today that can be done most expeditiously through QE2 -- “monetizing” the debt through the Federal Reserve, essentially interest-free. Alone among the government’s creditors, the Fed rebates the interest to the government after deducting its costs. In 2008, the Fed reported that it rebated 85% of its profits to the government. The interest rate on the 10-year government bonds the Fed is planning to buy is now 2.66%. Fifteen percent of 2.66% is the equivalent of a 0.4% interest rate, the best deal in town on long-term bonds.

A Reluctant Fed Steps Up to the Plate

The Fed was strong-armed into rebating its profits to the government in the 1960s, when Wright Patman, Chairman of the House Banking and Currency Committee, pushed to have the Fed nationalized. According to Congressman Jerry Voorhis in The Strange Case of Richard Milhous Nixon (1973):

As a direct result of logical and relentless agitation by members of Congress, led by Congressman Wright Patman as well as by other competent monetary experts, the Federal Reserve began to pay to the U.S. Treasury a considerable part of its earnings from interest on government securities. This was done without public notice and few people, even today, know that it is being done. It was done, quite obviously, as acknowledgment that the Federal Reserve Banks were acting on the one hand as a national bank of issue, creating the nation’s money, but on the other hand charging the nation interest on its own credit – which no true national bank of issue could conceivably, or with any show of justice, dare to do.

Voorhis went on, “But this is only part of the story. And the less discouraging part, at that. For where the commercial banks are concerned, there is no such repayment of the people’s money.” Commercial banks do not rebate the interest, said Voorhis, although they also “‘buy’ the bonds with newly created demand deposit entries on their books – nothing more.”

After the 1960s, the policy was to fund government bonds through commercial banks (which could collect interest) rather than through the central bank (which could not). This was true not just in the U.S. but in other countries, after a quadrupling of oil prices combined with abandonment of the gold standard produced “stagflation” that was erroneously blamed on governments “printing money.”

Consistent with that longstanding policy, Chairman Bernanke initially resisted funding the federal deficit. In January 2010, he admonished Congress:

"We're not going to monetize the debt. It is very, very important for Congress and administration to come to some kind of program, some kind of plan that will credibly show how the United States government is going to bring itself back to a sustainable position."

His concern, according to The Washington Times, was that “the impasse in Congress over tough spending cuts and tax increases needed to bring down deficits will eventually force the Fed to accommodate deficits by printing money and buying Treasury bonds.”

That impasse crystallized on November 3, 2010, when Republicans swept the House. There would be no raising of taxes on the rich, and the gridlock in Congress meant there would be no budget cuts either. Compounding the problem was that over the last six months, China has stopped buying U.S. debt, reducing inflows by about $50 billion per month.

QE2 Is Not QE1

In QE1, the Fed bought $1.2 trillion in toxic mortgage-backed securities off the books of the banks. QE1 mirrored TARP, the government’s Troubled Asset Relief Program, except that TARP was funded by the government with $700 billion in taxpayer money. QE1 was funded by the Federal Reserve with computer keystrokes, simply by crediting the banks’ reserve accounts at the Fed.

Pundits were predicting that QE2 would be more of the same, but it turned out to be something quite different. Immediately after the election, Bernanke announced that the Fed would be using its power to purchase assets to buy federal securities on the secondary market -- from banks, bond investors and hedge funds. (In the EU, the European Central Bank began a similar policy when it bought Greek bonds on the secondary market.) The bond dealers would then be likely to use the money to buy more Treasuries, increasing overall Treasury sales.

The bankers who applauded QE1 were generally critical of QE2, probably because they would get nothing out of it. They would have to give up their interest-bearing bonds for additional cash reserves, something they already have more of than they can use. Unlike QE1, QE2 was designed, not to help the banks, but to relieve the pressure on the federal budget.

Bernanke said the Fed would buy $600 billion in long-term government bonds at the rate of $75 billion per month, filling the hole left by China. An estimated $275 billion would also be rolled over into Treasuries from the mortgage-backed securities the Fed bought during QE1, which are now reaching maturity. More QE was possible, he said, if unemployment stayed high and inflation stayed low (measured by the core Consumer Price Index).

Addison Wiggin noted in his November 4 Five Minute Forecast that this essentially meant the Fed planned to monetize the whole deficit for the next eight months. He quoted Agora Financial’s Bill Bonner:

“If this were Greece or Ireland, the government would be forced to cut back. With quantitative easing ready, there is no need to face the music.”

That was meant as a criticism, but you could also see it as a very good deal. Why pay interest to foreign central banks when you can get the money nearly interest-free from your own central bank? In eight months, the Fed will own more Treasuries than China and Japan combined, making it the largest holder of government securities outside the government itself.

The Overrated Hazard of Inflation

The objection of the deficit hawks, of course, is that this will be massively inflationary, diluting the value of the dollar; but a close look at the data indicates that these fears are unfounded.

Adding money to the money supply is obviously not hazardous when the money supply is shrinking, and it is shrinking now. Financial commentator Charles Hugh Smith estimates that the economy faces $15 trillion in writedowns in collateral and credit, based on projections from the latest Fed Flow of Funds. The Fed's $2 trillion in new credit/liquidity is therefore insufficient to trigger either inflation or another speculative bubble.

In any case, Chairman Bernanke maintains that QE involves no printing of new money. It is just an asset swap on the balance sheets of the bondholders. The bondholders are no richer than before and have no more money to spend than before.

Professor Warren Mosler explains that the bondholders hold the bonds in accounts at the Fed. He says, “U.S. Treasury securities are accounted much like savings accounts at a normal commercial bank.” They pay interest and are considered part of the federal debt. When the debt is “paid” by repurchasing the bonds, all that happens is that the sums are moved from the bondholder’s savings account into its checking account at the Fed, where the entries are no longer considered part of the national debt. The chief difference is that one account bears interest and the other doesn’t.

What About the Inflation in Commodities?

Despite surging commodity prices, the overall inflation rate remains very low, because housing has to be factored in. The housing market is recovering in some areas, but housing prices overall have dropped 28% from their peak. Main Street hasn’t been flooded with money; the money has just shifted around. Businesses are still having trouble getting reasonable loans, and so are prospective homeowners.

As for the obvious price inflation in commodities -- notably gold, silver, oil and food -- what is driving these prices up cannot be an inflated U.S. money supply, since the money supply is actually shrinking. Rather, it is a combination of factors including (a) heavy competition for these scarce goods from developing countries, whose economies are growing much faster than ours; (b) the flight of “hot money” from the real estate market, which has nowhere else to go; (c) in the case of soaring food prices, disastrous weather patterns; and (d) speculation, which is fanning the flames.

Feeding it all are the extremely low interest rates maintained by the Fed, allowing banks and their investor clients to borrow very cheaply and invest where they can get a much better return than on risky domestic loans. This carry trade will continue until something is done about the interest tab on the federal debt.

The ideal alternative would be for a transparent and accountable government to issue the money it needs outright, a function the Constitution reserves to Congress; but an interest-free loan from the Federal Reserve rolled over indefinitely is the next best thing.

A Bold Precedent

QE2 is not a “helicopter drop” of money on the banks or on Main Street. It is the Fed funding the government virtually interest-free, allowing the government to do what it needs to do without driving up the interest bill on the federal debt – an interest bill that need not have existed in the first place. As Thomas Edison said, “If our nation can issue a dollar bond, it can issue a dollar bill. The element that makes the bond good, makes the bill good, also.”

The Fed failed to revive the economy with QE1, but it could redeem itself with QE2, a bold precedent that might inspire other countries to break the chains of debt peonage in the same way. QE2 is the functional equivalent of what many countries did very successfully before the 1970s, when they funded their governments with interest-free loans from their own central banks.

Countries everywhere are now suffering from debt deflation. They could all use a good dose of their own interest-free national credit, beginning with Ireland and Greece.

Ellen Brown is an attorney and the author of eleven books. In Web of Debt: The Shocking Truth About Our Money System, she shows how the Federal Reserve and "the money trust" have usurped the power to create money from the people themselves, and how we the people can get it back. Her websites are,, and

Obama Was Used, And Is Now Used Up

Sunday, November 7, 2010
Obama Was Used, And Is Now Used Up
by Robert Freeman

Barack Obama was used. Of course, he knew he was being used when he made the deal. But what he didn't know was how quickly he would be used up. Now he has to face two years of humiliation knowing that he betrayed the people and the country he claimed to champion - and knowing that everyone else knows it as well - but also knowing that he's gotten what's coming to him.

Obama made a deal to get the job in the first place. The deal was that he would carry on with Bush's bailout of the banks, with Bush's two wars, with Bush's suppression of civil liberties, that he wouldn't prosecute or even investigate any of the enormous fraud that had brought down the country, or the lies that had railroaded it into war.

Even before he took office, he began fulfilling his end of the bargain. He appointed Larry Summers head of the National Economic Council. It was Summers, more than any other person, who was responsible for dismantling the Glass-Steagall regulations that had acted as a firebreak against banks looting the country since the Great Depression. Summers had made millions consulting for hedge funds before taking the office.

Obama appointed Timothy Geithner Secretary of the Treasury. Geithner had been head of the New York Federal Reserve Bank, another central actor in the hear-no-evil-see-no-evil-speak-no-evil dereliction that passed for financial oversight in the Bush administration. He had been a major architect under Bush of the financial bailout that passed trillions of dollars to his former banking cohorts on the pretext of saving the system.

Obama re-appointed Ben Bernanke chairman of the Federal Reserve Board. Before becoming Fed Chair, Bernanke had been Bush's Chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers. Together with Geithner, Bernanke is the person most responsible for the collapse, the one person who could have slowed the asset bubble while it was still possible. He had been at the helm of the Fed since February 2006 and a member of its board for years before that.

Obama re-appointed Robert Gates, Bush's Secretary of Defense, signaling that there would be profitable continuity with Bush's wars, gulags, and other military expressions of empire. And then, of course, he quickly tripled the number of U.S. forces in Afghanistan even without a coherent strategy or even statement of goals.

He put together a "stimulus package" of $787 billion when reputable economists were screaming that the collapse in demand from the Great Recession was at least four times that amount. Then, in an attempt to appease the Republicans, he made one third of it business tax cuts, despite the notorious ineffectiveness of such policies in generating jobs. When states cut back their payrolls and spending in the slump, it effectively neutralized the impact of Obama's program. Yet he never seriously attempted to get more.

He proposed no jobs program to employ the seven million people who had lost their jobs. No infrastructure program to repair the failing roads, bridges, tunnels, water and sewerage systems of the country. His anti-foreclosure program was a joke. Some three million homes will go into foreclosure this year alone while one in four mortgages are under water. The share of equity that middle class Americans own in their homes is now lower than it was before World War II.

And now the conspicuous, embarrassing truth is that he's not needed any more except as a tilt-up dummy sustaining the illusion of democracy. And you can see why. The rich owners of the country who put him into office in the certainty that he would be a smooth liar, able to sell the masses on the empty opiates of "hope" and "change" - they certainly don't need him any more. Do the rundown.

The owners of the banks don't need him. They got their buddies, Obama's appointees Geithner and Bernanke, to buy their trillions of dollars of toxic sludge with taxpayer money, saving them from imminent bankruptcy. They've got the Fed loaning them money at zero percent interest so they can loan it back to the government at three percent and to payday borrowers at hundreds of percent. It is literally a free, no-risk license to print money.

The same bankers, the ones who caused the Great Collapse, got Obama to create the fiction of financial reform that left them bigger than they were before the collapse and with their exotic derivatives - Warren Buffet's "financial weapons of mass destruction" - untouched. They are making the largest profits in their history and paying themselves the biggest bonuses on record. What do they need Obama for any more?

The insurance companies don't need him. They got him to create the fiction of health care reform by requiring 32 million Americans to buy their intentionally defective products and getting middle class chumps to pay for it. Their stock prices doubled as soon as the reform bill was enacted, a pretty clear sign of what the smart money boys knew about the deal.

They got Obama to abandon his campaign promise of enacting a public option that would have actually brought down the cost of health care. So we still have a system that costs twice what any other industrial nation's system costs and which delivers inferior results. It is still on track to bankrupt the country by consuming one out of every six (soon to be one out of five) dollars spent in the economy. What do they need Obama for any more?

The weapons makers don't need him. Since Eisenhower, they've been the king makers in American politics. They've gotten a continuation of the never-ending wars they have always been able to engineer. In fact Bush's Secretary of Defense Gates, now Obama's, commented recently that the U.S. was never going to leave Afghanistan. It's clear who's running that show. What do they need Obama for any more?

The oil and gas companies don't need him. They got the collapse of climate change legislation that they wanted at Copenhagen. Even as their products hurtle the earth toward inescapable calamity, they are left with effectively no restrictions on their poisonous products. What do they need Obama for any more?

Not having the guts to raise taxes on the rich who now corner a larger share of the nation's income than at any time since 1929, Obama has appointed a commission to recommend changes to Social Security. He loaded it with people who, even before it started, made it clear they would recommend gutting the most successful public program of the past 80 years. If past is prelude, they will likely try to turn it over to the renowned stewardship of the finance industry and the stock market, just as Bush had tried to do. It's like when only Nixon could go to China, or when only Clinton could end welfare as we know it.

From the minute he took office, he has carried out his designated role of pacifying a rightly restive populace about their economic security while shifting ever more of the nation's wealth to those who are already the most wealthy; of continuing the country's program to impose its empire on other nations by force; of dismantling historic constitutional protections of the people against intrusive and abusive government; of subordinating the people to their new corporate masters.

For a guy who's billed as a "Great Communicator" he has utterly failed to articulate any narrative whatsoever of national transformation or renewal, of rescuing the nation from the precipitous downward spiral begun under Bush, his predecessor. He couldn't even manage to pin ownership of the failed economy on Bush, even though the Great Recession started in December 2007, more than a year before Obama took office.

And finally, with legislative gridlock the only certainty for the next two years, the Federal Reserve has taken control of the nation's economic policy. Its new policy of "quantitative easing" (printing money) is not only despicable in its own right, the recourse of scoundrels and national failures (think Weimar Germany in the 1920s), it is completely undemocratic, carried out in secret by the most notoriously elitist, private institution in America. It is a capitulation to a self-anointed feudal-like autocracy without modern equal, an undisguised admission that it is the banks and their owners that run the country. And it is the inescapable result of Obama's policies.

It's hard to feel sorry for Barack Obama. When all the politics, posturing, posing and pontification are over, his party lost because he betrayed his base and they could not stomach voting for his people or his party again. He's proven himself a duplicitous executive and a feckless "leader" who has "led" the Republicans to their biggest pick-up in the House in decades. Now he has to live with it. But the damage is incalculable. It will last for generations. It will be an embarrassment to watch him try to pretend to be effective the next two years, with everyone - himself included - knowing that he is used up. But he is. Good riddance.

Robert Freeman writes on economics, history and education. His earlier pieces, "The Five Circles of Economic Hell," and “The U.S. is Facing a Weimar Moment,” were also published on CommonDreams. He can reached at

Lettuce pray

Lettuce pray
White House to put up to 5,000 salad bars in schools
Ed Bruske

First Lady Michelle Obama is expected to announce on Monday a major new initiative that would place up to 5,000 salad bars in public schools nationwide, despite uncertainties over how local health inspectors might treat those salad bars and USDA nutrition-tracking rules that could prove a major impediment.

Officials in the White House, led by chef Sam Kass, and at the U.S. Centers for Disease and Prevention, have been working to build a coalition representing the produce industry and Ann Cooper, director of nutrition services in Boulder, Colo. schools, who recently teamed with Whole Foods to raise $1.4 million from customers to establish a grant program that would place salad bars in qualifying schools.

Under the initiative expected to be announced on Monday in Florida, where First Lady Michelle Obama has taken her "Let's Move" campaign to fight childhood obesity, Cooper would manage applications for salad bars from the schools along with distribution of funds to purchase necessary equipment.

One potential obstacle to the program is the refusal of many school districts to install salad bars for food-safety reasons and because of cumbersome USDA rules governing the federally subsidized school lunch program that feeds some 31 million U.S. school children every day.

Cooper named three school districts she knows of -- Philadelphia, Austin, Tex., and Montgomery County, Md., -- that have already indicated they will not support salad bars. Concerns have been raised that elementary school children in particular might be prone to spread disease at salad bars because they are too short for the standard "sneeze guard" installed on most salad bars, or because they might use their hands instead of the serving utensils provided.

Cooper, who would not comment on the pending White House announcement, has dismissed those concerns, saying, "As far as I’ve found out, there are no documented disease outbreaks from school salad bars. By and large, this is not a high risk area."

But schools also are deterred by USDA regulations that require students to pass by a cash register or "point of sale" station after they have been to the salad bar to ensure that they have served themselves the correct portions of fruits and vegetables required under the federal lunch program. In October, the USDA's Food and Nutrition Services division, which oversees the subsidized meal program, circulated a memo saying that while it encourages the use of salad bars in schools, school menu planners must tell students the minimum amounts they must take from salad bars, cashiers "must be trained to judge accurately the quantities of self-service items," and point-of-sale registers "must be stationed after the salad bar."

Cooper has previously said USDA rules too often "don't work on the ground" and that forcing students to double back and pass a checkpoint after they've been to the salad bar "slows everything down."

Also, the CDC was trying to determine how local health inspectors might pass judgment on salad bars scattered across the country and what federal health requirements they might apply.

In addition to Cooper, the White House initiative participants are said to be United Fresh Produce Association, the National Fruit and Vegetable Alliance, and Whole Foods. The recent Whole Foods campaigns raised enough money to pay for salad bars in 564 schools. Around 570 schools applied for salad bar grants. Until now, the produce industry has been backing its own campaign to donate salad bars to schools.

Michelle Obama has embraced more fruit and vegetable consumption as a major plank in her efforts to improve American diets and combat weight-related illnesses, especially among children. Kass, who directs the First Lady's nutrition efforts, was seen as central to bringing the various salad-bar interests together and developing a unified effort under the White House banner.

A reporter for the Washington Post in a previous life, I now tend my “urban farm” about a mile from the White House in the District of Columbia and teach kids something I call “food appreciation.” I believe in self-reliance, growing food close to home and political freedom for the residents of the District of Columbia. I am currently working to introduce local produce into the D.C. school system. I write a daily food blog called The Slow Cook.

Scientists working to create genetically modified chocolate

Scientists working to create genetically modified chocolate - to make you healthy
Nov 15 2010
Janice Burns

FORGET penicillin, space travel and the silicon chip. Science is on the verge of its greatest discovery - chocolate that's good for you.

DNA experts are working with sweet giants Mars to create genetically modified chocolate that fights heart disease and diabetes and won't make you fat.

They've already been at it for two years. And they claim that in another five, they could unlock the secret of how to make chocolate healthy.

The scientists say the secret lies in the genetic code of the cocoa bean.

The beans contain chemicals called flavonols which lower blood pressure and help keep the heart healthy.

And the scientists believe they can change the DNA of the cocoa tree so it produces beans with far higher levels of flavonols.

They also hope to produce beans that fight diabetes, as well as making the fat in cocoa much healthier.

Dr Howard-Yana Shapiro, global director of plant science and research at Mars, said: "The idea is that this is something that will become the norm - healthy fats, high levels of flavonols.

"Chocolate will become something quite different in 10, 15, 20 years, and we are on that track now.

"It is not something we can deliver tomorrow, but maybe in five years we can."

Dr Shapiro, who is also a professor at the University of California, got £6million from Mars to fund the cocoa DNA project.

Computer giants IBM, who analyse the data, and the US Department of Agriculture are also involved.

It took two years to disentangle the cocoa tree's 420 million units of DNA.

Dr Shapiro and his team are now checking all 34,997 of the tree's genes in a bid to find the ones that will help them make healthy chocolate.

Let's hope they finish their work soon. Then they can move on to chips, crisps, curries and pies.

Who else makes alcoholic energy drinks?,0,4753050.story

Who else makes alcoholic energy drinks?
Linda Shrieves, Orlando Sentinel
November 18, 2010

The crackdown on alcoholic energy drinks isn't limited to Four Loko. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration and Federal Trade Commission have targeted these drink makers:

• United Brands Co., which sells Joose and Max caffeinated alcohol beverages. The carbonated malt beverages come in fruity flavors, and one 23.5-ounce can of Joose or Max has about the same alcohol content as four regular or five light beers.

• Phusion Products LLC, which sells Four Loko and Four Maxed carbonated malt beverages offered in fruity flavors. Four Loko is sold in 23.5-ounce cans, which have the same alcohol content as four regular or five light beers, as well as added caffeine, taurine and guarana. Four Maxed is sold in 16-ounce cans, which have the same alcohol content as about three regular beers and contain added caffeine.

• Charge Beverages Corp., which sells Core High Gravity, Core Spiked and El Jefe carbonated malt beverages sold in fruit flavors, with added caffeine, taurine, guarana and ginseng. One 23.5-ounce can of Core High Gravity or Core Spiked contains the same alcohol content as four regular or five light beers. A 32-ounce can of grape-flavored El Jefe has the same alcohol content as six regular or seven light beers.

•New Century Brewing Co., which sells the caffeinated malt-alcohol beverage Moonshot. A 12-ounce bottle of Moonshot contains 5 percent alcohol by volume.

Rush to Approve Frankenfish May Prove Risky

Thursday, November 18, 2010 by Agence France Presse
Rush to Approve Frankenfish May Prove Risky

WASHINGTON - With the US government close to approving genetically modified salmon for human consumption, a study out Thursday warned that key risks to society could be missed in the rush to the market.

If approved by the Food and Drug Administration, the quick-growing salmon would be the first so-called "Frankenfood" animal approved for consumption by the American public.

But experts said not enough is known about the wider impacts on society of bringing such foods on the market, including a potentially major shift in dietary habits, buying practices and environmental hazards.

The current FDA process involves comparing modified salmon to the regular fish, analyzing the nutritional profile and screening for toxins, said the study by American and Norwegian researchers published in the journal Science.

"A more useful approach would be to evaluate whether society is better off overall with the new product than without it," said Duke University law professor Jonathan Wiener.

In the case of the salmon, which is known to carry omega three fatty acids that are good for the health, the benefits might be positive overall, said economist Martin Smith, also from the North Carolina based university.

"But what is important is that you establish a precedent. More foods like this might come on the market and they might not be ones where there is a public health benefit," he said.

"Making food cheaper is giving people more money to spend on other goods and that is certainly a good thing," he explained.

"But if you make an unhealthy food cheaper then people substitute away from healthier foods and there can be public health consequences and that's a bad thing."

If the FDA gives the salmon the go-ahead it could open the door to a variety of other kinds of genetically engineered animals ranging from tilapia to pigs to cows.

The altered salmon is made by Massachusetts-based AquaBounty which argues that its fish, injected with a gene from the Pacific Chinook salmon, can reach adult size in 16 to 18 months instead of 30 months for normal Atlantic salmon.

An FDA spokeswoman told AFP that the review is "still under way and we don't have any timeline."

Smith said that the team relied on past data about farmed salmon for its research but did not make its own projections about the societal benefits and hazards because they were unsure whether the FDA might make its decision before they could finish.

"It is more important to make the point that such a broad analysis needs to be done," he said.

In September, a group of independent experts also urged US authorities to do more studies before allowing genetically modified salmon on the market, saying that the studies undertaken so far were insufficient to determine with any certainty whether the salmon pose a risk to humans or the environment.

The FDA turned to the committee of independent experts after concluding, based on company data, that the modified fish was safe for human consumption and the environment.

The FDA is not bound to follow the recommendations of its experts group, but generally does so.

Thursday's research in the journal Science was co-authored by Frank Asche of the University of Stavanger, Norway, and Atle Guttormsen of the Norwegian University of Life Sciences.

Erin Brockovich prepares for a real-life sequel

Erin Brockovich prepares for a real-life sequel
Her campaign became a Hollywood hit. Now the same pollution is back – and so is she
David Usborne, US Editor
Tuesday, 16 November 2010

The film version ended well enough – chased down by the unlikely crusader Erin Brockovich, played by Julia Roberts, the giant California power company PG&E settled with residents in the high desert town of Hinkley over claims it had poisoned their water supply and exposed them to life-threatening illnesses.

Regrettably, a sequel may now have to be ordered. Thirteen years after the company paid $333m (£207m) to settle the class-action suit against it spearheaded by Ms Brockovich, the silent scourge in the soil may be back.

A large plume of water laced with the offending hexavalent chromium, or chromium 6, has been found spreading beyond an agreed containment boundary and towards residents' homes. Among those voicing their concern is Ms Brockovich herself, who, since the settlement with 600 Hinkley residents and the box-office success of the 2000 Oscar-winning film that bore her name, has run a legal and consulting business assisting in similar kinds of David-and-Goliath suits all over the country.

"Once again, this is a community of sitting ducks," she told the Los Angeles Times. "I'll be out there soon to help encourage people to get the word out, to start knocking on doors and examining water and soil test results. Then we'll decide how to proceed."

She added the 1997 settlement means PG&E should automatically be taking care of the plume. "But I'm not holding my breath."

"The plume is migrating, and this is a violation of the clean-up order," said Carmela Gonzalez, one of many residents who spoke up after state water regulators last week ordered PG&E to step up monitoring of groundwater quality. "It is outrageous that this has been allowed to continue. People are fed up."

Hinkley's woes date back to 1951 when the power company started using the chromium to combat corrosion in a nearby plant. Water polluted with the isotope was placed in unlined ponds and allowed eventually to seep into groundwater that feeds private wells. In the lawsuit, plaintiffs claimed it was responsible for elevated numbers of cases of breast and stomach cancer and other serious conditions.

Today, the company is not denying the growth of the new plume which is about 2 and a half miles long and a mile wide, or its breach of the agreed containment limits.

Chromium is also showing up in a deeper aquifer that was meant to be shielded by a layer of thick clay. But PG&E is not conceding that recent readings of higher-than-normal chromium levels in some nearby domestic wells are connected to it.

"These concentrations remain within the realms of naturally occurring background concentrations," Robert Doss, the company's chief engineer contended. "There is no way to determine whether our plume is having an impact or not."

Such words are barely reassuring. "It's happening again, and it's scaring the daylights out of us," notes Lillie Stone whose well recently showed levels of chromium 700 per cent higher than a year ago.

She has asked the power company to buy her and her husband's house so they can move, without success.

The local water board meanwhile says it is chasing PG&E for failing properly to contain the tainted water and told the Los Angeles Times that it is considering penalties against it.

"We have the authority to impose fines of up to $5,000 per day for each day the plume exists outside of the boundary set in 2008," said Lauri Kemper of the Lahontan Regional Water Quality Control Board.

The water authority admits much remains unknown about how big a threat the plume presents. But its worry is clear. "This is really the first time we've seen chromium in the lower aquifer," Ms Kemper said.

"We don't have information yet that says it's reaching people's drinking wells, but there's an increased risk it can be sucked into them."

Wendy's unveils natural-cut fries made with sea salt

Wendy's unveils natural-cut fries made with sea salt
Tuesday, November 16, 2010
Mike Adams, the Health Ranger
Editor of

(NaturalNews) If you ever ask yourself whether all of us in the natural health community are really making a difference, look no further than today's astonishing news: the Wendy's fast food chain has announced new "natural-cut" French fries made with sea salt. What makes them "natural-cut?" They still have potato skins!

In a weird way, this is sort of a step in the right direction, although I'm not sure yet that I trust this new product. Based on the research I've done, the term "sea salt" is technically meaningless, as any salt can be called sea salt since it all came from the sea sometime in Earth's history. That doesn't mean it's full-spectrum salt that's rich in minerals.

"Processed salt" is to full-spectrum salt what processed white sugar is to real sugar cane crystals. I don't yet know whether Wendy's is using legitimate full-spectrum sea salt or just some processed white salt that they're calling "sea salt," so it's hard to tell whether this is a good thing. (Most likely, a Wendy's P.R. person will respond to this article with some sort of answer on this, so we'll see where that goes...)

The natural-cut fries, on the other hand, are definitely a move in the right direction. Potato skins are definitely on the "healthy" side of things, and I'd much rather eat fries with skins on them than fries from potatoes that have been peeled. Then again, I don't eat fast food fries in the first place. Starches cooked at extremely high temperatures form acrylamides (

Are Wendy's customers really interested in healthy food?

These new "natural-cut" fries are part of Wendy's new effort to make food using what they call "real" food ingredients.

Which brings up the obvious question: What have they been using until now, anyway? Non-real ingredients? And what are all the other fast food restaurants using -- artificial ingredients? (You already know the answer to that question...)

"We want every ingredient to be a simple ingredient, to be one you can pronounce and one your grandmother would recognize in her pantry," said Chief Marketing Officer Ken Calwell, in a report.

It's a commendable intention. Let's see how far Wendy's can actually take this idea of "natural" fast food.

About this effort, on one hand I have to give Wendy's kudos for daring to take a step into the world of somewhat real food. But on the other hand, it's still a fried starch, and that's not very good for your health. Then again, I'm not sure that Wendy's customers are actually looking for healthy food options.

When you think "healthy food," you don't normally think about going to a fast food burger restaurant chain. Perhaps Wendy's is planning on changing all that and rolling out organic beef burgers with whole-grain buns and salads with no MSG in the dressing. Will they also stop serving diet soft drinks laced with aspartame? I very much doubt it.

It really all comes down to what customers will buy. If customers will buy poison, fast food restaurants will keep serving up poison. Do not think that any large corporation is going to purposely reduce its own earnings just to improve the health of its customers. That very idea is completely incompatible with the priorities of the corporate world.

At the same time, there probably is room in the fast food industry for at least one nationwide company that serves food made from real ingredients. In Arizona, there's a chain of fast food Mexican restaurants called La Salsa that actually comes pretty close to this. I've been known to eat there myself from time to time. They use fresh ingredients and make their own salsa in-house.

Manny Pacquiao manhandles Antonio Margarito in title fight

Manny Pacquiao manhandles Antonio Margarito in title fight
Bob Velin, USA TODAY

ARLINGTON, Texas — Manny Pacquiao proved beyond a doubt Saturday night what most people believed coming into his super welterweight championship fight against Antonio Margarito – that size doesn't matter as much as speed and quickness. And heart.

Pacquiao, 17 pounds lighter than Margarito at the opening bell, had too much of everything for Margarito and won going away at Cowboys Stadium before a raucous crowd of 41,734 and extended his record eight different weight divisions in which he has won world championships. Nobody else has more than six.

Pacquiao (59-3, 39 KOs) put on a boxing clinic, dominating the fight from start to finish, landing combinations at will as Margarito could not protect his face. By the end of the fight, Margarito's face was a bloody, swollen pulp. But he never gave up.

"I was looking for a chance to stop the fight in the 10th round," said Pacquiao. "But Margarito kept fighting back."

In the 11th round, Pacquiao said he asked the referee to stop the fight. "My opponent looked bad, I wanted him to stop it," Pacquiao said. " I said, 'look at his face. ' I didn't want to damage him permanently. That's not what boxing's all about."

Margarito (38-7, 27 KOs) said he kept on fighting because "I'm a Mexican and there's no way I was going to quit. I fight until the end."

Pacquiao's trainer, Freddie Roach, though, criticized Margarito's handlers, saying they should have stopped the fight by the eighth round.

He was really hurt," Roach said. "He might never fight again. He has the worst corner. His corner ruined his career."

Roach said he thought Pacquiao won all but one round. "I wish we'd knocked him out, but he's a very tough guy," he said.

Pacquiao won all 12 rounds on one judge's scorecard, 11 of 12 on another and 10 of 12 on the third card. He threw 1,069 punches and landed 474 (44%), good for eighth all time in title fights.

Margarito connected on 229 of 817 (28%).

Pacquiao's edge in power punches was hard to overcome. He landed 411 of 713 (58%), while Margarito hit on 135 of 312 (43%).

Pacquiao said Margarito hurt him a few times when he was up against the ropes in the middle and later rounds. "He hurt me in the belly and in the face," Pacquiao said. "He's tougher than I thought.

"It was a hard fight. I did my best to win that fight. I can't believe I beat someone that strong and big."

At his post-fight press conference, Pacquiao called it the toughest fight of his career, and said he was hurting all over.

Margarito gave Pacquiao his props afterwards. "He's the best fighter in the world," Margarito said of the Filipino champion and congressman. "He's just too fast. It's hard to land a punch on that guy."

Pacquiao's trainer, Freddie Roach, said coming into the fight that Pacquiao would unload on Margarito because the Mexican was not quick enough to stop them. And he was right. Pacquiao's punches came in bunches, and from every angle imaginable.

Asked about fighting Floyd Mayweather, Pacquiao said, "If it happens it happens. If not, I'm satisfied with my career, but that fight would be great for boxing."

Pacquiao said he would put on a concert next week in Lake Tahoe.

There was drama before the fight even started. Roach watched like a hawk as Margarito had his hands wrapped.

In a game of one-upmanship, Margarito's handlers complained about the way Pacquiao's hands were wrapped.

There was even talk about Margarito trying to taking a banned substance, Hydroxycut is a weight-loss supplement that increases energy.

The WBC super welterweight (154-pound) title fight was fought at a catch weight of 150 pounds. Margarito weighed in at an even 150 pounds Friday, while Pacquiao caused a buzz by weighing in at 144.6 pounds. At fight time, Margarito re-hydrated to 165 pounds, while Pacquiao came in at 148.

Margarito was fighting for the first time in the United States since he was suspended for using illegal hand wraps before his fight against Shane Mosley on Jan. 24, 2009. Mosley ended up winning that fight by ninth round TKO. Margarito, 32, from Tijuana, Mexico, has fought just once since then, winning a unanimous decision against Roberto Garcia in Mexico on May 8.

Margarito stirred more controversy this week when a video was released this week on YouTube that showed Margarito, his trainer Robert Garcia, and lightweight fighter Brandon Rios mocking Roach, who suffers from Parkinson's Disease. The fighters appeared to be mocking Roach's symptoms of the disease.

Garcia, who trains both Margarito and Rios, apologized along with his fighters, and Roach accepted the apologies. But there has been much hard feelings between the camps.

Sexiest Man Alive: Ryan Reynolds,,20315920_20442733,00.html

Sexiest Man Alive: Ryan Reynolds
Wednesday November 17, 2010

Sure, his chiseled abs have caused millions to swoon, but this year's Sexiest Man Alive Ryan Reynolds loves to keep them laughing.

"My body naturally wants to look like Dick Van Dyke," says the 6'2" actor, who suits up as the Green Lantern next year. "When I stop training, I turn into a skin-colored whisper."

We doubt that. From growing up the youngest of four brothers in Canada to being the funny guy in films like The Proposal, Reynolds has learned to take everything in stride. "You just have to go with the flow," he says of his new title. "This gives my family entre into teasing me for the rest of my life."

The actor does expect a few new perks at home with his wife of two years, Scarlett Johansson. "Now it's going to be, 'Sexiest man, take out the garbage.' That does sound better," Reynolds says. "The most difficult part is going to be organically working this title into a conversation with random strangers."

2010 Word of the Year: Refudiate

2010 Word of the Year: Refudiate
Monday, November 15th, 2010

New Oxford American Dictionary’s 2010 Word of the Year

refudiate verb used loosely to mean “reject”: she called on them to refudiate the proposal to build a mosque.
[origin — blend of refute and repudiate]

Now, does that mean that “refudiate” has been added to the New Oxford American Dictionary? No it does not. Currently, there are no definite plans to include “refudiate” in the NOAD, the OED, or any of our other dictionaries. If you are interested in the most recent additions to the NOAD, you can read about them here. We have many dictionary programs, and each team of lexicographers carefully tracks the evolution of the English language. If a word becomes common enough (as did last year’s WOTY, unfriend), they will consider adding it to one (or several) of the dictionaries we publish. As for “refudiate,” well, I’m not yet sure that it will be includiated.

Refudiate: A Historical Perspective

An unquestionable buzzword in 2010, the word refudiate instantly evokes the name of Sarah Palin, who tweeted her way into a flurry of media activity when she used the word in certain statements posted on Twitter. Critics pounced on Palin, lampooning what they saw as nonsensical vocabulary and speculating on whether she meant “refute” or “repudiate.”

From a strictly lexical interpretation of the different contexts in which Palin has used “refudiate,” we have concluded that neither “refute” nor “repudiate” seems consistently precise, and that “refudiate” more or less stands on its own, suggesting a general sense of “reject.”

Although Palin is likely to be forever branded with the coinage of “refudiate,” she is by no means the first person to speak or write it—just as Warren G. Harding was not the first to use the word normalcy when he ran his 1920 presidential campaign under the slogan “A return to normalcy.” But Harding was a political celebrity, as Palin is now, and his critics spared no ridicule for his supposedly ignorant mangling of the correct word “normality.”

The Short List

In alphabetical order, here are our top ten finalists for the 2010 Word of the Year selection:

bankster noun (informal) a member of the banking industry perceived as a predator that grows rich at the expense of those suffering in a crumbling economy: trillions of dollars are flowing to the banksters in the form of near-zero interest loans.
[origin — 1930s: blend of banker and gangster]

crowdsourcing noun the practice whereby an organization enlists a variety of freelancers, paid or unpaid, to work on a specific task or problem: Kodak used social media crowdsourcing to engage its customers in their naming contest.
[origin — early 21st cent.: on the pattern of outsourcing]

double-dip adjective denoting or relating to a recession during which a period of economic decline is followed by a brief period of growth, followed by a further period of decline: higher food and energy prices could increase the risk of a double-dip recession.

gleek noun (informal) a fan of the television series Glee.
[origin — early 21st cent.: blend of Glee and geek]

nom nom (informal) exclamation an expression of delight when eating.
pl. noun (nom noms) delicious food.
verb (nom-nom) eat delicious food with obvious enjoyment.
adjective (nom-nommy) descriptive of delicious food.
[origin — imitative; popularized by the noises made by the character Cookie Monster on Sesame Street (usually as “Om nom nom nom”)]

retweet verb (on the social networking service Twitter) repost or forward (a message posted by another user): people love to retweet job ads.
noun a reposted or forwarded message on Twitter.

Tea Party a US political party that emerged from a movement of conservatives protesting the federal government in 2009.
[origin — allusion to the Boston Tea Party of 1773]

top kill noun a procedure designed to seal a leaking oil well, whereby large amounts of a material heavier than the oil—e.g., mud—are pumped into the affected well.

vuvuzela noun (also called vuvu) a long horn blown by fans at soccer matches.
[origin — South African, perhaps from Zulu]

webisode noun 1. an original episode derived from a television series, made for online viewing.
2. an online video that presents an original short film or promotes a product, movie, or television series.
[origin — 1990s: blend of Web and episode]

Pencil Vs. Camera

Here's some photos from the series by Belgium artist Ben Heine which combine photography and sketches in amazingly innovative ways. To check out the whole series:

My Mother She Killed Me, My Father He Ate Me

From Barnes & Noble ( ):

My Mother She Killed Me, My Father He Ate Me
Kate Bernheimer (Introduction), Gregory Maguire (Foreword)

$17.00 List Price
$12.00 Online Price
(You Save 29%)

Pub. Date: September 2010
Publisher: Penguin Group (USA)
Format: Paperback , 608pp
ISBN-13: 9780143117841
ISBN: 014311784X


The fairy tale lives again in these forty new stories by some of the biggest names in contemporary fiction

Neil Gaiman, Michael Cunningham, Aimee Bender, Kelly Link, Lydia Millet, and more than thirty other extraordinary writers celebrate fairy tales in this thrilling volume-the ultimate literary costume party.

Spinning houses and talking birds. Whispered secrets and borrowed hope. Here are new stories sewn from old skins, gathered from around the world by visionary editor Kate Bernheimer and inspired by everything from Hans Christian Andersen's "The Snow Queen" and "The Little Match Girl" to Charles Perrault's "Bluebeard" and "Cinderella" to the Brothers Grimm's "Hansel and Gretel" and "Rumpelstiltskin" to fairy tales by Goethe and Calvino.

Fairy tales are our oldest literary tradition, and yet they chart the imaginative frontiers of the twenty-first century as powerfully as they evoke our earliest encounters with literature. This exhilarating collection restores their place in the literary canon.

Kate Bernheimer is the founder of the literary journal Fairy Tale Review as well as the author of two novels and a children's book and he editor of two other anthologies of original short fiction. She lives in Tucson, Arizona. Gregory Maguire is the bestselling author of Wicked, the basis for the Tony Award-winning Broadway musical of the same name. He lives in Boston, Massachusetts.

Activision: 'Black Ops' grossed $650M in 5 days
November 18, 2010
Activision: 'Black Ops' grossed $650M in 5 days

Activision Blizzard Inc. said Thursday its blockbuster shooter "Call of Duty: Black Ops" made $650 million in revenue in its first five days on sale, breaking the $550 million record set by its predecessor this time last year.

The video game publisher also said, citing figures from Microsoft Corp., that more than 2.6 million gamers played "Black Ops" on Nov. 9, the day it went on sale, on the Xbox 360.

Sony, meanwhile, said the game is driving "unprecedented traffic" to the PlayStation's online networks as well. "Call of Duty" is also available on PCs, and Activision said last week the game sold about 5.6 million copies in its first 24 hours on sale in North America and the U.K.

Shares of Activision climbed 20 cents to $11.82 in early afternoon trading.

BabeWatch: Natalie Portman


'Harry Potter' poised to pass 'Star Wars' as biggest franchise

'Harry Potter' poised to pass 'Star Wars' as biggest franchise
Scott Bowles, USA TODAY

LOS ANGELES — Harry Potter is near the end of his cinematic journey, but not before he casts more magic on the box office.

With the two-part Potter farewell —Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 1 opens Friday, with Part 2 following July 15 — almost here, analysts expect the boy wizard to anchor the highest-grossing film franchise of all time.

And Part 2 doesn't even open until next summer.

"This is one of the greatest box office franchises in movie history," says Brandon Gray, president of Box Office Mojo. "It's phenomenal they could maintain this level of business six movies in. That's nearly unheard of."

Analysts expect that Part 1 not only will enjoy the biggest debut in the series' history, but also propel the planned eight-film odyssey past Star Wars to become the highest-grossing franchise ever.

The George Lucas saga is king of the series heap, having raked in $1.9 billion domestically over six movies. But most observers say that by the end of Hallows' first-half run, the franchise — already at $1.7 billion — will force Star Wars down a peg.

"What's amazing to see is how consistent each film has been," says Jeff Bock of industry tracker Exhibitor Relations. "That's not just in quality, but also in terms of ticket sales."

Indeed, each series installment has averaged $285 million — steadiness matched only by Star Wars. According to Box Office Mojo, even James Bond is no match: Over 23 movies, 007 has earned $1.6 billion. Star Trek's 11 multiplex installments have beamed up $1 billion.

Analysts also expect Hallows to shatter the franchise's opening weekend record, which belongs to Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, which bowed to $103 million in 2005. Projections this weekend range from a $115 million to $125 million debut.

And that should come with less marketing muscle than other franchises require, Bock says.

"The books were so huge, you really don't have to tell people another Potter movie is coming," he says.

"Typically, when is book is off-the-charts successful — I think Girl With the Dragon Tattoo will be huge — you get a big series along with it, because the fan base is going to turn out for both."

Gray says distributor Warner Bros. and filmmakers have relied on more than just the bespectacled wizard's name to lure fans.

"You have to credit them for not just riding the wave of the books," Gray says. "If people didn't like the movies, people wouldn't be standing in line overnight to get in."