Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Mind-reading program translates brain activity into words

Ian Sample
Tuesday 31 January 2012
Full Article:

Scientists have picked up fragments of people's thoughts by decoding the brain activity caused by words that they hear.

The remarkable feat has given researchers fresh insight into how the brain processes language, and raises the tantalising prospect of devices that can return speech to the speechless.

Though in its infancy, the work paves the way for brain implants that could monitor a person's thoughts and speak words and sentences as they imagine them.

Such devices could transform the lives of thousands of people who lose the ability to speak as a result of a stroke or other medical conditions.

Experiments on 15 patients in the US showed that a computer could decipher their brain activity and play back words they heard, though at times the words were difficult to recognise.

"This is exciting in terms of the basic science of how the brain decodes what we hear," said Robert Knight, a senior member of the team and director of the Helen Wills Neuroscience Institute at the University of California, Berkeley.

"Potentially, the technique could be used to develop an implantable prosthetic device to aid speaking, and for some patients that would be wonderful. The next step is to test whether we can decode a word when a person imagines it. That might sound spooky, but this could really help patients. Perhaps in 10 years it will be as common as grandmother getting a new hip," Knight said...

Pythons have stranglehold on Florida Everglades ecosystem

Elizabeth Weise

It sounded like a joke when the news first hit in 2000: Giant Burmese pythons were invading the Everglades. Now scientists have measured the real impact of the arrival of this voracious species, and the news is troubling.

In areas where the pythons have established themselves, marsh rabbits and foxes can no longer be found. Sightings of raccoons are down 99.3%, opossums 98.9% and white-tailed deer 94.1%, according to a paper out Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

"What if the stock market had declined that much? Think of the adjectives you'd use for that," says Gordon Rodda, an invasive-species specialist with the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) who published research in 2008 showing that Burmese pythons could conceivably expand across the southern portion of the United States.

"Pythons are wreaking havoc on one of America's most beautiful, treasured and naturally bountiful ecosystems," says USGS Director Marcia McNutt.

Burmese pythons are native to Southeast Asia, but accidental and deliberate release of snakes kept as pets in Florida have allowed them to find a new home there. They can grow up to 16 feet long and weigh up to 150 pounds. The first reports of Burmese pythons in the Florida Everglades began in the 1980s; a breeding population wasn't confirmed there until 2000.

Since then, the numbers of pythons sighted and captured in the Everglades have risen dramatically. According to Linda Friar with Everglades National Park, park personnel have captured or killed 1,825 pythons since 2000.

Now researchers have shown that just as python populations established themselves, the native mammals of the regions began to decline — severely.

People working in the Everglades knew they were seeing fewer mammals, but only when the hard numbers came in was it clear just how devastating the decline has been.

"These were once very common animals in the Everglades, and now they're gone," says Michael Dorcas, a professor of biology at Davidson College in Davidson, N.C., and lead author on the paper.

The pythons aren't a danger to humans. The only known python attacks on humans in Florida have involved snakes kept as at-home pets, says Dorcas, who also authored a recent book, Invasive Pythons in the United States. Now coyotes and Florida panthers are believed to be affected, as well as birds and alligators.

The decrease in mammals is highest where python populations have been established longest, and more mammals are being sighted in areas where the pythons have only recently been documented.

Although scientists can't say conclusively that the decline is a result of python activity, there's good anecdotal evidence. "Last October, we found a 15-foot snake with an 80-pound doe inside it," Dorcas says.

The researchers base their findings on systematic nighttime road surveys done in the Everglades that counted both live and road-killed animals. Ten researchers traveled a total of nearly 39,000 miles from 2003 to 2011 and compared findings with similar surveys conducted in 1996 and 1997.

Mammals in Florida have no natural fear of large snakes because they haven't existed in the area for about 16 million years, when a boa-like snake that used to live there became extinct.

The loss of the mammals is devastating not only to those populations, but to all the animals that rely on them. It's possible that the decline in bobcats, foxes, coyotes and panthers is linked to the disappearance of their typical prey: rabbits, raccoons and opossums.

Pythons also are eating lots of birds. More than 25% of pythons found in the Everglades contain bird remains.

They also happily eat pets, including cats, dogs and some farm animals. Roosters and geese have been found in their stomachs.

And there's not much that can be done. These snakes are "notoriously hard to find and very secretive," Dorcas says. Because much of South Florida is a vast wilderness, the possibility of exterminating or even suppressing them doesn't seem promising, he says. "It's an ecological mess, and exactly what's going to happen down the road remains to be seen."

On Jan. 23, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service started the paperwork to ban the importation and interstate transportation of Burmese pythons, northern and southern African pythons and the yellow anaconda because they threaten the Everglades and other sensitive ecosystems.

These snakes are being listed as injurious species under the Lacey Act. Some reptile breeders and collectors, along with Republican lawmakers, argued the restriction constitutes job-killing red tape.

How far the snakes might expand their range is unknown. Research in 2008 showed they could possibly survive across the entire southern United States.

And research this month showed they could survive in saltwater, which had previously been believed to be a barrier to their expansion.

"All of Florida and much of the coastal plain of the southeastern United States is suitable habitat," Dorcas says.

Asteroid Threat to Earth Sparks Global 'NEOShield' Project

Leonard David
26 January 2012
Full Article:

They can be mean and nasty, and they can mess up our planet big time.

They are near-Earth objects, dubbed NEOs, celestial flotsam such as asteroids or comets that can, and have, scored direct hits on our humble home planet.

A new international consortium has been launched to address the impact threat to Earth, but, more pointedly, to organize, prepare and implement mitigation measures.

Called NEOShield, the European Commission is providing a significant amount of euros to support the initiative. The undertaking consists of research institutes, universities and industrial partners in Germany, France, the United Kingdom and Spain, as well as in the U.S. and Russia.

The primary aim of NEOShield is to investigate in detail the three most promising asteroid threat-reduction techniques: kinetic impactors, gravity tractors, and the explosive blast-deflection method.

That's the crux of the undertaking as spelled out by Alan Harris, a senior scientist and NEOShield project leader at the German Aerospace Center's Institute of Planetary Research in Berlin-Adlershof, Germany.

The DLR is the coordinating partner for the multiyear NEOShield project and is set to roll out the plan this week.

"The scientific side of this will include the analysis of observational data on NEOs and laboratory experiments in which projectiles are fired at asteroid surface analog materials with different compositions, densities, porosities and structures," Harris told "We need to understand how the momentum transfer from a kinetic impactor to an asteroid depends on the physical characteristics of the asteroid."

In this week's meeting, specialists from Europe, for example, will draw upon their past kinetic impactor work on the European Space Agency's study of a mission tagged as Don Quijote — an idea for an asteroid-deflection precursor mission drawn up several years ago.

NEOShield work will employ sophisticated computer modeling and simulations. Those will enable researchers to scale up knowledge and apply that information to a real-case scenario that calls for a spacecraft-deployed impactor slamming into a real asteroid in space...

Samsung & Apple Now Account for 86% of Smartphone Industry Growth

Samsung and Apple Now Account for 86% of Smartphone Industry Growth
Samsung and Apple have proven to be the only smartphone makers hanging strong in a highly-competitive market.
Michael Comeau
Jan 27, 2012

Does a rising tide lift all ships?

In some cases maybe, but in the smartphone-manufacturing world, it's becoming increasingly apparent that two companies are overpowering the competition.

Now, we all know that the two superpowers in smartphone operating systems are Apple's iOS and Google's Android.

Apple's iPhones are obviously the only phones using iOS, and as evidenced by the company's spectacular fiscal first-quarter earnings report, they are selling like crazy. To be exact, Apple sold a whopping 37 million units during the December 2011 quarter, a year-over-year increase of 128%.

Over in Android territory, results for the hardware makers haven't been hot across the board. Motorola Mobility, which is set to be acquired by Google, lowered fourth-quarter guidance in early January as its smartphone sales rose by just 8.2%. And Motorola hasn't been the only Android smartphone maker to disappoint. Former hotshot HTC also saw dramatically slowing sales through the holiday season.

Elsewhere in the industry, Research In Motion remains on the ropes, and Nokia's still losing share.

However, Korea electronics giant Samsung just proved that Apple still has one tough competitor left on the hardware side, and the numbers show that the two companies are dividing the smartphone world up between them.

Samsung just reported its fourth-quarter earnings results, and despite some weakness in areas like LCD panels, Samsung is more than hanging tough within the smartphone world.

Samsung's Android-powered Galaxy phone line appears to have squeezed out much of its Android competition, allowing it to survive the assault of the iPhone 4S, which was the first iPhone to debut in the fourth quarter.

Samsung didn't report unit sales numbers, but the research firm Strategy Analytics estimated that Samsung sold 36.5 million smartphones in Q4, equaling a 241% year-over-year increase. In fact, while Apple sold more units, Samsung's growth rate was actually far greater.

Regardless, Apple's and Samsung's combined fourth-quarter market share was 47.4%, up from 26.7% the year before.

Put another way, as the two titans' sales rose a combined 173%, versus a miserable 10% for the remaining players.

Put a third way, the two companies accounted for an insane 86% of the industry's unit growth in the quarter.

Which of these guys will ultimately win?

It doesn't really matter. Given how fast the rest of the competition is falling off, there's plenty of money for them to split.

The same but different

Study: Sugar & HFCS Not As Identical As Some Would Have You Believe
By Chris Morran on January 27, 2012

While the corn industry waits on the FDA to decide whether or not it can have high fructose corn sugar (HFCS) relabeled with the marketing-friendly "corn sugar" label, it continues to push home its assertion that the human body reacts the same, whether the sweetener is HFCS or table sugar. But a new study claims that just isn't the case.

"Although both sweeteners are often considered the same in terms of their biological effects, this study demonstrates that there are subtle differences," says co-author Dr. Richard Johnson of the University of Colorado. "Soft drinks containing HFCS result in slightly higher blood levels of fructose than sucrose-sweetened drinks."

Their study looked at 40 men and women who each consumed 24 ounces of soft drinks sweetened with either HFCS or sucrose. Those who drank the HFCS beverage demonstrated higher levels of uric acid and increased systolic blood pressure.

From the abstract of the study, published in the appropriately titled journal, Metabolism: "Compared with sucrose, HFCS leads to greater fructose systemic exposure and significantly different acute metabolic effects."

While the study shows that there appears to be an immediate difference in how one's body processes the two sweeteners, researchers say that the next step is to study the long-term differences, if any, between sugar and HFCS.

The "corn sugar" name is a topic of dispute between the corn industry and the sugar refiners of the nation. The two parties are currently involved in a lawsuit over the Corn Refiners Association's ad campaign, which Big Sugar called "false and misleading." Big Corn says the lawsuit is an attempt to "stifle free speech."

Meanwhile, it has been reported that some folks at the FDA are none-too-taken by the Corn Sugar campaign, considering that the regulators have yet to rule on the name and already have "corn sugar" on the books as an acceptable name for dextrose.

Activist Erin Brockovich looking into teens' mystery ailment

Sharon Jayson, and Elizabeth Weise

Environmental activist Erin Brockovich has started her own investigation into the mysterious illness that's caused symptoms of facial tics and verbal outbursts among teenagers in Le Roy, N.Y., in light of new evidence about a toxic chemical spill more than 40 years ago that caused water and ground contamination nearby.

Brockovich gained notoriety with a 2000 movie (Erin Brockovich, starring Julia Roberts) about her efforts to expose a toxic chemical coverup in California.

She told USA TODAY on Thursday that after families of affected teens and other community members asked her to look into the Le Roy case, she has spent the past week studying federal and state reports of a 1970 train derailment that spilled cyanide and an industrial solvent called trichloroethene within 3 miles of the high school attended by the 12 girls who started reporting neurological symptoms last fall. Three other teens, including one boy, are reportedly experiencing similar symptoms.

A statement issued by the school district said "medical and environmental investigations have not uncovered any evidence that would link the neurological symptoms to anything in the environment or of an infectious nature." An indoor-air-quality report and a mold report are posted on the school district's website.

"When I read reports like this that the New York Department of Health and state agencies were well-aware of the spill and you don't do water testing or vapor extraction tests, you don't have an all-clear," says Brockovich, of Los Angeles.

According to a 1999 report by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, one ton of cyanide crystals spilled to the ground in the derailment, along with 35,000 gallons of trichloroethene. The crystals were removed but the trichloroethene was absorbed into the ground.

Brockovich says she has received about 100 e-mails regarding the girls' symptoms and the diagnosis of stress-related "conversion disorder."

"We don't have all the answers, but we are suspicious," Brockovich says. "They have not ruled everything out yet. The community asked us to help and this is what we do."

Oklahoma lawmaker wants to stop Pepsi from using aborted fetus cells

Oklahoma lawmaker wants to stop Pepsi from using aborted fetus cells in soda flavoring research Ethan A. Huff
Thursday, January 26, 2012

In order to simulate various flavors in processed foods, some food manufacturers are actually using aborted fetal cells to test and produce these artificial chemical enhancers that millions of Americans consume every single day. Concerned about the ethical and moral implications of such a process, Oklahoma Senator Ralph Shortey has introduced new legislation to prohibit this practice from occurring in his home state.

Senomyx, a California-based biotechnology company that specializes in developing food flavorings, is one such company that uses aborted embryonic cells to create "isolated human taste receptors," which are used in the production of food chemicals. And this company has partnered with several major food manufacturers, including Kraft, PepsiCo, and Nestle.

"There is a potential that there are companies that are using aborted human babies in their research and development of basically enhancing flavor for artificial flavors," Sen. Shortey is quoted as saying by KRMG News Talk Radio. "What I am saying is that if it does happen then we are not going to allow it to manufacture here."

According to Children of God for Life (CGL), a pro-life watchdog group, Senomyx uses HEK 293 to produce its artificial flavor enhancing chemicals. HEK 293 is code for human embryonic kidney cells that are manipulated to produce taste receptors that express a specific protein known as the G protein. But CGL says the company could also use animal, insect, or other more acceptably-derived cells instead, and still procure the same results.

While aborted fetal cells are not necessarily in the final products made by PepsiCo, Kraft, or Nestle, such cells appear to needlessly play a part in the production of artificial flavor chemicals used by these companies. And since there are viable alternatives to this questionable practice, Sen. Shortey, CGL, and many others are calling for its end.

As we reported previously, the Campbell Soup company used to be a Senomyx partner until CGL contacted them about the fetal cell issue. Shortly thereafter, reports indicate that Campbell's officially cut ties with Senomyx, which in 2003 filed a patent for "recombinant (genetically modified) methods for expressing a functional sweet taste receptor."

Sources for this article include:

Stoner Cooking 2-29-12

Are you ready for the 1,081-calorie bacon milkshake?
Jack in the Box just introduced its new bacon milkshake, which contains no bacon.
Jeannine Stein
February 8, 2012,0,4234279.story

Ladies and gentlemen, we have a new contestant in the who-can-top-this outrageous new fast food item: the bacon milkshake from Jack in the Box.

The bacon shake is made with no actual bacon, just real vanilla ice cream, bacon-flavored syrup, whipped topping and a maraschino cherry, according to the website. We were thinking this had to be the most trayf food known to mankind before we saw the ingredient list. We'll get to the nutritional info in a minute.

The item is proving to be somewhat polarizing, with some people loving the product (or the idea of it, at least) and others finding it downright nasty. On, one commenter posted, "Disgusting!!!" while another said, "Mmmmm, Bacon ... is there anything it can't do?" One person was intrigued: "I have no interest in a bacon flavored milk shake, yet I find myself oddly inclined to want to see what it tastes like..."

On the Gizmodo site, this was posted: "I can't be the only one grossed out by this," followed by, "You're not, but, you know, it's very ironic and hip to like bacon mixed with totally inappropriate flavors."

Bacon shakes are apparently not new, since we saw plenty of recipes on the Internet, ones that used real bacon. How anyone concocted this is beyond our imagination, even though we've heard the phrase "Everything's better with bacon" repeated ad infinitum.

Fast food companies seem to relish coming up with new ways to fascinate and gross us out at the same time: Witness KFC's Double Down (two two fried chicken fillets, surrounding two slices of cheese, two slices of bacon, sauce and no bun) and Domino's Pizza's Mac-N-Cheese Breadbowl pasta. The description on that reads: "a flavorful blend of melted cheeses mixed with penne pasta and baked to creamy perfection." It sits inside a big "bowl" of dough.

OK, let's get to the good stuff. A 16-ounce bacon shake weighs in at 773 calories, 28 grams of saturated fat, 2 grams of trans fat and 75 grams of sugar. Hankering for a 24-ounce size? That'll be 1,081 calories, 37 grams of saturated fat, 3 grams of trans fat and 108 grams of sugar. Mmmmm. We're saying that ironically.

Since we're too afraid to order one, we're relying on you dairy-and-bacon-lovers to do some recon for us and tell us what you think -- yea or nay?


Retropedia: Fluffernutter

It’s a snack so decadent that one might immediately assume that the King of Rock and Roll first concocted it. Two simple slices of bread, coated with equal and generous amounts of peanut butter and a delightful product called Marshmallow Fluff. To many kids of generations past, it was the perfect afterschool snack; to those with less-nutritionally-minded parents, it was occasionally a resident of the lunchbox. And, to anyone who ever had the privilege of crossing paths with a Fluffernutter, it was a sandwich that seemed as if it was created through divine intervention.

The Fluffernutter might never have come to be, had it not been for a man named Archibald Query, who sold his marshmallow cream spread door-to-door to his neighbors in Massachusetts during the turn of the century. It’s appeal led to the sale of the recipe to two businessmen, H. Allen Durkee and Fred Mower, who first marketed it in 1917 under the name “Toot Sweet Marshmallow Fluff.” The name was eventually shortened to Marshmallow Fluff, and the Durkee-Mower company remains in existence today, offering not only the original, but also raspberry and strawberry versions of Fluff.

And while the Fluffernutter (which is a registered trademark, by the way) is perhaps the most widely accepted way to use Marshmallow Fluff, it also works well as an ice cream topping, an ingredient for easy-to-make fudge, and its pairing with Kellogg’s Rice Krispies, to make those sticky squares of love known as the Rice Krispy Treat, is legendary in its own right. In the end, Fluff’s impact on the snack world seems no less important than that of a humble rock and roll singer from Tupelo, Mississipi, who may very well have consumed a few Fluffernutters in his day.


Turkey Dinner Burgers
Mon Nov 2, 2009

Cook time: 12 mins
servings: 4

Nutrition Facts * Servings Per Recipe 4 servings * Calories453, * Total Fat (g)15, * Saturated Fat (g)3, * Monounsaturated Fat (g)5, * Polyunsaturated Fat (g)4, * Cholesterol (mg)58, * Sodium (mg)853, * Carbohydrate (g)48, * Total Sugar (g)12, * Fiber (g)2, * Protein (g)31, * Vitamin C (DV%)6, * Calcium (DV%)12, * Iron (DV%)20, * Percent Daily Values are based on a 2,000 calorie diet

1 egg, slightly beaten
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 pound uncooked lean ground turkey or lean ground chicken
1/4 cup fine dry bread crumbs
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/4 cup jalapeno jelly, melted or barbecue sauce
Prepackaged shredded red cabbage, thinly sliced red onion, and/or desired toppings
4 potato rolls, kaiser rolls, or hamburger buns, split and toasted


In a bowl combine egg, salt, and pepper. Add turkey and breadcrumbs; mix well. Shape the chicken mixture into four 3/4-inch-thick patties.

In a large nonstick skillet, cook patties over medium heat in hot oil for 10 minutes, turning once halfway through cooking time or until an instant-read thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the burger registers 165°F. Brush patties on each side with jalapeno jelly or barbecue sauce. Cook 1 minute more on each side to glaze.

To assemble, place cabbage and red onion on bottom of rolls and top with meat. Makes 4 servings.

Broiler method: Place patties on the unheated rack of a broiler pan. Broil 4 to 5 inches from the heat for 10 minutes, turning once halfway through cooking time or until an instant-read thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the burger registers 165 degree F. Brush patties on each side with jalapeno jelly or barbecue sauce. Cook 1 minute more on each side to glaze.

Electric Tabletop Grill Method: Lightly grease the rack of an electric table top grill. Preheat grill. Place patties on the grill rack. If using a covered grill, close lid. Grill patties until chicken is no longer pink (165 degree F). (For a covered grill allow 5 to 7 minutes. For an uncovered grill, allow 14 to 18 minutes, turning once halfway through grilling.) Brush patties with pepper jelly or barbecue sauce and cook 1 minute more on each side as above.)


Coca-Cola Ham ham

prep time: 10 min.
total time: 30 min.

1 Canned Ham
1 ½ cups Coca-Cola
½ cup of brown sugar
¾ cup of maraschino cherries directions
Slice the ham into three (recommended) sections.

Score the ham in a criss-cross fashion.

Pour the Coca-Cola over the slices of ham, then sprinkle with brown sugar.

Spread the cherries evenly over the slices of ham.

Put in the oven at 350* for 20 minutes.

Serve with a side of your favorite Pringles flavor & refreshing Minute Maid Lemonade.


Grilled Chipotle Honey-Glazed Chicken Nachos with Monterey Jack Cheese Sauce, Avocado Relish and Charred Jalapenos
Bobby Flay

Total Time: 9 hr 0 min.
Prep 30 min.
Inactive 8 hr 10 min.
Cook 20 min.
Yield: 6 to 8 servings .
Level: Intermediate


Chicken with Ancho and Lime Marinade:
8 boneless chicken thighs
1/2 cup lime juiceb
1/2 cup light olive oil
2 tablespoons ancho chile powder
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
1 tablespoon ground cumin
1 tablespoon minced garlic
2 teaspoons black pepper

Chipotle Honey Sauce:
1 cup honey
1/4 cup canola oil
4 tablespoons ancho chile powder
2 to 3 tablespoons pureed canned chipotle chiles in adobo
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
2 teaspoons ground coriander
2 teaspoons ground cumin
2 teaspoons Spanish paprika
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

Blue corn tortilla chips, for serving
Monterey Jack Cheese Sauce, recipe follows
Avocado Relish, recipe follows
Charred Jalapenos, recipe follows


For the chicken and marinade: Place the chicken thighs in a bowl. Whisk together the lime juice, olive oil, ancho chili powder, Worcestershire sauce, cumin, garlic and black pepper in a small bowl and pour over the chicken. Cover the chicken and refrigerate overnight.

For the chipotle honey sauce: Whisk together the honey, canola oil, ancho chile powder, chipotles, mustard, ground coriander, ground cumin and Spanish paprika. Season with salt and pepper and set aside.

Preheat the grill to medium-high heat. Sprinkle the chicken well with salt and pepper and place the chicken thighs on the grill at a 45-degree angle to establish good grill marks. Once the chicken easily releases from the grill, turn it over to continue cooking. Start brushing the thighs with the chipotle honey sauce every few minutes. Once the internal temperature reaches 165 degrees F, or its juices run clear, about 8 minutes. Remove the chicken from the grill. Let the chicken rest for 5 to 10 minutes before serving. Slice the chicken.

Layer the tortilla chips, top with sauce, chicken, relish and jalapenos.

Monterey Jack Cheese Sauce:
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 to 2 1/2 cups whole milk, heated
16 ounces Monterey jack, grated
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Pinch freshly grated nutmeg

Melt the butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Whisk in the flour and cook for 1 minute. Slowly whisk in 2 cups of the warm milk, increase the heat, bring to a boil and continue whisking until the sauce thickens and the flour taste has been cooked out, about 5 minutes.

Remove the sauce from the heat and slowly whisk in the cheese a handful at a time. Continue whisking until smooth. Season with salt and pepper and nutmeg. Set aside.

Avocado Relish:
3 ripe Hass avocados, peeled, pitted and diced
1 serrano or jalapeno chile, finely diced (you can use more chiles if you want it spicier)
1/2 small red onion, finely diced
Juice of 2 limes
2 tablespoons canola oil
2 teaspoons honey
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup finely chopped fresh cilantro

Combine the avocados, serrano, onions, lime juice, oil, honey and salt and pepper to taste in a medium bowl. Fold in the cilantro until combined.

Charred Jalapenos:
8 jalapeno chiles
Canola oil, for brushing

Brush the jalapenos with oil and season with salt and pepper. Grill until charred all over, about 6 minutes.


Hot Crab Dip

Total Time: 25 min.
Prep 20 min.
Cook 5 min.
Yield: 8 servings
Level: Easy

Reduced fat cream cheese and sour cream are the healthy key to this creamy dip. A bit of crab boil spice, hot sauce, lemon and herbs keep it fresh tasting.

8 ounces reduced-fat cream cheese (Neufchatel), room temperature
1/4 cup reduced-fat sour cream
1/4 teaspoon hot sauce
1/4 teaspoon crab boil spices, (recommended: Old Bay)
1 garlic clove, minced
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
12 ounces fresh crab meat, picked over for bits of shell and patted dry
2 scallions, thinly sliced
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
2 to 3 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
Whole-wheat crackers for serving, optional

Stir together the cream cheese, sour cream, hot sauce, crab boil spice, and garlic in a medium saucepan until smooth; season, to taste, with salt and pepper. Heat the cream cheese mixture over medium-low heat until warm, stirring constantly, 2 to 3 minutes. Fold in the crab, scallions, parsley and lemon juice and warm until heated through, about 1 minute more. Serve immediately.

Nutritional analysis per 1/4 cup serving (does not include crackers)

Calories 125; Total Fat 8g (Sat Fat 4g, Mono Fat 2g, Poly Fat 0.5g); Protein 11g; Carb 2g; Fiber 0g; Cholesterol 58mg; Sodium 349mg


Tequila Guacamole

4 fully ripened avocados from Mexico, halved, pitted and peeled
2 ounces white onion finely chopped
2 ounces pickled chiles jalapeños, finely chopped
2 ounces pickled carrots, finely chopped
2 ounces tequila of your choice
2 ounces vinegar from the pickled chiles jalapeños
1 tablespoon olive oil
Juice from 1/2 lime
Dried oregano to taste
Salt to taste Preparation:Mix the chile jalapeño, carrots, onion, limejuice, oregano, vinegar and tequila; marinate for two minutes.

Coarsley mash avocado with a fork. Add the rest of the ingredients and season with salt and olive oil.

Serve with chips or on tostadas.


Cajun Turkey Pot Pie Recipe

This turkey pot pie has a Cajun twist, starting with the trinity of onions, celery and green bell peppers, and spiced up a bit with Cajun seasoning. It's topped with a flaky, buttery crust, which is in my opinion, the best reason of all to make a pot pie.

Prep time: 1 hour, 15 minutes
Cook time: 40 minutes

You can make the pot pie either in individual ramekins or in one large casserole dish.


5 Tbsp peanut oil or unsalted butter
3 celery stalks, chopped
1 1/2 cups chopped yellow or white onion
1 large green pepper, chopped
1-2 jalapeno peppers, chopped
4 garlic cloves, minced
3 cups diced, cooked turkey meat
2 Tbsp Cajun seasoning*
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
2 1/2 cups turkey or chicken stock
1 cup dark beer (brown ale or Guinness)
1 cup diced tomatoes

Pie Crust:
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) chilled unsalted butter, diced into 1/2-inch cubes (best to chill cubes in the freezer for at least 15 minutes before using)
3 to 4 Tbsp chilled ice water

Egg Wash:
1 egg yolk
1 Tbsp cream

*If you can't find Cajun seasoning in your local market, you can make your own with 3/4 teaspoon each of salt, pepper, dried oregano, dried thyme, and 1 1/2 teaspoons each of paprika, garlic powder, and onion powder.


1 Make the pie crust dough. Pulse the flour and salt together in a food processor. Add the chilled butter cubes to the food processor and pulse 5 times. The dough should resemble a coarse cornmeal, with some pea-sized pieces of butter. Slowly add the chilled water (make sure there are no small ice cube bits), just a tablespoon at a time, pulsing once after each addition, until the dough just sticks together when you press some between your fingers. Empty the food processor, placing the dough mixture on a clean surface. Use the heel of your palm to shmoosh the dough mixture onto the table surface a few times. This action will help flatten and spread the butter between layers of flour, so that the resulting dough will be flaky. Once you've done this a few (5 or 6) times, use your hands to mold the dough into a disk. Sprinkle the disk with a little flour, wrap it in plastic wrap, and let it chill for an hour, or up to 2 days, before rolling out.

2 To make the filling, heat the oil over medium-high heat and sauté the onion, celery, green pepper and jalapeno, stirring often, until they are soft, about 6-8 minutes. Add the garlic, turkey meat, Cajun seasoning, and salt. Mix well and cook another 1 minute, stirring once or twice.

3 Bring the stock and beer to a boil in a small pot. Sprinkle the flour over the turkey and veggies and mix well. Cook for 4-5 minutes, stirring often and making sure no flour burns on the bottom of the pan. Slowly pour in the hot stock-beer mixture, stirring. It will seize up at first, then, as you pour in more stock and stir, will form a silky sauce for the turkey. Add the tomatoes and cook until the mixture thickens, about 3-5 minutes. Pour the filling into a 2-quart casserole or, if you wish, into individual ramekins.

4 Prepare the crust. Roll dough out on a lightly floured surface to a little less than a quarter-inch thick. If you are using a casserole, roll into a sheet a little larger than the dish. If you are using ramekins (use 10 ounce ramekins), cut the dough into 6 rounds that are slightly larger than the circumference of the ramekins. Lay the dough onto the filling. Fold the excess dough under itself and use the tines of a fork to press the dough against the edge of the ramekins. Cut a 1-inch vent into each individual pie, or several if you are making a casserole. Whisk together in a small bowl the egg yolk and cream for an egg wash. Use a pastry brush to paint the egg wash over the crust. This will help the crust brown nicely.

5 Bake at 400°F for 25 minutes, or until the pastry is golden and the filling is bubbling. Let cool for at least 5 minutes before serving.

Yield: Serves 6-8.


Buffalo Chicken Cups
Kris Schoels
February 3, 2012

Kris Schoels is the author of Young Married Chic a blog on baking, fashion, home decor and travel.

12 Oz of cooked chicken, diced
3 Oz of blue cheese, crumbled
1/4 Cup wing sauce (mild or hot, according to taste)
1/2 Cup cream cheese, softened
24 wonton wrappers (found in the refrigerated section of your store)

Step 1:
Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Step 2:
Place chicken and blue cheese in a bowl and set aside. In a separate bowl mix together the softened cream cheese and hot wing sauce. Pour the chicken and blue cheese into this bowl and mix well.

Step 3:
Place one wonton wrapper in each cupcake opening. Press down.

Step 4:
Fill each wrapper ¾ of the way with the chicken mixture, top with more crumbled blue cheese if you wish.

Step 5:
Bake for 10 minutes, or until the wrappers are golden brown.

Cook’s Note: This can also be made with phyllo dough cut into squares or tortillas if you can’t find wonton wrappers


Candy Corn Fudge

Candy corn finds a new home inside this melt-in-your-mouth fudge recipe. An optional drizzle of white and semisweet chocolate adds an easy decoration. Swirl and serve!

Cook Time: 20 Minutes
Prep Time: 10 Minutes
Chill: 2 Hours

Nutritional Information
Amount per serving
Calories: 112
Fat: 3g
Saturated fat: 1g
Protein: 1g
Carbohydrate: 17g
Fiber: 0.0g
Cholesterol: 2mg
Sodium: 51mg

1 7-oz. jar marshmallow cream
1 1/2 cups sugar
2/3 cup evaporated milk
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 cups candy corn (about 12 oz.)
1 cup semisweet chocolate chips
1 cup salted peanuts
1 ounce semisweet chocolate, chopped, optional
1 ounce white chocolate, chopped, optional

1. Line an 8-inch square pan with foil; butter foil. Combine marshmallow cream, sugar, evaporated milk and butter in a large, heavy pan. Bring mixture to a boil over medium-high heat. Cook, stirring constantly, until mixture reaches 235°F on a candy thermometer, 10 to 15 minutes.
2. Remove from heat and stir in candy corn, chocolate chips and peanuts, stirring until chocolate melts. Immediately transfer to foil-lined pan and smooth top until even. Chill until set, at least 2 hours.
3. In separate bowls over pans of simmering water, melt semisweet and white chocolate, if desired. Using forks, drizzle both chocolates over fudge. Cut fudge into squares.

All You , OCTOBER 2011

Slab City, Here We Come

Living Life Off the Grid in California's Badlands
Jason Motlagh / Slab City
Friday, Feb. 03, 2012,8599,2105597,00.html

"Chicago" Joe Angio and his wife Anna did everything by the book to secure their slice of the American Dream. They earned college degrees, started a small business, bought a house and pair of cars, paid their taxes and credit-card bills on time. But when the economy tanked, so did the dream. Between two jobs they could barely pay their mortgage, reaching a point where they had to choose which creditor to shortchange at the end of the month in order to keep the lights on. With foreclosure no longer a matter of if, but of when, the couple looked on the Internet for the ideal place to lay low, spend less and experiment with solar power to "get more for our buck out of our environment." They bought a used RV and went off the grid. Way off.

Slab City, their home for the past three months, is a squatters' camp deep in the badlands of California's poorest county, where the road ends and the sun reigns, about 190 miles southeast of Los Angeles and hour's drive from the Mexican border. The vast state-owned property gets its name from the concrete slabs spread out across the desert floor, the last remnants of a World War II–era military base. In the decades since it was decommissioned, dropouts and fugitives of all stripes have swelled its winter population to close to a thousand, though no one's really counting. These days, their numbers are growing thanks to a modest influx of recession refugees like the Angios, attracted by do-it-yourself, rent-free living beyond the reach of electricity, running water and the law. And while the complexion of the Slabs, as the place is locally known, may be changing in some ways, the same old rule applies: respect your neighbor, or stay the hell away.

"It's pretty much as close to the Old West as you're gonna get. Most of us don't own guns or none of that garbage, but if we have problems, we take care of [them]," says Ray, 56, a former drug addict turned born-again Christian who has traversed the country six times with a giant wooden cross on his back. Katie Ray, 30, a perennial visitor from Oakland, Calif., calls the place a "postapocalyptic vacation zone."

Although Slabbers tend to defy easy characterization, de facto neighborhoods ("Poverty Flats," "Lows") and tribes have emerged. There are Year-Rounders who brave the 120°F summer inferno, and Snowbirds who land from as far as Canada with their souped-up RVs and pensions, soul-searching Gypsy Kids who arrive by train with little more than the ragged clothes on their back, Spaz Kids and their electro-psychedelic outdoor parties, and Scrappers who risk life and limb to collect shrapnel from the gunnery range that flanks the camp, where Navy SEAL teams train year-round (and where rumor has it they prepared for the Osama bin Laden raid). That's to say nothing of the rowdy bikers who pass through, or the meth-addled loners on the outer edges inclined to greet a trespasser with a gunshot. If the Burning Man festival were a permanent settlement instead of a weeklong escape — remixed with a hard dose of reality — this might be it.

"The Last Free Place in America" lives up to its nickname. Want to hang out nude in thermal mud baths or skateboard stoned in the bowl of an Olympic-size pool? Go for it. In the mood to construct outlandish pieces of art with scrap metal, dig an SUV-size trench for no particular reason or play 18 holes of golf on a grassless course to the sound of bombs in the distance? This is the place. Yet despite the anything-goes reputation, those who stick around the Slabs long enough insist they are made to feel welcome, provided they have the right attitude. Free meals and entertainment are on offer, capped by Saturday-night concerts at the Range, a clapboard venue that showcases live acts of varying quality. This bohemian aspect was featured in the 2007 film Into the Wild, rare mainstream attention that drew a surge of newcomers to Slab City.

One of them is Sandra "Sandi" Andrews, 61, a nomadic mother of eight without a retirement plan. Her daughter saw the film and figured it was her mom's kind of place. She was right. "When I first got here, I thought this is a whole new planet, there's no place like it," she exclaims. Initial concerns about her safety as a woman alone did not last long. Three years on, she's surrounded by friends and lives on less than $100 a month, supplementing her Social Security check with paintings she sells to tourists that stop by her studio, a converted school bus. Among her neighbors are two widows in their 90s and an 89-year-old who jokes that she'd die as soon as she set foot in a retirement home. "We've all chosen and like Slab City," Andrews says, "so the caring and sharing is always there."

Well, it depends on whom you ask too. "Builder Bill" Ammon, 63, a year-round resident who manages the Range, says that when he moved from San Diego to the Slabs back in 1999, the community was more tight-knit. "In those days, you could be poor and be separate from the engine of the world and still be all right," he says, fondly recalling how most everyone talked to one another on their CB radios and exchanged services and goods at regular swap meets to support themselves. "People had skills to offer." These days, he grumbles, a new generation of youngsters is turning up ill equipped for the sobering demands of life off the grid, looking for handouts. No one is left to go hungry, he notes. But if they don't adapt, they are given the cold shoulder, which may help explain the rise in petty theft at the camp. "A kind of segregation has developed here" between young and old, he says.

No one would disagree that the Wild West element has its darker side. Hang around the evening campfires a while and strange stories pour out: disappearances, mysterious drownings in the mud baths, the man who showed up in camp with his finger apparently bitten off, claiming he'd been attacked by a cannibal. The border patrol keeps a visible presence, searching for illegal immigrants that ply the region. When there's serious trouble, though, firemen must drive over from Niland, a derelict town five miles to the west that boasts the closest grocery store and post office. In 40-plus years on the job, Michael Aleksick, 63, the recently retired fire marshal, says he's been repeatedly shot at, stabbed and gotten in too many fistfights to remember, often with people he knows. Crime has worsened. "The crystal-meth influence," he says, "has been huge."

"There's the good, bad and the ugly," says "Shotgun" Vince Neill, 38, a newcomer who got his nickname partly for stopping a man from stealing a friend's solar panels with a blast of rock salt. He first visited the Slabs as a boy and returned this winter with his wife and six children in tow after he lost his audiovisual business and their home in Northern California. Sometimes he worries about his family's safety, but Neill reckons that Slab City's problems are proportionate to any normal city in the country. And he has no regrets about bringing his kids (ages 2 to 18). In this case, math and English lessons are rounded out with training on catching scorpions and rattlesnakes. "They're much happier learning in the great outdoors; it's the best school," he says. Still, Slab City is more of a parking spot than a long-term solution: come summer, the family will head to Los Angeles so he can look for full-time work.

Others, like "Radio" Mike Depraida, 60, keep choosing to return. The native New Yorker was living the fast life as a consultant and photographer but grew weary of the hectic pace and an apartment building where he didn't know his neighbors. A chance visit with friends three years ago got him hooked on the Slabs, and he's since become the perpetually tan guy in a polo shirt who operates a radio station and greets travelers with a gin and tonic at his makeshift tiki bar. The freedom and mix of people keep him coming back, a dearth of single women notwithstanding. "Why are these some of the most intelligent people I've met in my life?" he asks aloud. "I came to the conclusion that if you're smart enough to get out of the rat race, well, then, you're pretty damn bright."

Chicago Joe and Anna are proof positive. They ended up parking their trailer in East Jesus, a renegade open-air art space with Mad Max accents. The view outside their window features a half-buried coach bus and, beyond that, a giant mammoth made of tires; their neighbors include an ex-chef, a documentary filmmaker and a wandering magician cum tattoo artist. What started as an adventure has settled into a routine filled with solar projects and other odd jobs that will keep them busy and fit. Joe's already lost 80 lb. "People back home still think we're crazy for doing what we've done," he says. "It's not for everyone, but this lifestyle has grown on us, tremendously." The couple swear their relationship has also improved because they no longer fight about money. It's not hard to understand why: their living expenses have dropped from about $4,000 to $200 a month. Less than their electricity bill when they owned a house.

Significa 2-29-12

Super Bowl Ad of the Year: Matthew's Day Off
(With all due respect to Clint Eastwood...)

To celebrate the launch of the all-new 2012 CR-V, Honda brought Ferris Bueller's Day Off back in a big game commercial. We cast Matthew Broderick as himself, skipping out on a day of acting work and living it up in his all-new CR-V. Relive movie history with Honda's fresh twist and wonderful homage to this '80s classic.

Think you're a true fan of Ferris Bueller's Day Off? We hid over two dozen references to the movie throughout the commercial. Some are obvious, some are VERY subtle. See how many you can find. #dayoff


Who is the most desirable woman on the planet? According to, it's Sofia Vergara. Pretty hard to argue against:

Why is Sofia Vergara no. 1?

When it comes to Colombian imports, none are more in demand than Sofia Vergara these days. The jaw-dropping Modern Family star is one of our favorite things about one of our favorite comedies. Vergara shows off the best cleavage on network TV, and we've never been more jealous of Ed O'Neill. But despite her obvious assets, Vergara's also one very funny woman, lampooning stereotypes with her perfect timing. You don't have to pretend to laugh at her jokes, even if you do have to make a concerted effort to pay attention to them. And though you'd never think it to look at her, Vergara is mother to a 20-year-old.

"I am so honored to be AskMen’s most desired woman this year. A big thank you to all the men who desire me."
Sofia Vergara

Full list of AskMen's 99 babes:


Robalini's Deep Philosophical Piece of the Week

Q: Are there cats & dogs in heaven?
A: If cats & dogs aren't there, how can it be called heaven?


Found: A mysterious object in the Baltic Sea, by deep-sea salvage company Ocean Explorer. According to the NY Daily News, "Through the use of side-scan sonar, the team discovered a disc-like object that measures nearly 200 feet in diameter and has generated out-of-this-world speculation." The coolest theory is that it's a UFO, one that suspiciously resembles Han Solo's spaceship The Millennium Falcon in Star Wars. Other theories, according to Benjamin Radford of the Skeptical Inquirer, are: Russian warships, Atlantis, a marine version of Stonehenge, or a plug to another world inside Earth. Radford, the pure skeptic to the end, doesn't buy any of these scenarios. Quit harshing our mellow, dude...

For more info:


Album of the Month: Born to Die

Never mind the haters. Lana Del Rey, aka "The Gangsta Nancy Sinatra" delivers the goods...


YouTube Video of the Week: Give Me All Your Luvin'

Madonna is back, with Nicki Minaj & M.I.A. (sans middle finger) dressed as cheerleaders. Winning!


The BlackBerry, Trying to Avoid the Hall of Fallen Giants
January 28, 2012

Research in Motion, maker of BlackBerry smartphones and tablets, sent its co-chief executives packing last week and replaced them with Thorsten Heins, who had been RIM’s chief operating officer. How would he characterize his employer?

“We make the best communications devices in the world,” said Mr. Heins, who met with editors and reporters from The New York Times on Friday.

Not everyone feels the same way. Over the last year, RIM’s share price has plunged 75 percent. The company once commanded more than half of the American smartphone market. Today it has 10 percent.

RIM has two, maybe three ways forward.

The first — the one that Mr. Heins is clearly aiming for — is a triumphant comeback after a near-death experience. Think Apple and its iMac. RIM is on the verge of upgrading its PlayBook operating system — now with, among other things, e-mail, a feature that the original PlayBook bafflingly lacked — and will release the BlackBerry 10 OS this year.

Behind Door No. 2 is a gradual decline and diminution as rivals like Apple, Google and Microsoft devour most of the market; to some degree, they already have. BlackBerry would keep the scraps — a small but dedicated following of corporate and government customers who want its proprietary messaging and security features.

Then there is the third option: oblivion. The road of progress is littered with the corpses of fallen titans. Objects that once seemed as indispensable as the companies that made them have been mercilessly superseded — as seen below. And RIM ought to know: with mobile devices like the BlackBerry 957, it helped to extinguish the pager era.

SONY WALKMAN (1979-2010) Before the Walkman, “personal audio” meant holding a transistor radio to your ear. Sony’s invention created an entire category of devices and helped make the company the technology leader of the 1980s. New models (Thinner! Auto-reverse!) were eagerly anticipated, the LP was relegated to the attic and tender moments spent listening to mix tapes from that certain someone proliferated across teenage bedrooms. Sony seemed incapable of putting a foot wrong. It successfully moved the brand into compact discs with the Discman, then bought record labels and movie studios to bring about that illusory marriage of technology and content. When the digital revolution hit, Sony was too beholden to its proprietary formats, as well as to the inertia inside its media companies. Enter Apple and the iPod.

PAGERS (BORN 1951) At first, pagers were attached to people who worked in fields where lives were on the line. That usually meant doctors, though the group expanded in the late 1980s to include drug dealers. Early beepers displayed only numbers, giving rise to a numerical lexicon that included codes like 911 (call me back immediately) and 07734, which resembles “hello” when read upside down. Pagers briefly gained fame in early 1990s hip-hop, showing up in songs like “Skypager,” by a Tribe Called Quest. The pager’s fall was attributable to the disruptive and destructive powers of another technology: the mobile phone. Why beep when you can talk? And a pager message is so tiny that it makes a tweet look like “The Iliad.” The beeper does live on, in limited circles: its network remains more reliable than cell networks, making it useful to E.M.S. and other rescue workers.

PALM PILOT (1997-2007) Filofax brought personal organizers to their analog apogee in the early ’90s, but Palm brought them into the digital age. Palm Pilots were dazzling when they first appeared: all of your contacts, calendars and notes in one slim, pocket-size device. A touch screen, which required a stylus, made navigation easy. And you could add software, bought through an online store. Want a Zagat guide to go along with your personal data? No problem. In later years, Palm even added telephone features, creating a compelling, all-in-one gadget. Despite boardroom dramas that affected the company’s name and its ownership, Palm’s reputation as a source of innovative hardware and software endured until Jan. 9, 2007. Why that date? That’s when Apple introduced the iPhone.

POLAROID INSTANT CAMERAS (1948-2008) Edwin Land’s invention of instant-developing film in 1948 put a darkroom inside a handheld camera. That achievement gave his Polaroid Corporation a distinct advantage over traditional film cameras. By 1980, Polaroid was selling 7.8 million cameras a year in the United States — more than half of all the 15 million cameras, instant and traditional, sold that year. In 1985, it won a major patent-infringement suit, forcing Kodak to abandon its own instant-camera efforts. The victory was short-lived. The late ’80s brought the rise of the digital camera. By 2000, digital cameras began appearing on cellphones, placing cameras in millions of pockets. Polaroid declared bankruptcy for the first time in 2001 and stopped making instant film in 2008. Kodak declared bankruptcy on Jan. 19.

ATARI 2600 (1977-c.1984) It wasn’t the first game console, but the Atari 2600 brought video games into the home and popular culture. Over its life span, more than 30 million were sold. Pong, Combat, Pitfall and Frogger soaked up children’s afternoons. Then came the PC, which could play games and do much more. Atari rushed out games, assuming that its customers would play whatever it released. They didn’t. Millions of unsold games and consoles were buried in a New Mexico landfill in 1983. Warner Communications, which bought Atari in 1976 for $28 million, sold it in 1984 for no cash.

A version of this article appeared in print on January 29, 2012, on page BU5 of the New York edition with the headline: The BlackBerry, Trying to Avoid the Hall of Fallen Giants..


Quiet Quiz: Are You an Introvert or an Extrovert?
Excerpted from: Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking by Susan Cain

To Find out where you fall on the introvert-extrovert spectrum, answer each question True or False, choosing the one that applies to you more often than not.

1. ______ I prefer one-on-one conversations to group activities.

2. ______ I often prefer to express myself in writing.

3. ______ I enjoy solitude.

4. ______ I seem to care about wealth, fame, and status less than my peers.

5. ______ I dislike small talk, but I enjoy talking in depth about topics that matter to me.

6. ______ People tell me that I'm a good listener.

7. ______ I'm not a big risk-taker.

8. ______ I enjoy work that allows me to "dive in" with few interruptions.

9. ______ I like to celebrate birthdays on a small scale, with only one or two close friends or family members.

10. ______ People describe me as "soft-spoken" or "mellow."

11. ______ I prefer not to show or discuss my work with others until it's ?nished.

12. ______ I dislike conflict.

13. ______ I do my best work on my own.

14. ______I tend to think before I speak.

15.______ I feel drained after being out and about, even if I've enjoyed myself.

16. ______I often let calls go through to voice mail.

17. ______If you had to choose, I'd prefer a weekend with absolutely nothing to do to one with too many things scheduled.

18. ______ I don't enjoy multitasking.

19. ______ I can concentrate easily

20. ______ In classroom situations, I prefer lectures to seminars.

The more often you answered True, the more introverted you are. This is an informal quiz, not a scientifically validated personality test. The questions were formulated based on characteristics of introversion often accepted by contemporary researchers.


Underground Movie of the Week: Kill List
Director: Ben Wheatley


Love it or hate it, “Kill List” is a definite widescreen cinematic experience loaded with delicious details, from the hotel clerk who holds a conversation without really listening to the sound of someone getting his brains beaten out against a concrete wall. He’s like a faux-Cockney Quentin Tarantino, passionate about the things he loves and also dedicated to the Anglo-Saxon tradition of “taking the piss” — and believe it or not, I mean that as a compliment.

Full Review:
A clever British horror-thriller nods to Tarantino
Andrew O'Hehir
Thursday, Feb 2, 2012


TV Show of the Week: Comic Book Men

AMC's new series takes place in Kevin Smith's Secret Stash comic store in Red Bank, New Jersey. It's like Pawn Stars for comic book fans:,0,4358774.story


Awesome Quotes

“From our beginning, in hindsight at least, our social direction is clear. We have moved to become one people out of many. At intervals, men or groups, through fear of people or the desire to use them, have tried to change our direction, to arrest our growth, or to stampede the Americans. This will happen again and again. The impulses which for a time enforced the Alien and Sedition Laws, which have used fear and illicit emotion to interfere with and put a stop to our continuing revolution, will rise again, and they will serve us in the future as they have in the past to clarify and to strengthen our process. We have failed sometimes, taken wrong paths, paused for renewal, filled our bellies and licked our wounds; but we have never slipped back - never."
John Steinbeck, The Grapes of Wrath.

"Life is hard; it's harder if you're stupid."
John Wayne

"The more I know about people, the better I like my dog."
Mark Twain


Kool Websites: Free Stuff & Great Deals Edition

The following list of sites is courtesy of Yahoo Shine:

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Hey It's Free!
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Eat Free On Your Birthday
Where kids AND adults eat free of their birthday...

The Freecycle Network™ is made up of 5,019 groups with 8,910,022 members around the world. It's a grassroots and entirely nonprofit movement of people who are giving (and getting) stuff for free in their own towns. It's all about reuse and keeping good stuff out of landfills. Each local group is moderated by local volunteers (them's good people). Membership is free...

House Party
House Party makes it easy to have a party in your own home and get exclusive access to awesome products for you and your friends. We provide the fun, you provide food, your friends and feedback and promise to have an amazing time. Our parties are sponsored by the brands you love. By hosting, you and your guests get to try their products and receive an incredible Party Pack chock full of goodies! You don’t pay anything or sell anything. It’s a no-pressure party. Just tell us what you and your guests think...

Trade your books with other people...

The worlds original & number 1 fashion swap site...



Don Cornelius, Soul Train creator & host

Angelo Dundee, veteran boxing trainer, most famously for Muhammad Ali

Actor Ben Gazzara

Film writer-director-producer Zalman King

Baseball Hall of Fame catcher Gary Carter

L.A. artist Mike Kelley


Last but definitely not least, RIP Whitney Houston, the greatest vocalist of the MTV era. Here's Dave Zirin on the passing of Ms. Houston:

Whitney Houston: My Love Is Your Love
Dave Zirin
February 13, 2012

I’m a sports writer and don’t pretend to know anything about music. I listen almost exclusively to hip hop that stopped being recorded fifteen years ago (Organized Konfusion, Tim Dog) or whatever my seven-year-old daughter is into this week (please don’t ask.) I also don’t pretend to know anything about the addictions and demons that plagued Whitney Houston. But I know how it feels to hear that Whitney Houston is dead and I’m trying to come to grips with why I can’t stop thinking about her voice.

Maybe it’s because Whitney lent that singular vocal instrument to two of the most iconic collisions of music and sports. There was Whitney’s National Anthem performance, all confident volume, at the 1991 Super Bowl, which was the forward-marching soundtrack of the Persian Gulf War. I’ve found that people’s opinions of her anthem tend to reflect their opinions on the war itself. Those who favored Operation Desert Storm see it as a patriotic tour de force. Those who stood against the war remember it as a bombastic sonic eardrum buster with the subtlety of a blowtorch. Whitney also recorded the 1988 Olympic anthem One Moment in Time, essentially an adult contemporary version of Eminem’s Lose Yourself. In other words, you’d need to be comatose to not feel an involuntary goosebump.

But the real reason I’m writing this isn’t because of some sports tie-in or because I think I have anything to say about Whitney’s musical contribution. It’s that her remarkable voice was always there during some of the most intense moments of my younger life. Every junior high dance was punctuated by Whitney. She accompanied those moments of sublime adolescent intensity where a dance, the touch of a hand, a smile or a scrawled phone number, made being a teenager fleetingly bearable. 1980s school dances in New York City meant Run DMC, Bon Jovi, Roger Troutman, Michael Jackson, Bananarama, Springsteen, Lisa Lisa, Joan Jett, Prince, the Beastie Boys, Talking Heads and at least three Whitney songs, with I Wanna Dance with Somebody or How Will I Know always in rotation. You could rely on Whitney for that flirty fast song, and for the slow dance to end the night, with Where Do Broken Hearts Go the favorite.

Whitney was part of a mosaic of 1980s music that was more musically inclusive and less segmented by the crude race-based marketing that dominated the 1990s. A portion of this inclusivity, certainly with Whitney and Michael, was because record execs were trying to "whiten" their look and sound in the 80s for max appeal. But both (as well as Quincy Jones) were talented and transgressive enough to not let industry pressures swamp their sound. The result was a crossover that led, before the industry figured out how to package, market and segregate it, to a burst of rare creativity when commerce comfortably danced with art. Now the fame industry has claimed another life. It was hard to watch the Grammys last night and not wonder where all these painted, praying, preying, people were when Whitney was spiraling down. Bruce Springsteen started last night's Grammy show singing his new single, We Take Care of our Own. He was singing to the wrong collection of people.

This is an industry that tends to people’s talent and not to the people themselves. It’s an industry that claimed Billie Holiday and Whitney Houston before they reached fifty. Its body count transcends musical categories and includes Tupac, Biggie, Kurt, Marvin, Amy, Jimi, Janis and too many others to name. For those who lay all these deaths at the altar of their “personal responsibility” need to explain how so many, from young starlets to Ol’ Dirty Bastards, have been left for dead. I’ve wondered before what it says about our country that the people who in theory should be healthiest among us, professional athletes, tend to die crippled and young. I wonder today how we can look at the music industry as anything other than what it is: a parasite feeding on the very people it should nurture. Of course, many survive its clutches, but Whitney didn’t. Now every memory I have of those dances in darkened church basements, wearing my shell-toe Adidas with fat laces and Coca Cola t-shirts, swaying to Whitney’s voice, is interrupted by the reality that my joy fed the same machine that eventually claimed her life. I don’t know anything about music. But I know that Whitney, like Lady Day, didn’t live to see fifty. That’s a shame and a sin, and in a sane world it wouldn’t be theirs to bear alone.

Dave Zirin is the author of “The John Carlos Story” (Haymarket) and just made the new documentary “Not Just a Game.” Receive his column every week by emailing Contact him at

The Top Twelve Reasons Why You Should Hate the Mortgage Settlement

Yves SmithThursday, February 9, 2012
As readers may know by now, 49 of 50 states have agreed to join the so-called mortgage settlement, with Oklahoma the lone refusenik. Although the fine points are still being hammered out, various news outlets (New York Times, Financial Times, Wall Street Journal) have details, with Dave Dayen’s overview at Firedoglake the best thus far.

The Wall Street Journal is also reporting that the SEC is about to launch some securities litigation against major banks. Since the statue of limitations has already run out on securities filings more than five years old, this means they’ll clip the banks for some of the very last (and dreckiest) deals they shoved out the door before the subprime market gave up the ghost.

The various news services are touting this pact at the biggest multi-state settlement since the tobacco deal in 1998. While narrowly accurate, this deal is bush league by comparison even though the underlying abuses in both cases have had devastating consequences.

The tobacco agreement was pegged as being worth nearly $250 billion over the first 25 years. Adjust that for inflation, and the disparity is even bigger. That shows you the difference in outcomes between a case where the prosecutors have solid evidence backing their charges, versus one where everyone know a lot of bad stuff happened, but no one has come close to marshaling the evidence.

The mortgage settlement terms have not been released, but more of the details have been leaked:

1. The total for the top five servicers is now touted as $26 billion (annoyingly, the FT is calling it “nearly $40 billion”), but of that, roughly $17 billion is credits for principal modifications, which as we pointed out earlier, can and almost assuredly will come largely from mortgages owned by investors. $3 billion is for refis, and only $5 billion will be in the form of hard cash payments, including $1500 to $2000 per borrower foreclosed on between September 2008 and December 2011.

Banks will be required to modify second liens that sit behind firsts “at least” pari passu, which in practice will mean at most pari passu. So this guarantees banks will also focus on borrowers where they do not have second lien exposure, and this also makes the settlement less helpful to struggling homeowners, since borrowers with both second and first liens default at much higher rates than those without second mortgages. Per the Journal:

“It’s not new money. It’s all soft dollars to the banks,” said Paul Miller, a bank analyst at FBR Capital Markets.

The Times is also subdued:

Despite the billions earmarked in the accord, the aid will help a relatively small portion of the millions of borrowers who are delinquent and facing foreclosure. The success could depend in part on how effectively the program is carried out because earlier efforts by Washington aimed at troubled borrowers helped far fewer than had been expected.

2. Schneiderman’s MERS suit survives, and he can add more banks as defendants. It isn’t clear what became of the Biden and Coakley MERS suits, but Biden sounded pretty adamant in past media presentations on preserving that.

3. Nevada’s and Arizona’s suits against Countrywide for violating its past consent decree on mortgage servicing has, in a new Orwellianism, been “folded into” the settlement.

4. The five big players in the settlement have already set aside reserves sufficient for this deal.

Here are the top twelve reasons why this deal stinks:

1. We’ve now set a price for forgeries and fabricating documents. It’s $2000 per loan. This is a rounding error compared to the chain of title problem these systematic practices were designed to circumvent. The cost is also trivial in comparison to the average loan, which is roughly $180k, so the settlement represents about 1% of loan balances. It is less than the price of the title insurance that banks failed to get when they transferred the loans to the trust. It is a fraction of the cost of the legal expenses when foreclosures are challenged. It’s a great deal for the banks because no one is at any of the servicers going to jail for forgery and the banks have set the upper bound of the cost of riding roughshod over 300 years of real estate law.

2. That $26 billion is actually $5 billion of bank money and the rest is your money. The mortgage principal writedowns are guaranteed to come almost entirely from securitized loans, which means from investors, which in turn means taxpayers via Fannie and Freddie, pension funds, insurers, and 401 (k)s. Refis of performing loans also reduce income to those very same investors.

3. That $5 billion divided among the big banks wouldn’t even represent a significant quarterly hit. Freddie and Fannie putbacks to the major banks have been running at that level each quarter.

4. That $20 billion actually makes bank second liens sounder, so this deal is a stealth bailout that strengthens bank balance sheets at the expense of the broader public.

5. The enforcement is a joke. The first layer of supervision is the banks reporting on themselves. The framework is similar to that of the OCC consent decrees implemented last year, which Adam Levitin and yours truly, among others, decried as regulatory theater.

6. The past history of servicer consent decrees shows the servicers all fail to comply. Why? Servicer records and systems are terrible in the best of times, and their systems and fee structures aren’t set up to handle much in the way of delinquencies. As Tom Adams has pointed out in earlier posts, servicer behavior is predictable when their portfolios are hit with a high level of delinquencies and defaults: they cheat in all sorts of ways to reduce their losses.

7. The cave-in Nevada and Arizona on the Countrywide settlement suit is a special gift for Bank of America, who is by far the worst offender in the chain of title disaster (since, according to sworn testimony of its own employee in Kemp v. Countrywide, Countrywide failed to comply with trust delivery requirements). This move proves that failing to comply with a consent degree has no consequences but will merely be rolled into a new consent degree which will also fail to be enforced. These cases also alleged HAMP violations as consumer fraud violations and could have gotten costly and emboldened other states to file similar suits not just against Countrywide but other servicers, so it was useful to the other banks as well.

8. If the new Federal task force were intended to be serious, this deal would have not have been settled. You never settle before investigating. It’s a bad idea to settle obvious, widespread wrongdoing on the cheap. You use the stuff that is easy to prove to gather information and secure cooperation on the stuff that is harder to prove. In Missouri and Nevada, the robosigning investigation led to criminal charges against agents of the servicers. But even though these companies were acting at the express direction and approval of the services, no individuals or entities higher up the food chain will face any sort of meaningful charges.

9. There is plenty of evidence of widespread abuses that appear not to be on the attorney generals’ or media’s radar, such as servicer driven foreclosures and looting of investors’ funds via impermissible and inflated charges. While no serious probe was undertaken, even the limited or peripheral investigations show massive failures (60% of documents had errors in AGs/Fed’s pathetically small sample). Similarly, the US Trustee’s office found widespread evidence of significant servicer errors in bankruptcy-related filings, such as inflated and bogus fees, and even substantial, completely made up charges. Yet the services and banks will suffer no real consequences for these abuses.

10. A deal on robosiginging serves to cover up the much deeper chain of title problem. And don’t get too excited about the New York, Massachusetts, and Delaware MERS suits. They put pressure on banks to clean up this monstrous mess only if the AGs go through to trial and get tough penalties. The banks will want to settle their way out of that too. And even if these cases do go to trial and produce significant victories for the AGs, they still do not address the problem of failures to transfer notes correctly.

11. Don’t bet on a deus ex machina in terms of the new Federal foreclosure task force to improve this picture much. If you think Schneiderman, as a co-chairman who already has a full time day job in New York, is going to outfox a bunch of DC insiders who are part of the problem, I have a bridge I’d like to sell to you.

12. We’ll now have to listen to banks and their sycophant defenders declaring victory despite being wrong on the law and the facts. They will proceed to marginalize and write off criticisms of the servicing practices that hurt homeowners and investors and are devastating communities. But the problems will fester and the housing market will continue to suffer. Investors in mortgage-backed securities, who know that services have been screwing them for years, will be hung out to dry and will likely never return to a private MBS market, since the problems won’t ever be fixed. This settlement has not only revealed the residential mortgage market to be too big to fail, but puts it on long term, perhaps permanent, government life support.

As we’ve said before, this settlement is yet another raw demonstration of who wields power in America, and it isn’t you and me. It’s bad enough to see these negotiations come to their predictable, sorry outcome. It adds insult to injury to see some try to depict it as a win for long suffering, still abused homeowners.

Votescam: Oscar Edition

From the London Guardian:
Computer security experts have warned that the 2013 Oscars ballot may be vulnerable to a variety of cyber attacks that could falsify the outcome but remain undetected, if the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences follows through on its decision to switch to internet voting for its members.

The Academy announced last week that it would be ditching its current vote-by-mail system and allowing its members to fill out electronic ballots from their home or office computers to make their choices for best picture and the other big Hollywood prizes, starting in 2013.

It announced a partnership with Everyone Counts, a California-based company which has developed software for internet elections from Australia to Florida, and which boasted it would incorporate "multiple layers of security" and "military-grade encryption techniques" to maintain its reputation for scrupulous honesty in respecting its members' voting preferences.

The ballot change will be a culture shock for an Academy voting community that tends to be older and more conservative: indeed, concerns are already surfacing as to whether all of the Academy voters even have email addresses.

But Everyone Counts' security claims have been met with deep scepticism by a computer scientist community which has grappled for years with the problem of making online elections fully verifiable while maintaining ballot secrecy – in other words, being rigorous about auditing the voting process, but still making sure nobody knows who voted for what. So far, nobody has demonstrated that such a thing is possible.

"Everybody would like there to be secure internet voting, but some very smart people have looked at the problem and can't figure out how to do it," said David Dill, a professor of computer science at Stanford University and founder of the election transparency group Verified Voting. "The problem arises as soon as you decouple the voter from the recorded vote. If someone casts a ballot for best actor A and the vote is recorded for best actor B, the voter has no way of knowing the ballot has been altered, and the auditor won't be able to see it either."

Dill and many other leading computer scientists have listed multiple potential vulnerabilities to internet systems making vote-tampering possible, including denial-of-service attacks, malware, and penetration of the server's security wall. He reacted with particular alarm to the notion that the Academy's more than 5,000 voters would cast their ballots from their own computers.

"The hardest problem is when you have malicious software on the machine where the vote is cast," he said. "If that's the user's home PC, that's a huge problem, because lots of people have undetected viruses on their machine. A lot of people are under the control of hackers in eastern Europe, or wherever, and don't even know it."

Three years ago – in the wake of a decision by the Democratic party to let overseas voters participate in its presidential primary via internet – Dill issued a formal statement outlining the problems with internet voting, and persuaded 30 of America's top computer scientists to sign it...

Dill said his concern about the arrangement went well beyond the integrity of the Academy Awards themselves. Rather, he worried about the publicity implications of an awards ceremony broadcast to tens of millions of people across America and around the world.

"I don't want this to set a precedent and give a PR push to internet voting generally," he said. "I don't want the message to be: they used it for the Academy Awards, so it's OK to use it to vote for the president."

Full Article:

Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue 2012

Kate Upton, cover girl...

The Ancient Wisdom Of The Infinite, Living Heart Of The Amazon

The Ancient Wisdom Of The Infinite, Living Heart Of The AmazonRichard Sauder
Sunday, February 12, 2012

When I was younger I eagerly devoured the books of Carlos Castañeda as they appeared in print. I read and reread his descriptions of his encounters with the allies and the nagual. For me they were mysterious accounts of another world at serious odds with the insanity of the red-white-and-blue mental asylum north of the Rio Grande / Rio Bravo.

However, as I have spent more and more time in Latin America, beginning years ago in Mexico, I have found myself slowly being drawn onto the shamanic path. Back in the 1980s, I somehow managed to stumble across the path of some of Carlos Castañeda´s Mexican associates. A series of improbable events occurred over the course of several weeks that brought me face to face with the realization that, for whatever reason, I was interacting with a shamanic group whose life modus operandi and perception and mnanipulation of reality, whether physical, social or otherwise, was very substantially at variance with the rest of society.

More recently I have been involved with a number of South American shamans and the plant-based brews and concoctions that they use to access other realities. The effect for me has been to drive home the salient point that there is NO dividing line between the so-called physical world and spiritual realm.

The two are in fact part and parcel of the one and same continuum of reality, which is limitless in extent and mystery.

In recent weeks I have been working with malicagua, and even more so than ayahuasca or salvia divinorum, it has driven home to me the reality of the allies that Don Juan Matus taught Carlos Castañeda about. The same would be true of the nagual.

The shaman who is currently instructing me has told me that poweerful shamans of the past sometimes saw the essence of malicagua but that in its essential aspect it is impossible to rationally describe. It is beyond the ability of the human mind to comprehend. Malicagua is not bound in any way that the human mind can conceive. It is limitless.

The variety of beings that it brings calling is truly stunning. Many of them appear to be ordinary, everyday humans; so ordinary, in fact, that repeatedly I have found myself asking the shaman if they are his covert confederates that he has slyly sent to trick me or confound me. He smiles and says, no, that these are all beings that mnalicagua is sending to me for its own unknown purposes and reasons.

In one recent ceremony an ordinary-looking man unobtrusively entered my field of vision as I sat quietly behind the shaman´s house. I perceived that he was sent by malicagua so I asked him if he had a message for me. He slowly turned toward me and silently beckoned for me to come closer. I approached him and he put his face right in front of mine. I then saw that this was no ordinary man and that his response was no ordinary answer, because his eyes were windows directly into the void. As I gazed at his eyes I saw that they opened directly into the limitless, indescribable, infinitude of total nothingness. Nothingness, because there are absolutely no words or mental concepts in our modern languages or cultures to describe or understand the reality of what his eyes expósed to my consciousness.

Sometime later, I became aware that another human being had appeared in front of me. This was a solitary Amazonian warrior wearing a mioderately large, circular feather headdress. He was very solemn, almost regal in his prospect. His head was backlit with a soft golden glow. His face was painted with a greenishish-blue pigment.

Later when I was describing him to the shaman it was his feeling that this man was a shaman-warrior from deeper in the Amazon, perhaps from Brazil or Peru, whom I may meet in person in the future.

When I was studying South American geography, back in the 1980s, the professor used to impress upon the class that the Amazon jungle is the lungs of the planet. Kill the Amazon, and the Earth as we know it is done. Now that I am here in South Amnerica I am sure that he was right. The fortunes of this planet and the human race rise and fall with the fortunes of the natural world, with the fortunes of the great forests on this planet, in particular, the grandest of them all, The Amazon.

As I meet more and more spirits of the forest, as the medicinal plants of South America speak to me and reveal more of themselves and their reality to me, ranging from spirit warrior allies carrying blow guns, bows, arrows and lances, and also a whole slew of very ordinary looking, Western European-type human beings, both male and female, to tree people, to hyper-conscious insect beings, to animals ranging from owls, to armadillos, snakes and javelinas, the veil between the natural spirit world and the everyday world of consensual social reality is becoming more and more tenuous.

In fact, this is what the so-called Powers That Be fear so much. They are in absolute dread of large numbers of people establishing a conscious connection with the natural world, because that fundamentally threatens the machine consciousness, the artificial, mechanical, machine driven control structure they have spent so many centuries clamping down on this planet.

But there is no future in their vision, no life juice in their hollow, mechanical, artificial reality that they impose by genocidal military force on people after people, country after country.

One of the things that malicagua has shown me is that the time is coming when humanity will run joyfully through the forest singing ecstatically at the top of our lungs in a magical, majestic symnphony of life, in planetary concert with the mighty trees of the deep forest. All of humanity in joyful, full throat harmony with the mighty, ancient trees of this world´s forests.

Huge changes will soon be upon us. Much of what is coming will be far different than what the so-called ruling elite of this planet expect. This is because they lack a spiritual core, they are hollow, soulless entities. For this reason, spiritual realities are incomprehensible to them, they cannot begin to fathom them.

But they have had their day. They have held sway and had their say. Chance after chance has been extended to them to turn from their ruinous, self-destructive course. Even now they could express genuine remorse for their multitudinous heinous deeds and throw themselves on the mercy of the Universe. But this presupposes a measure of humility and introspection that they appear to lack. And so it does appear that their fate is sealed. They will continue to cause enormous harm to the planet and all its creatures right up to the last instant --and then they will exit the global stage and a new era will begin

When I first began to drink malicagua the shaman came and took my watch from me. He said it was better for him to do that, because malicagua does not like watches. If people do not remove them beforehand, then after drinking malicagua they routinely remove their watches and fling them away into the underbrush. He also took my belt. Malicagua does not like leather either. People also routinely take off their belts and throw them away in the bushes.

Malicagua does not like to be metered or constrained. Just pure, infinite, natural consciousness, flowing like a mighty river straight from the Infinite Living Heart of the Amazon.

This is what the Powers That Be want to kill. But in the end, Mother Nature does prevail, in a manner that they absolutely do not expect, could never predict, do not comprehend, and moreover will not believe, not even when they are personally confronted with it to their very faces.