Tuesday, May 29, 2007

China's top drug regulator sentenced to death

China's top drug regulator sentenced to death
Zheng convicted of accepting bribes, dereliction of duty
The Associated Press
Updated: 7:59 p.m. PT May 28, 2007

BEIJING - China's top drug regulator was sentenced to death on charges of corruption and negligence, state media said Tuesday, the latest development stemming from growing alarm over the country's poor food-safety record.

Zheng Xiaoyu was convicted and sentenced "on charges of taking bribes and dereliction of duty" at the Beijing Municipal No. 1 Intermediate People's Court, the Xinhua News Agency said in a brief dispatch. No other details were given.

Zheng was fired in 2005 on charges he took up to US$780,000 in bribes to approve medicine that had not been tested to ensure its safety.

State media have reported that drugs improperly approved by Zheng's agency included an antibiotic that killed at least 10 patients last year before it was taken off the market.

This breaking news story will be updated.


Friday, May 25, 2007

Malaysia cinemas use night goggles to nab pirates

Malaysia cinemas use night goggles to nab pirates

Fri May 25, 4:29 AM ET

Malaysian cinemas have found a powerful new weapon in their fight against movie pirates -- military-style night-vision goggles.

After showing people to their seats, trained ushers are strapping on the goggles and scanning darkened cinemas around the country to spot anyone trying to make illegal copies of movies with hand-held video recorders or mobile phones.

The Motion Picture Association, which is training Malaysian ushers to catch the pirates, said cinemas had caught 17 people in the past two months, during which Hollywood studios released blockbusters like "Spider-Man 3" and "Pirates of the Caribbean."

"All of the cases were spotted with night-vision goggles," the association's Malaysia manager, Nor Hayati Yahaya, said on Friday. "Its very successful."

Malaysia figures on the U.S. watchlist for movie and software piracy, but local authorities have launched a major crackdown on producers and retailers of illegal DVDs since the country began free-trade talks with the United States a year ago.

The association, which represents the big Hollywood studios, recently brought to Malaysia two dogs trained to sniff out DVDs -- with stunning results. The two Labradors, Lucky and Flo, have sniffed out more than a million DVDs and broken a fake DVD ring.

They have been so successful that authorities believe Malaysian pirates have put a bounty on the dogs' heads.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Digital Divide is Wrong Battle Cry

Digital Divide is Wrong Battle Cry
Carlini’s Comments, MidwestBusiness.com’s oldest column, runs every Wednesday. Its mission is to offer the common mans view on business and technology issues while questioning the leadership and visions of pseudo experts.

Carlini's Comments CHICAGO – When will people realize that the network infrastructure of the U.S. is not a drum for socialism but a much more critical instrument to strategically position and sustain the country in the world economy?

While beating the drum for a socialistic platitude on the use of the country’s network infrastructure may be considered noble in some circles, it doesn’t capture the true essence of the need for an infrastructure that can support and sustain economic development.

Forget the “digital divide”. Our lack of infrastructure for true broadband connectivity is a “digital desert” that affects every level of the economic strata.

As mentioned in previous columns, my current definition of true broadband connectivity is 1 Gbps. Anything less is not broadband. In the near future, 10 Gbps will be the standard. Anyone thinking DSL is fast should guess again. Today’s 1 Gbps was yesterday’s T-1 (1.544 Mbps). Tomorrow’s T-1 is 10 Gbps.

Rare Oasis Isn’t the Answer

If we are in a digital desert where all economic levels are affected, the oasis of high-speed network services the incumbent carriers provide across a vast low-speed wasteland is not the answer. The national network platform should be clearly defined as to what it should provide and how it should be implemented.

I received an e-mail that summarized comments from Andrew Rasiej – the Personal Democracy Forum (PDF) co-founder and digital divide activist – who made what some referred to as a passionate case at the PDF’s 2007 conference. He said we must try to “revive the digital divide as a major policy issue”. These are highlights from the e-mail:

He asked how many people in the audience felt the digital divide is still a problem. Few of us did. Rasiej went on to talk about poor Internet access in low-income schools and communities and how inequitable access is hampering civic participation and democracy.

Rasiej then announced that the PDF will launch an online petition to elect the “first tech president”. He’s challenging the public to sign the petition and forward it to presidential candidates to get them to sign onto these basic principles:

  1. Declare the Internet a public good and bring broadband to everyone.
  2. Wireless public spectrum must be available and expanded.
  3. Go from “no child left behind” to “every child connected”.
  4. We need to support Net neutrality.
  5. We need to create a connected democracy where people can actually hear public hearings and participate.
  6. We need to use this to create transparency and accountability.
  7. We need a national guard of technologists to work during Katrina-like emergencies.

First, network infrastructure should not be rolled up as a partisan issue or as an issue that reflects some socialism stance.

Second, it should be defined as a common strategic objective as critical as national security that is a given in any presidential candidate. Third, it should be understood as a necessary platform for sustaining economic development and global competitiveness just like roads, airports and other infrastructure.

Infrastructure Equates to National Security

Rasiej’s announcement does not go far enough in specifics or far enough in setting the stage for real improvement.

It must include many facets that are necessary to provide the big picture. A decisive action plan and long-term framework must be crafted instead of a whimsical wish list or a simple declaration that the “Internet is a public good”. It is much more important than that.

Rasiej should go further in his request. The basic principles should include:

  1. Dismantling the current FCC as it is not doing its job. Instead, it’s protecting obsolete business models that are crippling the long-term competitiveness of the U.S. within the global economy.

  2. Creating a successor to the FCC with a set of clear goals and standards. This should include a whole different set of people to encourage the implementation of a national standard for broadband connectivity of 1 Gbps by a certain date and 10 Gbps three years after that date.

  3. Standards that create a structure for driving the network infrastructure to be No. 1 globally and the guidelines to sustain that status.

  4. Penalties and sanctions for any individual and/or entity trying to delay, restrict or block the upgrades of network infrastructure. That action would be looked upon as an endangerment to the strategic security of the U.S.

    These would include but not be limited to lobbyists, special interest groups or anyone having an agenda to protect obsolete business models that undermine the overall competitiveness of the U.S. so long as they are in place.

While any call for a national broadband policy is a good start, the reasons must reflect a concern and commitment for every level of the national economy, national security and the current and future global competitiveness of the U.S. It shouldn’t just impact pockets or special interest groups at any particular level of the economy.

Carlinism: Infrastructure is not a partisan issue.

Check out Carlini’s blog at CarlinisComments.com.

James Carlini is an adjunct professor at Northwestern University. He is also president of Carlini & Associates. Carlini can be reached at james.carlini@sbcglobal.net or 773-370-1888.

E-mail to bypass phone charges

E-mail to bypass phone charges

By Eric AuchardWed May 23, 11:18 AM ET

Jangl Inc., one of a new class of Web-telephone calling companies, is introducing a way to call over the Internet that bypasses traditional phone networks and uses e-mail to provide privacy from unknown callers.

The service, available on Wednesday, allows users to place calls as well as to send text messages or send or receive voicemail -- all via the Internet, rather than voice networks.

It helps consumers place long-distance calls, globally, to anyone with an e-mail address and a phone, for about the cost of a dime.

Jangl, now available in 31 countries in Europe, North America and Hong Kong, is a novel system tied to e-mail addresses, Web links and virtual voicemail that conceals the complexity of remembering lots of different phone numbers.

Communicating long-distance becomes a matter of looking up a friend or associate's name and clicking on it. Behind the scenes, the Jangl system goes to work, routing the call over the Internet to any phone you specify, whether the caller on the other end of the line has used Jangl or not.

"We offer something no one else can offer, which is unconditional privacy," Michael Cerda, Jangl's co-founder and its chief executive, said in an interview. "If I have privacy, I am now willing to give all these other services a try."

The past year has seen the rise of Web-calling start-ups from Jajah to Jangl to Jaxtr to Grand Central -- all inspired by the success of Skype, which so far has wooed 200 million users for free or low-cost calls between computers and phones.

Newer rivals to Skype are seeking to improve on ideas from decade-old dial-around services where callers use complicated phone numbers to bypass long-distance charges. They are using the Web to add sophisticated new features.

Jangl's latest service is targeted at the social networking generation -- younger Web users who are comfortable forging relationships online and for whom phone calls are often secondary to text messages, instant messaging or e-mail.

The advantage Jangl offers over other Web-calling alternatives is that calling numbers remain private. Callers who you don't know go straight to voicemail on Jangl's site. Callers you no longer wish to hear from are easily blocked.

For users of social networks like MySpace or Facebook, who are often stereotyped as being shamelessly unconcerned about their privacy, the Jangl service gives them control over who calls them -- similar to how instant message systems like AIM, Yahoo or MSN allow users to keep in close touch with buddies, but help them hide from or block unwelcome contacts.

"Your phone number is also your identity. You don't want to have to give it out to just anyone on the Web," Forrester analyst Charlene Li said. "Jangl gives you a unique phone number for every single relationship. That gives users control over who can and cannot reach them."

Calls are free for the first month the service is in operation. Details can be found at http://www.jangl.com/.

Jangl launched a basic Web-based version of its service in November 2006. It has distribution deals with social network Tagged.com and TypePad, the software that powers many blogs.

Jangl also powers the calling service on dating site Match.com, allowing members to call each other without sharing their numbers. So far it has signed up 500,000 users through its partnerships and direct sign-ups, officials said.

"We have created here a model that welcomes people very quickly into our service," Jangl's other co-founder Ben Dean said. "What is beautiful is how someone who may never have heard of Jangl can become a user in minutes."

The Pleasanton, California-based company has 18 employees. Backers include Cardinal Venture Capital, Labrador Ventures and Storm Ventures, which together have invested $9 million.


Tuesday, May 22, 2007

How to make your powerpoint file size smaller

The usual culprit for large powerpoint file sizes are images.  Usually, you put an image in a powerpoint and then scale it down to the size you need.  What happens is that although it looks smaller on screen, the image is still as large as when you placed it in.  (It looks smaller, but the file size is the same).
So what can you do? 
If you believe the images are the culprit, there is an easy trick you can do to fix it within powerpoint.  Right click with your mouse on an image in your powerpoint presentation.  Then select the 'Picture' tab in the window that comes up.  Press the compress button.  Then choose either selected pictures or all pictures, under change resolution select print.  Make sure compress pictures and delete cropped areas are checked.  Then click ok.
So, what have you done?  Well you have just compressed the selected (or all) pictures in your powerpoint to a resolution that should be good enough for printing (and displaying on a projector or computer screen).  If you were using high resolution pictures, the change will hardly be noticeable (if at all).  More likely than not, you've compressed the file by 10-50 percent.  (Check by saving the file and looking at its file size.)  If you need to compress more and are using small images, try doing the compress again, but select "web" under change resolution.

Mortgage official defends subprime loans

Mortgage official defends subprime loans
They should be preserved as tools to buy homes, MBA chief says

WASHINGTON (MarketWatch) -- The chief of the Mortgage Bankers Association defended the use of subprime loans Tuesday, saying they've enabled millions of Americans to buy homes and urging that a fix for that sector of the market not end up hobbling the entire mortgage industry.
At the same time, MBA Chairman John Robbins acknowledged that "unethical actors" in the mortgage industry have hurt borrowers and damaged bankers' reputations.
Subprime delinquencies have jumped in the U.S. as interest rates have climbed and house prices stopped rising. Subprime loans are usually extended to those borrowers with blemished credit records.
But Robbins, in a speech at the National Press Club, said subprime loans remain "an extremely important tool for providing homeownership opportunities in this country."
"We must find a way to prevent future abuse without eliminating subprime loans," Robbins said in a prepared text.
"I want you all to remember that three million Americans used a subprime loan to purchase a house," he said.
Robbins also said regulators should be careful not to damage what he called a "subtle, intricate and ingenious" mortgage-finance system by trying to fix problems in the subprime market.
His speech followed on a joint statement released Monday by the MBA and other banking and financial-services trade groups that urged federal regulators to establish a uniform standard for both banks and non-banks that make subprime loans. Neither recently proposed federal subprime-loan guidance nor nontraditional mortgage guidance apply to non-bank lenders. See full story.
'We must find a way to prevent future abuse without eliminating subprime loans.'
— John Robbins, Mortgage Bankers Association
Robbins also said the impact of problems in the subprime market will be limited, echoing comments that Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke made last week.
Bernanke said that he believes the effect of troubles in the subprime market "will likely be limited" and that the central bank doesn't expect subprime problems to spill over significantly into the rest of the economy or the U.S. financial system. See full story.
Robbins noted that only 5.1% of homeowners are subprime borrowers with adjustable-rate mortgages. Ultimately, he said, only one quarter of one percent of subprime ARM borrowers are facing foreclosure.
Still, Robbins said, the industry is trying to help troubled subprime borrowers by quickly contacting those in distress and by setting up a free counseling hotline. He said his group is also setting up foreclosure "intervention programs" in cities with high rates of foreclosures.
Robbins also urged Congress to create a financial literacy requirement for public schools. "Isn't financial literacy a little more important than wood shop?" he asked. End of Story
Robert Schroeder is a reporter for MarketWatch in Washington.

The Crackdown on Stock-Loan Schemes

The Crackdown on Stock-Loan Schemes

A criminal probe by the feds may reveal some of the mysteries of short sellers

by Matthew Goldstein

It may not have the cachet of mergers and acquisitions or leveraged buyouts, but the little-known business of securities lending is one of Wall Street's most lucrative. Investment banks rake in roughly $10 billion a year on the fees they collect for lending stocks and bonds to so-called short sellers—intensely secretive hedge funds and other professional traders who bet on falling prices.

Now a long-running criminal investigation may reveal some of what actually goes on among the traders, Wall Street investment firms, and independent intermediaries who help make the mysterious deals happen. BusinessWeek has learned that federal prosecutors in Brooklyn, N.Y., may be close to charging a number of current and former employees of several Wall Street firms with taking part in a complex kickback scheme that may have collectively cost the financial houses and short sellers millions of dollars in higher and unnecessary fees. Already, at least three people have taken pleas in exchange for cooperating with prosecutors, according to some people close to the nearly 18-month-long probe. Drawing the most scrutiny from investigators are current and former employees at the stock loan desks of Bear Stearns (BSC) and Morgan Stanley (MS), say sources close to the investigation. Former and current employees of Goldman Sachs (GS), Janney Montgomery Scott, Merrill Lynch (MER), and Nomura Securities are also being investigated. Officials at all of the financial firms and a spokesman for Roslynn Mauskopf, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of New York, declined to comment.

Sources say authorities from the U.S. Attorney's office are looking into allegations that some employees on the stock loan desks received kickbacks or other improper cash payments from so-called stock-loan finders, independent middlemen who sometimes track down shares for Wall Street firms to lend to investors. It is anticipated that the prosecutors will likely claim that some employees on the stock loan desk unnecessarily referred work to the finders, who did little to justify their fees and only added to the cost of arranging a stock loan.

A Word of Warning

In a classic short sale, a trader borrows shares from an investment firm and sells them. If the stock falls as expected, the short seller can pay back the loan and make a profit by repurchasing the shares at a lower price. When the investment firms don't have enough shares on hand in their inventory, they sometimes seek out independent finders, who work the phones, calling friends, relatives, and buddies at other stock loan desks to make up the difference. This chummy relationship between finders and stock loan employees, say people familiar with the investigation, is what first piqued the interest of prosecutors, who may worry that the finders aren't providing a legitimate service.

This isn't the first time that the business has come under fire. Two years ago the New York Stock Exchange (NYX) issued an advisory opinion, cautioning Wall Street firms about continuing to do business with finders, saying: "We have seen only limited instances where a finder is actually providing services that an effective [in-house] stock loan department could not provide." The NYSE then began cracking down on abuses, fining two firms with paying "unjustified" and "sham" finders' fees to arrange stock loans. But regulators at the NYSE, along with the Securities & Exchange Commission, put much of their investigation on hold as the criminal inquiry into the alleged kickback scheme began heating up.

Michael Bachner, a New York criminal defense attorney who represents two individuals involved in the current investigation, says he's still hoping prosecutors will determine that what they've found amounts to nothing more than regulatory infractions. John Tabacco Jr., chief executive officer of Locatestock.com, a company whose software program helps brokers and hedge funds track down shares of hard-to-borrow stocks that traders are interested in shorting, says that until recently securities lending was "loosely regulated." He says he fears prosecutors "are going too far in pursuit of criminal charges."

Matthew Goldstein is an associate editor at BusinessWeek, covering hedge funds and finance.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Firefox and the Anxiety of Growing Pains

Firefox and the Anxiety of Growing Pains
  May 21, 2007 New York Times  
By Noam Cohen

IF the open-source software movement were an upstart political campaign, Chris Messina would be one of its community organizers — the young volunteer who decamps to New Hampshire, knocking on doors, putting up signs.

In 2004, Mr. Messina, a 26-year-old Web entrepreneur from San Francisco, found his dream candidate in Firefox, the open-source Internet browser that is a rival to Microsoft’s Internet Explorer.

Unlike the other candidate he volunteered for that year, Howard Dean, Firefox is still racking up victories. And unlike Mr. Dean, the people behind Firefox have a dilemma: what happens — and what is owed to volunteer contributors — when an open-source project starts to become successful?

Some 1,000 to 2,000 people have contributed code to Firefox, according to the Mozilla Foundation, which distributes the Firefox browser. An estimated 10,000 people act as testers for the program, and an estimated 80,000 help spread the word.

In 2004, with the release of version 1.0, Firefox became the dream of techies like Mr. Messina. Much in the way he helped coordinate supporters for Mr. Dean online, he got behind Spread Firefox, a campaign to rally the open-source base behind the browser.

That effort culminated in a fund-raising drive to advertise Firefox in The New York Times. The ad, a double-page spread designed by Mr. Messina, ran on Dec. 16, 2004.

“It was 10,000 people, putting in like 5 bucks to — I don’t know what the highest was,” he said. “It was in the spirit of the Howard Dean campaign.”

The Firefox campaign has been very successful, according to Mitchell Baker, the chairwoman of the nonprofit Mozilla Foundation that directs the project.

“The best we can figure, 75 to 100 million people are using Firefox,” she said. “Those people did not get it in a box. That is 75 million decisions, somewhere around the world to put this piece of software on someone’s machine.”

According to outside estimates, Firefox has about 15 percent of the market, Internet Explorer has more than 78 percent, and Apple’s Safari a little less than 5 percent. Mozilla has 90 employees and revenue of more than $100 million in the last couple of years.

Mozilla plans to make enough money to keep growing. But a windfall came in the form of a royalty contract with Google, which, like the other search companies, is always competing for better placement on browsers. Under the agreement, the Google search page is the default home page when a user first installs Firefox, and is the default in the search bar. In the last two years, the deal has brought in more than $100 million. (Google has a similar placement with Apple’s Safari.)

So far, no one has figured out how to balance keeping an open-source or collaborative project fully financed while remaining independent and noncommercial. Wikipedia, for example, holds occasional fund-raisers, while its leaders debate if it should take steps toward some sort of sponsorship or advertising.

Thanks to the Google agreement, the Mozilla Foundation went from revenue of nearly $6 million in 2004 to more than $52 million the next year. The foundation plans to increase its work force, and to add some engineering capability. In 2005, the foundation created a subsidiary, the for-profit Mozilla Corporation, also led by Ms. Baker, mainly to deal with the tax and other issues related to the Google contract. (The foundation’s 2006 tax return has not yet been made public, but Ms. Baker said the Google revenue will remain about the same.)

She described the decision to align with Google as an organic one that predates the official release of Firefox. “We had Google in a beta version for a long time, so we approached them first,” she said.

Mitch Kapor, who is on the Mozilla board, said that accepting a deal with Google was a no-brainer. “Always on my mind, in all my involvement is, how is it going to be sustainable?” he said. “I am a big believer that begging is not the right business model. When it began to become clear there was a business opportunity, in monetizing search in the browser, I saw this as a great opportunity.”

But with opportunities came changes. By creating a corporation to run the Firefox project, Mozilla was committing to be less transparent. In part, that is because Google insists on the secrecy of “its arrangement and agreements,” Mr. Kapor said. (Google declined to comment for this article.)

Because transparency is one of the principles of the so-called Mozilla manifesto released in February, Mr. Kapor said, there was “some tension around getting the deal done and disclosure.”

Another complication for Mozilla, some critics say, is that it could be perceived as acting as an extension of Google. For example, they note that one of Google’s growth areas, Web-based software applications, would have a better chance of success with a browser not controlled by its biggest rival, Microsoft.

The exact nature of Mozilla’s relationship with Google has been good fodder for bloggers. When Mr. Messina recently posted a 50-minute video of his thoughts about Firefox development, the comments included a back and forth between Asa Dotzler of the Mozilla Corporation, and a commentator on the blog named Corey.

When Corey wrote that “it seems like half” of the top contributors to Mozilla “work directly for Google,” Mr. Dotzler responded harshly, dismissing the claim outright: “No one who has looked at the actual development of Firefox recently could say with a straight face that Google employees are top contributors to Mozilla.”

Finally, there is the problem of what Mozilla should do with the money, at least the portion that isn’t being reinvested in the Firefox. Throwing money around among volunteers can backfire, Ms. Baker said, though the foundation has been quietly assisting contributors who are hampered by poor equipment.

Instead, Mozilla’s solution is to put money into what Mr. Kapor calls “community purposes.” To that end, the foundation is looking for a new executive director who would focus on worthy projects, although no decisions on what constitutes a worthy project has been made. “We go out and ask,” Ms. Baker said, “and even the community is not actually clear where large amounts of money should go.”

What makes a nonprofit? Split on what to pay

What makes a nonprofit? Split on what to pay
  May 21, 2007 Newsday  
By Daniel Wagner

Executive compensation policies at not-for-profit organizations have been an issue of heated contention in recent years, with federal regulatory agencies, academics and think-tanks weighing in on whether those running tax-exempt, multimillion-dollar corporations are entitled to private-sector salary and benefit packages.

Defenders of organizations' discretion say nonprofits have to compete with private-sector institutions to attract talent; critics argue that large organizations such as hospitals -- many of which grant top executives millions in compensation -- should not be classified as tax-exempt at all, given their structural difference from the charities most people associate with the term "nonprofit."

In 2002, the Internal Revenue Service started assessing extra taxes to nonprofit executives whose salaries it deemed to be excessive, according to a report from the Washington, D.C.-based think-tank The Urban Institute.

But the report said that in an increasingly competitive market for executives, "nonprofits have little choice but to provide leaders with salaries and benefits that are comparable to compensation rates in the for-profit sector."

For community development corporations, the most important issue is what balance the board strikes between compensation and expenditures on programs that fulfill the mission that grants a group its tax-exempt status, according to Marianne Garvin, president and chief operating officer of the Community Development Corporation of Long Island. That group performs some of the same functions as the Long Island Development Corp., but also develops real estate and provides loans for low-income housing.

"What makes it a not-for-profit is that the revenues of the corporation go to furthering the mission of the corporation," Garvin said. "Having said that, we operate in a business-like manner ... and the staff is geared and evaluated on performance and outcomes."

Garvin said compensation policies should be judged by the comparison of core program spending to compensation. She said 75 to 80 percent of revenues dedicated to core programs is the going standard; in her group's case, she said, that number is above 90 percent.

In 2005, the corporation's chief executive, Wilbur Klatsky, collected $202,839 in pay and benefits, according to the organization's most recent filing.

She said strong oversight by a group's board of directors is a key to striking the proper balance, but that most grant-funded programs, including the HUD- and SBA-backed loans that groups like hers administer, are audited frequently and thoroughly.

Copyright 2007 Newsday Inc.

Eating Apples, Fish During Pregnancy Protects Kids From Allergies, Asthma

Eating Apples, Fish During Pregnancy Protects Kids From Allergies, Asthma

Researchers say first helps against asthma, while second works against eczema.

MONDAY, May 21 (HealthDay News) -- Filling up on apples and fish during pregnancy might protect your child from developing asthma and allergic diseases, a new study shows.

Researchers from the Netherlands and Scotland have found that eating apples throughout pregnancy may protect against wheezing and asthma in 5-year-old children, while fish consumption may lower the risk of eczema, an allergic skin condition. The findings were to be presented Sunday at the American Thoracic Society's International Conference in San Francisco.

"To our knowledge, we are one of the first studies evaluating the influence of maternal consumption of so many different foods and food groups during pregnancy on childhood asthma and allergic disease," said study author Saskia Willers, a doctoral student at Utrecht University in the Netherlands.

Previous studies in the same group of children, part of the SEATON birth cohort conducted at the University of Aberdeen in Scotland, found that maternal intake of vitamins E and D, and zinc during pregnancy may also lower the risk of asthma, wheezing and eczema. For this study, the researchers looked at how eating different foods, rather than individual nutrients, during pregnancy impacted these children.

The researchers studied 1,212 children born to women who had filled out food questionnaires 32 weeks into their pregnancy. When the children were 5, the mothers filled out another questionnaire about their child's respiratory symptoms and allergies, as well as a survey about their child's food consumption. The children were also given lung function and allergy tests.

The study found that children of women who ate more apples and fish during their pregnancy were less likely to develop asthma or allergic disease. Specifically, children of women who ate fish once or more a week were 43 percent less likely to have had eczema at age 5 than children of mothers who never ate fish. Those whose mothers ate more than four apples a week during pregnancy were 37 percent less likely to have ever wheezed, 46 percent less likely to have had asthma symptoms, and 53 percent less likely to have had doctor-confirmed asthma compared to children of mothers who ate one or no apples a week.

"We were quite surprised to see a protective effect of apples, because, to our knowledge, no other study had seen that before," said Willers. "For fish, there is an earlier study that found a protective effect of maternal fish intake during pregnancy on childhood asthma."

No protective effect was found against asthma or allergic diseases from many other foods, including vegetables, fruit juice, citrus or kiwi fruit, whole grain products, fat from dairy products or margarine or other low-fat spreads.

The study speculated that apples may be beneficial because they contain flavonoids, which have been associated with a reduced risk of asthma in other studies, while fish's protective effect may be due to their omega-3 fatty acids.

"The authors' explanations are plausible," said Dr. Carlos Camargo, an associate professor of medicine and epidemiology at Harvard Medical School. "It's curious, however, why only apples would be protective, since flavonoids are present in other foods. This will require further work. The first step, however, is to see if other investigators find the same associations in other birth cohorts."

Dr. Augusto A. Litonjua, an assistant professor at Harvard Medical School, said this study adds to the growing literature that prenatal factors, specifically maternal diet during pregnancy, can affect the development of wheezing illnesses, asthma and allergies in young children.

It's too early, though, to recommend how much fish and apples pregnant women should eat, Willers said. Rather, it's important for them to follow a healthy, balanced diet.

Connie Diekman, director of university nutrition at Washington University in St. Louis, added that pregnant women should be careful about not eating too much fish because of the potential mercury and other pollutants in fish.

"The study supports the health benefits of increased fruits, vegetables and fish, but pregnant women need to exercise caution with king mackerel, tilefish, shark and swordfish, and should limit albacore tuna to 6 ounces per week," she said.

Litonjua added that in addition to a healthy diet, pregnant women should also take prenatal vitamins with folic acid and abstain from smoking and drinking to maximize the health of their growing fetus, and subsequently their young child.

More information

For more on allergies and asthma, visit the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America.

Friday, May 18, 2007

U. of I. tuition, fees soar

U. of I. tuition, fees soar

May 18, 2007

CHAMPAIGN -- University of Illinois trustees voted Thursday to raise tuition and fees on the university's three campuses by an average of 11.6 percent, taking the cost of tuition, fees and housing at the Champaign-Urbana campus to about $9,450 a semester.

Over the last decade, the state's flagship university system has raised the cost of an education by more than 250 percent -- five times the rate at which Americans' incomes grew during that period and eight times the rate of inflation.

It is among state schools across the country that have ratcheted up tuition costs to help make up for dwindling government funding.

Illinois' higher-education spending has essentially been flat the last few years, hovering around $2.2 billion a year after falling from $2.4 billion in the 2003-04 fiscal year. Gov. Blagojevich has proposed $2.33 billion for next year, 4 percent less than the schools had to work with in 2003-04.

In the process, educators worry, universities could be cutting ever-larger segments of the population off from higher education.

''Are we going to be cutting off significant contributors to our society because people don't have the money?'' asked Vernon Burton, a history professor and Faculty Senate president at Illinois' Urbana-Champaign campus. ''It's very hard on the middle class now.''

As chairman of the state Board of Higher Education from 2003 through early 2007, James Kaplan oversaw the state's public universities through their rough fiscal stretch. He fears the effects are now becoming apparent.

''At this stage, you're cutting into bone,'' he said.

For faculty, cutting bone means teaching classes of literally hundreds of students, and not always under the best of conditions, Burton said. ''In 2005, I taught a class of over 700 students in Lincoln Hall, and literally in the middle of a class, a rat ran across the stage,'' he said.

State higher education funding increased 4 percent from fiscal 2005-06 to 2006-07 and would go up another 1.8 percent next year under the governor's budget proposal.

AP Copyright 2006 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.


CHAMPAIGN -- Here are details of the hikes approved Thursday by the University of Illinois trustees. The increases will start next school year at the system's three campuses:

* TUITION AND FEES: In-state tuition will increase next fall to $4,220 a semester at Urbana-Champaign (up $366), $3,712 in Chicago (an increase of $322), and $3,180 in Springfield (a $390 increase). Fees will go up to $1,397 at Urbana, $1,561 in Chicago and $951 in Springfield.

* ROOM AND BOARD: New students living on campus will pay $3,833 a semester in Urbana-Champaign (an increase of $225), $3,776 in Chicago (up $180), and $4,223 in Springfield (a $375 increase).

* THE BOTTOM LINE: Tuition, fees and housing will cost a new in-state student $9,450 a semester in Urbana-Champaign ($859 more than the school year just ended), $9,049 in Chicago (a $579 increase), and $8,354 in Springfield (an $880 increase).

FW: San Francisco Chronicle - Minority Population Grows to 100 Million

Minority population grows to 100 million -- 1 of 3 in U.S.
  May 17, 2007 San Francisco Chronicle  
By Leslie Fulbright

The nation's minority population topped 100 million last year, about one-third of the total, and California had roughly 20 million minority residents, more than half of its total, according to new estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau.

Between the rising minority population -- particularly of Latinos of any race -- and the low median age of Latinos, a new kind of generation gap is arising across the country, experts said Wednesday: Most people over 60 are non-Hispanic whites, and most under 40 are not.

California starkly reflects this new gap. Non-Hispanic white people account for 63 percent of the state's residents age 60 and older. But the population under 40 is 38 percent Latino of any race, 13 percent Asian American, 8 percent black and just 39 percent non-Hispanic white.

Some demographers suspect the new generation gap will heighten the nation's struggle to provide adequate social services and public education.

"The biggest problems will be related to language and culture," said Andrew Scharlach, a professor of aging at UC Berkeley. "The difference may make it hard for nonwhite elders to take advantage of services for English-speaking white elders. There may also be problems in caretaking of white seniors by nonwhite providers."

Mark Mather, director of the Population Reference Bureau, a nonprofit in Washington, D.C., said researchers there found that states with the highest racial and ethnic diversity spend the least per pupil on education.

"It will be interesting to see if this new type of gap will affect funding for social programs and education spending for youth," he said.

The generation gap arises in part from a higher birth rate among Latino women, who average about three children compared to just under two children for non-Hispanic white, Asian and black people, said Hans Johnson, a demographer with the Public Policy Institute of California, in San Francisco. Mather said the chasm isn't likely to grow.

"We expect the gap to decline in the next 10 or 20 years with the aging of immigrants," Mather said.

Johnson agreed, noting that the immigration rate has been steady since the 1960s.

Latinos of any race were the fastest-growing minority group nationwide, reaching 44.2 million, up 3.4 percent from 2005, according to the annual estimates, which are being released to the public today. In California, Latinos also were the largest group, numbering 13.1 million, more than one-third of the state's total population.

The nation's Asian population grew almost as fast as the Latino between 2005 and 2006 -- more than 3 percent -- and much faster than the non-Hispanic white population, at 0.9 percent, or the black population, at 1.3 percent. But there are still many fewer Asian Americans than Latinos -- about one-third as many -- so the rising number of Asian Americans has not been obvious outside of heavily Asian regions like Northern California.

In addition to the largest Latino population, California has the most Asian Americans, 4.9 million, followed by New York and Texas. The nation's largest black population is in New York, followed by Florida and Texas.

Like California, three other states and Washington, D.C., are now more than 50 percent minority: Hawaii is 75 percent minority, Washington is 68 percent, New Mexico and California are each 57 percent minority, and Texas is 52 percent.

In 2006, the nation's black population passed 40 million, the Asian reached 14.9 million, and the Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander groups each reached 1 million.

In addition to Hispanic, both black and Asian populations got younger in 2006. The non-Hispanic white population was older than the population as a whole, with a median age of 40.5 compared to 36.4.

The Census Bureau's estimates have diverged from the state of California's for many years, and the state's have proven more accurate based on the federal agency's actual counts in 1990 and 2000, Linda Gage, a spokeswoman for the California Department of Finance, said Wednesday.

Gage said both the state and Census Bureau rely heavily on tax returns and birth and death records to create their estimates. But California's use of driver's license records enables it to track down many more residents, including those who don't pay taxes. She said that accounts for her agency's 37.4 million estimate for California's population in July 2006 population being 3 percent higher than the Census Bureau's.

The state has not released other estimates for 2006, but the trends in both agencies' numbers have been similar in most instances.

Online resources

View the new estimates at http://www.census.gov/popest/estimates.php


Merrill Lynch Uses CDFI Assessment and Ratings System on $93 Million Community Investment


November 08, 2006

Merrill Lynch Uses CDFI Assessment and Ratings System on $93 Million Community Investment
    by Bill Baue

While many investors use the CARS ratings as secondary information in their community investment decisions, Merrill Lynch will use it as its primary underwriting tool.

SocialFunds.com -- At last week's Opportunity Finance Network (OFN) conference, Merrill Lynch Community Development Company (MLCDC) announced plans to place $93 million in community development financial institutions (CDFIs) using the CDFI Assessment and Ratings System (CARS). The move represents a major stamp of approval for CARS, which was developed in 2003 by the National Community Capital Association, the CDFI membership organization that changed its name to OFN last year. While some 20 investment firms subscribe to CARS to augment the research that informs their community investment decision-making, Merrill is foregrounding CARS by using it as the primary tool steering underwriting decisions.

"Merrill is jumping in with both feet, using CARS to identify and monitor transactions going forward," said Mark Pinsky, CEO of OFN. "They're doing so because CARS is much more efficient than underwriting it themselves."

"What we're finding is that many of our existing subscribers are building CARS into their own systems," Mr. Pinsky told SocialFunds.com. "We think over time more and more of these folks will go the way of Merrill Lynch and use CARS as the primary source of their underwriting information."

CARS is a third-party rating system that assesses CDFIs on impact performance (namely, how well they fulfill their social mission of providing capital to low-wealth borrowers and positively impacting economically disadvantaged communities) as well as on financial performance. Dan Letendre, an MLCDC director and CARS Advisory Board member, points out the practical advantages of CARS.

"We believe CARS will reduce the due diligence burden on CDFIs, especially for those who have already been rated, as well as speed up MLCDC's approval process and facilitate the faster deployment of capital," said Mr. Letendre.

Currently, CARS has issued complete ratings on 22 CDFIs, with five more slated for completion by year-end 2006 and about 30 scheduled for rating by year-end 2007, according to Mr. Pinsky. CDFIs rated thus far include big-name entities such as The Reinvestment Fund (TRF) and Low Income Investment Fund (LIIF), as well as smaller CDFIs such as the Unitarian Universalist Affordable Housing Corporation (UUAHC), the Community First Fund, and PeopleFund.

MLCDC is applying CARS to the $93 million allocation it received June 2006 in the fourth round of the New Markets Tax Credit (NMTC) program, which is administered by the CDFI Fund under the US Treasury Department. The NMTC provides tax credits to investors who support CDFIs that in turn use these funds to provide loans and other financial support to low-income communities.

"One of the critical aspects of the New Markets Tax Credit for investors is the need to look beyond the transaction to see where and how it impacts communities," explained Mr. Pinsky. "The CARS analysis provides transparency on impact, documenting that CDFIs are really accomplishing what they say they're going to accomplish in a given area."

"So CARS acts as a compliance tool as well, providing an extra measure of assurance," he continued.

Other CARS subscribers, such as Wachovia, have significant NMTC investments, though they have not explicitly confirmed they use CARS as an NMTC compliance tool, according to Mr. Pinsky. He added that CARS has also garnered significant uptake amongst socially responsible investing (SRI) practitioners

"We know that social investors are very interested in putting more money into community investing, but CDFIs are not particularly good at providing information in a way that makes it easy for investors to find them and to invest in them," Mr. Pinsky pointed out. CARS helps solve this problem. "For example, Trillium Asset Management is a subscriber to CARS and they use it as a way of advising their investors--we think there is going to be more of this going on in the future."

"We see social investors as the second generation of CARS users," he said.

Other SRI practitioners using CARS include the Calvert Foundation, Domini Social Investments, and the FB Heron Foundation.

In addition to the Merrill Lynch announcement, OFN also announced the introduction of a new "CARS-Rated" logo program with an option for CDFIs to include their actual rating on it.

"It's a way of creating more transparency and making it easier for prospective investors to find investment opportunities," Mr. Pinsky stated.

When Small Donors Get Together

When Small Donors Get Together
  May 18, 2007 Wall Street Journal, Print Edition  

Donors with limited resources who don't want to see their modest contributions swallowed up in large charitable institutions are increasingly starting up giving circles to keep things personal.

In the circles, people pool their money to award grants. The 14 twentysomething professionals of Gather and Give: Let's Eat, a group in Washington, D.C., each contribute $75 to $300 and focus on food-related causes. The Zawadi giving circle in New Orleans helps support programs for black Americans in the area, while the Queer Youth Fund in Los Angeles raises money for organizations to improve the quality of life for gay and lesbian youth.

"By pooling our financial resources, we can have a far greater impact" than individual donors, says Marla Adams, an attorney and founding member of Women for Women, an Asheville, N.C., giving circle that helps various regional charities. And, she adds, members learn about the region's needs.

Giving circles doubled from 2004 to 2006, according to a survey by the Forum of Regional Associations of Grantmakers, of Washington, D.C., a network of 32 organizations. Last year the Forum found 400 giving circles and estimates that circles have granted almost $100 million in the past four years. The groups can be traced back to mutual aid societies and fraternal organizations from hundreds of years ago that pooled resources for their communities.

Giving circles let donors get connected in some vital ways to their communities and help fix their problems, says Daria Teutonico, director of the Forum's New Ventures in Philanthropy program. Some groups have minimums for entry -- from $10 or $20 to thousands of dollars -- and others combine giving with volunteerism.

Each member of the Women's Impact Fund of Charlotte, N.C., which now has 360 contributors, must give $5,500 over five years. This month, the circle will be making $344,500 in grants to five regional nonprofits in various fields. In New Orleans, the Zawadi circle has raised almost $24,000 for a financial-education and savings program for low-income New Orleans residents and a math-tutoring program for students.

One problem: where to put the collected money. Katy Love, who founded Gather and Give, says the group even considered a safe-deposit box before finding -- as many circles do -- a host organization to hold and distribute grant money, in this case the Washington Area Women's Foundation. (The giving circle must meet the foundation's criteria in its grants.) Giving circles are generally not registered as nonprofit organizations, and usually don't solicit applications for grants as large foundations do.

Another problem can be turnover. Many of Gather and Give's members are relocating to take new jobs. "We're losing half the giving circle at the end of June," Ms. Love says. "But those of us who are staying are interested in doing it again," around different issues. Members joined, she says, in order to "get together to be academic, critical, learn about our world." In a way, she says, they were continuing their education.

Gift of the Week / Simons Say: Endowment

Who gave it: Melvin Simon, co-chairman of Simon Property Group, one of the nation's largest shopping-mall owners, and his wife, Bren, who owns a design firm.

How much: $10 million

Who got it: The Indianapolis Museum of Art

By request: The funds will endow the position of museum director and chief executive.

How it happened: Almost a year ago, Mrs. Simon went to the museum's annual meeting to meet its new director, Maxwell L. Anderson. Although the couple belonged to the museum, they were known for supporting Jewish causes, children's charities and universities, including a recent $50 million gift to the Indiana University Cancer Center. But Mrs. Simon says they were impressed by Mr. Anderson's abilities as a manager and antiquities scholar. Four months ago, he approached the couple with the idea of endowing his own $360,000 job. Mrs. Simon says they were glad to underwrite the position's entire pay in perpetuity because "capable leaders of not-for-profits are even harder to find" than company executives. Next up: The museum hopes to endow its curators and conservators.

--Kelly Crow

Contact us at givingback@wsj.com

Kalamazoo Meat Company Recalls 129,000 Pounds of Beef

Kalamazoo Meat Company Recalls 129,000 Pounds of Beef
A meat company is recalling nearly 130,000 pounds of beef products in 15 states, because of possible E-coli contamination.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture says the meat products were made in March and April by Davis Creek Meats and Seafood, based in Kalamazoo, Michigan, and were being sold by Gordon Food Service stores.

The products were shipped to distribution centers and retailers in Arkansas, Florida, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Michigan, Missouri, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Virginia, West Virginia and Wisconsin.

The items being recalled include boxes of mechanically tenderized steaks and ground beef. The boxes are labeled "est. 1947A."

E-coli symptoms include stomach cramps that may be severe and diarrhea that may turn bloody within one to three days. E-coli can cause complications including kidney failure.

© 2007 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Free 1 GB online storage

Clean technology bigger than internet: software guru


Clean technology bigger than internet: software guru

By Gerard Wynn

A global response to climate change will spur a business revolution bigger than the internet, said co-founder of Sun Microsystems Bill Joy.

"This is a much larger opportunity," he told Reuters, pointing to the scale of the problem and the profits to be made from simple steps like a more careful use of energy.

"It's profitable to be more efficient, it has a negative cost and a competitive disadvantage if you don't do it."

"You can sensibly adopt old technology, not drive a truck, or insulate your house," he said, speaking on the fringes of the Cleantech investor conference in Frankfurt.

Joy made his name creating and developing computer operating systems and microprocessors, for example helping to design the Java programming language.

Most scientists agree that climate change is being caused by mankind's emissions of greenhouse gases, especially the carbon dioxide produced by burning fossil fuels such as coal and oil.

Using the example of the car industry, Joy saw the response in three parts: first using old technologies like smaller, more efficient cars; second adopting emerging technologies like "hybrid," part-electric cars; and third researching breakthroughs such as transport fuels derived from farm waste.

Climate change would spur innovation and California's Silicon Valley, which originally served the semiconductor industry, was well placed to benefit, he said.

"Solar cells are semiconductors, heat to electricity is semiconductors, software to manage systems comes out of Silicon Valley," said Joy, who is now a partner at venture capital investors Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers (KPCB).

A global race is on to be first to commercialize breakthrough technologies which could make deep cuts in greenhouse gas emissions.

Research into safer, rechargeable lithium batteries is taking place mainly in the United States and Canada, but innovation in small electric cars is centered in Asia and Europe, he said.

"Smart people are everywhere."

Future breakthroughs will include more efficient solar cells that convert waste heat to electricity, and manipulation of catalysts at the ultra-tiny, or nano, scale to cut costs.

Climate change will create business losers, too: for example among U.S. car manufacturers which have resisted fuel efficiency standards, Joy reckoned.

"They lobbied Washington against innovation. The industry is now really in trouble, the car companies didn't innovate. Everyone's basically driving a truck."


SF Board shows opposition to WiFi plan


Let the experts run citywide WiFi

Monday, May 14, 2007

Imagine if you no longer had access to the Internet. How would it change your life - how you do business, how you shop, how you communicate with family and friends? Now stop to think that 30 percent of San Franciscans are exactly in that boat.

They do not have access or cannot afford the technology that is available. Most of these citizens who are shut out of the World Wide Web are senior citizens or poor. Many of them are school-age children. Mayor Gavin Newsom's plan to remedy this disparity and bring citywide free WiFi access to these residents is being heard today at a hastily called special hearing of the San Francisco Board of Supervisor's Budget and Finance Committee. Scheduling this hearing on a significant contract with little notice and without the final provisions and SFPUC sign-offs in place certainly can be construed as needlessly politicizing this project. That is not only irresponsible, it is a shame.

After undertaking a thorough and transparent planning process, the mayor and the city attorney hammered out a contract that would provide WiFi citywide -- at no cost to residents -- through a historic public-private partnership with EarthLink and Google. With approval from the Board of Supervisors, the service can be up and running before the end of the year.

Now, surprisingly, the proposal faces stiff opposition from a few members of the board. Their rationale for opposing the contract? In due time, the city may -- and I emphasize, "may" -- develop the expertise, technology and resources to build and manage a municipally owned WiFi system. In other words, these supervisors are ignoring the needs of their own constituents in favor of a pipe dream that may or may not come to fruition.

When the public advocacy group, the San Francisco Planning and Urban Research Association, recently analyzed the WiFi issue, it found that Google and EarthLink, both recognized worldwide as leaders in WiFi technology, would likely do a much better job administering a WiFi network than the City of San Francisco. No surprise there.

Mayor Newsom said earlier this year: "This agreement to bring free universal wireless Internet access to San Francisco is a critical step in bridging the digital divide that separates too many communities from the enormous benefits of technology. Ubiquitous WiFi will change how residents access education, social services and economic opportunities ... This will make city government more effective and accountable to the people we serve." I agree.

San Francisco has an unprecedented opportunity to build a new model for Internet access across the country and demonstrate our unique capacity to provide this dynamic and essential technology to all who live here. It is well understood that the Internet will continue to grow as a primary means of communications, education and commerce. Expanding its use will certainly fuel our continued economic competitiveness. San Francisco's controller has confirmed the WiFi proposal will favorably impact the local economy and save consumers between $9 million and $18 million annually.

The terms of the agreement protect users' privacy and security, provide consumer choice through open access, provide revenue to the city and guarantee free basic service to every resident. Not only do we agree, but in a recent San Francisco Chamber of Commerce poll (www.sfchamber.com), city voters, by a margin of almost 3-to-1 said, they support the mayor's proposal.

It's time for San Franciscans to make their voices heard in the corridors of City Hall. Today's hearing will be the first of a series of public hearings on the WiFi proposal. Let the Board of Supervisors know you support free WiFi for all San Franciscans and the negotiated agreement to get the project going today. Stop the politics -- San Franciscans expect and deserve more.

Steve Falk is the president and CEO of the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce.



Indiana reports first sign of West Nile

State reports first sign of West Nile

May 15, 2007

A mosquito pool has tested positive for West Nile in Marion County, the first sign of the virus in the state this year.

"This is the first positive pool of the year, but we'll see many more before the summer is over," said Jim Howell, D.V.M., veterinary epidemiologist, Indiana State Department of Health. "We could see human cases of West Nile virus this year."

West Nile virus is transmitted to humans by mosquitoes that have first bitten an infected bird. A person bitten by an infected mosquito may show symptoms three to 15 days after the bite.

The virus usually results in a mild illness known as West Nile fever, which can cause fever, headache, body aches, swollen lymph glands, or a rash. However, a small number of individuals can develop a more severe form of the disease with encephalitis or meningitis and other neurological syndromes, including flaccid muscle paralysis.

"In previous years, most human cases of West Nile virus were reported between mid-July and mid-September," said Dr. Howell.

Facts and figures regarding the true cost of plastic bags

Facts and figures regarding the true cost of plastic bags

Want to know more about Ireland's wildly successful PlasTax? How about numbers on consumption? Think paper bags are better than plastic bags?...Think again, and be in the know.

Top Facts - Consumption

  • Each year, an estimated 500 billion to 1 trillion plastic bags are consumed worldwide. That comes out to over one million per minute. Billions end up as litter each year.

  • According to the EPA, over 380 billion plastic bags, sacks and wraps are consumed in the U.S. each year.

  • According to The Wall Street Journal, the U.S. goes through 100 billion plastic shopping bags annually. (Estimated cost to retailers is $4 billion)

  • According to the industry publication Modern Plastics, Taiwan consumes 20 billion bags a year—900 per person.

  • According to Australia's Department of Environment, Australians consume 6.9 billion plastic bags each year—326 per person. An estimated .7% or 49,600,000 end up as litter each year.

    Top Facts - Environmental Impact

  • Hundreds of thousands of sea turtles, whales and other marine mammals die every year from eating discarded plastic bags mistaken for food.

  • Plastic bags don't biodegrade, they photodegrade—breaking down into smaller and smaller toxic bits contaminating soil and waterways and entering the food web when animals accidentally ingest.

  • As part of Clean Up Australia Day, in one day nearly 500,000 plastic bags were collected.

  • Windblown plastic bags are so prevalent in Africa that a cottage industry has sprung up harvesting bags and using them to weave hats, and even bags. According to the BBC, one group harvests 30,000 per month.

  • According to David Barnes, a marine scientist with the British Antarctic Survey, plastic bags have gone "from being rare in the late 80s and early 90s to being almost everywhere from Spitsbergen 78° North [latitude] to Falklands 51° South [latitude].

  • Plastic bags are among the 12 items of debris most often found in coastal cleanups, according to the nonprofit Center for Marine Conservation.

    Top Facts - Solutions

  • In 2001, Ireland consumed 1.2 billion plastic bags, or 316 per person. An extremely successful plastic bag consumption tax, or PlasTax, introduced in 2002 reduced consumption by 90%. Approximately 18,000,000 liters of oil have been saved due to this reduced production. Governments around the world are considering implementing similar measures.

  • July 2003, ReusableBags.com goes live, advancing the mainstream adoption of reusable shopping bags.

  • Each high quality reusable shopping bag you use has the potential to eliminate hundreds, if not thousands, of plastic bags over its lifetime.

    Dilbert deserves the economics Nobel

    'Dilbert' deserves the economics Nobel
    'Unified Theory of Everything Financial' wins in parallel universe

    LOS ANGELES (MarketWatch) -- OK, so Dilbert didn't win the Nobel Prize in economics this year. There's always next year, right? Or perhaps a parallel universe? You may wonder whether Dilbert and his creator, cartoonist Scott Adams, have any chance, but since the Nobel committee's records are sealed for 50 years our imagination runs free.
    We know creativity and science share much in common. Both science and art begin with what-ifs, unproven ideas about unknown realities, dreams of the future before it unfolds. And often all it takes is a small, simple "key" such as "E=mc2" to unlock the door.
    In fact, we saw proof last week as Nobel prizes were awarded for simple dreams unlocking great truths: in physics, revelations about cosmic radiation before the Big Bang; in medicine, the genetic flow of information; in chemistry, cell production of proteins.
    This year, we were rooting for Adams. His simple formula reminds us of how, after being awarded the Nobel Prize, Albert Einstein spent his entire life searching for the "Unified Theory of Everything." It eluded him. Adams, on the other hand, did discover a "Unified Theory of Everything Financial," which deserves a prize.
    Adams' formula was originally published in "Dilbert and the Way of the Weasels" at virtually the same time Princeton psychologist Daniel Kahneman was awarded the 2002 Nobel Prize. You will recall that Kahneman destroyed Wall Street's historic theory of the "rational investor." Dilbert made a complementary discovery, defining a weasel as "anyone trying to get away with something," thus explaining two centuries of psychological behavior on Wall Street where weasels have been misleading Americans with the false theory that investors are rational.
    'Unified Theory of Everything Financial'
    Quietly hidden in Adams' groundbreaking work is a financial formula so simple it rivals Einstein's E=mc2. In its original form Adams' formula was apparently so heretical and so explosive that no major house would touch it when he proposed publishing it as a one-page book. After initial rejections, he announced sadly that "if God materialized on earth and wrote the secret of the universe on one page, he wouldn't be able to find a publisher" either.
    Fortunately for America's 95 million investors, Adams' secret nine-point formula was finally revealed in "Dilbert and the Way of the Weasels." Notice its simple brilliance in the exact reproduction of his formula:
    1. Make a will
    2. Pay off your credit cards
    3. Get term life insurance if you have a family to support
    4. Fund your 401k to the maximum
    5. Fund your IRA to the maximum
    6. Buy a house if you want to live in a house and can afford it
    7. Put six months worth of expenses in a money-market account
    8. Take whatever money is left over and invest 70% in a stock index fund and 30% in a bond fund through any discount broker and never touch it until retirement
    9. If any of this confuses you, or you have something special going on (retirement, college planning, tax issues), hire a fee-based financial planner, not one who charges a percentage of your portfolio
    Adams boldly states that this is "everything you need to know about personal investing." In just 129 words, nine simple points, one page you have the unabridged "Unified Theory of Everything Financial." That's it. Everything!
    Thanks to Adams' formula, the average irrational investor can ignore Wall Street: "Everything else you may want to do with your money is a bad idea compared to what's on my one-page summary. You want an annuity? It's worse. You want a whole life insurance policy? It's worse. You want to invest in individual stocks? It's worse. You want a managed mutual fund instead of an index fund? It's worse. I could go on, but you get the point."
    Check the bottom line: A portfolio with an asset allocation of 70% in Vanguard's Total Stock Market Index (VTSMX, VBMFX ) is doing just fine, performing remarkably close to the S&P 500 index. Moreover, that simple two-fund portfolio is perfect for the vast majority of America's 95 million investors who are passive much as Adam's Dilbert character.
    The truth is, most investors have little or no interest in Wall Street's casino action; all the time-consuming research, the sophisticated stock-picking tricks, the costly trading necessary to play in a market drowning in 10,000 stocks, 18,000 funds and more than 100,000 bonds. Most investors have jobs and kids as their top priority. Moreover, Dilbert's simple two-fund portfolio compares favorably with our other lazy portfolios.
    Prize winners in parallel worlds
    Folks, before you dismiss the idea of Adams winning the Nobel Prize in economics, please remember, there is precedent: Back in 2002 the Nobel committee ignored the usual suspects and picked a psychologist. So there's hope that sometime in the future a brilliant humorist can also one-up all the pedigreed pundits in this "dismal science."
    Adams predicted that "someday an economist will win the Nobel Prize for discovering the exact dollar-per-weasel equation that explains our world." But it's now obvious that he's already done much more! Adam's formula would eliminate thousands of weasels from Wall Street, vastly improving the efficiency of America's financial markets, while his "Unified Theory" would improve the wealth-building power of all investors.
    If you want more information on how you and your kids can win the prize, please read 1989 winner Michael Bishop's "How to Win the Nobel Prize." The good doctor innocently calls himself an "accidental scientist." Also read "The Beginner's Guide to Winning the Nobel Prize" by 1996 winner Peter Doherty, an Australian veterinarian who says the winners come rather unpredictably from "unlikely backgrounds, one-room schoolhouses and concentration camps," yet all have one thing in common, a "fire in the belly."
    One final word: Remember that we all live in parallel worlds -- in politics and religion, in art and science, in our dreams and in reality -- where nothing is ever impossible, where you can achieve your wildest dreams, where your investments succeed simply by using simple formulas and by living with "fire-in-your-belly."
    In that world, Scott Adams, Dilbert, you and I can all win a Nobel Prize in "Everything Financial!"

    Monday, May 14, 2007

    CDFI Award Name suggestion...

    Open-source software infringes on its patents says Microsoft

    Open-source software infringes on its patents says Microsoft

    The love-hate relationship between Windows users and Linux users has existed for many years. Advocates for free open-source software feel the open-source industry develops and improves software an order of magnitude greater than anything Microsoft can dish out. The Redmond, Washington-based software giant feels otherwise, claiming that free software curbs innovation and progress.

    Innovation and progress is precisely what Microsoft aims to protect, and it does so using patents. Patents are the life blood of the software industry, and if patents did not exist then innovation would not progress the way it has been, according to Microsoft.

    In light of that, Microsoft now claims Linux and many other open source software infringe on its patents -- a lot of them. Microsoft claims it has the right to demand royalties from Linux distributions and essentially users of Linux. In an interview with Fortune, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer clearly indicates he is all for supporting the protection of intellectual property.

    "We live in a world where we honor, and support the honoring of, intellectual property. [The open source community will have to] play by the same rules as the rest of the business. What's fair is fair," Ballmer said.

    Brad Smith, senior vice president and general council to Microsoft, said patents are required in this day and age to protect innovation. Smith and the rest of Microsoft believe that without patents, ideas and methods of doing things would often be stolen. In fact, according to Smith, the Linux kernel itself violates 42 Microsoft patents. Worst yet, Linux graphical interfaces such as KDE violate another 65 patents.

    Microsoft doesn't stop at Linux. Open Office and other free e-mail applications are infringing on a total of 60 patents, Smith said. According to Smith, Microsoft is like any other company trying to protect its property and rights.

    "Companies are very sensitive to the importance of protecting intellectual property because ultimately they know that their own businesses similarly turn on [such] protection," Smith said.

    Microsoft wants to strike a deal -- a deal with those developing and distributing Linux and other vendors of free software. The deal Microsoft wants is simple: pay up.

    Novell, the propagator of the widely popular SUSE Linux already rolls dice according to Microsoft's rules. The Linux advocator recently entered into a complex deal with Microsoft over Linux patent violations. According to the deal, Microsoft and Novell agreed not to sue each other's customers, because if Novell tried to sue Microsoft it would then violate terms of the General Public License (GPL) -- the foundation on which all open-source software is based on.

    Based on the terms that both companies came up with, Novell agreed to pay Microsoft a percentage of all its Linux revenue until the year 2011. However, Microsoft too ended up paying Novell over $108 million and another $240 million in resalable coupons. Judging from the fact that Microsoft ended up paying Novell more than it received, it would appear that open-software and Linux was one-up on the software giant.

    According to open-software experts Microsoft is the real winner. The deal with Novell allows Microsoft to go out and demonstrate it is correct about Linux violating Microsoft patents, since Novell agreed to pay $40 million not to have its Linux customers sued for violations.

    Industry insiders are now weary of what may come of Microsoft's experts. If Microsoft convinces the patent system that it is right, the open-source industry could face potential meltdown. Eben Moglen, executive director of the Software Freedom Law Center says a massive war is about to be waged on the patent battlefield.

    "Patent law's going to be the terrain on which a big piece of the war's going to be fought. Waterloo is here somewhere," Moglen said.