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Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Inner city needs more public washrooms: pastor

Rev. James Holland hopes these signs will draw attention to the problem of public defecation in Edmonton's inner-city area. (Tim Adams/CBC)

Homeless people need a place to use the washroom, the pastor of an inner-city church says, and he is launching a sign campaign to send that message to Edmonton city council.

Rev. James Holland said he often finds human excrement on and around the grounds of his Sacred Heart Church of First Peoples in the McCauley neighborhood.

It's frustrating, but its hard to blame people, he said. The only public washroom in the area isn't open in the winter.

"There is a tremendous need for people to have a place to go to the bathroom," he said.

Holland has cleaned up as much as five piles of human waste in one day, and last summer, he decided he had enough.

He put up large, professionally-made signs that read "No bodily functions", which featured a drawing of a squatting person with an "x" over it.

However, the city's parks department took the signs down, after someone complained about them being offensive.

Holland admits there is a bylaw against putting up signs without permission from the city, but there are also bylaws against public urination and defecation which are not being enforced, he said.

After some wrangling with city hall, Holland put his signs back up again. The city has now agreed to leave them there "until the community decides we don't have a need for them," he said.

Holland is now having signs made for people in the community who want them. He also has support from the McCauley Community League.

Holland said he is motivated by concerns about the health and safety of children who live in the area.

"It's certainly not healthy for our children to have broken glass and human waste laying around in the park," he said.

The city will look at the question of whether Edmonton should build more public washrooms on Tuesday.

A report prepared for council notes there are very few public washrooms in central Edmonton.

Vandalism, dirty washrooms, and the problem of facilities being used for drug use and prostitution have been identified as potential issues that will need to be dealt with.

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Tampa's adults-only businesses hope to cash in on Super Bowl

By Susan Thurston, Times Staff Writer

As the Super Bowl approaches, dancers at clubs such as Deja Vu in Tampa hope to draw big crowds and make big bucks.

TAMPA — Mons Venus strip club dancer Bernie Notte knows the cash a Super Bowl can bring. It flew at her like confetti during Tampa's 2001 game. She earned $6,000 in four days.

She danced so much that her feet bled. Customers didn't flinch at paying $100 for a $25 lap dance.

"It was crazy,'' she said. "Money was everywhere.''

Notte, 43, packed up her stilettos seven months ago to wait tables at the Mons. But the lure of Super Bowl XLIII tickled her toes.

She's headed back to the pole.

The Super Bowl is a command performance for a city defined, in part, by its international reputation for lap dancing. Tampa has 30 licensed adult dance clubs, adult theaters, live model studios and adult bookstores on record at City Hall. That's roughly 1 per 11,300 residents, among the highest rates nationwide.

The infamous adults-only scene gives Tampa part of its luster, some say.

"I don't think it's a stretch to say that the adult entertainment industry helps us get things like the Super Bowl,'' said Paul Allen, publisher of NightMoves magazine, one of the oldest adult club publications in the country.

NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy scoffed at that.

"That's ridiculous," he said.

But come next week, expect a steady stream of out-of-towners lined up outside a small, shoebox-shaped building on Dale Mabry Highway, in the shadow of Raymond James Stadium.

Each will pay a cover charge of maybe $60, up from the normal $20, though Mons Venus owner Joe Redner says demand will dictate price.

Inside, five or six dancers at a time gyrate around a pole, catching cash as it flies at them. A jukebox blares. Customers sip water, soda or juice — no alcohol at Tampa's all-nude clubs — until a spot opens on padded benches along the club perimeter.

Technically, lap dancing is illegal in Tampa. Technically, nude dancers are supposed to stay 6 feet away from customers.

"People need to be aware of the laws that apply," warns Tampa police spokeswoman Laura McElroy.

Redner will keep the Mons open around the clock all week, closing it only for housekeeping. (Now and then, someone must polish the pole.)

Longer hours require more dancers. Weeks ago, the Mons started getting calls from out-of-town women wanting work.

"We tell them to come on down, and we'll take a look at them," said Redner, who often drops by the club to say hello, slap a butt or get a hug or two. "If we have extras, we'll send them to other clubs. We take the cream of the crop.''

Dozens will simply appear at the door, ready to go on stage.

Local dancers, told to welcome the carpetbaggers, will do so, hoping Super Bowl brings riches to share.

But the weak economy looms large. Redner said business is half of what it was two years ago. Lorry Kasner, a manager who danced at the Mons during the 2001 Super Bowl, warns that girls may have to work more hours to bring in the same tips.

"I think the money is still going to be there, but it's just not going to be as easy,'' said Kasner, 43.

They'll know better Wednesday, when the first flights of fans arrive. Last time, the surge continued a day after the game, sustained when customers stopped by for parting gazes on the drive to nearby Tampa International Airport.

Nichole Romagna, a.k.a. Nakita Kash, started thinking about the Super Bowl months ago. A pole dancing instructor who appeared on NBC's America's Got Talent, she posted ads on Craigslist seeking strippers to work Super Bowl week.

They had to get to town on their own dime and then try out. She promised to set them up at clubs during game week and find them places to stay.

About two dozen tried out, including one who Romagna said is a student at Dartmouth College. The dancer said she wanted to "get away" and didn't care how much money she made. She brought a suitcase full of makeup, 6-inch heels and high hopes.

In the end, she decided not to come back for game week. But six others start arriving Tuesday.

They will come from as far away as Washington state and California, Romagna said. They'll perform at the Tampa Gold Club and at Mermaids in St. Pete Beach, both of which reduced the dancers' house fee. Clubs typically will charge dancers $100 to $150 just to walk through the door.

Escort services also hope for a profitable week. Scott Outland, a manager for Florida's Hottest Escorts, said he's optimistic.

"I heard that there are unbelievable amounts of money to be made,'' he said. "But I'm holding my breath that it will be that good.''

His service charges $250 an hour but offers a 10 percent discount for Super Bowl clients. An overnight package goes for $1,800.

He said one customer who will arrive Sunday hired an escort for seven days straight at a cost of $24,000. His company's cut: half. The customer hinted that he might take the escort to the game.

Outland insists that his six escorts provide companionship only.

"It's all legitimate,'' Outland said. "All my girls sign a seven-page contract saying they won't do anything illegal."

Tampa police say they'll keep an eye on adult businesses, although keeping the public safe will take priority. This is Tampa's first Super Bowl since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, and security will be extra tight.

Two women have already landed in jail on prostitution charges, arrested Jan. 16 near Raymond James Stadium. They told police they were in town for the Super Bowl. One listed her employer as the Moonlite BunnyRanch, a Nevada brothel.

Before Tampa's last big game, the National Football League warned players to avoid adult clubs. The city had been cracking down on lap dancing, most visibly with the arrests of two National Hockey League players.

This year? No memo.

"People figured out that lap dances do not advance the decline of western civilization,'' interprets Luke Lirot, Redner's attorney.

So, the party will go on.

Dancers will put on their Lucite heels, naughty smiles and little else for what may be the most lucrative days of their careers.

Tiffany Schrader will dance as long as her legs allow.

The 26-year-old from Clearwater joined the Mons Venus crew a few months after the last Super Bowl.

She has heard all the stories, and game week can't come fast enough.

"I'm not going home for a few days,'' she said. "I'll stop when it's over.''

Susan Thurston can be reached at sthurston@tampabay.com or (813) 225-3110. Times researcher John Martin contributed to this report.

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First the Affair, Then Paternity Test, Then Abortion?

By AMMU KANNAMPILLY

The illegal use of DNA testing to determine the sex of fetuses in the developing world is widely known, but now, concern is growing in the United Kingdom that the availability of prenatal paternity tests is encouraging women to terminate fetuses that are the result of extramarital affairs.

Photo:  First comes the paternity test, then comes abortion?
The illegal use of DNA testing to determine the sex of foetuses in the developing world is widely... Expand
(ABC News Photo Illustration)

According to Dan Leigh, the marketing director with DNA Solutions, a global DNA test firm with offices in 40 countries, the number of women opting for the prenatal paternity test shot up from 20 in 2002 to 500 last year.

"The testing technology has improved vastly," Leigh told ABC News. "It's become much more accessible."

"It's fairly common to see women take this test after their husbands have found out about an affair and want to know if they have fathered the child their wife is carrying," Leigh said.

"But 75 percent of the cases involve women coming in of their own volition; they want to know whose child they are carrying," he said.

As for the concerns over women terminating their pregnancies as a result of the tests, Leigh demurred, saying that "there are no statistics to support that, but it [abortion] happens when the husband turns out not to be the biological father."

"It's a sad situation," he said. "It often ends either in divorce or the husband insists on terminating the pregnancy."

The company encourages women who apply to take the prenatal paternity test to also see a therapist. But, although 90 percent of the company's U.S. customers consult with a therapist, only 20 percent of its U.K. clients do, because "the idea of seeing a counselor is just not popular in this country," Leigh said.

And, despite criticism from anti-abortion rights organizations, Leigh insisted that DNA Solutions does "not encourage abortion or termination of pregnancies."

"We are offering the chance to clarify the truth," he said.

"Frankly," he said, "the risk to a baby from an amniocentesis is a much bigger concern for us, and we are working on being able to conduct the test using a blood sample from the mother's arm instead, find a noninvasive way of doing it."

Anti-abortion rights campaigners like Josephine Quintavalle, director of Comment on Reproductive Ethics, dismiss such concerns, saying that, "unless you are conducting a test to help a baby -- for health reasons, say -- there is no significant reason to carry out any procedure that might hurt a baby."

"I don't think we should condone any form of testing that might lead to either sex selection or termination of the fetus," she said.

But the boom in prenatal paternity testing may be a mirage, according to other DNA testing organizations.

Mark Pursglove, the international operations manager for the U.K.-based International Biosciences, said that his company performed "about one or two tests a month" and that the paternity tests were not necessarily tied to adultery.

"Last year," he said, "two of the cases we dealt with involved rape victims who wanted to find out if they were carrying the rapist's babies."

The supposed popularity of these tests has been overstated, he said.

"The process costs between £800-£900 [$1,133-$1,274]," he said. In contrast, DNA Solutions offers tests beginning at $332.

Pursglove said that "the clinics we use for the test won't take up a case if they believe that a termination might be the result."

Furthermore, all clients must "speak to a gynecologist, an obstetrician or a general practitioner before the test is carried out."

Although the company forbids any "gender inquiries about the fetus," unless the person or couple involved explicitly discusses the possibility of termination, the company goes ahead with the test, Pursglove said.

But the expectation of total honesty from a woman caught in such a sensitive situation may just be too high, according to some.

And many anti-abortion rights campaigners believe the chances are slim that anyone would undergo a risky test costing hundreds of dollars without any intention to terminate the pregnancy in case the test turns up a disturbing result.

As this testing technology becomes more sophisticated and more accessible, however, it's likely that paternity tests will only become more commonplace, even as the battle to hammer out an ethical stance on the matter shows no signs of letting up.

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How to survive Casa Bonita, the world's weirdest Mexican restaurant

Casa_Bonita.jpg
I recently visited Casa Bonita for the first time, and I'm still trying to recover. No, that's not an indigestion joke about the food, sub-par as it may be. Actually, my mind was blown in a good way. As I'd been told, there's no easy way to describe the Lakewood institution, which bills itself as "The World's Most Exciting Restaurant" - a pronouncement that very well might be true. The multi-story, Mexican-themed behemoth includes a 30-foot-tall waterfall, cliff divers, fire jugglers, strolling mariachi bands, a pirate cave, magicians, puppet shows, skee-ball machines... you get the idea. As one of my colleagues put it, it's like Disney had sex with Tijuana and left the goofy-looking bastard to fend for itself in a random strip mall on Colfax.
I loved every insane second of our trip there - except for the fact that I felt like those kids in the movie SpaceCamp who were accidentally launched into space and had no fucking idea what the hell to do. There was just way too much stuff going on at Casa Bonita and no helpful little robot named Jinx (yes, that's a second SpaceCamp reference) to help me figure it all out.

With that in mind, we here at Westword decided, as a community service, to create a Casa Bonita survivor's guide. Follow these rules and you'll have a hell of a time -- who knows, you may even live to eat again.

1) Do your research. There's no way to fully prepare for the sensory-overload experience that is Casa Bonita, but a good first step would be to watch Trey Parker and Matt Stone's South Park documentary about the place. We're using the term "documentary" because while every other South Park episode features bizarre characters and outlandish scenarios, the actual Casa Bonita is so ridiculous they just slapped it into the show looking exactly how it looks in real life. We're also pretty sure children really have been willing to kill others for a chance to go to the restaurant, so Cartman's attempt to kill Butters so he can take his place at a party there is completely factual. And finally, just like Cartman, chances are you will end up running around Casa Bonita like a crack addict, all the while singing the song, "Casa Bonita! Casa Bonita! Food and fun in a festive atmosphere!"

2) Order the taco salad. As everyone knows, you don't go to Casa Bonita for the food -- and that's even if you ignore all those rumors about piles of empty cat food cans in the kitchen. Unfortunately, they make you order a full meal to get in the door, but it's best to just write that off as the admission fee. A good strategy is to not eat any of your $12 meal and make sure you have at least $12 worth of fun while you're there (or make sure you have $8 worth of fun and eat at least $4 worth of sopapillas). Or, if you really need some sustenance, take it from us and order the taco salad. Unlike every other option on the menu, the "mystery meat" with this entree comes on the side, so you can eat your salad without wondering too much about cat food. Sure, it's the worst taco salad you will ever eat, but finding a way to make a taco salad this bad is sort of an achievement in itself, and we're all about giving credit where credit is due.

3) Don't go for the fried ice cream. This is where they get you. Right after you've ordered your taco salad, the server will undoubtedly ask, "Would you like fried ice cream with that?" And that's just not fair. Any time someone asks you to partake in something that involves ice cream and deep-frying, the innate human response is to heartily acquiesce. We can't help it; the response involves the same part of our reptilian brain that takes over whenever we hear the words "open" and "bar" in the same sentence. But fight this urge you must, because already waiting for you at the end of your lousy meal is the dessert to end all desserts - something even better than fried ice cream: Casa Bonita's sopapillas. You have to wonder how these powdery pillows of goodness could come from the same kitchen that manages to screw up cheese quesadillas. And did we mention they're free? In other words, the fried ice cream is for suckers.

4) Demand a table by the waterfall. Casa Bonita employees are like the Navy SEALS of waitstaff. The place is a well-oiled machine, a perfectly calibrated cadre of maître d's, busboys and margarita servers, so it's only natural not to complain when they sit you in the mine shaft or spooky forest or some other forlorn corner far away from all the action; they seem to know best. But stand strong. You came here for the flame-juggling, the cliff-diving, the inappropriate shenanigans involving make-believe natives and a guy in a gorilla suit, damn it, and you're not going to take anything less than a table by the waterfall, where all the good shit goes down. Yes, they'll make you wait a bit for a table to open up, but since you've already been waiting in line for an hour, a few more minutes won't hurt.

5) Order beer by the bucket. Just like how characters in The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy need to eat lots of peanuts to make up for the salt and protein they lose from going through matter transference beams, your best chance of making it out of Casa Bonita without losing too much sanity in the process is to drink beer. Lots of it. Unless, of course, you already dropped acid in the parking lot.

6) Don't tip the strolling mariachis. These guys may seem cute in their adorable wide-brimmed hats, but really they're as single-minded and debilitating as suckerfish. Slip 'em a greenback and they'll never leave your side until you're hemorrhaging dollars to their merciless, unending tunes. Then again, maybe it's worth the dough to have your own Mexican theme music wherever you wander, especially if the musicians take requests. It would be pretty sweet to stroll by some hotties as your personal band plays a mariachi version of the theme from Shaft. Better yet, convince them to perform the Benny Hill Show music while you get chased around by the guy in the Chiquita the angry Gorilla suit.

7) Avoid Black Bart's Cave. Of course you want to make the most of your time at Casa Bonita. By all means check out the puppet show, the magician, the arcades and everything else. But whatever you do, avoid Black Bart's Cave. That place is scary - and we're not referring to the stupid cackling, glowing plastic skull on the wall. We're referring to what gets left all over the cave when the ten-year-old who's had one too many tacos loses his shit because of the stupid cackling, glowing plastic skull on the wall. Take it from us: You don't want to go home smelling like the curse of Black Bart.

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The Dish: The Baskin Robbins Chocolate Oreo Milkshake, the "Worst Food" in America

By Ian Froeb

oreo012309.jpg


Men's Health magazine has released its annual "Worst Foods" list. Scoring the top spot as the absolute worst food in the country? A large Chocolate Oreo Shake from Baskin Robbins. This bad boy has 2,600 calories, 135 grams of fat (59 of which are saturated), 263 grams of sugar and 1,700 milligrams of sodium.

And now it sits on my desk, taunting me.

Now, I don't blame Baskin Robbins for selling this. No one's forcing you to buy a Chocolate Oreo Shake in any size, let alone large -- unless you're a food blogger desperate for content on Friday, that is. Frankly, I bet Baskin Robbins will sell more of these now that Men's Health has declared it the country's "worst food" than it ever did before. I mean, I never would have thought to buy one.

It's hard to say just how much ice cream goes into this thing. The man who made mine used four or five GIANT scoops of ice cream. It wasn't mixed using the store's traditional milkshake mixer but rather in a blender, which was placed inside a contraption that looked like a blast shield. I guess that many calories spun at a high rate speed have the potential for an explosion.

Ironically, for all those calories, the Chocolate Oreo Shake's texture is kinda thin. It certainly lacks the lung-draining thickness of a classic soda-fountain shake. And all that crumbled up cookie gives it a grainy feel. A colleague astutely compared it to a protein smoothie loaded with whey powder.

The most unappetizing part -- assuming, for a second, that you somehow didn't know it was a heart attack in a plastic cup -- has to be the color. The same colleague and I just had this exchange:

Colleague: "It looks blueberry-flavored. You expect there to be berries."

Me: "It looks Dockers flavored. It's khaki."

No, I didn't eat the whole thing. In fact, three or four sips were more than enough. Those had to be 200-300 calories by themselves. Too bad we retired Keep It Down.

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John Updike dies

Helen Pidd

John Updike

John Updike. Photograph: Eamonn McCabe

John Updike, the great chronicler of sex and divorce among ordinary people in postwar America, died this morning, aged 76.

A prolific novelist, short-story writer, poet and critic, Updike's most famous works include The Witches of Eastwick, and his quartet of novels about the life of Harry "Rabbit" Angstrom. Two of the Rabbit books won the Pulitzer prize for fiction - first Rabbit is Rich, in 1981, and then Rabbit at Rest, in 1991.

Updike's death was announced by Nicholas Latimer of Alfred A Knopf, his publisher. "It is with great sadness that I report that John Updike died this morning at the age of 76, after a battle with lung cancer. He was one of our greatest writers, and he will be sorely missed," said Latimer in a statement.

A literary writer who frequently appeared on bestseller lists, the tall, hawk-nosed Updike wrote novels, short stories, poems, criticism, the memoir Self-Consciousness and even a famous essay about baseball great Ted Williams. He was prolific, even compulsive, publishing more than 50 books in a career that started in the 1950s. Updike won virtually every literary prize going; only the Nobel eluded him. To compensate, he awarded it to one of his fictional characters, Henry Bech, the womanising, egotistical Jewish novelist who featured in a number of his works.

Updike was famous for his depiction of sex; in November 2008, he won a lifetime achievement award at the Literary Review's annual Bad Sex in Fiction award, which celebrates "crude, tasteless or ridiculous sexual passages in modern literature".

Born in 1932 in Shillington, a small town in Pennsylvania, Updike spoke for millions of Depression-era readers raised by "penny-pinching parents", united by "the patriotic cohesion of world war two" and blessed by a "disproportionate share of the world's resources", and America's postwar, suburban boom of "idealistic careers and early marriages".

He captured, and sometimes embodied, a generation's confusion over the civil rights and women's movements, and opposition to the Vietnam war. Updike was called a misogynist, a racist and an apologist for the establishment. On purely literary grounds, he was attacked by Norman Mailer as the kind of author appreciated by readers who knew nothing about writing.

More often he was praised for his flowing, poetic writing style. Describing a man's interrupted quest to make love, Updike likened it "to a small angel to which all afternoon tiny lead weights are attached". Nothing was too great or too small for Updike to poeticise. He might rhapsodise over the film projector's "chuckling whir" or look to the stars and observe that "the universe is perfectly transparent: we exist as flaws in ancient glass."

A tall, shy, priggish boy as a teenager, Updike found his greatest pleasure in drawing and writing. He was an accomplished cartoonist and hoped to work as an animator for Walt Disney. He wrote regularly for his high school newspaper, and won a scholarship to read English at Harvard.

He graduated in 1954, and spent a year in Oxford studying at the Ruskin School of Drawing and Fine Art. From 1955 to 1957 he was a member of staff at the New Yorker. In 1957, he left New York, with its "cultural hassle" and melting pot of "agents and wisenheimers", and settled with his first wife and four children in Ipswich, Massachusetts, a "rather out-of-the-way town" about 30 miles north of Boston.

"The real America seemed to me 'out there', too heterogeneous and electrified by now to pose much threat of the provinciality that people used to come to New York to escape," Updike later wrote.

"There were also practical attractions: free parking for my car, public education for my children, a beach to tan my skin on, a church to attend without seeming too strange."

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The Hidden State of Culture

See Corrections & Amplifications below

New Jersey is America's secret treasure-house of culture.

If that strikes you as a proposition out of an absurdist play, consider a sampling of the gifted figures who have either come from Jersey or made a home there: Bruce Springsteen (N.J.'s state songbird); Frank Sinatra, Frankie Valli; Walt Whitman, William Carlos Williams, Allen Ginsberg; the painters George Inness and John Marin; the photographer Alfred Stieglitz; Stephen Crane, Philip Roth, Junot Díaz; and David Chase, creator of "The Sopranos."

California? Too much fantasy, too much hazardous sunlight and too much obsession with software and hard bodies. New York City? Too much reality, too little sunlight and too much obsession, period. Everywhere in between? Riches, to be sure, but no place has New Jersey's tightly packed diversity, its quick changes from urban to country, from mountains to coast, from gritty to gorgeous.

Of course, think "New Jersey" and cultural epicenter doesn't immediately spring to mind. Instead, the name summons up unsparing caricature: grime, gangsters, pollution, ugly highways, Byzantine shopping malls, Saharan parking lots and a level of culture somewhere between troglodyte and troll.

Even the nickname "Garden State" seems to be something like a defensive reaction meant to fend off ridicule. In 1954, when the state legislature passed a bill adding the sobriquet to license plates, garbage disposal had long been a crisis in Jersey. Not only did the tiny state lack sufficient space for discarding its waste, but it had become a dumping-ground for garbage from other states. Gov. Robert Meyner vetoed the bill, writing, "I do not believe that the average citizen of New Jersey regards his state as more peculiarly identifiable with gardening for farming than any of its other industries or occupations." The state legislature promptly overrode his veto, and the rest is license-plate history.

New Jersey's small size has a lot to do with both its much-inflated deficiencies and its virtues. A lot is packed into limited territory. Urban squalor is squeezed up against dairy farms; picturesque villages right out of a New England landscape are a sneeze away from sulfurous factories and malodorous highways. For a lot of people, caricature of the state's deficiencies is an efficient way to reduce its multifaceted nature to a clear meaning.

[representatives of the garden state] Everett Collection (Cruise, Suburbia); Getty Images (15)
[jersey key]

Representatives of the Garden State: 1. James Gandolfini in 'The Sopranos' 2. William Carlos Williams 3. Philip Roth 4. Giovanni Ribisi of the movie 'SubUrbia' 5. Walt Whitman 6. writer Amiri Baraka 7, 8. Steven Van Zandt and Tony Sirico in 'The Sopranos' 9. Bruce Springsteen 10. Jack Nicholson 11. Allen Ginsberg 12, 13. Aaron Burr and Alexander Hamilton 14. Frank Sinatra 15. writer- performer Eric Bogosian, whose 'SubUrbia' is set in New Jersey 16. Tom Cruise 17, 18. Steve Zahn and director Richard Linklater of 'SubUrbia' 19. writer-director Todd Solondz

The jumble of contrasts is, on the contrary, the source of Jersey's remarkable harvest of talent. It drives certain people to either build a unified artistic sensibility out of the divisions around them, or to create art unhindered by a narrow identity.

At the same time, you can refine Jersey's countless dimensions into two polarized elements: industrial and pastoral. The struggle for dominance between them is at the heart of the American drama -- the Civil War, for example, or the urban/agrarian friction that has shaped the schism between liberal and conservative to this day. It could be that Jersey is so representative of America's original strife that dismissing the state as a crude and unlovely place is a good way to sweep certain national anxieties under the rug.

But New Jersey's fractured personality is the very reason for its (hidden) cultural preeminence. After all, no less than one-fifth of this heavily industrialized and densely populated state is taken up by the Pine Barrens, a gigantic primeval forest of pine and oak buried like the unconscious in southern Jersey. Even in Newark's black ghetto, the young writer Leroi Jones (Amiri Baraka) could imagine that "the invisible mountains of New Jersey linger where I was born." Paul Robeson -- Phi Beta Kappa scholar, athlete, law-school graduate, actor, singer -- might not have thrived in a less faceted place.

Then, too, there is the particular way Jersey is positioned next to New York. Unlike Long Island and Connecticut, from where you have to drive through New York City's boroughs or Westchester to get to Manhattan, you go from Jersey straight into the glittering towers of Gotham, which confront you dramatically no matter what approach you take from the Garden State. For New Jerseyans, Gotham exists as ever-present aspiration, temptation and either haunting or competitive contrast. That could be why you find Queen Latifah's wild, river-spanning energy in Philip Roth's antic intensity and vice versa. And perhaps why Dionne Warwick sings "Promises, Promises" with such robust pathos. "Things that I promised myself fell apart..."

So why all the antipathy toward a place that is also the first colony to ratify the Bill of Rights, that contains numerous beautiful towns and villages, that boasts an ocean, mountains and a vast forest among its natural wonders, and that has more horses per square mile than any other state?

The glee that New Yorkers take in belittling their neighbors to the west is especially energetic. There are two reasons for this. First, people living in New York City are convinced that without New Jersey blocking their view, they would be able to see the rest of the country. Second, New Jerseyan Aaron Burr killed New Yorker Alexander Hamilton in a duel, the tragic consequence of negative remarks that Hamilton made behind Burr's back at a dinner party (probably something like: "Burr, that moron from New Jersey"). That Hamilton was gunned down on a Weehawken, N.J., cliff overlooking Manhattan's spectacular streets -- and not, say, on Fifth Avenue -- only added insult to injury. New Yorkers have a long memory.

But these local grievances do not explain why New Jersey's worth eludes the rest of the country. Angus Kress Gillespie, a professor of American Studies at Rutgers University, accounts for the national scorn in two words: "The Turnpike."

The New Jersey Turnpike, that is, a 148-mile, 4- to 12-lane monstrosity that snakes from the state's southeast corner north to the George Washington Bridge through some of the meanest terrain in the civilized world: macadam deserts; belching smokestacks that make Gary, Ind., look like a Scottish pasture; trucks roaring on every side of you as though you were strapped to the bottom of a Boeing 737 during takeoff; strip malls that go on and on like the laughter of a lunatic.

Because it is the very essence of America's ugly industrialized and commercialized underside, the New Jersey Turnpike has impressed itself on the national imagination more than any other element of the Garden State. Bruce Springsteen's genius has been precisely to take that negative image and infuse it with positive energy.

"Springsteen has made the Turnpike's blighted landscape a source of almost cinematic drama," said Jim Cullen, the author of "Born in the USA: Bruce Springsteen and the American Tradition." "He transformed it into the vivid setting of riveting journeys that finally matter more than the city glimmering across the Hudson."

Springsteen's isn't the only artistic vision that has drawn a universal meaning out of the Garden State's more sordid particulars. Mr. Chase, the genius behind "The Sopranos," chose Essex County as the setting for his extraordinary tale of lust, greed, vanity and pride among a group of small-time gangsters, thus bestowing on the third state the mythic timelessness that Thomas Hardy once conferred upon the English heath.

Mr. Chase himself was born in Mount Vernon, N.Y., and grew up in two New Jersey towns including North Caldwell, N.J., the very environs where Tony Soprano and his colleagues live and do business. As a child during the late '40s and early '50s, he made regular car trips with his family to visit his grandmother in Westchester. To his young eyes, New Jersey's half industrial, half naturally wild landscape was "a magical vision of a huge mystery," he said. Gazing out at it, he was "completely transfixed."

The mystery was, specifically, the Meadowlands, a 28-square-mile swath of marshland in northeastern New Jersey, a stone's throw from Manhattan. At the time when Mr. Chase ogled it from the backseat of his family's car, the teeming swamp had not yet become the giant landfill it is today. Industrialized pockets vied for space with rivers, rushes and wildlife. Even as a teenager, taking the bus into the city to film school from his parents' home in North Caldwell, Mr. Chase remembers looking out over the "rivers like glass, the miles after miles of reeds in the water, and the factories" and thinking, "this is America, strong and big. The brute beauty of the factories, the winking airports, made me feel alive."

Call this sense of enchantment an outgrowth of the "Parkway," as opposed to the "Turnpike," dimension of the state.

The Garden State Parkway, that is, a 173-mile meandering highway stretching from the southernmost tip of New Jersey at its coastline to its northern border with New York state -- a winding road with capacious lanes; a broad, verdant, tree-filled island running down (much of) its middle; wooded boundaries; limited entrances to prevent congestion; bans on trucks, billboards and any kind of commerce along its way; gentle curves designed to keep drivers from being lulled to sleep; and -- naturally, in the home state of Sinatra and Springsteen -- "singing shoulders" that make the wheels rumble if a drowsy motorist starts to drift from the road.

The Garden State Parkway is something like the fulfillment of the modern dream of harmony between nature and technology -- where rivers like glass meet winking airports. If the car is one big part of America's soul -- Springsteen: "The girls comb their hair in rearview mirrors/And the boys try to look so hard" -- then the Turnpike and the Parkway reflect two basic aspects of American existence: our unflinching approach to the practical facts of life, and our irrepressible romantic tendency to try to transform them.

In his epic poem, "Paterson," William Carlos Williams spoke for the factual Turnpike when he famously wrote: "No ideas but in things." Williams' fellow Patersonian and disciple, the Parkway mystic Allen Ginsberg, took the side of Parkway romanticism when he referred in his epic poem, "Howl," to "nowhere Zen New Jersey" ("nowhere" being a compliment for Ginsberg). No wonder Philip Roth called his memoir of growing up in Newark "The Facts" -- and then proceeded to undermine them.

Most of the greatest Jersey cultural figures combine Turnpike and Parkway characteristics, as if New Jersey embodied those two aspects of American life long before the construction of its asymmetrical arteries.

George Inness, America's first great landscape painter, made pictures that were both more immediate and real than those of his predecessors, and at the same time more personal and introspective. Alfred Stieglitz, born in Hoboken, pushed realism in photography to new limits, even as he was perfecting a hazy, impressionistic style. In his novel "The Red Badge of Courage," Stephen Crane -- Newark, Port Jervis, Asbury Park -- pulled off the near-impossible feat of using dreamlike language to make war shockingly actual.

When Marlon Brando -- whose breakthrough film, "On the Waterfront," took place in Hoboken -- started to run out of steam in the '60s, Neptune, N.J.-born Jack Nicholson came to the rescue of American film. The young Mr. Nicholson was tenaciously Turnpike in his abrasive explosions, and profoundly Parkway in his dreamy outcastness. From there, realism in American acting had two places to go: Parkway calmness and integrity (Meryl Streep, Bernards High, class of 1967); or Turnpike disorientation and bizarreness (Tom Cruise, Glen Ridge High, class of 1980).

"Integrity," in fact, is a word you hear a lot when people talk about Springsteen's music or Mr. Chase's artistic vision. Maybe it's because New Jersey politics is known to have a certain Turnpike quality that an idealistic, Parkway conception of integrity looms large in New Jersey's collective imagination.

Among other things, integrity in Jersey terms means not judging by appearances. Frankie Valli: "Ahh, ah-ah-ah-ahh (Rag doll, ooh)/I love you just the way you are." Springsteen: "You ain't a beauty, but hey you're alright/Oh and that's alright with me."

No wonder Tony Soprano can't stop thinking that redemption is right around the corner, though his temperament keeps him right where he is, stuck in his own nature.

Seeking something like a unifying vision of New Jersey, I asked Mr. Cullen what he thought Springsteen, the Turnpike alchemist, might ask Tony Soprano, the Turnpike product who is also haunted by ducks, bears and other forms of Parkway nature. "I understand you," Mr. Cullen said, "I sympathize with you, I kinda even like you. But your fatal embrace of your sickness is killing what you love."

And what question does Mr. Chase imagine that his creation -- sprung partly from his boyhood desire to plumb the mystery hidden in the lights and rushes of the Meadowlands -- might pose to the state's epic warbler, if Tony were to meet Bruce in some warp of space and time? "He'd ask him for concert tickets," Mr. Chase said.

Original here

Playboy Shows Signs of Withdrawal


By Belinda Luscombe


Who knew sex was a bad business to be in? That's probably what they're thinking over at Playboy's New York City offices, which are to be closed and its staff either laid off or offered a position at the magazine's headquarters in Chicago.

Feminists and social conservatives might not want to uncork the champagne just yet, however. It turns out this decision is more about real estate than the public appetite for nekkid women. It's much more difficult to find paying occupants for unwanted office space in Chicago than it is in New York City, so the 54-year-old magazine is moving back to its home base. The company opened its New York City offices on Fifth Avenue in the early 1990s and didn't move editorial functions there until 2002. (See pictures of Hugh Hefner.)

The closure is part of a wider restructuring of the magazine, which is to be headed by former Maxim editor Jimmy Jellinek, who was previously in charge of Playboy's website. Playboy.com will be relaunched in February with an emphasis on "sight, sound and motion," including instructional videos, says Jellinek. (Yes, some of the instructional videos will be about sex. No, they will not be explicit.) The editors who remain at the magazine will be expected to devise stories for the website as well.

More worrying for those who still get a thrill out of the bunny ears is that Playboy's Super Bowl party has been canceled. The gala was widely regarded as football's equivalent of the Vanity Fair Oscar party. Last year's bash — for which tickets cost somewhere in the neighborhood of $2,000 — was hosted by Grammy-winning hip-hop artist Common and featured a drop-in by Hugh Marston Hefner himself, along with his three obliging companions from E!'s The Girls Next Door and a herd of other Playmates. For those who preferred women with fewer opinions, there was a life-size Femlin model (note to Hef novitiates: Femlins are a hybrid of females and gremlins) atop a martini glass. There were drinks, celebs, giveaways — all in all, a classic one-two punch of nostalgia and naughtiness. (Read "10 Questions for Hugh Hefner.")

This duality is the strength and weakness of the magazine, which back in the '70s sold up to 7 million copies a month but has been losing money for years. In the third quarter of 2008 alone, the publishing sector of Playboy Enterprises Inc. lost $1.3 million. While Playboy is still the best-selling men's magazine (circ. 2.6 million), its market share has been eaten away by lad mags like FHM and Maxim. The publication is kept alive because apart from its historical importance to the Playboy brand, it is said to be much beloved by Hefner, who is still its editor in chief. But longtime Playboy Enterprises Inc. CEO and even longer time Hef daughter Christie Hefner will step down at the end of January, so change is inevitable. And Playboy Enterprises Inc. stock has been vulgar, dropping 90% in a year. The company has an entertainment arm in Los Angeles and licenses its name and bunny logo to anyone who'll pay, including a wine company in 2008, but is said to make most of its money from its less well-known, more hard-core enterprises such as Spice TV and Clubjenna.com, named for porn star Jenna Jameson. (See the top 10 magazine covers of 2008.)

The soon-to-be-defunct address on Manhattan's Fifth Avenue was perfect for the tone of classy depravity that the magazine tries to project and that made it acceptable to a more sophisticated type of reader who might otherwise be embarrassed to be associated with porn. This is not about the objectification of women, it said, it's about harmless fun. And some good journalism. But with the anonymity and impermanence of the Internet (no more telltale boxes of magazines under the bed), there's less appetite for Playboy's now almost coy-seeming nudity. A girlie magazine located on the strip of real estate once known as Ladies' Mile stopped being funny and became an anachronism that couldn't be sustained.

In one hopeful note, Los Angeles' Playboy Mansion, Shangri-la for so many 22-year-old males, seems safe for now. As one staffer puts it, "I can't imagine a scenario in which the mansion does not survive."

Original here

Monday, January 26, 2009

Mo. neo-Nazis join `Adopt-A-Highway' trash cleanup

By MARGARET STAFFORD, Associated Press Writer

Traffic passes by an Adopt-A-Highway sign along U.S. Highway 160 in Springfield, AP – Traffic passes by an Adopt-A-Highway sign along U.S. Highway 160 in Springfield, Mo., Thursday, Jan. …

KANSAS CITY, Mo. – A neo-Nazi group has joined the state's "Adopt-A-Highway" volunteer litter pickup program, taking advantage of a free speech court fight won four years ago by the Ku Klux Klan.

The Springfield unit of the National Socialist Movement has committed to cleaning up trash along a half-mile section of Highway 160 near the Springfield city limits.

Two signs noting the group's membership in the Adopt-A-Highway program went up in October but drew attention only recently when the group picked up litter as part of a gathering in Springfield.

The state says it had no way to reject the group's application. A 2005 U.S. Supreme Court ruling arising from a similar effort by the Ku Klux Klan says membership in the Adopt-A-Highway program can't be denied because of a group's political beliefs. At the time, the state could reject applications for the program from groups that denied membership based on race or had a history of violence.

"It's a First Amendment thing, and we can't discriminate as long as they pick up the trash," said Bob Edwards, a spokesman for the transportation department's office in Springfield.

The state can deny an organization's application only if it has members who have been convicted of violent criminal activity within the past 10 years.

The NSM Springfield unit decided to take part in the highway project because it wants to clean up the community, said Ariana Glass, a 16-year-old member of the youth division of the group.

"We wanted to prove that we're not out here just to have fun, we want to make the community look good," Glass said.

The group heard both honks of support and jeers when about 30 members and supporters picked up trash Saturday. Greene County sheriff's deputies ticketed one man who group members said became threatening but there were no other incidents, Glass said.

Members of the highway cleanup program are required to clean up trash at least four times a year. Edwards said about 600 groups pick up trash in the 12 counties surrounding Springfield.

Edwards said his department had received only one phone call asking why the National Socialist group was allowed to adopt the highway. Louise Whall, spokeswoman for the city of Springfield, was not aware of the group's action until contacted by the AP, but said the city had no jurisdiction because it's a state program.

Most other states have programs similar to Missouri's. Ten states — Alabama, Arkansas, Hawaii, Illinois, Kansas, Maryland, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Texas and Vermont — had joined in filing a brief backing Missouri's side in the court fight.

Original here

No Snickering: That Road Sign Means Something Else


By SARAH LYALL

CRAPSTONE, England — When ordering things by telephone, Stewart Pearce tends to take a proactive approach to the inevitable question “What is your address?”


Hazel Thompson for The New York Times

Pratts Bottom, a village in Kent, is doubly cursed because “prat” is slang for buffoon.

John Nguyen/Ross Parry Agency

If you’re smirking at this sign, you’re mispronouncing the town’s name. It’s PENNIS-tun.

He lays it out straight, so there is no room for unpleasant confusion. “I say, ‘It’s spelled “crap,” as in crap,’ ” said Mr. Pearce, 61, who has lived in Crapstone, a one-shop country village in Devon, for decades.

Disappointingly, Mr. Pearce has so far been unable to parlay such delicate encounters into material gain, as a neighbor once did.

“Crapstone,” the neighbor said forthrightly, Mr. Pearce related, whereupon the person on the other end of the telephone repeated it to his co-workers and burst out laughing. “They said, ‘Oh, we thought it didn’t really exist,’ ” Mr. Pearce said, “and then they gave him a free something.”

In the scale of embarrassing place names, Crapstone ranks pretty high. But Britain is full of them. Some are mostly amusing, like Ugley, Essex; East Breast, in western Scotland; North Piddle, in Worcestershire; and Spanker Lane, in Derbyshire.

Others evoke images that may conflict with residents’ efforts to appear dignified when, for example, applying for jobs.

These include Crotch Crescent, Oxford; Titty Ho, Northamptonshire; Wetwang, East Yorkshire; Slutshole Lane, Norfolk; and Thong, Kent. And, in a country that delights in lavatory humor, particularly if the word “bottom” is involved, there is Pratts Bottom, in Kent, doubly cursed because “prat” is slang for buffoon.

As for Penistone, a thriving South Yorkshire town, just stop that sophomoric snickering.

“It’s pronounced ‘PENNIS-tun,’ ” Fiona Moran, manager of the Old Vicarage Hotel in Penistone, said over the telephone, rather sharply. When forced to spell her address for outsiders, she uses misdirection, separating the tricky section into two blameless parts: “p-e-n” — pause — “i-s-t-o-n-e.”

Several months ago, Lewes District Council in East Sussex tried to address the problem of inadvertent place-name titillation by saying that “street names which could give offense” would no longer be allowed on new roads.

“Avoid aesthetically unsuitable names,” like Gaswork Road, the council decreed. Also, avoid “names capable of deliberate misinterpretation,” like Hoare Road, Typple Avenue, Quare Street and Corfe Close.

(What is wrong with Corfe Close, you might ask? The guidelines mention the hypothetical residents of No. 4, with their unfortunate hypothetical address, “4 Corfe Close.” To find the naughty meaning, you have to repeat the first two words rapidly many times, preferably in the presence of your fifth-grade classmates.)

The council explained that it was only following national guidelines and that it did not intend to change any existing lewd names.

Still, news of the revised policy raised an outcry.

“Sniggering at double entendres is a loved and time-honored tradition in this country,” Carol Midgley wrote in The Times of London. Ed Hurst, a co-author, with Rob Bailey, of “Rude Britain” and “Rude UK,” which list arguably offensive place names — some so arguably offensive that, unfortunately, they cannot be printed here — said that many such communities were established hundreds of years ago and that their names were not rude at the time.

“Place names and street names are full of history and culture, and it’s only because language has evolved over the centuries that they’ve wound up sounding rude,” Mr. Hurst said in an interview.

Mr. Bailey, who grew up on Tumbledown Dick Road in Oxfordshire, and Mr. Hurst got the idea for the books when they read about a couple who bought a house on Butt Hole Road, in South Yorkshire.

The name most likely has to do with the spot’s historic function as a source of water, a water butt being a container for collecting water. But it proved to be prohibitively hilarious.

“If they ordered a pizza, the pizza company wouldn’t deliver it, because they thought it was a made-up name,” Mr. Hurst said. “People would stand in front of the sign, pull down their trousers and take pictures of each other’s naked buttocks.”

The couple moved away.

The people in Crapstone have not had similar problems, although their sign is periodically stolen by word-loving merrymakers. And their village became a stock joke a few years ago, when a television ad featuring a prone-to-swearing soccer player named Vinnie Jones showed Mr. Jones’s car breaking down just under the Crapstone sign.

In the commercial, Mr. Jones tries to alert the towing company to his location while covering the sign and trying not to say “crap” in front of his young daughter.

The consensus in the village is that there is a perfectly innocent reason for the name “Crapstone,” though it is unclear what that is. Theories put forth by various residents the other day included “place of the rocks,” “a kind of twisting of the original word,” “something to do with the soil” and “something to do with Sir Francis Drake,” who lived nearby.

Jacqui Anderson, a doctor in Crapstone who used to live in a village called Horrabridge, which has its own issues, said that she no longer thought about the “crap” in “Crapstone.”

Still, when strangers ask where she’s from, she admitted, “I just say I live near Plymouth.”

Original here

Want better sex, fellas? Have a stiff drink

By Clair Weaver

Beer
Drinks anyone? ... research shows that alcohol improves men's sexual performance.
IT gives the phrase "a stiff drink" a whole new meaning: Australian researchers have made the surprise discovery that alcohol improves, rather than damages, men's performance in the bedroom.
They hope the finding, which flies in the face of conventional belief, will reassure men who worry about the affects of drinking on their sex lives.

Until now, it has been widely believed alcohol consumption could cause erectile dysfunction, commonly called "brewer's droop''.

But a study of 1580 Australian men has shown the reverse may be true, with drinkers reporting as many as 30 per cent fewer problems than teetotallers.

Even binge drinkers had lower rates of erectile dysfunction than those who never drank, although this type of drinking can cause other health problems.

Lead study author Dr Kew-Kim Chew, of Western Australia's Keogh Institute for Medical Research, told The Sunday Telegraph men who drank within safe guidelines appeared to have the best erectile function.

"We found that, compared to those who have never touched alcohol, many people do benefit from some alcohol, including some people who drink outside the guidelines,'' Dr Chew said.

Dr Chew said he had patients with erectile dysfunction who had been told to stop drinking completely.

The latest finding should prevent them compounding the problem by feeling "guilty and stressed'' about present or past drinking, he said.

After other risk factors were excluded, weekend drinkers, high-risk drinkers and those who exceeded alcohol-intake guidelines had lower rates of erectile dysfunction than those who drank one day a week or less. Ex-drinkers, however, had the highest risk.

Original here

Taking a bite into fast-food ads on Twitter

The postings to the Whopper Virgins Twitter account aren't what you might expect from a major corporation like Burger King.

"Gained like 5 lbs. in 1 week. I don't understand. ... At least I have my whoppers to keep my spirits up," a message posted a few weeks ago read. "Lost my virginity to a whopper. Feeling like a slut," read one of the earliest tweets.

As you may have gathered, this isn't affiliated with the Burger King company or its marketing team, which is running the TV campaign in which foreigners document their first encounters with the hamburger. The Whopper Virgins account is maintained by a Milwaukee man who calls himself Paul. (He refused to give his full name to protect himself from potential legal recourse.)

Whopper Virgins video. (Credit: Burger King)

And he does seem to have reason for concern. Last month, theBKlounge, which looks much more like a legitimate account run by Burger King, sent a public message to Whopper Virgins, saying, "CEASE AND DESIST. UNAUTHORIZED USE OF TRADEMARK. What is your motivation by the way ... ?"

Paul hadn't seen the tweet until I pointed it out to him Thursday. "It looks very unofficial," he said. "I've never had a cease and desist presented to me, but I would imagine it doesn't normally look like that. ... It seems like they're joking around."

He was right. TheBKlounge account, just like Paul's own, is simply another overzealous burger fan. A Burger King spokesperson said, "We're flattered the King has fans on Twitter. While we appreciate the love, we do want to clarify those twittering are unofficial members of the Kingdom, and not the King or his Court."

And since that 89-character legal warning, theBKlounge has begun sending Twitter messages ...

... to Whopper Virgins, conversing casually and rebroadcasting some of the Whopper Virgins' messages (a practice known as re-tweeting).

Paul says he has no ulterior motives behind his project. "I'm just doing it for fun," he said. "I have nothing against Burger King."

"I think their commercials are funny. I laugh at them. So, I hope they find some humor in what I'm doing, too."

The idea for Paul's pet project came from his friend, Ryan Thompson, a social media strategist from Milwaukee. This type of pop culture spoofing is a way that consumers are taking a company's advertising to the next level, Thompson said.

"It's just part of the conversation -- open communication," he said. "All we're doing is continuing that conversation in a different forum."

Thompson was so impressed with Paul's success with Whopper Virgins -- it has amassed 422 followers --that he started his own version. The 3conomics account on Twitter, based on the Wendy's TV ad campaign, hosts fewer satirical jabs at the burger franchise. It occasionally interacts publicly with Whopper Virgins.

Thompson says he's also doing it for fun and has no intention of troubling the fast-food company. "There's no ill will," he said. "I'm a fan of the Biggie Fries."

With global communication tools within the social media realm becoming so prevalent, Thompson says that for companies to have a truly successful marketing plan, they must talk with the consumer, not to them.

"I believe you have to be part of the conversation, or you're not saying anything at all," he said.

But when consumers are in a way assuming the identities of these corporations, it becomes more difficult to filter the true company-consumer interactions from the fake ones. But at least they're not trying to extort, as in the case of the hijacked Howard Stern account.

The Twitter corporate account verification tool that co-founder Biz Stone said the company was working on a month ago could really come in handy right about now.

-- Mark Milian

Original here

Domino's and Subway's fight turns nasty

jerry jerry.jpg


In the food hierarchy, Domino's and Subway's feud is like watching two Jerry Springer guests beat the living shit out of each other: You have no vested interest in who wins, you just want it to be entertaining.

This feud just got more entertaining.

It had to do with Domino's taste test comparison commercials. I've already written how commercials are illogical but Subway went further and said the ads were unfair. So Domino's CEO, David Brandon, said screw them. Last night, in a new commercial, he lit a cease-and- desist letter from Subway on fire.

As for why Subway thinks the ads are unfair, it has to do with the methodology of taste tests. According to Subway's CEO, Domino's only "did the comparison against three sandwiches and have written the ads to suggest that the results are relevant across the whole product line" and didn't compare competing sandwiches to each other.

Subway has yet to respond. But if the company is smart it will keep the lawyers out of this and have Jarrod challenge Brandon to a fight. Jarrod has been seen in YMCAs of late so it's possible he's getting in shape for something.

Original here

Five hours of community service equal to one tall coffee

By Owen Morris in News

starbucks in.pngHow much is community service worth to you? How about prison-like-wages of 35 cents per hour? That's the cost of giving five hours to community service in exchange for one free tall coffee from Starbucks ($1.75).

Customers who fill out cards in Starbucks' stores pledging to volunteer five hours of time will receive one free tall coffee today through Sunday.

It's part of Starbucks' plan to get in on Obama's inauguration good vibes. They've teamed up with the HandsOn Network in an effort to "raise pledges in excess of one million hours of service from all over the country." HandsOn has a bunch of recommendations on its Web site, ranging from "Make New Kids on the Block survival kits" which are packages for new children in the neighborhood that have stuff like welcome cards, school calenders, maps of places to go and school supplies, etc. More involved work includes a self-organizing kit. (Warning! Zip File.)

While I am not always a big fan of Starbucks initiatives I do like the HandsOn Network and let's face it-- if anyone in this country has the time and money to give to community service, it's people who can still afford Starbucks. A free tall coffee may seem stingy but the coffee is not the point. It's just a way to get people invested the way you use doughnuts to get people to come to boring but important meetings. There's even a special Web site called Pledge Five for people to track their hours and encourage their friends to volunteer.

One of my New Year's Resolutions was to give more to my community and knowing that I've got some free coffee coming just makes that resolution a little creamier. (I would have said sweeter but I don't take sugar in my coffee.)

Original here

5 Things You Didn't Know: Human Hair

Haircut - Credit: iStockphoto.com

By Ryan McKee

Human hair is a simple thing made of keratin and dead skin cells. Its function is to prevent heat loss from a person’s head, yet it also causes women to weep, men to buy Porsches and people to spend billions each year on its upkeep.
Throughout history, humans have used their hair to represent their class, indicate religious faith and piss off their parents. Madonna changes her hair to represent each comeback, while Donald Trump represents his wealth with a comb-over made from 40 kt gold. Samson used his hair to store his power, while Rapunzel used her hair to sneak the prince into her tower (how early teenage rebellion began).

Such a simple thing as human hair leads to all kinds of complexities. Here are examples in which hair is more than just a dandruff jungle, so check out these 5 things you didn’t know about human hair.

1- Hair can clean up oil spills

When the 2007 Cosco Busan oil spill occurred in the San Francisco Bay, a group of eco-friendly volunteers used mats of human hair to clean the beach. Hair absorbs oil from the water, working as a natural sponge. The innovator of this idea, Phil McCrory, said he saw footage of oil-soaked otters after the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill and his harebrained plan was hatched. He collected human hair clippings from local salons, stuffed them into a pair of his wife’s pantyhose and voila: oil mop.

After the oil is collected, oyster mushrooms are added to the mat. They absorb the oil and convert the environmental threat into nontoxic compost. Environmentalists would like these hair mats carried on oil tankers, so in case of a disaster the mats can be thrown in to start working immediately.

2- Human hair is used in soy sauce

Finding hair in your food can ruin a meal. But, what if your food was made of hair -- or at least your condiment? The Internet Journal of Toxicology reported that the Chinese company Hongshuai Soy Sauce marketed their product as “using the latest bioengineering technology.” Priced lower than the competitors’ soy sauces, Hongshuai became popular on the shelves of Chinese stores. However, an investigation by journalists found the company didn’t use amino acids derived from soy and wheat, but amino acids derived from human hair swept off of barber shop floors. One person’s recycling is another person’s retching over a toilet.

3- Beards were taxed

Peter the Great is cited as one of the greatest rulers from the 17th century, and he was a great friend to Russia. However, he was no friend to the beard. The emperor wanted Russia to become westernized, so he required all of his courtiers, state officials and the military to adopt western fashions and to shave their beards. This decree spread through the country until the only Russians exempted were peasants and priests. If a man refused to shave, he had to pay an annual beard tax of 100 rubles. Henry the VIII imposed a similar tax in England during part of his reign. However, as a fickle king who beheaded wives he no longer liked, he later grew a beard himself and ended the English beard tax.

4- Redheads may be aliens

There’s a conspiracy theory that redheads are alien-human hybrids. Think about it: Why did several kings and queens of Europe have red hair even though, percentage-wise, redheads are fairly rare? Why do so many Southies have red hair and speak a different language than other Boston locals?

It sounds crazy, but carrottops do have biological differences other than appearance. Redheaded women bleed longer, which is why doctors make special preparations for them in childbirth. They also have the smallest hair count on their heads, about 90,000 as opposed to 140,000 on people with blond and brown hair. That’s why Kick a Ginger Day began, just to keep these possible aliens on their toes.

5- Human hair was once used as jewelry

During the Victorian era, women often wore jewelry made from the hair of deceased loved ones. Since there were no photos of dear old grandma, her gray hairs paid homage. While it started as just a way to remember, hair art blossomed and become popular fashion. This may have been the most morbid fashion since Amazonians wore shrunken heads around their necks. To this day, there are a number of websites selling antique hair art and they will even fashion a new piece from a dead shih tzu’s hair. Haven’t these people seen digital cameras?

Original here


Text messages could be used to stop stolen cars

By David Millward

Text messages could be used to stop stolen cars
A mobile phone with text message alert Photo: PA

They could be given the power to stop cars remotely as a result of trials being carried out by the Home Office.

It has asked for companies to come up with schemes for "vehicle stopping technology" which would enable officers to stop stolen and getaway cars.

The aim is to cut the number of high speed car chases, which have led to the deaths of officers and civilians.

"If new technology can help police stop vehicles more safely and more effectively then it is right that we look at all the options carefully," the Home Office said.

"We have asked companies to propose possible electronic solutions and we will be in a position to say more once all the options have been properly tested and fully evaluated."

According to Police Review, they could include "intelligent transport systems", commercially available technology which enables owners to use a mobile phone to regain control of their cars when they are stolen.

This tracking system uses satellite navigation to locate a car, whose position is shown on a website. The car is also fitted with a receiver which can receive text messages.

Should the car be stolen the owner – or a company acting on his or her behalf – can use a text message to send instructions to the car's on-board computer.

It can switch on the headlights, sound the horn, slow the car down or – if it is stopped – immobilise it completely.

According to Police Review, officers would welcome access to the technology as an alternative to devices such as "stingers", which they currently use.

Stingers throw spikes into the path of the car, which burst the tyres.

Alan Jones of the Police Federation welcomed the Home Office initiative.

"If the police service can use technology to its benefit to improve policing and ensure it is far safer for both police officers and members of the public, then ultimately we should applaud those developments.

"But we also recognise that it is sensitive area and we need to have a proper debate and discussion about where it may go."

A spokesman for the Association of Chief Police Officers added. "The police service nationally is involved in pursuits which, by their very nature, involve an element of risk, on a daily basis. Safe resolution of pursuits is essential and while current methods of stopping vehicles have proven effective, we must not be complacent.

"The service is constantly looking to improve practices and research technologies which may have the potential to offer new ways of delivering front line policing in a safer, more efficient manner."

Original here

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Search Begins for New 'Air Force One'

By David Axe

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And you thought the U.S. Air Force's $40-billion tanker program got nasty.

After a couple years of speculation, yesterday the air branch officially announced its search for a new high-tech jumbo jet to haul around the President and his peeps. And like the bitter, now-canceled tanker contest, AF1 2.0 will pit a Boeing product (a new 747) against a plane from a European firm (the Airbus A380).

The three VC-25 jets currently in use for the Presidential role entered service beginning in 1990, with a planned 30-year service life. The three new Air Force One planes must enter service starting in 2017, according to the government solicitation.

The [Presidential Aircraft Replacement] aircraft will provide the President of the United States, staff, and guests with safe and reliable air transportation with the appropriate level of security and communications capability. Mission communications must provide secure, interoperable command, control, and communications, using net-centric architectures.

The new jet probably will not feature an escape pod, a rear ramp for parachutists or Harrison Ford, as featured in the awesomely bad 1997 action flick Air Force One.

When Boeing squared off against Euro company EADS over tankers, Congress critters favoring the American jet were quick to use the "Buy American" card, citing the tens of thousands of jobs at stake and the perceived need to keep tanker production lines within U.S. borders. You can bet your sweet bippy the Air Force One competition will be even more politically charged.

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To ban or not to ban: Bisphenol-A in food is OK with FDA but not with some scientists

Professor of biological sciences Frederick vom Saal uses this laboratory in LeFevre Hall on the MU campus to study BPA. For more than a decade, vom Saal has denounced BPA as a toxin and threat to public health.

COLUMBIA — Over the years, the rise in obesity, heart disease and some cancers have been attributed to our food and drink intake. Routine visits to fast food drive-thrus for cheeseburgers and greasy fries clog our arteries. Not enough exercise and too many Little Debbies round out our tummies. But the use of Bisphenol-A, a chemical found in hard plastics and metal food cans, has significantly altered a contemporary cliche: It's not just what you eat, it's what you eat out of.

"This poses a threat," MU scientist Frederick vom Saal said of Bisphenol-A. "This will shorten lives."

Bisphenol-A, also known as BPA, is an estrogen-like chemical used in many polycarbonate plastics. Polycarbonate plastics are the hard, see-through plastics used to make products such as baby bottles, reuseable water bottles and sippy cups.

The chemical also lines the inside of metal food cans. From canned sodas to canned corn to canned soup, anyone eating or drinking from cans is exposed to BPA. The chemical leaches from plastics and cans, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Studies have linked BPA exposure to obesity, heart disease and cancer, vom Saal said.

Vom Saal routinely compares BPA to tobacco and the cigarette companies' efforts to not have cigarettes labeled as detrimental to public health.

"They're going to end up like the tobacco companies, sued into the Stone Age," vom Saal said of BPA supporters.

Vom Saal has studied BPA since 1995. He is recognized as a premiere source of data on BPA. His research has been published in scientific journals and magazines, such as Nature, and he has testified in Washington, D.C., at hearings of the FDA. For more than a decade, vom Saal has publicly denounced BPA as a toxin and threat to public health.

The FDA, however, refuses to take any precautionary steps to reduce the public's exposure to BPA. In September, the agency declined to act on BPA, even though Canada took steps in April to reduce child exposure to BPA. In December, the FDA decided to compile more research on the chemical's effects.

BPA now floats in a state of limbo. Researchers argue that the chemical should be banned right away and that the FDA has acted without the public's interest in mind. Manufacturers of BPA, however, say opposing scientists lack proof that BPA causes disease.

Where is BPA?

Many day-to-day items are made of or use polycarbonate plastic, such as eyeglass lenses, CDs, helmets and computers, according to Bisphenol-A.org, a Web site of the American Chemistry Council. Because people don't eat out of helmets or these other items, the risk of exposure to BPA is not high. Research has shown that the greatest danger is BPA in food containers.

Baby bottles made of polycarbonate plastic leach BPA when heated. The scare lies in the amount of BPA contamination that occurs when babies drink warmed milk from these bottles. Plasticware, when heated, leaches BPA as well. And other plastic drinking products, such as sippy cups and reuseable water and sports bottles, leach BPA over time, whether they are heated or not.

Big name supermarkets, such as Walmart, have offered BPA-free baby bottles, with plans to offer only BPA-free baby bottles early this year.

Clover's Natural Market on Chapel Plaza Court phased out all polycarbonate water bottles in the past spring, Nellie Boyt, store team leader, said. Instead, the store carries stainless steel water bottles and BPA-free plastic bottles. Clover's also only sells BPA-free baby products, including teething rings.

The BPA-free water bottles sell at about the same rate as the polycarbonate bottles, Boyt said. And every week, she said, about three to four customers specifically request BPA-free baby products.

Boyt, who tries to avoid BPA herself and has even kicked her microwave to the curb, lamented that canned goods contain BPA. She hopes the U.S. implements a way to eliminate the chemical in canned goods.

"I'm excited to see BPA-free canned foods," Boyt said. "Like wow."

BPA protects canned food from contamination from the metal, but in exchange contaminates the food, according to the nonprofit Environmental Working Group.

In March 2007, the group published its results on BPA in canned foods. The organization found that infant formula, ravioli and chicken soup contained the most BPA. One to three servings from any of the three had enough BPA to do harm, as reflected in previous animal studies, according to the group's Web site.

Research by vom Saal showed that BPA leached more in canned acidic foods, such as tuna. "Anything with tomato is a nightmare," he said.

In Japan, manufacturers switched to an ethylene lining for canned foods to avoid BPA contamination, vom Saal said. He says the U.S. should follow the Japanese and Canadian examples of reducing public exposure to BPA.

When comparing BPA levels in 2007, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that people with the least income had more BPA in their systems than those with the highest income. Canned foods tend to be cheaper and easier than buying fresh or frozen.

Mike DeSantis, marketing director at the Central Missouri Food Bank, did not know how many canned goods were donated and turned over to recipients, but the BPA worry was not a worry of his.

"Our biggest concern is feeding hungry people, and we follow to the letter of the law every guideline," he said.

Another source of BPA is from recycled paper products. Vom Saal said that BPA has been found in carbonless recycled paper and store receipts.

"When you order pizza in a recycled paper box, you're being impregnated with Bisphenol-A," vom Saal said.

The science on Bisphenol-A

The CDC found that in 2007, 93 percent of the people they tested for BPA exposure had various levels of the chemical in their urine. Those with the highest levels were children.

The National Toxicology Program under the National Institutes of Health also concluded that BPA posed some danger. In its September report, it cited "some concern for effects on the brain, behavior and prostate gland in fetuses, infants and children at current human exposures to Bisphenol-A."

A June 2007 study published in the journal Reviews in Endocrine and Metabolic Disorders linked diabetes to BPA. Bisphenol-A mimics estrogen, and high levels of estrogen in the body increases the body's sugar production, which can lead to diabetes and heart disease, vom Saal said. Rodent studies show that BPA stores itself in fat, and those with more fat deposits carry more BPA, he said.

No one should think that genetics, high-calorie foods and exercise no longer play a major role in heart disease and related illnesses. They do. But vom Saal says BPA worsens the situation. He has also found that when all other factors are equal, BPA causes breast cancer and early puberty in animals.

A study published in September in the Journal of the American Medical Association showed the strongest link between human intake of BPA and health effects. Of 1,455 people age 6 and older, those with the highest levels of BPA in their urine "were more than twice as likely to report having cardiovascular (heart) disease or diabetes" and "higher BPA levels were associated with clinically abnormal liver enzyme concentrations," according to the study briefing.

The writers, scientists from the University of Exeter, U.K., and University of Iowa, based their findings on data collected by the CDC's 2003-04 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. The study is the first large-scale look at BPA effects in humans, but it does not conclusively find that BPA causes heart disease or diabetes.

The FDA has used the lack of hard proof as a reason to decline to take drastic action on the chemical.

Much of the research on BPA tested animal exposure to the chemical. As of August, 218 animal test studies on BPA effects were published, according to vom Saal's research. About 86 percent, or 189 studies, found BPA negatively affected animals. About 13 percent, or 29 studies, found that BPA did not harm the test animals. Vom Saal says the chemical industry financially backed research that found no harm due to BPA.

The American Chemistry Council did not return numerous requests for an interview, but on its Web site stated that "the common ground we all share is a commitment to do what’s right to protect the health and safety of American consumers —adults and children alike.” BPA is safe at current normal exposure levels, according to the chemistry council.

The FDA reviewed the mass of research on BPA and agreed with the council. In August, the FDA's Science Board released its review of the BPA literature. It stated: "FDA has concluded that an adequate margin of safety exists for BPA at current levels of exposure from food contact uses."

But in October, the FDA's Science Board Subcommittee on Bisphenol-A looked over the Science Board's shoulder. The subcommittee, staffed by seven doctorates, concluded that the board's August report fell short of being reliable. The group released its own report, recommending that the FDA further examine BPA in infant formula and BPA effects in newborns.

The subcommittee also said it thought the FDA needed to lower exposure levels of BPA the agency previously cited as safe: "... The Margins of Safety defined by FDA as 'adequate' are, in fact, inadequate."

The politics of BPA

In the 1950s, commercial manufacturing of BPA took off, and by 2003, the world used about 3 million metric tons of BPA, according to Bisphenol-A.org. That translates into lots of dollars for BPA manufacturers.

Missouri ranks 16th in chemical industry employment with more than 18,000 jobs, according to the American Chemistry Council Web site. In addition, more than 900,000 jobs are dependent on chemical products, making up about 33 percent of all Missouri jobs. The council estimates that more than 172,000 of those jobs are in the intermediate goods industry, which includes plastic products. In dollars and cents: More than $36 billion in earnings depend on the chemical industry, according to the council's Web site.

A dependency on the chemical industry may be playing a role in the controversy over BPA. Vom Saal has accused the FDA of using studies backed by the chemical industry to defend its position.

"The FDA has become an agency that is treating regulated corporations as clients," vom Saal said. "And that is exactly what it looks like is happening with Bisphenol-A."

The FDA did not respond to numerous requests for an interview.

Current agency officials may be on their way out, though, come Jan. 20. President-elect Barack Obama's transition team has expressed an interest in the future of BPA.

"We've heard from the Obama transition team and the spokespeople from Obama that they are very interested in restoring integrity, not just in the FDA, but across agencies," said Renee Sharp, a senior analyst for the Environmental Working Group.

Sharp hasn't been guaranteed a new BPA policy by the Obama team, but she hopes for one. She disagrees with current BPA policy and accused the FDA of politicization and malfeasance.

"Our basic reaction is that it is outrageous," said Sharp, who has worked for the Environmental Working Group for eight years. "It's sad evidence of the state of the FDA right now. We've seen the last few years of more and more instances of them falling down on the job."

Two bills, one introduced in the House and the other in the Senate, look to do what the FDA has not.

The Ban Poisonous Additives Act of 2008 lists BPA in food containers as “a poisonous or deleterious substance which may render the contents injurious to health.” The Senate bill, BPA-Free Kids Act of 2008, wants to ban BPA in products meant for children 7 years old or younger. The bill has been referred to the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, of which Sen. Claire McCaskill is a member. McCaskill declined numerous requests for an interview. Votes on both bills are expected this session.

It will be up to Congress and the Obama administration to determine whether the law and FDA rules on BPA need revising. Anticipation of the BPA debate heating up looks very likely in the coming months.

"We've heard quite a bit from the Obama people that they definitely want to see a different world in terms of one that follows the science," Sharp said. "But it's really impossible to say what we can expect. The leadership is certainly key, but at the same time ... what you can get is somewhat sort of a captured agency , where the agency has been captured by the industry and there is some worry that that is what's happened with the FDA."

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