Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Today, 1,000 Kids Will Die from Drinking Unsafe Water

by Chris Baskind

Today — Sunday, March 22nd — is World Water Day. You may be reading this article after the fact. It doesn’t matter, because the state of affairs today will be largely the same as each day since the event was created in 1993: Every 24 hours, one thousand children will die from drinking unsafe water.

They’ll die from diarrhea, the result of drinking water so filthy most of us would be shocked to see it even in our toilets. They’ll die in remote villages and crowded urban slums. They’ll die in areas too poor to afford the inexpensive medicines which might save their lives, or the $200 it takes to dig a safe and modern water well. Mostly, they’ll die in the Southern Hemisphere.

Getting water in Africa

And these are just the children. Here, almost a decade into the 21st century, humanity’s most pressing health need remains access to sanitary fresh water. It sounds like such a simple thing. But without clean water, economies crumble. Livestock dies, and it becomes impossible to grow even basic staples. The lack of safe water is the mother of famine, disease, poverty, and warfare. Some 2.6 billion people live in squalid conditions, without access to even basic sanitation.

A municipal water supply

It can happen to you, too

While water issues are particularly acute in the developing world, shifting climate patterns and soaring demand are creating significant shortages across the planet. In 2007, the city of Atlanta was nearly brought to a standstill when Lake Lanier, the area’s primary water supply, dropped to its lowest levels in a century.

In the U.S., Southwestern states are contending with a multi-year drought that threatens the region’s growth. Depletion of groundwater resources in Mexico City has gotten to the stage that geological faulting has damaged portions of the city’s historic center. And hundreds of Australians died this summer when lack of rainfall created the conditions for devastating wildfires.

A young Indian girl drinks at a tap

What you can do

World Water Day is an opportunity to step back for a moment and consider a commodity many people take for granted. It’s as easy to forget water’s value when have it as it is to never forget your thirst when you don’t.

Want to help set things right? Consider some of these actions:

  • Respect your water. If the water that comes out of your tap is clean and affordable, be thankful. Be thankful when you drink it. Be thankful when you wash with it. Be thankful when you cook with it. Every time you open a faucet, remember that you’re doing something beyond the reach of almost 3 billion people.
  • Conserve. An ample water supply today is no guarantee that it will be there tomorrow. Groundwater aquifers take hundreds of years to replenish. Do your part — you’ll be saving money, anyway. Install water-saving showerheads. Plant drought-resistant gardens, and irrigate them — if at all possible — with harvested rainwater. Find leaks in your home and repair them. Take shorter showers. Replace old washing machines and dishwashers with water-saving, ENERGY STAR rated appliances. Never send anything to a landfill you wouldn’t want in your drinking water ten years from now. There are plenty of water conservation resources on the web. Here at Lighter Footstep, we’d like to recommend our own Five Cheap Ways to Save a Thousand Gallons of Water.
  • Support organizations which bring fresh water to people who don’t have any. Groups such as Water for People, the Blue Planet Run Foundation, and H2O Africa are all working to make every day World Water Day. Find an organization whose efforts excite you, and help provide what they need.

Share this article (or one like it) with others. Involve friends and family. There are a thousand reasons for you to take action today. And tomorrow — another thousand.

An African child carries water

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5 Spices for Better Health

Variety is the spice of life, and enjoying a variety of herbs and spices may help you live a healthier life as well. Seasonings have been used since Biblical times to perk up the flavor of food; what's new is research showing that some of them can enhance your health.

Research shows that some popular spices can actually enhance your health.

The USDA estimates that the average American consumes 3.3 pounds of spices annually, but more than a quarter of that is black and white pepper and mustard seed (in prepared mustard). Mustard seeds contain lots of protective substances called phytochemicals, which may inhibit the growth of existing cancer cells and help prevent normal cells from turning into cancerous ones. Other herbs and spices, like the ones below, also have some amazing attributes. But remember, a little goes a long way: Too much of some of these can ruin a recipe and may not be ideal for your health.

Turmeric. This herb of the ginger family provides the yellow color in curries. It's a powerful antioxidant and has been used in Indian and Chinese medicine for centuries. Preliminary studies suggest it may help prevent or even treat Alzheimer's disease. In some Indian villages where turmeric is popular, there are unusually low rates of Alzheimer's.

Turmeric also enhances immune function, improves digestion and may reduce your risk of heart attack. Because of its anti-inflammatory properties, scientists are studying curcumin, one of the most active substances in turmeric, as a possible treatment for cystic fibrosis.

Ginger. Studies have demonstrated that ginger is effective in preventing the symptoms of motion sickness, especially seasickness. In addition, it can be useful in reducing the nausea and vomiting brought on by pregnancy. To get the stomach-calming benefits, simply steep an ounce or two of fresh gingerroot in a cup of hot water.

Ginger also contains an inflammation-fighting substance called gingerol, which may help reduce pain and improve function in people who have arthritis.

Rosemary. It contains substances that have an anti-inflammatory effect, which may improve immune function and circulation, and reduce the severity of asthma attacks. Used as aromatherapy, it may enhance memory and cognition.

Coriander. Also called cilantro, and often used in Mexican cuisine, coriander is rich in protective phytochemicals and is a good source of iron, magnesium and manganese.

Cinnamon. One of the oldest spices known, cinnamon seems to reduce inflammation, and recent studies show that it may also be especially beneficial for those with type 2 diabetes.

In one study, consuming less than a 1/4 a day reduced blood sugar in people with diabetes by about 20% and lowered triglycerides, LDL ("bad") and total cholesterol. In another, chewing cinnamon gum, or simply smelling the spice, improved attention and memory.

Cancer Fighters

In addition to all the healthful benefits we get from the seasonings listed above, some may also help ward off cancer or slow the growth of tumors. In a USDA review of 39 herbs, researchers found that oregano, dill, thyme and rosemary have some of the highest levels of cancer-fighting antioxidants. Other studies suggest that turmeric, sage, clove, ginger and chili pepper may help fight the killer disease. Remember that the next time you spice up your favorite dishes.

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Jesus Cookie Cutter Will Save Your Cookie Soul

Author: Steve

jesus Jesus Cookie Cutter Will Save Your Cookie SoulIf you’re tired of all those people in the southern part of the US, along with Latin America, getting the majority of Jesus faced pancakes and cookies I have the perfect item for you. The Jesus cookie cutter will ensure you have the most Jesusarrific cookies in the world. Heck, you could even use it to form Jesus shaped pancakes.

And even better is that the outline of what I assume is Jesus on the cross actually looks like the silhouette of an extra in Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” video. Put some ski polls in his hands and you’ve got a savior grabbing some gnarly air on the slopes.

Go ahead; you know you’re interested in getting a Jesus cookie cutter. “Can baking sin,” asks the seller. Not anymore.

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Hey, Private Sector, Wanna Buy a Bridge?

By Dave Demerjian

The Chicago Skyway was privatized in 2005 when the city leased the toll road to an international consortium for 99 years. It was the nation's first such deal, but infrastructure needs may make privatization much more common.
Photo: Ted S. Warren/AP

If Florida transportation officials have their way, the state will soon lease a 78-mile toll road across the Everglades to a private firm for 50 years, in a deal that could make hundreds of millions of dollars for both sides. Advocates hail it as a windfall that the state can invest in other projects, but critics say no good will come from a shortsighted a plan to make a quick buck.

"You’re talking about taking public assets, paid for with public dollars, and selling them off," says Gina Downs, director of the Citizen's Transportation Coalition. The group opposes the plan to lease the stretch of Interstate 75 known as Alligator Alley. "If governments start leasing assets to plug up budget deficits, pretty soon they'll be selling off anything and everything they can get their hands on. It's a slippery slope."

Such debates will grow more common as states increasingly turn public works projects over to the corporate sector, because they can't afford to do the work. President Barack Obama promises to spend more than $100 billion overhauling the nation's dilapidated roads, bridges and other vital infrastructure, but that gigantic sum is only a fraction of what's needed to do the job.

The real cost of modernizing the country's infrastructure, says the American Society of Civil Engineers, exceeds $2.2 trillion — an overwhelming figure. Cities and states increasingly are inviting private firms to manage assets these governments can no longer afford and build projects they can't finance. More than half of the states are considering public-private partnerships to get things done, following an example set by European countries that have turned over airports, highways, waterworks and other critical infrastructure to the corporate sector.

Proponents say such partnerships allow the government to generate cash and free itself from the burden of improving and maintaining expensive and crumbling public assets. Critics argue the trend places profits ahead of safety, service and accountability.

Several high-profile public-private partnerships have been forged in the past year. Chicago privatized the regional Midway Airport. A corporate consortium joined Virginia to design, build and operate $1.9 billion of high-occupancy lanes on a 14-mile stretch of the Capital Beltway. Smaller deals have helped many cities and towns build schools, parking lots and other projects.

The global financial meltdown has slowed things down, some experts say, but such partnerships will almost certainly grow more common. There are too many projects and too few dollars for it to be any other way.

"The needs are enormous, way beyond the ability of federal, state and local governments to cover them," says Richard Norment, executive director of the National Council for Public-Private Partnerships. "PPPs are a way for the government to amplify the impact of the money it plans to spend."

Americans have traditionally been leery of entrusting corporations to do work historically reserved for the government, which is why the United States lags behind the rest of the world in turning to public-private partnerships. London's Heathrow Airport, for example, is privately run, as is Canada’s air-traffic-control system. The corporate sector has built 3,400 miles of highway in France alone.

It’s a growing trend around the world, and institutions like the Carlyle Group, Credit Suisse, Goldman Sachs and other firms reportedly have amassed some $250 billion to invest in infrastructure projects in the United States and elsewhere. If they spent every cent of it here, it still wouldn't be enough.

America's infrastructure shortcomings are simply too staggering. One in every four bridges in the country is deficient or "functionally obsolete," according to the American Association of State Highway Transportation Officials. A study by Deloitte suggests poorly maintained roads contribute to more than one-third of the nation’s auto fatalities. The nation's water-treatment plants leak as much as 10 billion gallons of raw sewage annually, the Environmental Protection Agency reports. The list goes on.

The American Society of Civil Engineers gave the nation's critical networks a D on its most recent Report Card for American Infrastructure. The group's estimate that we need $2.2 trillion over the next five years to bring everything up to snuff is up from its $1.6 trillion estimate in 2005.

It's impossible to say what our crumbling infrastructure costs the economy, but lousy roads cost motorists $67 billion a year in repairs and operating costs. The National Education Association estimates the nation's schools need $322 billion in repairs and upgrades.

"Failing infrastructure cannot support a healthy economy," says D. Wayne Klotz, the society's president. "We have under-invested for decades, and we're getting hit with the hard reality that ignoring a problem doesn’t make it go away. The longer we wait to close the investment gap, the more expensive it will become."

Public-private partnerships attempt to close the gap. Proponents call them mutually beneficial deals that allow the government to get things built with minimal capital or risk. The companies recoup their investments through tolls, fees or leasing the infrastructure back to the government. Such partnerships typically take one of two forms.

Green-field projects bring the public and private sectors together for new projects. A private group that included Carnival Cruises and Royal Caribbean Cruise lines chipped in to build a cruise-ship terminal in Galveston, Texas. The city of Tampa, Florida, paid American Water-Pridesa $29 million in 2004 to finish construction on a monumentally over-budget $158 million desalination plant, with the private partner assuming financial responsibility for the project.

Such deals have lead to projects like a 47-mile toll road in Denver, the Hiawatha Light Rail Transit system in Minneapolis and the Narrows Bridge in Tacoma, Washington. The city of Fredricksburg, Virginia, recently wrapped up $85 million worth of new green-field projects that include two schools and a parking lot. Assistant city manager Bevery Cameron said the deals allowed the projects to be finished in less time, and with fewer hassles, than if the city had gone it alone.

Brown-field projects are more controversial, because they involve turning over existing public assets, such as Alligator Alley, to the private sector. The faltering economy has slowed Florida's plan, but the state transportation department has set a May 8 deadline for bids. It remains to be seen how much the state might get, but similar deals in other states have proven lucrative.

An international consortium led by the Spanish firm Cintra and the Australian company Macquarie Infrastructure Group paid $1.8 billion four years ago to run the Chicago Skyway for 99 years. They struck a $3.8 billion deal in 2006 to lease the Indiana Tollway for 75 years, one year after Macquarie picked up a controlling interest in the company running the Dulles Greenway in Virginia for $533 million. The Macquarie group reportedly has netted $74.7 million in advisory and debt-arrangement fees on the three roads.

Consortium spokesman Matt Pierce says the two firms have widened toll plazas and improved traffic flow on the Indiana and Chicago tollways and says they will spend $4.5 billion on maintenance and upgrades over the course of the leases. Because the lease agreements contain specific limits on toll increases, the private group shoulders the financial burden if traffic fails to meet projections — something that’s entirely likely, given that traffic on the tollways has slumped along with the economy. Macquarie's funding reportedly has dried up, the U.S. roads it purchased are having trouble repaying their debts, and last month the company's stock hit its lowest level since 1999.

Other big brown-field partnerships include a 20-year, $1.5 billion deal between Indianapolis and Veolia Water to run the city’s water system, and Chevron-Texaco's leasing land at Fort Detrick, Maryland, to build a power plant. The city of Tampa pays American Water a monthly fee to operate the desalination plant it helped build, but the company refuses to disclose details of the deal. But they can be very lucrative.

Proponents say such projects bring free-market efficiency and innovation to public works. They provide governments with much needed cash while letting them off the hook for building, maintaining, and improving expensive infrastructure. Freed from such obligations, the argument goes, the government can focus on tasks like national security.

But critics argue that although these projects can bring cities and states a quick jolt of cash, they may do more harm than good in the long run. Nathan Newman, director of policy at the Progressive States Network, says that without a crystal ball, it's impossible for the governments to know the real worth of the assets they are selling off.

"Unless you know what kind of revenue stream an asset will generate in the future, it is tough to know what you're giving up when you turn it over to a private firm for 99 years," he says. He adds that private firms lack accountability when it comes to relations with labor unions and employees.

Mike Joyce, director of legislative affairs for the Owner Operator Drivers Association, a trade group representing truck drivers, is concerned that private firms will place profits above safety.

"What are these private companies doing to ensure they make a profit?" Joyce says. "Are they cutting corners to make sure the numbers work?"

No, says Norment, head of the National Council for Public-Private Partnerships. Private firms have a vested interest in maintaining — and improving — the infrastructure they manage, he says, because "companies competing in a market environment must innovate to survive."

He points to the Chicago Skyway as an example, noting that the consortium drags what is essentially a giant magnet across the road each morning to remove metal debris, reducing the incidence of flat tires and increasing safety. "The public sector never would have come up with this," says Norment. "They’re just not in the business of innovating."

There is still fierce opposition to some PPPs. Florida's proposal has met with resistance among the public and in the state capital, and last year Pennsylvania lawmakers rejected a proposal to privatize a major highway. But with more than half of the states considering such deals, they almost inevitably will gain broader acceptance among policymakers and the public.

"The message is getting out," says Norment. "As misconceptions about these programs are addressed, they'll continue expanding in the U.S."

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Jaguar, Buick dethrone Lexus in reliability study

By DAN STRUMPF, AP Auto Writer

 2009 Jaguar XF-Series
2009 Jaguar XF-Series

NEW YORK – Jaguar and Buick surged to the top of J.D. Power and Associates' closely watched vehicle dependability study this year, tying for the No. 1 spot and dethroning Lexus for the first time since the Japanese luxury brand has been a part of the survey.

Lexus, Toyota Motor Corp.'s luxury brand, took the next spot in the study released Thursday, followed by Toyota's namesake brand, then Mercury, Infiniti and Acura.

"Buick and Jaguar both lead the industry in nameplate performance," said Neal Oddes, director of product research and analysis at J.D. Power. "In terms of individual model performance, Lexus and Toyota still do very, very well."

The annual study measures problems experienced by the original owners of vehicles after three years. Suzuki owners reported the most problems among the 37 brands assessed by J.D. Power.

Despite losing its crown to Jaguar and Buick, Lexus still swept top awards in four segments, while Toyota's namesake brand took five awards. General Motors Corp.'s Buick LaCrosse was J.D. Power's top midsize car, while Ford Motor Co.'s Lincoln brand took two awards. Chrysler LLC, which took no segment awards last year, won top honors for its Dodge Caravan in the van segment.

Jaguar jumped from the No. 10 spot in 2008, while Buick leapt from the No. 6 spot. The movement is notable for a study that is fairly consistent from year to year, and the results marked the first time Lexus was not either first or tied for first since it was first included in the study in 1995. Oddes said both Jaguar and Buick have made significant improvements recently.

"We see improvements all over the board with Jaguar," Oddes said, citing fewer reported problems with vehicle exterior, sound system and the overall driving experience. "The improvement at a nameplate level is significant."

Mike O'Driscoll, Jaguar's managing director, said the award marks a huge step forward for Jaguar's image in the U.S., which he acknowledged has suffered recently. He said the company has been working furiously to reinvent itself in recent years.

"The improvements really started with a major investment we made at Jaguar in new technology and a much more intelligent approach to design," he said. "This is really a vindication of that investment and technology."

Oddes also said Buick has taken heed of problems reported in previous J.D. Power studies and made "continuous improvement on their side of things."

Jamie Hresko, GM's vice president of quality, said the win for Buick is a win for GM overall because the company has duplicated the lessons from Buick in all new models.

"I think we still struggle with the perception, that the perception of our product is substandard," he said. "If we continue to attack the markets that we consider will be high volume, which is markets like the Chevrolet Malibu, and we can sell a few hundred thousand of them, the reputation will spread."

Buick has performed at or near the top of the J.D. Power rankings in past years, tying Lexus for first two years ago, but dropping to sixth last year. Hresko expects the company's other brands to do better than past years in the J.D. Power initial quality survey.

Jaguar, which Indian car giant Tata Motors Ltd. bought from Ford in 2007, remains a relatively small-volume brand in the U.S. It sold just 14,000 vehicles here in 2008, while Buick sold 128,000.

Oddes said this year's study was redesigned to exclude routine fixes from a vehicle's list of problems. For example, the study no longer counts tire or windshield wiper replacements as a reportable problem. The intended result is a study that focuses on actual glitches with a vehicle, Oddes said, though it also makes it difficult to make year-over-year comparisons.

"We cleaned up the survey to really try to focus in on things that are truly broken," he said.

The industry average was 170 problems per 100 vehicles, or somewhat less than two problems per vehicle. Last year, the industry average was 206 problems per 100 vehicles, but year-over-year improvements this year are much less pronounced when accounting for the changes in the study's methodology, Oddes said.

The numerical differences between brands that crowd the top are extremely small. For example, Jaguar and Buick owners reported an average of 122 problems per 100 vehicles, while Lexus owners reported 126 and Toyota 129. At the bottom, Suzuki owners reported an average of 263 problems per 100 vehicles.

The most frequently reported problem was wind noise, followed by brake noise, peeling paint, brake vibrations and problems with a vehicle's lights, Oddes said. The problems have been fairly consistent from year to year, he said.

J.D. Power's dependability study surveyed 46,313 original owners of 2006 model-year vehicles in October 2008. The results are watched closely by automakers and are often used in advertising. Owners' opinion of a car after three years can be a major influence on their opinion to buy that brand again.

The firm also releases an initial quality study, which measures problems in the first 90 days of ownership. That study usually comes out in June.

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Driving Impression: 2010 Nissan GT-R

By Sam Mitani

Nissan's GT-R hit the sports-car scene last year with a tremendous bang, but not even a year after the first car was delivered, there's already controversy. Web-savvy car enthusiasts have no doubt read about the GT-R's issue with the "launch control" system. It was something I had to bring up with GT-R project chief Kazutoshi Mizuno. Over a cup of green tea, I asked for an explanation...well, he did more than that. He threw me the keys to a 2010 Nissan GT-R and said, "I'll explain as you drive."

Mizuno said that the major difference between the 2010 model GT-R and its predecessor is the launching system. ("Please don't call it launch control!" he kept reminding me.) Nissan was forced to make revisions to this technology after dozens of busted transmissions (by folks who abused the system by using it repeatedly over a short period of time). The issue became so publicized that it led to a highly viewed You Tube parody starring an evil German dictator, which at the time of this writing had 204,900 views.

Mizuno and his team claim that this device was never intended for setting fastest quarter-mile times at your local drag strip. Its main function was to efficiently pop out of slippery driving surfaces, such as snow or mud. Yeah, right. I gave him a questioning stare. He pulled out the car's original owner's manual and said, "See for yourself."

Okay, he had a point. It did state that the system was to be used only when getting out of snow or mud.

But Mizuno said that because there was so much made about the system in its current state, he has made sure there will be no controversy next year. The "leave-the-line-efficiently-out-of-slippery-surfaces control" has been reprogrammed to launch the car at 3000 rpm instead of 4500. This dramatically eases the stress on the drivetrain, allowing the driver to use it repeatedly without worrying about breaking anything. Unfortunately, it also means the end of super-quick wheel-chirping snaps off the line. Still, even with this mellower version, the car is plenty fast.

The 2009 version now comes with the same reprogrammed software as the 2010. First, we tested the 2009 model. The car's original 0-60-mph using the launching system was 3.3 seconds. We recorded 3.4 sec. with the new software. There's much less drama when releasing the brake pedal, but it doesn't take long for all four tires to hook up. Now Mizuno asked me to launch "normally" — by using only one foot. So when I was ready, I took my right foot off the brake pedal and then mashed the throttle with the same foot. Again, no real drama when leaving the line, but the result was surprising. I recorded a 3.5-sec. 0-60-mph run. This means that you really don't need to initiate the launching mode anymore, unless for some crazy reason, you really savor that extra fraction of a second. This held true for the 2010 model as well.

Other changes for the 2010 car, which comes with an MSRP of $80,790 ($83,040 for the Premium Edition), include a new color mentioned above and a new black coating on the forged alloy wheels. But for driving enthusiasts, the only difference worth noting is the leave-the-line-efficiently-out-of-slippery...oh the heck with it, the only difference worth noting is the launch control.

What's Hot:

  • 485-bhp twin-turbocharged V-6
  • Retuned suspension system
  • Reprogrammed launch system

What's Not:

  • Looks the same as base 2009 GT-R
  • Funky exterior styling

Cars to Compare:

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Electric Cars: Are We Ready or Not?

Policymakers and car builders have decided that battery-powered autos are the future of transportation in America. But what do the masses think? The answer might surprise you.

By Erik Sofge of MSN autos
Driving Into the Sunset (© Digital Vision/Getty Images)
Click to see more pictures

While policymakers and car builders are pushing hard for electric propulsion, gas and diesel vehicles still make up more than 97 percent of new automobiles sold today.

Is America ready for cars that run on electricity? The pollsters seem to think so — for years, surveys have found that a majority of drivers in the United States are interested in gas-electric hybrid vehicles. And in a J.D. Power and Associates poll conducted in the summer of 2008, 46 percent of those who responded would consider buying a hybrid, even after being informed that they can cost at least $5,000 more than equivalent gas-burning models. Fewer polls have been conducted for all-electric vehicles (EVs), but the lesson seems clear: Hybrids are in demand, and electric cars could be next in line for the national zeitgeist.

Get on the highway, however, and it's another story. Although hybrids have been available since 1997, and GM introduced its battery-powered EV1 in 1996, gas and diesel vehicles currently make up more than 97 percent of new automobile sales. There isn't a single reason for that — buried in those poll numbers are thousands of individual stories, with drivers picking a car or truck for reasons as pragmatic as cargo space, or as ephemeral as engine noise.

To get a more detailed snapshot of the nation's attitude toward hybrid and electric vehicles, we surveyed regular people from around the country, and asked them what they're looking for in a car and what it would take to put a battery-powered vehicle in their driveway. We were expecting to be surprised, and we weren't disappointed. Here are just some of their answers, but they all point to a country not ready or willing to make the leap to electricity.

Hybrids: Too Few, Too Much
It's no surprise that Americans are put off by the high price of hybrids, especially in today's economy. Almost no one we spoke with would be willing to pay a price premium of more than a few thousand dollars for a hybrid with roughly the same performance and features as a similar gas-guzzling vehicle. But for Christopher Manley, a general contractor who lives in Vinings Lake, Ga., with his wife and three sons, the problem is more complex.

When Manley was shopping for a new vehicle last year, hybrids were a serious consideration. "We recycle; we want to do our part," he says. "But we don't fit in a sedan anymore." So the Manleys bought a 2008 Chrysler Town & Country minivan, primarily because of family-friendly features like Stow 'N Go seats and a dual-monitor rear-seat entertainment system. "I've never heard of a minivan hybrid," Manley says. "The closest thing would have been a Chevy Tahoe Hybrid, but the price would have been outlandish — something like $20,000 more."

The same is true for the Ford F-150 pickup that Manley uses for work. Finding a hybrid with equivalent towing capacity would have meant upgrading up to a much more expensive model. "If there had been an F-150 in the lot, and a hybrid F-150 right next to it for $5,000 more, it would have been a done deal," he says. The hybrid would win hands down. But that option is not available.

For Paula Ridley, who co-owns an auto body shop in Brockton, Mass., the bigger deal-breaker for hybrids is maintenance. "The parts are big money," she says. "We serviced a hybrid that was vandalized, and the headlights were $1,000 each to replace. Another car would have been a couple hundred dollars. But these lights had computers in them." While stripping parts from the hybrid, the vandals snipped electrical cables, forcing the owner to replace the vehicle's entire wire harness — essentially its electrical nervous system — worth more than $1,000.

"It's just a complicated car," Ridley says. "Mechanics have to be schooled in them. If it's not something basic, like changing the oil or replacing an air filter, you're taking it to the dealership. And then you're really just at their mercy." Ridley's hands-on time has clinched it — even if there were no price difference between the gas and gas-electric versions of a given model (like the Toyota Camry she drives), she can't imagine switching to a hybrid or EV.

Mechanic working on car (© General Motors) Click picture to enlarge

Cost of ownership, especially maintenance, was another concern. Hybrids, EVs and EREVs, like this Cadillac Escalade Hybrid, are complicated and often can be worked on only by the dealer.

Conscious, But Not Ready to Change
Ridley's 22-year-old son, Daniel, is much more enthusiastic about hybrids, however. Looking ahead, he can't imagine a future where hybrids and electric vehicles aren't dominating the road. "Gas has to run out," he says. "All the gas cars are going to be converted or junked. There's no other choice."

But of the three cars Daniel Ridley owns — a 1997 Corolla for daily driving, a 1996 Camaro SS for special occasions and an unregistered 1986 Trans Am GTA that he displays at car shows — none is a hybrid. "Gas is working for me right now," he says. "If gas was $4 a gallon consistently, and hybrids or electric vehicles were only a few thousand dollars more, I'd seriously think about it."

There's a catch, though. He might be willing to buy a hybrid or EV to deal with rising gas costs, but that would replace his Corolla, not his high-performance jones. Muscle-car enthusiasts, he says, are a market that hybrids will never touch: "I don't care about going fast. I'd rather show my Camaro off than get a ticket in it. But people know it goes fast. You can hear it. People turn their heads when I drive past them. People like me take pride in the sound a muscle car makes. You'll never get that with a hybrid."

Car editors might bemoan the death of high performance in a hybridized world, but for most Americans, burning through the twisties isn't a major concern. The right car is often the one with the best price for the features, or the one that fits into your corner of the larger car culture. It's obvious that hybrids need to be more affordable and that there must be more of a selection if they are to have a chance of overtaking traditional vehicles. But carmakers and the "Wisemen" from Washington might also have to accept that some customers simply don't want to be convinced.

Electric Vehicles: An Uncertain Future
We expected a wide variety of opinions about hybrids, but the real surprise was the reaction we got toward EVs — a veritable flat line of disinterest. Most participants said they didn't know specifics about EV range, performance or recharging. Andrea Tomita, an architect and interior designer in Honolulu, says that hybrids "fall short on aesthetics, and they're pricey," but would be willing to sacrifice cargo space if hybrids fell in line with standard vehicles in terms of both looks and cost. But she says that EVs are not only ugly, but unsafe: "The jaws of life can't cut through those cars." This is a myth, of course. But how many other people believe it? Similar claims have been floated on the Internet about hybrids, and while there isn't much data from emergency responders to support these fears, a myth can be just as damaging as the truth.

For "Kyle," a lawyer who lives in the San Francisco area and would prefer to remain anonymous, the economics and logistics of EVs are still too complex, even for people willing to spend more to reduce their carbon footprint. By comparison, when Kyle was shopping for a new car last year, the advantages of a hybrid were clear. "Gas was $4.50 a gallon," he says. "I think it hit $5 at one point. With a hybrid, it was very easy to quantify the savings you'd be getting. If you're getting double the mileage, you're paying half as much for gas. With EVs, how do you convert electricity to gallons? How much does 20 kilowatts cost to produce?"

Although Kyle grew up in the Bay Area, where the BART transit system had parking spaces reserved for electric vehicles, the state of EV infrastructure seems like a major obstacle. "It's not just that the cars are expensive," he says. "I'm already paying a premium for a hybrid. What happens when you're running low on the road? Can you plug it in at a gas station? Do you have to convert your garage to charge it at home?"

A decade ago, Marisa Osorio, a stay-at-home mom who lives in Pittsburgh with her husband and two children, was willing to deal with the relative lack of electric vehicle infrastructure, as well as the short driving range. At the time, Osorio and her fiancé had two incomes, two cars and no children, and were living in Southern California. They considered trading in his Ford Escort for one of the newly released GM EV1s. With one standard vehicle (a Saturn sedan) and one battery-driven car, they'd be able to run errands around town without burning a drop of gas, and still take longer trips without worrying about running out of electricity. Unfortunately, GM was only leasing the EV1. "We figured EVs were the future," Osorio says. "Other automakers would have to come with them. So we decided to wait until we could buy one."

2010 Fisker Karma (© Robert J. Pennington) Click picture to enlarge

Looks are also a major detriment to the acceptance of EVs and EREVs. But, as some people pointed out in this survey, this 2010 Fisker Karma is a step in the right direction. But the cost is prohibitive.

Ten years later, the EV1 is still a sore subject — both for its owners, who were forced to return them, and for Osorio, who recently bought a Pontiac Vibe station wagon, primarily because of the cargo space and safety features. "The only thing that stopped us from buying an electric car back in the day was that they wouldn't sell it to us," she says. "We could have had one 10 years ago. And a lot of other people might have, too. It's a missed opportunity." Now, with two children and a single income, any sort of price premium for a hybrid or electric vehicle is simply too much.

As with hybrids, enthusiasts simply won't sacrifice on performance, even those who believe that electricity has potential. Daniel Dror, a real-estate entrepreneur, avid car collector and ex-race car driver from Houston, is a concerned enthusiast. "Alternative fuel sources are a must," he says. "We need to integrate them into our energy strategy going forward." However, he isn't quite ready to sacrifice looks, handling or power to drive one. "The way a car looks and feels is important to me," he says. "I recently looked at the Fisker Karma, and almost put down a deposit. But I just couldn't justify it financially. The technology needs to evolve more to get me behind the wheel of one of these cars." Unfortunately, that's far into the future.

There Is a Silver Lining
It would be misleading to leave out the general — albeit limited — sense of optimism among the participants in this survey. Some believed that a full transition to hybrid or electric automobiles would never happen, or that it might take centuries. But most thought it was either inevitable, or a strong possibility. If there was a consensus, it was that a wave of cheap, versatile hybrids would be snapped up with little hesitation.

And carmakers and governmental types can't blame sluggish hybrid and EV penetration on a lack of education. Having spent six years in the fuel-cell business, Adam Calihman, a Boulder, Colo.-based entrepreneur, is the definition of an informed consumer — which, he says, is why he still drives a 1998 Saab 900. "For both these technologies, we're at the trailing edge of a big step-change," Calihman says. "There's going to be a huge leap in quality very soon. People buying these cars right now are jumping in at a point when it's still a crude device. Hybrids work only slightly better than a combustion engine alone. And EVs, even if you can afford the investment of rewiring your garage, or you can convince your landlord or co-op board to install an 80 amp line in the parking lot, just for you, the quality of the batteries and the capacitors still has to be improved."

For Calihman, who describes himself as an aggressive driver ("A lot of people don't like driving with me," he jokes), performance isn't a factor, since engineers are already using ultracapacitors to quickly discharge power to electric motors, boosting off-the-line acceleration. He's waiting for the cost-benefit analysis to add up, which he sees happening only when the current hybrids and EVs become obsolete, and the market is flooded with the best of both worlds — plug-in hybrids or extended-range electric vehicles (EREVs). "It's an EV plus a gas generator," he explains, "so you fill it up with gas, and maybe you won't go out of electric range for months, but if you need to take a long trip, you can. There's no switching between your EV and your hydrogen car. You don't need a four-car garage. And you don't have to think about it."

Bottom Line
The public seems primed for a seamless hybridization of this country's fleet of automobiles — with an emphasis on seamlessness. For EVs, though, there's still no sense of how long it will take to educate drivers about their potential benefits, and to build up an infrastructure that rivals the nation's ubiquitous gas and diesel stations. The one glimmer of hope for EVs: Daniel Ridley, the muscle-car driver, really wants a GM Volt, the plug-in vehicle that the company plans to start selling as early as 2010. Not as a tooling-around-town car, but as a show-stopper. "It looks great," he says. "And it doesn't matter that it runs on batteries, because it doesn't look like it's supposed to have a lot of engine noise — you know, like a European car." Backhanded compliment or not, any interest in EVs — or GM, for that matter — is good news.

Based out of the Boston area, Erik Sofge is frequent contributor to Popular Mechanics and He specializes in everything scientific and technical.

In the market for a new car? MSN Autos is pleased to provide you with information and services designed to save you time, money and hassle. Click to research prices and specifications on any new car on the market or get a free price quote through MSN Autos' New-Car Buying Service.

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Ten most famous Carnivals Around The World

People all around the world love joining together and sharing good times through festivities and celebrations. Carnivals are celebrations marking significant times such as seasons or events across the world. Often times these carnivals will recognize religions or cultures and will be celebrated through parades, food, entertainment, music and costumes. There are hundreds of carnivals across the world, but there are a select few that have really gained in popularity over the years.

10] The Carnival of Cultures

Established in 1996 The Carnival of Cultures in Berlin, Germany has become one of the city’s most popular and anticipated events. The carnival is held each year to celebrate the diversity of cultures within the city. There are over 450,000 people living in Berlin that have settled there from all over the world. This makes the city very diverse in not only culture, but ethnicity and religion as well. With over 3 million residents from Germany and a half million in visitors, the festivities have gotten bigger and better each year. Unique foods and international cuisines, along with music and dancing have brought lots of attention to Berlin. Held during late spring, the carnival offers parades that recognize up to 80 different countries and cultures.

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image sources: Flicker & AOL

There are also plenty of street music performances in the Kreuzberg district that offer entertainment for everyone. You can watch acrobatic acts, look at all types of folk art, listen to a wide variety of bands or just witness some of the amazing shows all around the city. There is plenty to do and see. The best part is no matter how unique your culture you are welcomed and recognized as an important part of the life in Berlin.

source: YouTube

9] The Fastnacht in Köln

The Fastnacht or Karneval, in Köln, Germany is known as the biggest and most crazy carnival around all the cities of Germany. The word Fastnacht means “fasting night” which resembles the celebrations held around the world in honor of the upcoming Lent season. However, the Karneval has also been linked back to the pagan times when the people would wear masks to rid the evil spirits of winter from the city. This is where the wearing of masks still plays a part in the theme of the carnival as well as to hide the people from their social status.

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During the festival there are lots of street and pub parties everywhere and people are dressed in all sorts of costumes. There are costume balls, parades, dancing and music to be enjoyed. During this time all business comes to a halt and everyone joins together for laughter, singing and lots of crazy antics. The parade is one of the longest and stretches nearly 5 miles with thousands of spectators lining the streets to watch and catch the abundant candies thrown to the crowd. The people of Köln take their partying very seriously and expect everyone around to have a great time and lots of fun.

8] Carnival in Aalborg

In 1982, in northern Europe the Scandinavians decided it was time to have their own carnival and started the Carnival in Aalborg, Denmark. This carnival takes place the 21st week of the year, or typically the last week in May. Although this carnival started out small, it has growing rapidly in popularity. During this week you can enjoy the Battle of the Carnival bands, where bands from local Scandinavia and all over the world come to perform their shows and be judged during the competition. There is also a Grand Parade that is remarkable and leads everyone down to the city park where there are lots of entertainers, samba music, and dancing.

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source : here

There are typically four stages that have a collaboration of all types of entertainment and performances to enjoy. Part of the Carnival tradition is to have a Children’s Carnival the week prior to the Carnival of Aalborg when the streets are transformed into a wonderful and magical place for all children to enjoy. The people of Scandinavia know how to have a good time and feel it’s important to involve people from all ages as well as any people who would love to visit and join in on the celebration.

7] Basler Fastnacht or Carnival of Basel

Basler Fastnacht, or the Carnival of Basel, Switzerland is a carnival that actually starts the Monday after Ash Wednesday. It lasts exactly 72 hours and represents the time in which the town was ruled by the people. It has been referred to as the three most beautiful days in which the people can run through the streets and restaurants unrestricted. During the 72 hours of the carnival celebration, the town’s people wear awesome costumes and masks to hide their identity and it is actually considered inappropriate to show ones face during this time.

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The carnival consists of marching bands, concerts, floats, lots of confetti, and beautiful lanterns. There are special events for everyone including a day especially for families and children. Although it can be enticing to take part in Carnival of Basel, it has been said that for visitors it can be an overwhelming experience. The traditions are so unique and different that only the locals may fully understand and appreciate them. With their own Basel dialect and their inside humor, it can become quite a culture shock. Everything is meant in fun, but be prepared for the concoction of humorous, yet dark and mediaeval undertones throughout the mix of festivities.

6] The Winter Carnival in Quebec

In Canada the winters can be harsh and long lasting. This is why the people of Quebec decided years ago that the winter is the best time to have a celebration. The Winter Carnival in Quebec City, has become another world famous celebration with ice sculptures, shops, music, arts and crafts, food, balls, dog sledding, canoe races, and much more. The famous drink the “Caribou” has been one of the biggest hits of all. Originating from when the French Trappers used to make this concoction to stay warm during the brutal winters, it has now been revised and is a delicious treat shared by many.

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The motto of the carnival is to have as much fun as possible and the spirit during these few weeks in January and February is very uplifting for all locals and visitors alike. Although the temperatures can get very low during carnival time there are plenty of places to sneak into and get warm. The carnival mascot is Bonhomme Carnaval, which is French for “snowman”. This giant snowman in the red hat and belt is known as the official ambassador of the Winter Carnival and his knights, the knuks, keep the mood light and cheery for those of all ages.

5] The Carnival of Venice

The Carnival of Venice, in Venice, Italy is a festival that celebrates the transition from winter to spring and the mix of traditions, entertainment, and history throughout the Venetian city. As one of the most internationally popular carnivals, it is also one of the oldest, dating back into the 14th century. In the beginning, the people of the city would wear masks to disguise themselves. This way there would be no social status shown between the upper class and the common people. By wearing masks everyone could take part in the celebration as equals. These masks are now known as the Venetian Masks and draw much attention. They require so much detail and time to make them so unique and beautiful that they are taken very seriously as a part of the celebration.

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With grand balls, shows, dinners, parties, orchestras, cocktails and the amazing costumes and masks, this carnival attracts people from all over the world. Although a lot of the original carnival traditions have been lost over the years, it seems some of the newer ideas have evolved and have attracted lots of new people to visit this beautiful city. Unlike a lot of the other festivities that Venice has to offer this carnival is not kept such a secret.

4] The Carnival in the Caribbean, Trinidad and Tobago

Also originated by the French, The Carnival in the Caribbean, in Trinidad and Tobago has become one of a kind. When the French came over and took root in the Caribbean they brought along with them their slaves and the idea of slavery. The rich settlers would celebrate their wealth through fantastic balls, where they’d were masks, wigs, beautiful gowns and dance the night away. While the masters were away, the Africans would celebrate on their own and once slavery ended and the Africans were able to take part in the celebrations, the traditions took on a new twist.

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If you have ever been to the Caribbean you would already know that the people living there know how to have a good time. There is a whole new feeling on the islands in the Caribbean that you just cannot experience anywhere else. The Carnival of the Caribbean is no different. They take all their talent and energy and put it into the carnival and it shows. The Carnival is full of dancing, calypso and soca music, competing steel bands, costumes and great fun had by all. There is nothing more tropic than joining the festivities of the Caribbean.

3] The Carnival of Nice

The Carnival of Nice represents, once again, the fun filled days leading up to the beginning of Lent. In Nice, France, on the French Riviera, the two weeks prior to “Fat Tuesday” also known as Mardi Gras, are celebrated without the restrictions on the Catholic faith. Often dressed in masks and big headed caricature costumes, the people of Nice take this time to enjoy themselves, lighten up and take part in the feasts, drinks, dancing and parades across the city of Nice.

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The parades are every day and night during the carnival and during the Battle of the Flowers there are 20 spectacular floats paraded down the streets covered in beautiful bouquets. The costumes and floats are so extraordinary that there is a committee assigned yearly to help plan the new and wonderful themes of the carnival. This is a time for unrestricted fun and wonderful times with a grand bonfire and fireworks ending the final day of the carnival. With plenty of entertainment from rock and techno concerts to gorgeous flowers filling the streets you can imagine how truly one of a kind this carnival really is. The Carnival of Nice has had over one million locals and tourists come to join the celebration and it continues to grow in popularity each year.

2] Mardi Gras

Brought to the United States by the French, Margi Gras dates back to the 1830’s and takes place in New Orleans, Louisiana. It has become one of the most popular celebrations of the United States. Thousands of people flock to the city mid- February to help celebrate the time surrounding “Fat Tuesday.” This is the day before Ash Wednesday, which marks the beginning of the 40 days of Lent that Catholics celebrate. These festivities are also celebrated around the world, but have all taken a different spin. Over the years, Mardi Gras has turned into more about celebrating different cultures and people that like to join in together to have a great time.

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The carnival in New Orleans is especially known for its parties, amazing parade, beautiful floats, wonderful food, drinks, and the wearing of colorful beads. There are a few traditions associated with Mardi Gras and these include the making and eating of King Cakes, and acquiring doubloons and beads as souvenirs. The three reoccurring colors seen throughout the Mardi Gras celebration are Purple(representing Justice), Gold (representing Power) and Green (representing Faith). While attending the Mardi Gras celebration you will be surrounded my jazz music, marching bands and elaborate costumes.

1] Carnival of Rio de Janeiro

Carnival of Rio de Janeiro located in Brazil started out similarly to Mardi Gras. However, the traditions of the carnival have taken a slightly different direction when it comes to events. The carnival is a four day celebration held the four days prior to Ash Wednesday. This carnival is considered a farewell to the pleasures of the flesh prior to Lent and the carnival preparation starts months in advance. The Samba Parade has been thought of as one of the most beautiful shows on earth.

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Televised on international broadcasts there are samba groups competing in all night spectacular shows in the Sambodrome. These samba groups work endlessly rehearsing and perfecting their shows just for this special occasion. Also the Street carnival has over 400 groups, called Bandas and Blocos, throughout the neighborhoods that march, parade, dance and dress in costume. Each Banda or Bloco has its own theme and can move around the streets adding to the party atmosphere. Other traditions that are part of the carnival are the amazing parties and balls to attend. Also, it is not uncommon to see men dressed in drag walking along the streets as part of the fun.

As you can see, there are many different carnivals to be enjoyed around the world, and these only represent a select few.

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