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Friday, January 9, 2009

Grand Canyon, Loch Ness compete as nature wonders

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In this March 6, 2008 file picture, tourists get their picture taken at the Grand Canyon. The Grand Canyon, Loch Ness and Niagara Falls are among over 200 natural sites competing to become the New 7 Wonders of Nature in a global poll that is expected to draw around a billion voters, organizers said Wednesday, Jan 7, 2009. The 261 nominees from 222 countries around the world include some of the most famous mountain peaks, lakes, national parks or reefs, such as Mount Everst or the Great Barrier Reef. (AP Photo/Amanda Lee Meyers)

(AP) -- The Grand Canyon, Mount Everest and Loch Ness will vie with more than 200 other spectacular places in the next phase of the global competition for the New 7 Wonders of Nature, organizers said Wednesday. The 261 nominees from 222 countries include some of the most famous mountain peaks, lakes, and other attractions, such as the Great Barrier Reef and Niagara Falls.

Over a billion people are expected to join in Internet voting that will nominate 77 semifinalists for the top natural wonders, which will share in the glory already enjoyed by the seven man-made wonders chosen 18 months ago.

"We are calling on people all over the world to actively show their appreciation for our ... natural world by joining together to celebrate the most extraordinary sites on our planet," said Tia Viering, spokeswoman of the New 7 Wonders campaign.

The Swiss-based nonprofit foundation collected 441 nominations over the Internet since it opened the selection process in 2007.

The foundation then chose the top vote-getter from each country, making a list of 222 sites. The overall list rose to 261 with the inclusion of sites shared by two or more countries - such as Niagara Falls and Lake Superior between Canada and the United States, and the Matterhorn, between Switzerland and Italy.

Votes can be cast until July 7. Registration on the Web site aims to prevent people from voting twice.

The quarterfinalists include some lesser known sites, such as Yasur Volcano on the south Pacific island of Vanuatu or Nigeria's Zuma Rock, a giant monolith in the middle of the African country.

A panel of experts in nature, chaired by Federico Mayor, former chief of UNESCO, the U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, will reduce the list to 21 finalists in July.

The seven winners will then be chosen in another round of public voting lasting until 2011, this time by Internet, telephone and text messages.

Around 100 million people voted in the selection of the seven man-made wonders. The winners were the Pyramids of Giza, Egypt; the Colosseum, Italy; the Great Wall of China; the Taj Mahal, India; Petra, Jordan; Christ the Redeemer Statue, Brazil; Machu Picchu, Peru; and the Pyramid at Chichen Itza, Mexico.

"The enthusiasm for the campaign, which brought culture out of dusty corners and back to life on front pages, TV screens and computers everywhere, crossed all social and economic lines," said Viering. "Everyone from schoolchildren to entrepreneurs eagerly participated."

Choosing world wonders has been a continuing fascination over the centuries. UNESCO keeps updating its list of World Heritage Sites, which now totals 878 places.

The New 7 Wonders campaign led by Swiss adventurer Bernard Weber aims to promote cultural diversity by supporting, preserving and restoring monuments and natural sites. It relies on private donations and revenue from selling broadcasting rights.

©2008 The Associated Press.

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Atheist buses denying God's existence take to streets

By Martin Beckford, Religious Affairs Correspondent

Organisers originally hoped to put the message on just a handful of London buses, as an antidote to posters put up by religious groups which they claimed were "threatening eternal damnation" to non-believers.

But after the campaign received high-profile support from the prominent atheist Prof Richard Dawkins and the British Humanist Association, the modest £5,500 target was met within minutes and more than £140,000 has now been donated since the launch in October.

Enough money has now been raised to place the message – "There's probably no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life" – on 200 bendy buses in the capital for a month, with the first ones taking to the streets .

A further 600 buses carrying the adverts will be seen by passengers and passers-by in cities across England, Wales and Scotland, from Aberdeen and Dundee to York, Coventry, Swansea and Bristol.

In addition, two large LCD screens bearing the atheist message have been placed in Oxford Street, central London, while 1,000 posters containing quotes from well-known non-believers will be placed on Underground trains for two weeks starting on Monday.

They feature lines doubting the existence of God, and celebrating the natural world, written by Albert Einstein, Katharine Hepburn, Douglas Adams and Emily Dickinson.

It is the first ever atheist advertising campaign to take place in Britain, and similar adverts are now also running on public transport in America and Spain.

Ariane Sherine, a writer who first thought of the atheist bus adverts, said: "You wait ages for an atheist bus, then 800 come along at once. I hope they will brighten people's days and make them smile on their way to work."

The campaign has even been welcomed by religious groups for increasing the profile of debate about faith, and although there was tight security outside the launch event by the Royal Albert Hall, the campaigners have not received any threats from fundamentalists.

Paul Woolley, director of Theos, a theology think tank which donated £50 to the cause, said: "The posters will encourage people to consider the most important question we will ever face in our lives."

Some atheist supporters of the campaign were disappointed that the wording of the adverts did not declare categorically that God does not exist, although there were fears that this could break advertising guidelines.

Prof Dawkins, the renowned evolutionary biologist and author of The God Delusion, said: "I wanted something stronger but with hindsight I think it's probably a good thing because it makes people think. It's just food for thought – people will have conversations in pubs when they see these buses."

Hanne Stinson, chief executive of the British Humanist Association, said the adverts were "overwhelmingly positive" and were intended to reassure agnostics and atheists that there is nothing wrong with not believing in God.

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Teens Divulge Risky Behavior on Social Networking Sites

MONDAY, Jan. 5 (HealthDay News) — More than half of teens who use the social networking site MySpace have posted information about sexual behavior, substance abuse or violence, new research shows.

The good news, according to a second study from the same research group, is that a simple intervention — in this case, an-e-mail from a physician — made some of the teens change their risky behaviors.

“I was surprised, at least to some extent, at how clearly teens were discussing behaviors that we struggle to get out of them,” said Dr. Megan Moreno, an assistant professor of pediatrics at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

“Once we started getting the findings, we wondered, why are they doing this?” Moreno said. “Do they not get it? And, if they don’t understand that this is public, can we send them a cautionary message to let them know just how public their information really is?” Moreno was working at the University of Washington and Seattle Children’s Research Institute at the time the studies were done.

“We need to devise ways to teach teens and their parents to use the Internet responsibly,” study senior author Dr. Dimitri Christakis, director of the Center for Child Health, Behavior and Development at Seattle Children’s Research Institute, said in a statement.

Results from the two studies appear in the January issue of the Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine.

More than 90 percent of teens in the United States have access to the Internet, according to background information from the studies. About half of all teens who use the Internet also use social networking sites, such as MySpace and Facebook. MySpace boasts more than 200 million profiles, according to the studies, and about one-quarter of those belong to teens under 18.

Moreno and her colleagues randomly selected 500 MySpace profiles from people who reported their age as 18. They collected the information during the summer of 2007.

They found that 54 percent of the profiles contained information on risky behaviors, with 24 percent referencing sexual behaviors, 41 percent referring to substance abuse and 14 percent posting violent information.

Factors associated with a decreased risk of posting risky behaviors included displaying religious involvement or involvement with sports or hobbies.

For the second study, the researchers randomly selected 190 profiles of people between 18 and 20 who displayed risky behaviors, such as sexual information. Half were sent an e-mail from a physician that pointed out that the physician had noticed risky behavior on their profile and suggested changing the displayed information. The e-mail message also provided information on where to be tested for sexually transmitted diseases.

Almost 14 percent of those who got the e-mail deleted references to sexual behavior, compared with 5 percent of the others.

“This was a creative and unique way to reach kids,” said Kimberly Mitchell, the author of an accompanying editorial in the same issue of the journal and a research professor at the Crimes Against Children Research Center at the University of New Hampshire in Durham.

Mitchell advised parents not to try to forbid their children from using these sites altogether. “It’s important for parents to understand how important these social networking sites are to kids,” she said. “They’re here to stay, and they’re not all evil. There can be some really positive aspects to these sites. But adolescents aren’t necessarily thinking 10 years ahead, when employers or college administrators may look at these sites. Teens live in the here and now, so parents need to talk to kids about the longer-term impacts and help them think through some of the repercussions.”

Moreno suggested that parents ask teens to show them their MySpace or Facebook pages. “Teens will definitely balk, but they balk at lots of things, like curfews,” she said. “Some parents feel it’s a violation of privacy, like reading a diary, but it’s out there, it’s public.”

Parents should use this information as a conversation starter, Moreno suggested.

More information

The government has more advice on staying safe on social networking sites.

SOURCES: Megan A. Moreno, M.D., M.S.Ed., M.P.H., assistant professor, pediatrics, University of Wisconsin-Madison; Kimberly Mitchell, Ph.D., research professor, Crimes Against Children Research Center, Family Research Lab, University of New Hampshire, Durham, N.H.; January 2009, Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine; Jan. 5, 2009, news release, Seattle Children’s Research Institute

By Serena Gordon
HealthDay Reporter

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Drive-Through Docs Find Success in Bay Area

Clinics are opening up throughout the Bay Area that let people take trips to the doctor cheaper and faster than mainstream health care allows.

It’s one step away from drive-through health care.

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You can get everything from stitches for a cut to cholesterol screenings at reasonable prices at new health care shops opening up throughout the Bay A...

Drive-Thru Health care Could Save a Bundle

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Clinics are opening up throughout the Bay Area that let people take trips to the doctor cheaper and faster than mainstream health care allows.

Many people say the timing is right because so many of them have lost jobs and insurance coverage that they like the idea of a McMenu for their health care.

At one San Jose pharmacy called “Quick Health,” people can buy everything from makeup and toilet paper, to cholesterol tests or stitches for a minor cut.

This new breed of health care is lowering some peoples’ stress levels.

“It’s more simple than a clinic or hospital,” said Ruben Robalino, a patient. “That’s why I come here.

Robalino was waiting to see a family practice physician. He said because the prices were posted on a menu board like at a fast food restaurant, he knows exactly how much he will pay during the visit, unlike a trip to a medical center.

The grand total for Wednesday -- $59.

“It’s more easy when you come in and see the prices and all that and you know what you are going to pay,” he said.

Just like Starbucks when you order a latte, there are a few specials listed up on a board for everyone to see.

Try the “Healthy Lover Special"

On Wednesday flu shots cost only $19. Patients also benefit from package deals, like the “healthy lover special” for only $199. It includes a physical exam and STD and HIV tests.

“Quick Health” is open until 7 p.m. on most nights. People never need an appointment or insurance.

The concept is apparently taking off. There are now six “Quick Health” centers in the Bay Area serving more than 80,000 patients.

The lousy economy is bringing people in droves to the centers.

“That’s one unfortunate thing,” said CEO Dave Mandelkern. “When it comes to the economy, people are laid off and lose insurance and the stress of a losing a job often sparks illness. So we see an uptick in business as the economy goes down.”

While you can get a liver function test there, it is not the place to come if you break your arm or have a heart attack. Consider it the new family doctor found inside your neighborhood mall, Mandelkern said.

The centers are located in San Jose, San Mateo, Fremont, Oakland and San Francisco.

Because people without insurance can come there for basic care at an affordable price, some doctors feel the clinics may help reduce crowding in emergency rooms.

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The Stories Behind 11 Famous Cocktails

Ethan Trex
by Ethan Trex

When you belly up to the bar, how well do you know the cocktail you’re ordering? The ingredients of these famous tipples may be familiar to bar patrons the world over, but some of their origins are as debatable as those of the Flaming Moe. Here’s a quick rundown of where some of your favorite drinks entered a glass for the first time.

1. The Martini

iStock_000002585363XSmall-martini.jpg
Aficionados disagree, sometimes violently, on the correct ratio of gin to dry vermouth that makes a transcendent martini, and the debate over the true origin of the martini can be just as contentious. Some claim that it’s simply a dryer version of an older cocktail called the Martinez; Martinez, California, the birthplace of this cocktail, thus stakes its claim to the title of birthplace of the martini. Others postulate that the drink’s name simply comes from Martini & Rossi, an Italian company that’s been exporting its vermouths to the U.S. since the 19th century. Still others claim that the drink was created by and named for Martini di Arma di Taggia, the bartender at New York’s Knickerbocker Hotel, although there’s evidence that the cocktail may have been invented well before he started mixing drinks.

2. The Manhattan

The venerable Manhattan, a blend of whiskey, sweet vermouth, and bitters, is another cocktail that scores of people claimed to have invented. It may date back to the New York bar scene of the 1860s, but there are also some more intriguing tales about its origins. According to one of these legends, Jennie Churchill threw a party at the Manhattan Club in 1874 to celebrate Samuel J. Tilden’s victory in New York’s gubernatorial election. An enterprising bartender created a new cocktail for the event, which he dubbed the Manhattan in the club’s honor. Both of these characters would go on to bigger things. Churchill soon gave birth to a son, Winston, and Tilden made a presidential run in 1876. (Although Tilden won the popular vote, he lost out to his Republican opponent, Rutherford B. Hayes. At least the cocktail saved Tilden from obscurity.)

3. The Bellini

This delightful wine cocktail, a blend of white peach puree and Prosecco, has a well-established origin. Giuseppe Cipriani, founder of Venice’s beloved Harry’s Bar, started mixing up the fruity tipples sometime between 1934 and 1948. The pink drink reminded him of the color of a saint’s toga in a painting by Italian Renaissance artist Giovanni Bellini, so Cipriani named his concoction in honor of the painter.

4. The Kir

This popular French aperitif of crème de cassis and white wine has long been a favorite in France, but it didn’t get its name until after World War II. Felix Kir, the mayor of Dijon from 1945 to 1968, was a huge fan of the cocktail, and whenever he entertained visiting dignitaries, he’d invariably serve them the drink. Kir did such a good job pushing the mixture onto his visitors that it eventually became inextricably linked with his personality, and that’s why the cocktail bears his name today.

5. The Daiquiri

If you’re an American mine employee stuck working in Cuba, what do you do? In the case of intrepid engineer Jennings Cox, you start creatively mixing drinks. The mixture of rum, lime, and sugar supposedly sprang to life in 1905 when Cox and some of his fellow Americans were hanging out in a bar in Santiago, Cuba. By mixing together these handy ingredients, the Americans found a tasty tipple, and it eventually worked its way back to the states.

6. The Tom Collins

This refreshing summer drink owes its name to a 19th century hoax. In 1874, hundreds of New Yorkers heard some bad news while they were out on the town: a certain Tom Collins had been besmirching their good names. Although these people didn’t know Mr. Collins, they were outraged that he would slander them, and they often set out to find the rascal. Of course, the root of the hoax was that there wasn’t really a Tom Collins, but that didn’t keep aggrieved parties from searching him out. To deepen the joke, bartenders started making the citrus cocktail that now bears the name, so when searchers asked for Tom Collins, they could instead find a thirst-quenching long drink.

7. The Cosmopolitan

cosmo.jpgLong before Sex and the City helped bolster the popularity of the cosmo, various bartenders were staking their claims as the cocktail’s “true” creator. According to various stories, the drink originated in Minneapolis, South Beach, San Francisco, Manhattan and Provincetown, Massachusetts. Since the drink is basically just a kamikaze with a simple addition of cranberry juice, it’s possible that bartenders in all these locations came up with the drink independently, so we may never know exactly who was responsible for putting a glass in Carrie Bradshaw’s hand.

8. The Sazerac

Although it’s not the most widely known drink, the Sazerac is both delicious and one of America’s oldest cocktails. The blend of rye whiskey, bitters, sugar, and absinthe or pastis dates all the way back to the 1830s when Creole pharmacist Antoine Peychaud came up with the recipe and began serving it. The Sazerac became so popular that Peychaud’s apothecary business quickly became better known as a place to get a revitalizing potion. The Sazerac is currently in the middle of something of a resurgence. Kentucky distillery Buffalo Trace has marketed two very good straight rye whiskeys under the Sazerac name, and last year the Louisiana House of Representatives proclaimed that the drink is the official cocktail of New Orleans.

9. The Negroni

Count Camillo Negroni gets credits for creating this aperitif around 1919. As the story goes, Negroni really loved to throw back an Americano (Campari, sweet vermouth, and club soda), but he wanted a little extra zing in his glass. He asked a bartender to replace the club soda with gin to give the mixture some added kick, and the Negroni was born.

10. The Black Russian

Surprisingly, containing vodka is the only thing this cocktail has to do with Russia. Bartender Gustave Tops created the drink in 1949 or 1950 while working at the Hotel Metropole in Brussels. Tops supposedly first mixed the combination of Kahlua and vodka for American socialite Perle Mesta, who was serving as the ambassador to Luxembourg at the time.

11. Long Island Iced Tea

It might not actually contain tea, but at least the Long Island part of the name is accurate. This spring break favorite is fairly young as cocktails go; it’s only been around for about 32 years. Rosebud Butt, a bartender at the Oak Beach Inn in Hampton Bays, invented the drink in 1976, so if you ever need to find a patron saint of terrible hangovers and nights spent falling off of barstools, Rosebud may be your man.

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Obama's Presidential Limo Will Be a 'Rolling Tank With Windows'

By Jose Fermoso

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The inauguration of Barack Obama will not only bring about a wholesale turnover in the political leadership of the country but it will also unveil the newest in a long line of Presidential limos.

According to Presidential vehicle experts, the new limo is a beast-like General Motors truck-based Cadillac that is so tough it's like a 'rolling tank with windows.'

Among the vehicle's main features are windows that are 5 inches thick, 19.5-inch Goodyear RHS tires (same as super tough trucks), and possibly even a lock safety mechanism that seals off the car like a bank vault in case of an emergency.

Because the Secret Service keeps details of the limo understandably private, even the most knowledgeable security experts don't really know how much gadgety tech is being installed in the new ride. But it's not stopping them making a few informed guesses.

In an interview with CNN, security expert Ken Lucci says rubber gaskets likely protect the car against chemical weapons and that the body will be made out of a tougher material than before. The most recent limo used by President Bush used some combination of a dual hardness steel, aluminum, titanium and even ceramics to break up possible projectiles. And there are usually steel overlaps that cover any gaps a door might leave.

Despite the immense secrecy, reports have leaked that the limo also comes with a 10-CD changer, which will inevitably end up playing Obama favorites like Steve Wonder and Bob Dylan. We're surprised there's no Blu-ray or Wii in there, but we're pretty sure of one thing: The limo will be a Zune-free zone, especially considering the most recent reports.

Car

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Automakers Fear a New Normal of Low Sales

Rebecca Cook/Reuters

A sign removed from a former Ford dealership in Warren, Mich. It planned to reopen as a used-car business as new-car sales fall.

By BILL VLASIC and NICK BUNKLEY

DETROIT — The historic collapse of the new-car market dragged on in December, raising questions of whether the auto industry will ever again have sales levels that it took for granted just a few years ago.

The across-the-board decline of 35 percent, reported by auto companies on Monday, is certain to put more pressure on the fragile finances of several manufacturers, particularly General Motors and Chrysler.

G.M. and Chrysler received emergency federal loans last week to stave off bankruptcy while they accelerated their reorganization efforts.

But unless consumers change course and return to vehicle showrooms, the entire industry will be forced to make sweeping adjustments to cope with declining demand.

After several years of sales topping 16 million vehicles, the United States market plummeted to 13.2 million cars and trucks sold in 2008. Analysts expect another sizable decrease this year and do not predict a year with 15 million in sales until 2012 or later.

“After an era of excess indulgence, we’re now entering a prolonged period of conservation,” said John A. Casesa of the consulting firm Casesa Shapiro Group. “Trading in a car every three years is a luxury that the average American can no longer afford.”

The dismal sales reports for December punctuated the worst year for vehicles sales since 1992. Sales dropped 31 percent at G.M., 32 percent at the Ford Motor Company and a stunning 53 percent at Chrysler, a unit of the private equity firm Cerberus Capital Management.

Foreign automakers hardly fared better, with sales plunging 37 percent at Toyota, 36 percent at BMW and 35 percent at Honda.

For the year, industrywide sales declined by 18 percent — the worst year-to-year drop-off since the early 1970s.

The impact of the shrinking market could be felt for years to come, as automakers will continue to cut production and employment, and reduce the number of new vehicles they bring to the market.

“With these declines in revenues, you will see research and development budgets cut,” said Jesse Toprak, chief auto analyst for Edmunds.com, a Web site that offers car-buying advice. “We are going to have fewer new vehicles and less variety for at least the next couple of years.”

Mr. Toprak is forecasting sales of 12.4 million vehicles this year and 13.5 million in 2010. He said the chances of the industry reaching annual sales of 16 million were slim for the foreseeable future.

“The question is, What will be the natural level of demand in the U.S. market when the economy recovers?” he said. “Based on our best guess, it is probably in the range of 14.5 million to 15 million.”

Auto executives said on Monday that the industry had little chance of improving in the first half of 2009 because of a continued lack of available credit for prospective car buyers and a profound lack of confidence in an overall economic recovery.

“The first quarter is going to be bad no matter how you look at it,” said Emily Kolinski Morris, a senior Ford economist. “Once we get into the second quarter, we’ll have a better idea.”

G.M.’s chief market analyst, Michael C. DiGiovanni, said the automaker was predicting industry sales of 10.5 million to 12 million vehicles for the year.

While the Bush administration approved up to $17.4 billion in loans to G.M. and Chrysler, analysts say they expect the Detroit auto companies to need longer-term assistance from the incoming president, Barack Obama.

“The internal problems of the Big Three are so great, there is no way they can survive without government help for several years,” Mr. Casesa said.

Both G.M. and Chrysler have to submit reorganization plans to the Treasury Department by mid-February as a condition of their loans.

“We have prepared our restructuring plan at a worst-case scenario,” said James E. Press, a Chrysler vice chairman. “We’re hoping for the best, but we’re prepared for the worst case.”

Mr. Press said Chrysler was operating as if the severe fall in demand in recent months was the “new reality” for an industry that had grown accustomed to nearly unfettered growth since the mid-1990s.

The industry thrived on cheap credit that allowed automakers to offer low-interest loans and rock-bottom lease payments to encourage consumers to regularly trade in and upgrade their vehicles.

As a result, American consumers went on a sustained buying spree for new cars, trucks and S.U.V.’s.

In 1970, less than 6 percent of American households owned three or more vehicles, according to the Department of Transportation. By 2000, that percentage had jumped to 18.

More than 244 million vehicles were in operation in 2006, far outnumbering the 202 million licensed drivers in the country, according to the most recent federal statistics.

Auto companies fed the growing appetite for vehicles by broadening their lineups with new products, like car-based crossover vehicles, inexpensive sports cars and a wide array of luxury models.

Companies were forced to redesign their cars more frequently to keep up in the race to put ever-fresher products in dealerships.

“In 1988, the average age of a car in a U.S. showroom was 4.1 years,” said Mr. Casesa, referring to the time that lapsed in model redesigns. “Today it is 2.9 years, which is a tremendous difference.”

With annual sales of 16 million as the norm, the industry expanded its infrastructure to meet demand.

Even though the Detroit automakers have been shutting excess factory capacity and shedding jobs to cut costs, their foreign rivals have been adding new plants in the United States to make up the difference.

Now, with sales plunging to levels not seen since the early 1990s, the industry will be forced to cut back significantly on product development.

Analysts also predict that the era of expansion of foreign companies in the United States is probably over, as well.

“So many foreign transplants came so quickly because they had visions of grandeur in their eyes,” David E. Cole, chairman of the Center for Automotive Research in Ann Arbor, Mich., said. “Now they’re saying, ‘Oh my, what have we done?’ ”

Besides the drop in demand caused by the tight credit and a weak economy, the quality of vehicles themselves has improved to the point where consumers do not need to replace them as often.

Twenty years ago, the median age of cars and trucks in use in the United States was about six years. Now the typical vehicle on the road is nine years old, according to federal statistics.

“You may not want to drive your car for 10 years, but you can if you need to,” Mr. Cole said.

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« Bailout means GMAC will give up some GM car financing | Main | Car gadgets we're looking for at CES »

Hyundai's economic stimulus package

A major reason car sales have tanked in recent months is the sharp rise in unemployment. Folks who are worried about losing their jobs aren’t likely to take on the added risk of a five-year car loan.

Hyundai Hyundai Motor America unveiled a novel approach to the problem over the weekend. Dubbed the Hyundai Assurance Program, the South Korean automaker said that people who finance or lease a new Hyundai during the next 12 months can return the car if they “experience an involuntary loss of income” within one year of the purchase date.

“That’s a new one,” said Erich Merkle, an industry analyst with consulting firm Crowe Horwath in Grand Rapids, Mich. “It’s an indication of the very tough sales environment right now.”

* UPDATE Hyundai, a relatively small player in the U.S. market with a 3% share in 2008, today reported a 48% drop in December sales with a year earlier — one of the worst showings among automakers.

Hyundai said it would absorb up to $7,500 in negative equity (the difference between what a vehicle is worth and what is owed on it) for buyers who opt to walk away from their loans. Customers who pay cash for their vehicles don't qualify for the program.

Depreciation can reduce a new car’s value by 25% or more during the first year of ownership. But since Hyundai’s lineup skews toward low- and moderately priced cars, the amount should be enough to cover the lost value on most Hyundai vehicles, save for the top-of-the-line Genesis sedan, which has a starting sticker price of around $32,000, and the Veracruz SUV.

According to a Hyundai press release, buyers can return a vehicle for no additional charge within 12 months of purchase if any of the following occur:

-- Involuntary unemployment
-- Physical disability
-- Loss of driver’s license for medical reasons
-- Job transfer overseas
-- Personal bankruptcy filing by a self-employed worker
-- Accidental death

To qualify, the buyer must have made at least two scheduled payments on the loan or lease and be current on the payments, as well as pay the amount over the $7,500 negative-equity threshold. The value of the vehicle will be determined by the dealer, who will be allowed to re-sell the vehicle, Hyundai said. Returning the car shouldn’t have a negative impact on the customer’s credit, the automaker said.

* UPDATE Steven Schwartz, finance director at Keyes Hyundai in Van Nuys, said his dealership received a few calls today inquiring about the promotion, although it hadn’t generated any new sales yet.

Here’s an example from Schwartz of how the return program works:

A customer buys a 2008 Santa Fe SUV and gets a five-year loan for the total purchase price of $22,300 (including rebates, taxes etc.). About $350 of the $430 monthly payment goes toward paying the principal on the loan. When they buyer loses his job nine months later and returns the vehicle to Hyundai, he’s paid about $3,200 in principal on the loan and still owes $19,100.

Assuming the used Santa Fe is appraised at $16,000, the buyer would be “under water” on his loan by $3,100 — easily within the $7,500 negative-equity threshold provided by Hyundai.

Hyundai rolled out the new offer with an ad blitz during the weekend’s NFL playoff games, tapping into the national economic angst with the tag line “We’re all in this together and we’ll get through it together.”

“We understand consumers’ hesitance to commit to large purchases in today’s economic environment,” John Krafcik, acting CEO of Fountain Valley-based Hyundai Motor America, said in a statement.

While the shortage of credit for auto loans has gotten much of the blame for the plunge in sales, rising corporate layoffs and plummeting consumer confidence have also played a major role. That has spooked consumers and turned showrooms into ghost towns.

“People who are already laid off aren’t buying new cars anyway,” Merkle said. “The real hurdle for automakers is that a lot of people who are still employed are delaying purchases because of uncertainty about losing their jobs. [Hyundai] is trying to remove that uncertainty.”

It’s not clear whether other car companies will follow Hyundai's lead. Automakers and dealers are already offering a raft of incentives — 0% financing, cash rebates, even two-for-one sales — in an effort to get vehicles off their lots. In the latest indication of their plight, the automakers today are announcing major declines in December sales, with Ford, Honda and Toyota all reporting drops of more than 30% compared with a year earlier.

Hyundai is no stranger to aggressive promotions. The 10-year, 100,000-mile warranty it introduced a decade ago helped overcome concerns about the reliability of Hyundai’s vehicles.

“Hyundai has a history of making unprecedented moves when necessary to try to get people into the showrooms,” said Karl Brauer, editor in chief at Edmunds.com.

-- Martin Zimmerman

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My Atheism Is Not A Rejection Of Your God

Written By BGH

First and foremost it is a disbelief in a spirit-creator being who rules the universe. The idea and belief that there exists an unseen, cognitive, non-corporal being that either intercedes in human affairs or abstains, is a neural process which does not operate in my mind. Efforts throughout my life to 'feel the holy spirit' or obtain this 'truth' as the faithful call it, have proven themselves to be frivolous. Though at one time many a concerted effort were made on my part to believe in and rationalize the god-being in which so many seem to have 'faith', it became evident I was not capable.

So, while you may see my disbelief as a rejection of your god, or a denial of what I 'know' in my heart, neither is true. You may preach or cite scripture, neither could ever give me the proof I desire, my disbelief is the result of a default position. It is reasonable to hold the default null posture until sufficient proof is given to convince for a change in status. There does not exist a hatred of 'god' that is assumed by many a believer, it is impossible to hate what one views as non-existent, but I do take issue with the actions carried out in the name of religion and the anthropomorphic attributes placed upon a supposed 'higher being".

Efforts to keep government secular and free of proselytization for god, whether specific or ambiguous, are not a display of hatred for your deity, merely they meant to demand an adherence to the constitution and require that the government remain neutral in the matters of faith. A display of a nativity, a menorah or any other religious symbol on, in or around a taxpayer funded government building or land by default endorses one or some faiths over others or none, immediately negating constitutional demanded neutrality.

Do not take offense at atheism as a rejection of your favorite deity, it is a disbelief in all deities and what I hate is the anthropomorphic characters described by world religions and the acts carried out in their names.

Remember: Given enough time all gods and goddesses die, they are then merely replaced with new mythology.

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Otaku Art Stars: Anime Conventions Are Breeding a New Generation of Artists

by Liz Ohanesian


It took Ginger Burton an entire can of freeze spray, five bottles of hair dye and countless hours in front of a blow dryer to force her wig into the multi-colored spikes that help identify her as Yami Yugi from the manga/anime franchise Yu-Gi-Oh! Like the vast majority of people at the January 2-4 Anime Los Angeles (ALA) convention at the LAX Marriott Hotel, Burton was cosplaying. But for the twenty-year-old fashion design student from California State University Northridge, cosplay has become more than a way to pay homage to her favorite manga and anime, it's her business. Less than two years ago, Burton attended another anime convention dressed as Link from The Legend of Zelda. It was fun and she seemed to have a knack for creating costumes.

"I was like, I can make a business out of this," she says. "Literally, I took my last check at my retail job, which was less than $200 and I just bought some supplies."

Now she arrives at conventions armed with business cards, directing potential clients to her website and MySpace page, where she will take commission work and sell custom patterns along with an assortment of cosplay and Lolita-inspired accessories.

binary-viewer-3.jpgConventions like ALA regularly draw otaku, anime fans, by the thousands. Here, you can learn the dance sequence from The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya, score autographs from your favorite voice actors and vote for your favorite fan-made anime music videos. There's a little something for everyone. But, for a new generation of artists, anime conventions have presented the unique opportunity to launch their own business ventures.

binary-viewer-6.jpgBordin Mark Marsinkul, a twenty-six-year-old artist from San Francisco, hits at least two conventions every month, where he sells abstract-styled work in the artists' alley. Like so many artists with booths at ALA, many of his pieces are commissioned, with anime-styled portraits and fan art based on popular series like Naruto, being the most frequently requested items. His job, he says, is "getting the work out as soon as possible and giving a good show for the customers."

"In twenty minutes," he adds, "I have to finish a drawing."

Through this, Marsinkul has been able to gain exposure for his own self-published comic book, Zacklin. By Saturday afternoon, the second day of the three-day event, he had sold all but one copy of his comic.

Since American based otaku-subculture has evolved to include Japanese fashion trends and customizable ball-jointed dolls, anime conventions have turned into a breeding ground for young designers as well. On Sunday, the convention hosted a fashion show featuring everything from frothy Lolita dresses to a stunning Samurai-inspired cocktail frock from San Francisco-based design student Jonelle Abitong. Throughout the weekend, attendants could browse booths for handmade accessories and doll clothes.

In the artists' alley, Megan Amo showed off limited-edition Lolita dresses and skirts, each one screen-printed with her own illustrations. Her sister Cecilia created unique, elaborate headpieces to coordinate with each outfit. Sharing a booth with the Amo sisters was eighteen-year-old Michele McCarthy, who debuted Cute Land, her line of sweet Lolita accessories featuring lollipop hair clips and cupcake rings that she sculpts from paper clay and caulk.

One of the biggest success stories of the anime cons is Rene Twaite. The twenty-five-year-old began sewing Lolita-styled dresses for her younger sisters on an old sewing machine six years ago. When one turned out to be too large, she auctioned it on eBay and the dress sold. Twaite saw a need in the Lolita community for clothing that both fits and flatters a wider range of sizes than Japanese brands offer. Soon, demand for her creations prompted designer to find a manufacturer and create a full line, The White Peacock, which she has been selling inside the dealer halls at conventions for three years. Twaite recently opened a boutique in Lomita, the first Lolita dress shop in the United States, and is currently working on a bridal line. In addition, she is an ardent support of young designers and tells Lolitas to start sewing, crafting and selling.

white peacock.jpg"I want competition," she laughs.

The success of con veterans is prompting the mostly high school and college-aged artists. Megan Amo said that she was encouraged by Twaite to develop her line. Meanwhile, outside the hotel, two college students quietly sketched in their notebooks after meeting some of the convention's artists.

"They actually really helped, gave us some advice," said Albert Dandoc, who hopes to get his own booth at upcoming events. "It's very inspirational."


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