Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Ex-US President Gerald Ford Died at age 93

Gerald Rudolph Ford Jr., 93, who became the 38th president of the United States as a result of some of the most extraordinary events in U.S. history and sought to restore the nation's confidence in the basic institutions of government, has died. His wife, Betty, reported the death in a statement last night.

"My family joins me in sharing the difficult news that Gerald Ford, our beloved husband, father, grandfather and great grandfather has passed away at 93 years of age," Betty Ford said in a brief statement issued from her husband's office in Rancho Mirage, Calif. "His life was filled with love of God, his family and his country."

Read the news here.


Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Diabetics Confront a Tangle of Workplace Laws

Is there such a thing as diabetic discrimination?

Read this excerpt of a news article from New Yok Times.

MINNEAPOLIS — John Steigauf spent more than a decade fiddling with the innards of those huge United Parcel Service trucks until an icy day two years ago when the company put him on leave from his mechanic's job. A supervisor escorted him off the premises.

His work was good. He hadn't socked the boss or embezzled money. It had to do with what was inside him: diabetes.

U.P.S. framed it as a safety issue: Mr. Steigauf's blood sugar might suddenly plummet while he tested a truck, causing him to slam into someone.

Mr. Steigauf considered it discrimination, a taint that diabetes can carry. "I was regarded as a damaged piece of meat," he said. "It was like, 'You're one of those, and we can't have one of those.' "

With 21 million American diabetics, disputes like this have increasingly rippled through the workplace:

¶A mortgage loan officer in Oregon was denied permission to eat at her desk to stanch her sugar fluctuations, and eventually was fired.

¶A Sears lingerie saleswoman in Illinois with nerve damage in her leg quit after being told she could not cut through a stockroom to reach her department.

¶A worker at a candy company in Wisconsin was fired after asking where he could dispose of his insulin needles.

In each instance, diabetics contend that they are being blocked by their employers from the near-normal lives their doctors say are possible. But the companies say they are struggling, too, with confusion about whether diabetes is a legitimate disability and with concern about whether it is overly expensive, hazardous and disruptive to accommodate the illness.

The debate will probably intensify. The number of diabetics in America swelled by 80 percent in the past decade. Experts say the disease is on its way to becoming a conspicuous fact of life in the nation’s labor force, raising all sorts of issues for workers and managers.

Even an outspoken advocate for diabetics like Fran Carpentier, a Type 1 diabetic and a senior editor at Parade magazine, understands the implications for business. "Knowing what it's like to live with the disease hour by hour, day by day, I wonder if I owned my own company if I would hire someone with diabetes," she said. "I'm being bluntly honest. And it kills me to say this."


Friday, December 15, 2006

Mice in the Plane

We heard the news about snakes and other exotic animals being smuggled thru the
plane. But this is the first time, I heard of mice in a plane.

Mass mice escape hits Saudi plane

More than 100 passengers on a Saudi plane were left panic-stricken by the unexpected appearance of furry fellow flyers - dozens of mice.

The small rodents - about 80 in total, according to a local newspaper - escaped from the bag of a man travelling on the domestic flight.

An airline official said the aircraft was at 28,000 feet (8,500m) when mice began scurrying around the cabin.

Some of the mice fell on passengers' heads, Al-Hayat newspaper reports.

The incident occurred on a Saudi Arabian Airlines flight from the capital, Riyadh, to north-eastern town of Tabuk.

The flight landed safely and the bag's owner was detained by police investigating how he managed to get the mice onto the plane.

No explanation was given for the man's live cargo.

Story from BBC NEWS


Thursday, December 14, 2006

Skilling Begins Sentence for Enron Malfeasances

The once-upon-a-time top honcho of Enron, Harvard graduate, finance wiz started serving his 24 year month sentence where he is going to earn a few dollars per day working 7 1/2 hours as groundskeeper, food service worker or warehouseman.

Skilling Begins Sentence for Enron Malfeasances

By Carrie Johnson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, December 14, 2006; Page D01

Former Enron chief executive Jeffrey K. Skilling reported to a low-security federal prison in Minnesota yesterday to start serving a 24-year, six-month sentence for his role in one of history's biggest corporate scandals.

Skilling arrived at the facility in Waseca, about 75 miles south of Minneapolis, at 1:07 p.m. EST. Accompanying him in a sport-utility vehicle were his wife, Rebecca, his longtime assistant Sherri Sera and his younger brother Mark. Under federal guidelines, Skilling, 53, must serve at least 85 percent of his sentence -- or more than two decades. He is appealing his conviction by a jury in May on 19 counts of fraud, making false statements and conspiracy.

Read the entire story here.


Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Dr. Jack Kevorkian to be paroled in June 2007

I did not know his whereabouts until I read this news. Several years ago, he was always in the newspaper until he was convicted for his practice of assisting suicide.

LANSING, Michigan (AP) -- After more than eight years in prison, a frail Dr. Jack Kevorkian will be paroled in June with a promise that he won't assist in any more suicides, a prison spokesman said Wednesday.

Leo Lalonde, the corrections spokesman, would not provide further details.

Kevorkian, once the nation's most vocal advocate of assisted suicide for the terminally ill, is serving a 10- to 25-year sentence for second-degree murder in the 1998 poisoning of Thomas Youk, 52, Oakland County man with Lou Gehrig's disease. Michigan banned assisted suicide in 1998.

Youk's death was videotaped and shown on CBS' "60 Minutes."

Kevorkian, who claimed to have assisted in at least 130 deaths in the 1990s, called it a mercy killing.

Mayer Morganroth, Kevorkian's attorney, said this summer that Kevorkian, now 78, was suffering from hepatitis C and diabetes, that his weight had dropped to 113 pounds and that he had less than a year to live.

Read the entire news here.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Chile's Gen Pinochet dies at 91

Chile's Gen Pinochet dies at 91

Gen Pinochet celebrated his 91st birthday last month
Gen Pinochet's life
Chile's former military leader Augusto Pinochet has died in hospital aged 91. He had been thought to be recovering after a heart attack a week ago.

Gen Pinochet took power in a 1973 coup, and more than 3,000 people were killed or "disappeared" in his 17-year rule.

He was accused of dozens of human rights abuses as well as fraud but poor health meant he never faced trial.

No state funeral or national mourning has been authorised. He will be buried with military honours on Tuesday.

"The government has authorised flags to fly at half-mast at army facilities," government spokesman Ricardo Lagos Weber said.

Thousands of anti-Pinochet protesters took to the streets in the centre of the capital, Santiago, with tear gas and water cannon used to disperse crowds.

Cheering opponents of Gen Pinochet attempted to reach the presidential palace, but found police barring their way.

Sporadic clashes broke out, with Chilean TV showing images of fires burning along one of the city's main avenues.

What saddens me is that this criminal has died without having been sentenced
Hugo Gutierrez
Human rights lawyer

Santiago's military hospital said Gen Pinochet passed away at 1415 local time (1715GMT).

Hospital spokesman Dr Juan Ignacio Vergara said that shortly beforehand, he "suffered grave and unexpected setbacks" requiring him to be moved into intensive care unit.

"We administered all the possible procedures but were not able to resuscitate the general," Dr Vergara said.

"He died surrounded by his family."

After last week's acute heart attack, the general underwent a procedure to unblock an artery, and received the last rites from a Catholic priest.

I hope my country can find peace after his death. Reconciliation is the key
Veronica, Santiago, Chile
But in the days afterwards his condition had been thought to be improving.

Chilean newspaper La Tercera de la Hora Online says dozens of supporters who had been keeping a vigil outside the hospital were weeping and praying following the general's death.

It is expected they will be joined by other supporters as the news spreads.

'Loved by many'

Opponents have expressed anger that Gen Pinochet died without justice being done over the charges that had been brought.

"What saddens me is that this criminal has died without having been sentenced and I believe the responsibility the state bears in this has to be considered", human rights lawyer Hugo Gutierrez told La Tercera Online.

Despite his human rights record, many Chileans loved him and said he saved the country from Marxism.

But even many loyal supporters abandoned him after it became clear in 2004 that he had stolen about $27m in secret offshore bank accounts that were under investigation at the time of his death, the BBC's Daniel Schweimler says.

There were also allegations that Gen Pinochet and his son Marco Antonio Pinochet made money from cocaine smuggling, charges which the family denied.

'Political responsibility'

In September 1973, Gen Pinochet led the armed forces in a dramatic coup against the democratically elected Marxist government of Salvador Allende.

Close to the end of my days, I want to make clear that I hold no rancour towards anybody, that I love my country above all else
Recent Pinochet statement

The violence of the uprising and the oppression that followed shook the world. He went on to become one of South America's best-known military rulers of the 1970s and 80s.

Earlier in November, Gen Pinochet was placed under house arrest over the abduction of two people in 1973.

The charges - the latest in a series - related to the Caravan of Death, a military operation to remove opponents of his rule.

In a statement read by his wife on his 91st birthday, Gen Pinochet said he accepted "political responsibility" for acts committed during his rule.

"Today, close to the end of my days, I want to make clear that I hold no rancour towards anybody, that I love my country above all else," his statement said.
Story from BBC NEWS:

Published: 2006/12/11 00:53:29 GMT

D.C. Tenants Move From Building in Fear

So we think that the serious problem between landlords and tenants that results to threats arson happen only in movies.

D.C. Tenants Move From Building in Fear
Owner Denies Wrongdoing in Vandalism, Threat and Arson

By Allan Lengel
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, December 10, 2006; C01

In trendy Adams Morgan, in the midst of a protracted eviction battle this fall, came the broken windows, cut electrical lines, a death threat from strangers pounding on doors and a brazen arson that caused a fleeing tenant to fall from the second story and break her leg.

The District recently ruled in the tenants' favor in the eviction fight, saying they did not have to move out while the landlord renovated the worn, three-story, gray-brick apartment building to bring it up to code. But it was too late.

By last week, all but one family had given up and moved from the 12-unit building at 1846 Vernon St. NW, a block from the bustling 18th Street entertainment strip. And that family plans to move, too.

"We were very scared to live there," said Rabia Begum, 20, a Montgomery College biomedical student who had lived in the building. "You don't know what could happen."

With a shrinking pool of affordable housing, landlords in Washington frequently urge tenants to move so they can convert apartment buildings to condominiums or, as in this case, renovate rental units. But the battle on Vernon Street between the management and tenants, most of whom are from Bangladesh, was especially ugly.

Tenants have accused management of orchestrating a campaign of fear and violence to get them to give up their rent-controlled apartments to make way for extensive renovations that ultimately would generate higher rents from new tenants.

The building's co-owner, Perseus Realty of Washington, denies any wrongdoing and suggested last week that tenants were behind the vandalism -- perhaps in search of financial gain.

The Nov. 5 fire, which investigators quickly declared an arson, remains under criminal investigation by police and fire authorities. No arrests have been made.

D.C. Council member Jim Graham (D-Ward 1), who represents Adams Morgan, has been holding investigative hearings to examine whether Perseus and the building's management company, Barac Co., have used undue pressure to get residents to move out of various buildings in the District. Barac officials would not comment on the dispute.

Perseus also owns an adjacent 12-unit building at 1840 Vernon St. Residents say that there has been no similar vandalism but that the management has been urging tenants there to move out as well.

Only a few tenants remain in that building, said Natalie LeBeau of the Tenant Anti-Displacement Program at the nonprofit Housing Counseling Services Inc.

"There has been a solid year of pressure, using a variety of techniques," LeBeau said, referring to both buildings on Vernon Street.

LeBeau said that the District has had many other contentious eviction battles and that in some instances the heat or electricity was suddenly shut off or "somehow, windows get broken." But she said this case stands out and added, "I've never had tenants accuse a landlord of arson."

The dispute at 1846 Vernon St. dates to August 2005, when the D.C. Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs approved an application by Perseus to evict tenants there and at 1840 Vernon St. The agency agreed that the building was unsafe to live in while it was being brought to code. The company cited a study that found structural deficiencies, environmental hazards and unsafe levels of asbestos and lead paint.

Managers sent notices telling residents to move within 120 days and offered each leaseholder $1,000 to relocate. Tenants said they were never told that they could return to their units later at the same rent, a right they have under the city's real estate law.

"The tenants were asked to vacate permanently," LeBeau said.

Not so, said Woody Bolton, a principal of Perseus Realty. Tenants were offered other places to live and given written materials telling them they could return to the building, he said.

The tenants scored a victory in September 2005, after Graham intervened. The city rescinded its approval of the evictions, concluding that the study on asbestos and lead levels was for an apartment in Leesburg, not on Vernon Street. Perseus Realty says the mix-up stemmed from a clerical error: The study was in fact for Vernon Street, the company said, but was printed on the wrong stationery. The company asked the city to reconsider.

The city conducted its own safety inspection, leading to bureaucratic glitches and delays that Graham later called unacceptable.

Throughout this year, Barac, the management company, frequently knocked on doors, offering money to tenants if they would move out permanently, the tenants said. Some did.

Others resisted. Management raised the offer to a few thousand dollars. Some people still balked.

In late September, things got scary, tenants said.

First, a tenant who has since moved out said two strangers pounded on his door late one night, yelling obscenities and saying, "If you don't move out in 48 hours, we will kill you."

About noon Oct. 16, the former tenant said, electricity was cut off in some apartments. The former tenant, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he fears for his safety, said he went downstairs and confronted two men at the electrical box who were cutting wires. He called police, and the men vanished.

About midnight the same day, the former tenant said, someone broke a window in his apartment door and one across the hall.

"I didn't sleep one week," he said. "They cannot do it with American people, these things."

Then came the fire Nov. 5. About 10:30 p.m., residents heard the building's front door slam, followed by more loud noises.

Begum, who was doing homework on a laptop in the living room of her second-floor apartment, recalled seeing flames through the window on her apartment door and underneath it.

"I was just shocked," she said. She and her family ran to the balcony, and "we started screaming for help. Meanwhile, my brother and I started calling 911. I thought we would die."

Neighbors put out the flames before firefighters arrived, Begum said. Authorities declared that the fire had been set after they found evidence of an "ignitable liquid" in the basement and on the second floor.

Begum said she immediately suspected the management of arson.

She remained in her apartment until the fire was extinguished. Other residents described harrowing escapes. One man, speaking on the condition that his name not be used, said his wife and two children, who had arrived from Bangladesh two months earlier, had to run through the smoke down two flights of stairs. He was not in the building at the time.

Nearly everyone escaped unharmed. But a 45-year-old woman who lived on the third floor was not so fortunate. She started climbing down a drainpipe with one of her children when she fell from the second floor, according to two neighbors and the fire department. The child fell on her and emerged unscathed, but the woman broke her leg, the neighbors said.

After the fire, management again increased the incentive for tenants to move permanently. They raised the offer to $15,000 to $20,000, according to the residents.

In a statement defending Perseus Realty's handling of the matter, Bolton said owners have "continued to work with the tenants to grant them substantial assistance in the face of escalating structural and environmental concerns."

The tenants might be to blame for the fire and other incidents, Bolton contended. He said some allowed too many boarders in their apartments, running what amounted to "substandard rooming houses."

"The ownership believes that many of the building's recent problems stem from tenants trying to evict their illegal sub-tenants so they can vacate their apartments and take advantage of the relocation assistance grants," Bolton said in the statement.

"Some tenants may have used intimidating tactics to force their sub-tenants to vacate the property; it is also possible that evicted sub-tenants have vandalized the buildings," Bolton's statement said.

To that, Begum responded: "I absolutely disagree. They just made up something randomly."

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Google Aims To Revitalize Advertising On Radio

More about Google advertising strategies.

Google Aims To Revitalize Advertising On Radio

By Sara Kehaulani Goo
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, December 9, 2006; D01

Last week, listeners in Boston and Sacramento heard a commercial for, a small Internet company that aired its first radio ad with the help of Google Inc.

Until recently, Fred Yazdizadeh, owner of the Simi Valley, Calif., company, said radio air time was too expensive and the process of creating an audio message had been too daunting to consider. But under a new program being tested by Google, Yazdizadeh's ad was affordable and easy to manage. And, more important, it generated calls from potential customers living in the areas where the ad was broadcast.

"What Google is doing now is so good because I can now penetrate any market area I want," said Yazdizadeh. "It's going to take my business to the next level."

By tapping into its customer base of millions of small online advertisers, Google is looking to transform old media by removing the middleman, such as a radio station's ad department, and make it easier for small companies to gain access to radio, magazines and newspapers through the same types of online auctions that Google has used to sell its popular search ads.

This week, the company formally launched a test of the program, following almost a year of experimentation since it acquired dMarc Broadcasting, a small radio advertising firm, for $102 million in cash last January. DMarc had developed a technology that allowed radio stations to sell excess ad inventory at the last minute, using online tools.

Here's how the Google program works: A small advertiser logs into Google's Web site and creates a radio ad campaign online, selecting the geographical area, demographics of the radio audience, time of day and radio format. The advertiser bids on how much it is willing to pay to buy the air time, but doesn't know the exact station that will carry the ad.

If the advertiser doesn't already have a radio ad created, Google provides access to on-air talent and producers who bid on the job, allowing the two sides to negotiate the price and content.

The radio stations can see how many advertisers bid on each slot, listen to an ad and choose or reject one -- all online. Google makes a commission off of the transaction with the radio station.

"One of our primary objectives is to mobilize and introduce radio to our extensive advertising base and also introduce new advertisers to radio," said Ryan Steelberg, a founder of dMarc and now head of radio operations at Google. "If we can mobilize a few thousand advertisers, it's great for Google and great for radio broadcasters."

Some radio executives have expressed concern that Google's entry could force their own sales teams to compete against the search giant for the biggest customers and eventually degrade the value of a radio commercial. But others see Google's approach as a low-risk opportunity that could help bolster radio companies' lackluster results in recent years.

National radio advertising sales grew 2 percent from January to September, according to Radio Ink, an industry publication, but local ad sales during the period fell 1 percent. Next year, radio ad revenues are expected to rise 2 percent, said Mark R. Fratrik, vice president of BIA Financial Network.

Google's radio ad system "really has potential," Fratrik said. "It will take a little while, just because it's a new technique. . . . We will be seeing some impact in a year or two."

The search giant faces competition from SoftWave Media Exchange, which has a similar online technology and also sells cable television ads through its Web site. SoftWave's chief operating officer, Bill Figenshu, said Google lacked many big-market radio stations as part of its network, and its emphasis on small advertisers and excess inventory would go only so far in terms of generating sales.

"There isn't a market for all those small little advertisers to be on these big radio stations," he said. "The flower shop in Reston can't afford to be on WTOP."

But broadcasters participating in the Google test said they have been satisfied with the results.

XM Satellite Radio executive D. Scott Karnedy said Google had sold "hundreds, if not thousands of ads" since August. Rick Cummings, president of Emmis Radio, which owns 23 stations, said the experiment has not had an impact on his company's bottom line but has been worthwhile, regardless.

"There's been so much fear of Google -- they are red hot and we aren't," Cummings said. "We think doing more things in a Google-like manner might rub off on this industry and would be good for it."


Friday, December 08, 2006

Condoms are "too big" for Indian Men

This is an interesting news for condom makers.

A survey of more than 1,000 men in India has concluded that condoms made according to international sizes are too large for a majority of Indian men.

The study found that more than half of the men measured had penises that were shorter than international standards for condoms.

It has led to a call for condoms of mixed sizes to be made more widely available in India.

The two-year study was carried out by the Indian Council of Medical Research.

Over 1,200 volunteers from the length and breadth of the country had their penises measured precisely, down to the last millimetre.

The scientists even checked their sample was representative of India as a whole in terms of class, religion and urban and rural dwellers.

It's not size, it's what you do with it that matters
Sunil Mehra
The conclusion of all this scientific endeavour is that about 60% of Indian men have penises which are between three and five centimetres shorter than international standards used in condom manufacture.

Doctor Chander Puri, a specialist in reproductive health at the Indian Council of Medical Research, told the BBC there was an obvious need in India for custom-made condoms, as most of those currently on sale are too large.

The issue is serious because about one in every five times a condom is used in India it either falls off or tears, an extremely high failure rate.

And the country already has the highest number of HIV infections of any nation.

'Not a problem'

Mr Puri said that since Indians would be embarrassed about going to a chemist to ask for smaller condoms there should be vending machines dispensing different sizes all around the country.

"Smaller condoms are on sale in India. But there is a lack of awareness that different sizes are available. There is anxiety talking about the issue. And normally one feels shy to go to a chemist's shop and ask for a smaller size condom."

But Indian men need not be concerned about measuring up internationally according to Sunil Mehra, the former editor of the Indian version of the men's magazine Maxim.

"It's not size, it's what you do with it that matters," he said.

"From our population, the evidence is Indians are doing pretty well.

"With apologies to the poet Alexander Pope, you could say, for inches and centimetres, let fools contend."

Story from BBC NEWS:


HP, Calif. Settle Spying Lawsuit

HP, Calif. Settle Spying Lawsuit
State Exploring Deal With Dunn

By Ellen Nakashima
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, December 8, 2006; D01

California's attorney general announced a $14.5 million civil settlement with Hewlett-Packard over its corporate spying scandal yesterday and said in an interview that he was exploring a possible settlement of criminal charges against the firm's former chairman.

Patricia C. Dunn was ousted as chairman in September after the HP ethics and spying scandal became public. California Attorney General Bill Lockyer filed fraud and conspiracy charges against her in October, a day after Dunn learned that she had suffered a relapse of ovarian cancer.

Read the entire story here.


Sanyo phone batteries in recall

After the laptop batteries recalls come the batteries fro mobile phone.

Sanyo phone batteries in recall
Sanyo shares fell to a 31-year low in Tokyo after 1.3 million of its mobile phone batteries were recalled over fears they could overheat and rupture.

The recall by mobile phone operator NTT DoCoMo applies to Sanyo-made lithium ion batteries used in Mitsubishi Electric D902i phones.

Rival Sony is recalling 9.6 million laptop batteries over similar problems.

Sanyo is the world's largest producer of rechargeable batteries, but has been loss-making for the last three years.

On Friday, its shares fell 3.1% to 159 yen, their lowest level since September 1975.

Last month, Sanyo said it expected to post a 50bn yen ($430m; £224.3m) net loss in 2006/07.

The recall is the latest setback for the firm, which is struggling against high costs and strong price competition from cheaper Chinese and Taiwanese manufacturers.

In June, it scrapped plans for a joint venture to make mobile phone handsets with Finland's Nokia.

Sanyo embarked on a three-year restructuring drive last year in an effort to reduce its losses and refocus its operations.

The shake-up has resulted in a management overhaul and 14,000 job cuts.

Story from BBC NEWS:

Published: 2006/12/08 09:55:54 GMT

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Fannie Mae to Restate Results by $6.3 Billion Because of Accounting

December 7, 2006
Fannie Mae to Restate Results by $6.3 Billion Because of Accounting

Fannie Mae, the largest buyer of American mortgages, said yesterday that it would reduce its earnings by $6.3 billion to correct several years of accounting problems in one of the nation’s biggest financial scandals.

Federal regulators, meanwhile, said they planned to file a lawsuit before the end of the year in an effort to recover millions of dollars from Fannie Mae’s former top two executives, whose bonuses were tied to the manipulated earnings. Franklin D. Raines, the former chairman and chief executive, and J. Timothy Howard, who had been chief financial officer, were ousted from the company in December 2004, and investigators have laid much of the blame on their shoulders.

“We will file charges within the next couple of weeks,” James B. Lockhart III, director of the Office of Housing and Enterprise Oversight, said in a brief interview yesterday. “Unfortunately, the legal process is very cumbersome.”

A lawyer for Mr. Raines declined to comment, and a lawyer representing Mr. Howard did not return phone calls yesterday. A Fannie Mae spokesman also declined to comment.

The two moves are significant steps in the effort to clean up Fannie Mae — formally, the Federal National Mortgage Association — a company whose influence once reverberated through the corridors of Washington and Wall Street. Over the last two years, though, the company has been mired in scandal.

The entire story here.


Saturday, November 11, 2006

Mobile Phone should be free

Good news for mobile phone users in case this comes to reality.

Excerpt of the news.

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - Web search leader Google Inc.'s (GOOG.O: Quote, Profile, Research) chief executive, Eric Schmidt, sees a future where mobile phones are free to consumers who accept watching targeted forms of advertising.

Schmidt said on Saturday that as mobile phones become more like handheld computers and consumers spend as much as eight to 10 hours a day talking, texting and using the Web on these devices, advertising becomes a viable form of subsidy.

Read entire news here.


Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Enron Saga is brought to a close

The Enron Task Force's mission is almost complete with the conviction of
Enron CEO Jeffrey Skilling for his high profile economic crime.

He was among the corporate executives who were found guilty for the corporate
crimes that they were accused of. Ebbers of WorldCom was sentenced 25 years in
prison and John Rigas of Adephia Communications, 15 years with appeal.

The excerpt fo the news below.

HOUSTON, Oct. 24 -- The sentencing Monday of former Enron Corp. chief executive Jeffrey K. Skilling ended the saga of the scandal-ridden Houston energy company and effectively closed the book on an era of high-profile corporate malfeasance.

Skilling's sentence capped a string of lengthy prison terms handed down to top executives for economic crimes, including WorldCom Inc. founder Bernard J. Ebbers, now serving 25 years, and Adelphia Communications Corp. founder John J. Rigas, facing 15 years pending appeal.

But Enron remains that period's signature scandal. The company's December 2001 breakdown ushered in a wave of corporate collapses that roiled investor confidence and prompted the government to enlist a special band of prosecutors and FBI agents to mount the most complex business fraud investigation in history. Their pursuit of top Enron officials helped change the way corporate wrongdoing is prosecuted and spurred companies to more aggressively police themselves.

Hours after a judge sentenced Skilling to more than 24 years in prison, the leaders of the Enron Task Force announced that they would close up shop, saying their mission was mostly complete. But even as officials packed their files and prepared for other jobs in government and the private sector, there were fresh signals about the direction post-Enron corporate crime enforcement would take.

A new wave of investigations is targeting executive greed, insider trading and investment pools known as hedge funds. On Tuesday, the former finance chief of Comverse Technology Inc. pleaded guilty to covering up a scheme to trigger big paydays for employees by changing the grant dates on stock options. Meanwhile, federal prosecutors charged the former finance chief of Refco Inc. for his role in a $1 billion accounting scandal that hurled the commodities brokerage into bankruptcy proceedings.

Read the entire news here.



Monday, October 23, 2006

Skilling got 24 year sentence

Enron is now synonymous to corporate fraud. Lay died of heart attack before he was convicted but Skilling, another executive who was found guilt was sentenced to 24 years.

Here is the news from BBC:

Former Enron boss Jeffrey Skilling has been sentenced to 24 years for his role in the giant fraud that led to the energy firm's 2001 collapse.

In May he had been found guilty on 19 counts including fraud, conspiracy and insider trading, and was told he could expect 20 to 30 years in prison.

The former chief executive of the US energy giant was convicted together with Enron's ex-chairman Kenneth Lay.

Mr Lay has since died and his convictions have been quashed.

This is because Mr Lay, who died of a heart attack in July, passed away before he was able to appeal against the verdict.

The scandal at the one-time energy giant left 21,000 people out of work, and shook corporate America, when the firm went bankrupt in 2001 with debts of $31.8bn (£18bn).

Skilling was found to have orchestrated a series of loss-making deals and financial schemes to try to hide debts from investors.

"Crimes of this magnitude deserve severe punishment," US District Court Judge Sim Lake told Skilling before sentencing him to 24 years and four months in jail.

"In terms of remorse your honour, I can't imagine more remorse," Skilling told the court before he was sentenced.

"That being said your honour, I am innocent of these charges."

Before sentencing Skilling was made to listen to testimony from a number of victims of the Enron fraud.

"You should be ashamed," said Ann Beliveaux, an employee who lost her entire retirement savings.

"When things got bad, you jumped ship."

Skilling has said he will appeal against his conviction.

The judge confined him to his home where he is to wear an ankle monitor until he reports to prison.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Building a 'Googley' Workforce

This is one news article that I really want to archive.

Building a 'Googley' Workforce
Corporate Culture Breeds Innovation

By Sara Kehaulani Goo
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, October 21, 2006; D01

MOUNTAIN VIEW, Calif. -- To understand the corporate culture at Google Inc., take a look at the toilets.

Every bathroom stall on the company campus holds a Japanese high-tech commode with a heated seat. If a flush is not enough, a wireless button on the door activates a bidet and drying.

Yet even while they are being pampered with high-tech toiletry, Google employees are encouraged to make good use of their downtime: A flier tacked inside each stall bears the title, "Testing on the Toilet, Testing code that uses databases." It features a geek quiz that changes every few weeks and asks technical questions about testing programming code for bugs.

The toilets reflect Google's general philosophy of work: Generous, quirky perks keep employees happy and thinking in unconventional ways, helping Google innovate as it rapidly expands into new lines of business.

Maintaining Google's culture of innovation is a hot internal topic as the Internet search king turns eight this fall and marches around the world, opening new offices in such cities as Beijing, Zurich and Bangalore. In the past three years, Google's workforce has more than tripled in size, to 9,000 employees, and the company has launched a new product nearly every week, including some widely regarded as flops. When its own offerings don't catch on, Google isn't shy about snapping up the competition, as it did this month when it agreed to acquire online video-sharing site YouTube for $1.65 billion in stock.

While Google places a premium on success, it appears to shrug off failure. The resulting culture of fearlessness permeates the 24-hour Googleplex, a collection of interconnected low-rise buildings that look more like some new-age college campus than a corporate office complex. The colorful, glass-encased offices feature upscale trappings -- free meals three times a day; free use of an outdoor wave pool, indoor gym and large child care facility; private shuttle bus service to and from San Francisco and other residential areas -- that are the envy of workers all over Silicon Valley.

Google employees are encouraged to propose wild, ambitious ideas often. Supervisors assign small teams to see if the ideas work. Nearly everyone at Google carries a generic job title, such as "product manager." All engineers are allotted 20 percent of their time to work on their own ideas. Many of the personal projects yield public offerings, such as the social networking Web site Orkut and Google News, a collection of headlines and news links.

The corporate counterculture explains a lot about why the search company rolls out such a wide range of products in its self-proclaimed mission to organize the world's information. Despite objections by publishers and authors, Google is attempting to copy every book ever published and make snippets available online. It plans to launch a free wireless Internet service in San Francisco. It also hopes to shake up the advertising world by using the Internet to sell ads in magazines, newspapers and on radio.

Philip Remek, an analyst who follows Google for Guzman and Co., sees the many initiatives as a series of lottery cards.

"A lot of them aren't going to work," Remek said. "Maybe there will be a few that take off spectacularly. And maybe they're smart enough to realize no one is smart enough to tell which lottery card is the winner five years out."

While Google often launches products before they are ready for prime time, even the premature ones instill fear in competitors, who know that the search leader has the patience and money -- a market value of about $140 billion and $2.69 billion in quarterly revenue -- to keep trying.

That's also a message Google sends employees.

"If you're not failing enough, you're not trying hard enough," said Richard Holden, product management director for Google's AdWords service, in which advertisers bid to place text ads next to search results. "The stigma [for failure] is less because we staff projects leanly and encourage them to just move, move, move. If it doesn't work, move on."

Holden said Google tried three different ways to make use of the radio advertising company it bought for $102 million this year, dMarc Broadcasting, with little success. The goal was to sell radio ads through an online auction system similar to AdWords. But, Holden said, "I would not describe what we've done as a failure," because Google finally came up with a model that he expects to work.

Google's innovative streak is apparent throughout its campus, where buildings have been reconfigured to be environmentally friendly and let light stream into interiors through glass-walled workrooms shared by three or four employees. In addition to glass cubicles, some staffers share white fabric "yurts," tentlike spaces that resemble igloos. This week Google announced that it would install 9,000 solar panels on its buildings to generate electricity for its campus.

Along interior hallways, employees scribble random thoughts on large whiteboards strung together. Outside, they whiz by on company-provided motorized scooters or mingle on grassy areas and chairs under brightly colored umbrellas.

Innovation reaches one corner of Google that most companies neglect: food. Each of its 11 campus cafes is run by an executive chef with a theme catering to the culture of people working in that particular building. This year Google opened Cafe180, a cafeteria that supports local organic farming by serving only products from within 180 miles of the campus.

Google's anything-goes culture begins and is maintained with a rigorous hiring procedure similar to those used for admission to elite universities. Underachievers need not apply, unless they stand out in some way. Experience and grade-point averages for recent college graduates matter, but also factored in is "whether someone is Googley," said chief culture officer Stacy Sullivan.

"It's an ill-defined term -- we intentionally don't define that term, but it's . . . not someone too traditional or stuck in ways done traditionally by other companies," Sullivan said.

Each prospective hire is interviewed by at least five staff members, who ask a series of questions intended to make them understand how the candidate thinks about solving a problem. Getting the right answer is not necessary.

Abraham Egnor, a 25-year-old hired three months ago, fits the Google look. At work, Egnor wears his black hair long down his back, colored with a tint of green, a black T-shirt, backpack, cargo pants and sandals.

He said the interview process was tough. "I got a sense one of the persons who interviewed me was being somewhat antagonistic to see how I would respond," he said. "He said that I don't have a college degree, so how would I know certain things. My response was there may have been things I didn't learn -- I don't know. But I think I pick up on things very quickly."

Another job candidate told Google interviewers that his worst qualities were that he was lazy and short-tempered, but was working on it. He wasn't hired.

"We skew toward people who like to solve problems -- the bigger the problem, the better, rather than those who settle in and say, 'okay, I'll do that for 30 years,' " said Laszlo Bock, Google's vice president of "people operations." Learning continues on the job across a wide range of subjects through Google's "tech talks" with well-known people invited to speak on campus much like guest lecturers in college.

On a recent visit, chief executive Eric Schmidt moderated a discussion about women and war with Gloria Steinem and Jane Fonda to a standing-room-only crowd. In the back, a Google employee with a long silver braid held his pet African Grey parrot on his finger.

Google executives know it will be hard to replicate such experiences as it opens offices in so many cities and countries.

Sullivan said she's thinking of ways to export the culture, such tapping longtime employees to serve as "Google ambassadors" and develop in-house videos about what it means to be Googley.

But Sullivan doesn't want it to be too formal. That would be un-Googley.

"We're not trying to solve a problem," she said. " But we want to ensure we're thinking about it and watching over it. Our culture is one of our most valuable assets.


Thursday, October 19, 2006

The Invisible Cloak

James Bond movie is famous for gadgets that people think are impossible to invent and it is just pure cinematic. One such gadget is the invisible car.
Soon, it will be a reality as scientists came up with the invisibility cloak.

Experts create invisibility cloak
By Paul Rincon
Science reporter, BBC News

A US-British team of scientists has successfully tested a cloak of invisibility in the laboratory.

The device mostly hid a small copper cylinder from microwaves in tests at Duke University, North Carolina.

It works by deflecting the microwaves around the object and restoring them on the other side, as if they had passed through empty space.

But making an object vanish before a person's eyes is still the stuff of science fiction - for now.

The cloak consists of 10 fibreglass rings covered with copper elements. This is classed as a "metamaterial" - an artificial composite that can be engineered to produce a desired change in the direction of electromagnetic waves.

The precise variations in the shape of copper elements patterned on to the ring surfaces determines their properties.

Like light waves, microwaves bounce off objects making them visible and creating a shadow, though at microwave frequencies the detection has to be made by instruments rather than the naked eye.

The metamaterial cloak channelled the microwaves around the object like water in a river flowing around a smooth rock.

Gone from view

When water flows around a rock, the water recombines on the opposite side. Someone looking at the water downstream would never guess it had passed by an obstacle.

In the experiment, the scientists first measured microwaves travelling across a plane of view with no obstacles. Then they placed a copper cylinder in the same plane and measured the disturbance, or scattering, in the microwaves.

Finally, the researchers placed the invisibility cloak over the copper cylinder. The cloak did not completely iron out the disturbance, but it greatly reduced the microwaves being blocked or deflected.

"This cloak guides electromagnetic waves around a central region so that any object at call can be placed in that region and will not disturb the electromagnetic fields," said co-author Dr David Schurig from Duke University.

In principle, the same theoretical blueprint could be used to cloak objects from visible light. But this would pose a challenge, as nano-scale engineering would be needed to make the cloak.

"As an application it's not clear that you're going to get the invisibility that everyone thinks about - as in Harry Potter's cloak, or the Star Trek cloaking device," said co-author David Smith of Duke.

"But it shows what can be done with artificial materials. It gives us some insight that we can design something that we wouldn't have been able to do with any existing material."

A key collaborator on the project was Professor John Pendry from Imperial College London.

The researchers say that if an object can be hidden from microwaves, it can be hidden from radar - a possibility that will fascinate the military.

Cloaking differs from stealth technology, which does not make an aircraft invisible but reduces the cross-section available to radar, making it hard to track.
Story from BBC NEWS:

Published: 2006/10/19 15:30:00 GMT


Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Human Species May become Dumb due to Technology

This is an evolutionary theory for humanity for 3,000.
I agree partly with the emergence of dim-witted underclass sub species.

Humanity may split into two sub-species in 100,000 years' time as predicted by HG Wells, an expert has said.

Evolutionary theorist Oliver Curry of the London School of Economics expects a genetic upper class and a dim-witted underclass to emerge.

The human race would peak in the year 3000, he said - before a decline due to dependence on technology.

People would become choosier about their sexual partners, causing humanity to divide into sub-species, he added.

"While science and technology have the potential to create an ideal habitat for humanity over the next millennium, there is a possibility of a monumental genetic hangover over the subsequent millennia due to an over-reliance on technology reducing our natural capacity to resist disease, or our evolved ability to get along with each other, said Dr Curry.

Read the entire story here.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Plane Crashed into a Manhattan Building

The news about the small plane crash in New York City was a shock for the residents
who had the 9-11 experience. It turned out that it was a plane piloted by a Yankee
pitcher, Cory Lidle who had just gotten a pilot license.

Excertp of the news from Washington Post.

A small plane carrying New York Yankees pitcher Cory Lidle and a flight instructor spun out of control on a blustery Wednesday afternoon and slammed into the side of a 50-story condominium tower on the Upper East Side, killing both people on board.
The airplane exploded into a fireball as it hit the building around the 30th floor, sparks and pieces of the wing and the plane's door raining down on the sidewalk below. The fire that raged afterward incinerated two apartments, although, remarkably, city officials reported no fatalities inside the luxury Belaire Condos on East 72nd Street, where apartments feature views of the East River and command $2 million and up.


Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Google is acquiring YouTube

YouTube is barely two year old and the early 20's owners/originators are receiving
1.65 billion of stock from Google Inc. for its acquisition.

Read the news in Washington Post.

Excerpt of the news:

Google Gambles on Web Video
Firm to Pay $1.65 Billion for Popular, Unprofitable YouTube
By Sara Kehaulani Goo
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, October 10, 2006; A01
Google said yesterday that it will acquire Internet video phenomenon YouTube for $1.65 billion in stock, a deal that leaves the search giant betting on the future of online video as well as tackling some of the risks that come with managing a site built by a homegrown audience.
The deal, which Google called "the next step in the evolution of the Internet," is reminiscent of the late 1990s, when Web companies judged their success by the buzz they created more than by immediate profits. This time, YouTube, an as-yet-unprofitable Silicon Valley start-up with two founders in their twenties, grew a huge audience at a pace outdone only by
In less than a year, YouTube attracted more than 72 million unique monthly visitors by allowing users to share short homemade video clips. Through word of mouth, the site became an instant Internet phenomenon, providing a huge library of entertaining videos and giving a voice to budding Internet stars every week.


Sunday, October 08, 2006

A forensic tool to investigate website attacks

Many people who are pc and internet users will be interested to read this news about BBC's investigation looking into the scale of the dangers experienced by the said people.
The news said:

Using a computer acting as a so-called honeypot the BBC has been regularly logging how many potential net-borne attacks hit the average Windows PC every day.
Attack traffic
Honeypots are forensic tools that have become indispensable to computer security experts monitoring online crime. They are used to gather statistics about popular attacks, to grab copies of malicious programs that carry out the attacks and to get a detailed understanding of how these attacks work.
To the malicious programs scouring the web these honeypots look like any other PC. But in the background the machines use a variety of forensic tools to log what happens to them.

Reading the findings as to what danger the computer was subjected to in seven hours make us shiver how our own is exposed to the same elements.

Read the entire story here.

Survey shows that Geek terminologies baffle web users

The survey conducted in UK shows that 40 per cent of the respondents s are buying cutting edge technology without understanding the tech jargon.

They read news feeds but they do not know that RSS (Really Simple Syndication) is the official term for the service.

Other terms that they constantly encounter but do not understand are the following:

VOD - video-on-demand
Wikis - Collaborative technology for editing websites
IPTV - internet protocol television
RSS - Really Simple Syndication alias automated news feeds
PVR - personal video recorder
Web 2.0 - user-generated content phase of internet
Triple-play - internet, TV and phone in one subscription
VoIP - voice over internet protocol
IM - instant messaging
Blogging - frequent, chronological publication of personal thoughts on the web
Podcasting - internet broadcasting for playback on MP3 players

The survey was conducted among British internet users and the researchers are positive that the statistics for the general population will be higher.


Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Google Opens NEW YORK office

Wow,and wow.

The Mountain View premier corporate giant has a new office in New York. Let it be remembered that it was opened on this day, October 3, 2006.

Google Opens block-long office

The Associated Press
Tuesday, October 3, 2006; 8:54 AM
NEW YORK -- It's so big, you won't even need Google Maps to find it. Internet search engine Google Inc. has a new home in New York: a 300,000-square foot, three-floor office that covers a Manhattan city block.
The company welcomed its 500-plus local employees to the office Monday, its first official day of business. While Mountain View, Calif.-based Google has had employees in New York in advertising sales since 2000 and in engineering since 2003, it said the new office is a step up.
"We outgrew our old space," said Craig Nevill-Manning, the company's engineering director.
The company now has three floors in a building that stretches from Eighth Avenue to Ninth Avenue and from 15th Street to 16th Street, a few blocks west of Union Square. The workspace is light and airy and built around the concept of working in teams, with people sharing offices and cubicles connected in groups. Along with a cafeteria and a game room, there are snack stations throughout the office.
There also are a number of conference rooms named after New York landmarks including Alice Tully Hall, the Cloisters and the Apollo Theater.
The office space was built to Google's specifications and the company had a long-term lease, said Tim Armstrong, vice president of advertising sales. He declined to say how long that was or how much the project cost.
Nevill-Manning said there are about 100 projects being worked on in the office. The New York office was the origin point for the project that became Google Maps.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Censoring a Blogger

As a blogger myself, I am interested in the news because it confirmed my objective in this blog i.e. to archive news that I think would be use as my reference in the future.

From Washington Post.

Hard-Learned Lesson: Don't Try to Censor A Blogger

By Terence O'Hara
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, October 2, 2006; D01

Memories fade, but the Internet is forever.

Murry N. Gunty found that out the hard way this summer. Well known among Washington financiers, the head of Milestone Capital Management LLC ran afoul of bloggers for an attempt to censor a Web article about a 1992 incident in which he manipulated the election for officers of the Harvard Business School's Finance Club. The matter was widely reported at the time, including on the front page of the Wall Street Journal, and Gunty atoned by resigning from the club and writing an ethics paper.

But when he tried to stifle a recent recitation of those facts on the Web, his personal history morphed into a morality play about the dangers of challenging the blogosphere. Instead of being described as a moderately successful and scrupulous private equity investor, he was offered as an example of greedy misbehavior and corporate censorship.

"Fifteen years ago when I was in school, I made an error in judgment, which was a meaningful life lesson," Gunty said in a written statement issued by a spokesman for Patton Boggs LLP, Milestone's law firm. "Unfortunately, what has been written about me on the Internet significantly distorts the facts. This is a cautionary tale that things live on in cyberspace regardless of their accuracy."

After graduate school, Gunty went on to a successful career at several Wall Street institutions, mostly in private equity, a wing of corporate finance that uses money from wealthy individuals or institutions to buy real estate, companies or other private assets.

Four years ago, he teamed up with veteran D.C. banker Robert P. Pincus to form Milestone Capital. The two raised $90 million, and invested it in such ventures as a Florida tile company, a maker of Christmas ornaments and dozens of Papa John's pizza franchises.

The Harvard flap seemed like ancient history until Silicon Valley entrepreneur Mark Pincus -- no relation to Gunty's business partner -- resurrected it. Pincus, who founded the social networking site, is a former Harvard classmate of Gunty's who frequently posts long essays about how the ethical lapses of U.S. business executives rarely result in substantial punishment. On Jan. 19, 2006, he posted an essay that used Gunty as a prominent example.

"I have nothing personal against the guy at all," said Pincus, whose original post included numerous disparaging personal remarks about Gunty. "I write about ethics all the time. It's something I'm passionate about. If Murry had responded on my blog, the whole thing would have just ended there."

In fact, it was just beginning.

Pincus's comments attracted dozens of posters eager to scold Gunty, and it quickly spread to several other bloggers who started their own discussion strings about the long-ago incident. "If Murry Gunty didn't exist, we'd have to invent him," one liberal blogger, Frank Paynter, wrote. Gunty's photo was posted on Pincus's blog and various aspects of his life and work were ridiculed.

By July, seven months after the original posting, Pincus's version of Gunty's story had climbed to the top ranking on a Google search for "Murry Gunty" -- above his official biography on Milestone Capital's web site. His Milestone bio is now back on top, however.

It got worse. According to two sources with knowledge of the situation, Gunty or someone representing him sent an e-mail to Six Apart Ltd., the company that hosted Pincus's blog, asking that the article be changed because it was a violation of privacy. The sources spoke only on condition of anonymity because they were describing nonpublic communications at Six Apart.

When a Six Apart staffer asked Pincus to at least remove Gunty's last name from the posting, Pincus responded by posting the request on his blog -- escalating the issue beyond corporate ethics to a matter of free speech.

Six Apart quickly backed down, saying through a spokeswoman that the company does not censor its bloggers, and that the request to Pincus had come from a "young, eager person" who "totally misread the situation."

Within a matter of days Gunty had his own entry in Wikipedia, the online encyclopedia, detailing the controversy, and a new round of bloggers were criticizing his effort to tame the Internet.

"Free speech is one of those topics in the blogosphere that you just don't touch," wrote tech blogger Scott Johnson, explaining the hundreds of links to Pincus's site that began popping up on blogs and chat rooms after Six Apart sought to have it changed.

The Wikipedia entry has since been removed. An editor for the online encyclopedia did not respond to a request to explain why.

But the lesson stands.

Gunty declined to be interviewed for this story. A colleague, who spoke only on the condition he not be named, said Gunty "felt really burned by the whole thing."

Stan Collender, a public relations specialist at Qorvis Communications LLC in the District, said the potential for bloggers to damage the reputation of a business or person is a growing concern.

"It's like pamphleteering on the corner, only its cheaper, quicker and vastly more broad," Collender said. "But unlike the traditional media, it's completely unregulated in that there's no fact checking, no editing. It has all the potential for creating a lot of damage to someone's or something's reputation very quickly, and it's almost impossible to eliminate it. Any unsubstantiated rumor has a very good chance of getting out there."

However, Collender said it is usually a mistake to try to squelch it.

"If you respond to this sort of thing you give it credit it doesn't deserve," he said.
© 2006 The Washington Po

Saturday, September 30, 2006

EBay's PayPal OKs service settlements

This news about PayPal is very important to bloggers, consumers and other people who use this online payment company.

$5.2 million will be paid in 2 separate cases
- Verne Kopytoff, Chronicle Staff Writer
Friday, September 29, 2006

EBay Inc.'s PayPal online payment division has agreed to a $1.7 million settlement with 28 state attorneys general over complaints that PayPal's terms of service were too long and failed to clearly explain consumer protection programs.

In addition, PayPal settled a related class-action suit in U.S. District Court in Brooklyn for $3.5 million.

The agreements, announced Thursday, are a relatively painless exit for PayPal from a problem that has dogged it for some time. Many users have accused the popular service of offering a confusing explanation about the protections it offers against fraud, such as who reimburses them for disputed purchases, for how much and under what circumstances.

As part of the deal with the attorneys general, PayPal agreed to shorten and streamline its user agreement and include more information about its consumer protections. PayPal said it has already complied with many of the terms of the settlement.

Attorneys general from states including California, Illinois, New York, Texas and Nevada took part in the agreement, which was born from discussions that started in 2005. Money the states get will cover the cost of their investigations.

Tom Dressler, a spokesman for California Attorney General Bill Lockyer, said that without a settlement, PayPal was facing a suit over deceptive business practices. Users were falsely led to believe by PayPal's terms of service that that they would get full protection in cases of disputed purchases, he said.

"What this case is about is a pretty simple principle: Businesses should deal with consumers fairly and with complete honesty, and this settlement will help ensure that PayPal's customers make informed decisions in their best interest, " Dressler said.

The proposed class-action suit in New York was filed in 2005 on behalf of users who alleged that PayPal didn't clearly disclose details about its consumer protection programs. The settlement fund will be used to pay PayPal users, their attorneys and to cover administrative costs.

PayPal, part of San Jose's eBay online marketplace, is the largest online payment service, with 114 million accounts. In the past, the service has been a frequent target of complaints about other issues including the freezing of customer accounts.

As part of the agreements disclosed Thursday, it admits no wrongdoing. Amanda Pires, a spokeswoman for PayPal, said the agreements allow PayPal to put the issue behind it and focus on its business.

Friday, September 29, 2006

Plastic Surgery Becoming Popular to Iranian Men

I would not be surprised, if it is Iranian women but men, whoaaa.
This is the news that I like to archive today.

Wealthy Iranians embrace plastic surgery
By Frances Harrison
BBC News, Teheran

It is eight in the morning in the plastic surgeon's office and Hussein is preparing for an operation.

He's going to have a nose job, following in the footsteps of his mother, his brother, his aunt and his cousin who have all had cosmetic surgery.

"Now it's really normal but of course 10 years ago if you were a boy and had a nose job everyone would laugh at you and make fun of you," admits Hussein.

"But now it's not like that - lots of people are doing it," he adds.

Hussein, who is a university student with a wealthy father involved in trade with China, says he met a woman the other day who asked why a boy needed to worry about his looks so much.

"I was shocked because everyone would love to have a more beautiful face," he says.

It's becoming increasingly common for Iranian men to have cosmetic surgery.

At first it was Iranian women who wanted nose jobs because strict Islamic dress regulations meant the only thing peeking out was their face and they wanted to make the best of it.

Since the revolution in 1979, Iran has become one of the world's leading centres for cosmetic surgery with three thousand plastic surgeons operating in Tehran alone.


Hussein is taken into the operating room and the surgeon, Dr Magid Navab, installs a suction tube in Hussein's nose to draw away the blood.

I am a little stressed because it's my son and not me... I trust the doctor though because he operated on my nose
Parinaz, Hussein's mother

At $3,000 an operation, not everyone in Iran can afford a new nose. And it takes some guts if you know how gruesome it's going to be.

Sitting outside the operating room we can hear a "tap, tap" noise of Hussein's nose being broken and refashioned.

"I am a little stressed because it's my son and not me," says Hussein's mother Parinaz.

She is meticulously dressed at this early hour of the morning in an elaborate, beaded lace blouse and embroidered chiffon headscarf.

"I trust the doctor though because he operated on my nose," she says.

At times Dr Navab closes his eyes to concentrate and feels his way around Hussein's nose.

Noses, eyelids, facelifts

He has performed so many of these operations - more than 30,000 thousand in his career so far - that he can literally do it with his eyes shut.

Compare this number with the Association of Plastic Surgeons in Britain. All their members together did only seven thousand nose jobs last year.

It's become a fashion - a competition because a boy wants to compete with another over a girl
Dr Magid Navab

Dr Navab says he only does three operations - noses, eyelids and face lifts - and his schedule is completely full the year round. And increasingly his patients are Iranian men.

"You don't see as many men with nose jobs in London or Paris or Germany but today the numbers having cosmetic surgery [in Iran] is amazing," he says.

You might have thought a country ruled by religious precepts would frown on plastic surgery as an unnecessary vanity. Not so.

Dr Navab explains that some of his patients are indeed congenitally ugly and need surgery to cope psychologically with their lives and he thinks he has operated on the odd cleric too, though they come to see him in plain clothes.

Fashion statement

Other patients are more frivolous.

"It's become a fashion - a competition because a boy wants to compete with another over a girl," Dr Navab says, adding that there are also more and more cases of middle aged men who want to keep up with their young girlfriends.

A week after the operation Hussein is preparing to have the bandages on his nose removed.

He lives with his parents in an apartment in north Tehran furnished with large gilt-rimmed furniture, plush silk carpets and chandeliers.

As we discuss all their operations, the television blasts out Persian pop singers from the Los Angeles satellite channels crooning about how much they love Iran.

"I had a hump on my nose and it was removed and then the second operation I had the tip of my nose reduced and my nostrils made smaller," explains Syed Amir Hashemi, Hussein's older brother.

He also had two operations on his jaw which meant he had to eat through a straw for many weeks after the surgery.


Rather coyly they bring out photographs of them from before the surgery and it's hard to recognise Amir Hashemi or his mother.

As veterans of this process, they've been preparing Hussein for what to expect when the bandages come off.

"I said you can't play football for at least one year and you can't go jogging because the new nose needs some time to settle," says Amir Hashemi.

They also know that most patients hate their new noses when the bandages come off and it takes some time to get used to their new looks.

Hussein and his mother arrive at the doctor's surgery bearing flowers as a gift.

The bandages are removed, and surprisingly Hussein's now smaller nose shows no bruising - it's just a little swollen.

A little hand held vanity mirror is produced for Hussein to peer into.

"It's all very good", he keeps saying, smiling at the reflection of his new nose.

Story from BBC NEWS:

Published: 2006/09/29 14:32:33 GMT


Thursday, September 28, 2006

Workers 'doubt' ageism law value

Starting October 1, a law banning age discrimination will come into effect in Uk. This news was met by with skepticism by many people.

Here is the news from BBC.

Many people do not believe that new employment laws aimed at ending age discrimination will be effective, a survey suggests.

A poll of 1,000 adults by Help the Aged found that 25% of those questioned who were aged between 55 and 64 felt firms would not employ them beyond 65.

Laws under the Employment Equality (Age) Regulations come into force in the UK on 1 October.

But fewer than half of those questioned were aware of the changes.

'Outdated and illegal'

"The government has a serious job to do to make sure older workers know they can take action against employers who force them to retire before 65 or refuse them promotion simply because of their age," said Kate Jopling, senior policy manager at Help the Aged.

There are many businesses keen to harness the skills and experience older workers can bring
Department for Work and Pensions

"With the onset of new age regulations in a few days' time, ageist attitudes at work will not just become outdated, they will be illegal."

She added: "Employers need to realise that just because someone has reached a certain age, it doesn't mean they are not fit for work."

The study also suggested that most people believe older workers are considered to be more loyal and dedicated than younger employees.

Government figures show 208,000 more people aged over 50 are in work now compared with a year ago.

"The evidence suggests there are many businesses which are keen to harness the skills and experience older workers can bring," a Department for Work and Pensions spokesperson said.

"We know the practice of ageism is bad for business and the new legislation will ensure that older workers are protected and ageism is stamped out."
Story from BBC NEWS:

Published: 2006/09/22 23:03:08 GMT


Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Airport Securit y adjusts to new rules

Of all people, why it had to be Ted Koppel who would miss the specific instruction about the 3 ounce limit for toletries and clear plastic bag for the gel-product such as toothpaste. Is he in a hurry?

Airport Security Adjusts To New Rules on Liquids

By Del Quentin Wilber
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, September 27, 2006; A12

Security was relatively smooth at U.S. airports yesterday, as travelers adjusted to new rules allowing them to bring aboard planes small amounts of liquids and gels in their carry-on bags. But it took some flexibility on the part of authorities to make things work. Many people did not know about revisions to month-long rules banning most liquids and gels from passenger cabins.

For example, consider Ted Koppel and the requirement that containers of 3 ounces or less had to fit easily into clear plastic bags.

The former host of ABC's "Nightline" arrived at Washington's Reagan National Airport yesterday morning for a flight to Dallas without a clear plastic bag and a too-large tube of toothpaste in his shaving kit.

A supervisor with the Transportation Security Administration rushed to the rescue. She gave Koppel the necessary plastic bag and determined that he had already used enough of the toothpaste to meet the new limits for such gels. He put the tube into the plastic bag and sailed through security.

Under the rules that went into effect yesterday morning, passengers are allowed to board with small amounts of toiletries in containers of 3 ounces or less, as long as the items are visible in a clear plastic 1-quart bag. The bags have to be pulled out of carry-on luggage to be examined separately at security checkpoints. Under the new rules, passengers may purchase drinks in secure areas and bring those aboard planes.

The TSA banned nearly all liquids and gels from passenger cabins in August after British authorities said they uncovered a terrorist plot to blow up transatlantic airliners with liquid bombs. Large containers of liquids and gels still must be checked or left behind, officials said.

TSA officials said they eased the rules because they had studied the threat and were confident that the revisions balanced the risk of attack against inconvenience for travelers.

TSA officials said they worked hard yesterday to help travelers make it through security, even if they didn't meet the letter of the new requirements.

"It went great today," said Kip Hawley, director of the TSA, before speaking at the Aero Club of Washington's monthly luncheon. "Everything I have heard suggests it went smoothly across the country . . . We worked with the security officers so they have discretion, particularly on the first day."

Hawley said officials rolled out the revisions on a Tuesday because it usually is one the least busy for passengers. Security lines were fairly short at National yesterday morning.

Rob Yingling, a spokesman for the Washington Metropolitan Airports Authority, which runs National and Washington Dulles International airports, declined to comment on security lines at either airport or how the new rules affected travelers. He referred calls to the TSA. Security lines "moved very efficiently" at Baltimore-Washington Thurgood Marshall International Airport, an airport spokesman said.

At National, passengers said they were happy that the TSA eased the restrictions, though several didn't know about the changes until they were told by a reporter.

Susan Garfield, 33, a director of women's health for a biotech company, called the original ban a "pain in the rear end" because it forced her to check her luggage and wait 40 minutes at the carousel after her flight.

But Garfield said her frustration largely evaporated yesterday when she packed her toothpaste, lip gloss and nail polish into a clear cosmetics bag with a zipper -- technically, a violation of the new rules -- and whipped through security at Boston's Logan International Airport.

"This seems like a much better approach," Garfield said.

Elliot Kash, 34, a salesman for a car-rental agency who travels between New York and the District twice a week, said he heard about the revisions yesterday and immediately bought a small silver mesh case for his toiletries -- not the clear bag the TSA requires.

Screeners at LaGuardia Airport allowed him to pass through security anyway, he said. As he opened his luggage to show a reporter the bag at National, he realized that he had toothpaste, spray-on deodorant and some cream jammed in other parts of his bag -- missed or ignored by the screeners. He said he had forgotten the items were there.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Penises of all kind, name it

It intrigues me to high heavens why in the world would they serve the penises of different animals. This news from BBC deals with exotic delicacy.

Beijing's penis emporium
By Andrew Harding
BBC News, Beijing

There are many thousands of Chinese restaurants around in the UK and everyone has their favourite dish, but only in China itself do chefs specialise in a range of slightly more unusual delicacies.

The dish in front of me is grey and shiny.

"Russian dog," says my waitress Nancy.

"Big dog," I reply.

"Yes," she says. "Big dog's penis..."

We are in a cosy restaurant in a dark street in Beijing but my appetite seems to have gone for a stroll outside.

Nancy has brought out a whole selection of delicacies.

They are draped awkwardly across a huge platter, with a crocodile carved out of a carrot as the centrepiece.

Nestling beside the dog's penis are its clammy testicles, and beside that a giant salami-shaped object.

"Donkey," says Nancy. "Good for the skin..."

She guides me round the penis platter.

"Snake. Very potent. They have two penises each."

I did not know that.

Deer-blood cocktail

"Sheep... horse... ox... seal - excellent for the circulation."

She points to three dark, shrivelled lumps which look like liquorice allsorts - a special treat apparently - reindeer, from Manchuria.

Government officials... two of them... they're having the penis hotpot

The Guolizhuang restaurant claims to be China's only speciality penis emporium, and no, it is not a joke.

The atmosphere is more exotic spa than boozy night-out.

Nancy describes herself as a nutritionist.

"We don't call them waiters here. And we don't serve much alcohol," she says. "Only common people come here to get drunk and laugh."

But she does offer me a deer-blood and vodka cocktail, which I decide to skip.

Medicinal purposes

The restaurant's gristly menu was dreamt up by a man called Mr Guo.

He is 81 now and retired.

After fleeing China's civil war back in 1949, he moved to Taiwan, and then to Atlanta, Georgia, where he began to look deeper into traditional Chinese medicine, and experiment on the appendages of man's best friend.

Apparently, they are low in cholesterol and good, not just for boosting the male sex drive, but for treating all sorts of ailments.

Laughter trickles through the walls of our dining room.

"Government officials," says Nancy. "Two of them upstairs. They're having the penis hotpot."

Most of the restaurant's guests are either wealthy businessmen or government bureaucrats who, as Nancy puts it, have been brought here by people who want their help.

What better way to secure a contract than over a steaming penis fondue.

Discretion is assured as all the tables are in private rooms.

The glitziest one has gold dishes.

"Some like their food served raw," says Nancy, "like sushi. But we can cook it anyway you like."

Rare order

"Not long ago, a particularly rich real estate mogul came in with four friends. All men. Women don't come here so often, and they shouldn't eat testicles," says Nancy solemnly.

The men spent $5,700 (£3,000) on a particularly rare dish, something that needed to be ordered months in advance.

"Tiger penis," says Nancy.

The illegal trade in tiger parts is a big problem in China.

Campaigners say the species is being driven towards extinction because of its popularity as a source of traditional medicine.

I mention this, delicately, to Nancy, but she insists that all her tiger supplies come from animals that have died of old age.

"Anyway, we only have one or two orders a year," she says.

"So what does it taste like?" I ask.

"Oh, the same as all the others," she says blithely.

And does it have any particular potency? "No. People just like to order tiger to show off how much money they have."

Welcome to the People's Republic of China - tigers beware.

Sliced and pickled

"Oh yes," she adds, "the same group also ate an aborted reindeer foetus.

"That is very good for your skin. And here it is..."

Another "nutritionist" walks in bearing something small and red wrapped in cling film.

My appetite is heading for the airport.

Still, I think, it would be rude not to try something.

I am normally OK about this sort of thing. I have had fried cockroaches and sheep's eyes, so...

There is a small bowl of sliced and pickled ox penis on the table.

I pick up a piece with my chopsticks and start to chew. It is cold and bland and rubbery.

Nancy gives me a matronly smile.

"This one," she says, "should be eaten every day."

Story from BBC NEWS:

Published: 2006/09/23 11:15:35 GMT


TSA Eases Carry-on Liquid Bans

This is good news for traveler, especially for those attending business meetings and conferences direct from the airport.

U.S. Eases Carry-On Liquid Ban
Some Drinks, Small Toiletries Allowed

By Del Quentin Wilber
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, September 26, 2006; A01

Passengers on commercial airplanes will be allowed to travel with small amounts of liquids and gels in their carry-on luggage starting this morning -- the first major revision of a ban enacted last month in reaction to an alleged transatlantic bomb plot.

Drinks purchased inside secure areas also will be permitted on board.

Top U.S. aviation security officials, under pressure from airline and passenger groups, announced the easing of restrictions yesterday after, they said, they carefully studied the threat posed by liquid bombs. The restrictions, which went into effect on Aug. 10, disrupted travel for many passengers. Travelers complained about long lines to check in luggage, lengthy waits at the baggage carousels and the lack of bottled water on planes. Many took calculated risks and sneaked small amounts of hair gel and toothpaste through security.

Starting at 4 a.m. today, passengers will be allowed to bring on board containers holding three ounces or less of toiletries, such as lip gloss, hair spray, toothpaste and shaving cream. The products must fit "comfortably" inside a single, one-quart clear plastic bag that zips closed, officials said. The bag will be examined by X-ray machines and screeners.

Larger bottles of liquids and gels must be placed in checked bags or left at home, officials said.

After passing through security, passengers will be permitted to buy bottled water and other drinks in "sterile" gate areas and carry them onto planes. Authorities said they made that change because products inside the sterile areas have been screened by security officers and do not pose a threat.

"What you see here today is the prudent balancing of the work that we need to do to protect security and common sense," said Michael P. Jackson, deputy secretary of the Homeland Security Department, at a news conference yesterday at Reagan National Airport.

Airline and passenger groups had been privately pushing authorities to alter the bans, which were implemented after British authorities said they discovered a plot to bring down transatlantic flights with liquid explosives.

Trade groups reacted enthusiastically to the revisions, saying business travelers welcomed the chance to resume carrying on their luggage rather than checking most everything. The volume of checked bags rose 20 percent after the ban was enacted. "It's a really positive change for business travelers . . . because they normally wouldn't have to check their bags to get their toiletries on board," said Caleb Tiller, spokesman for the National Business Travel Association. "This is a very good change. People are pretty pleased."

James C. May, president of the Air Transport Association, a trade group that represents major U.S. airlines, said the changes "put into place a security regimen that is consistent with the threat."

Top aviation security officials said researchers have studied how liquid explosives can damage aircraft. The tests and the analysis of bomb threats led officials to change the ban, they said.

"We now know enough to say that a total ban is no longer needed from a security point of view," said Kip Hawley, the head of the Transportation Security Administration, which provides security at more than 400 U.S. airports.

Hawley added that the changes made sense because he did not want screeners "fishing around for lip gloss -- there are a whole lot of other things we want our [officers] looking for."

The new policies will be "in place for an indefinite period of time," or until new security procedures or technologies emerge to combat the threat of liquid explosives, Hawley said.

Researchers in New Mexico are testing devices designed to detect liquid explosives. Further tests on more advanced devices are planned for coming months. TSA officials are also considering the purchase of upgraded X-ray machines and more sophisticated screening devices to help them find containers of liquid explosives and other bombs at checkpoints.

Several outside security experts, who had been critical of the TSA, said they generally supported the decision to ease the bans.

Bob Hesselbein, a pilot and the chairman of the Airline Pilots Association's national security committee, said the TSA was "moving in the right direction."

"It's a sensible step on the road to revising the screening to make better sense and be more efficient," Hesselbein said.

Hesselbein and other security experts said, however, that the TSA needs to focus more on people who pose a threat and devote less time to trying to find items. "We are concerned that a great deal of time is going to be spent on whether a liquid or gel is 2 1/2 ounces or 3 ounces," Hesselbein said. "We want to make sure that our security officers are focused on the hard-to-find explosives, and we don't want to see our security diluted."

Mike Boyd, a security consultant, said the new rules were a "knee-jerk" reaction to complaints from travel groups. Boyd said the TSA has been forced to shift tactics because it has not spent enough time or money developing countermeasures. "This ban shouldn't have been in effect at all," he said.

Monday, September 25, 2006

The End of Ebbers of Worldcom

This is one story that I like to archive here in my blog. Very controversial and very

Cook the Books, Get Life in Prison: Is Justice Served?

By Carrie Johnson and Brooke A. Masters
Washington Post Staff Writers
Monday, September 25, 2006; A01

In the category of longest prison sentence, WorldCom Inc. founder Bernard J. Ebbers recently bested the organizer of an armed robbery, the leaders of a Bronx drug gang and the acting boss of the Gambino crime family.

It was a contest Ebbers surely would have preferred to lose.

Tomorrow, the man who once swaggered through the halls of his telecommunications company as a cowboy-booted billionaire is scheduled to surrender to authorities and begin a 25-year sentence. Federal prison policies virtually ensure that Ebbers, who has a heart ailment, will spend the rest of his life in prison for his role in an $11 billion accounting fraud.

Ebbers, 65, is to report to prison on the same day that former Enron Corp. finance chief Andrew S. Fastow will be sentenced by a federal judge in Houston. Fastow, who secretly pocketed more than $45 million in a scheme to disguise mounting financial problems at the energy company, faces a maximum of 10 years in prison as part of his plea deal.

The length of Ebbers's sentence when compared with others touches on one of the most controversial parts of the American criminal justice system: How large a pound of flesh should society exact for serious white-collar crime? When the victims are diffuse, the crime complex and the injuries economic, what kind of punishment constitutes justice?

A top executive who gambles his fate at a trial nowadays risks what amounts to a life term for fraud that can involve as little as $2.5 million in losses, said University of Missouri law professor Frank Bowman. Crimes such as first-degree murder, high-level drug dealing and espionage trigger similar recommendations.

"That means you have to equate fiddling with the corporate books with first-degree murder or treason," Bowman said. "My own sense is that any sentence over 20 years for anybody for an economic crime is hard to justify."

Public revulsion over financial crimes that cost small investors billions of dollars has barely waned since prosecutors began to investigate a string of corporate scandals in late 2001. The death of convicted Enron founder Kenneth L. Lay in July induced profanity-laden outrage from shareholders who felt they had been "cheated" out of seeing Lay sent to prison. Federal prosecutors seized the mood, imploring Congress this month to pass legislation that would make it easier for them to recover $43.5 million from Lay's estate, a process that has been seriously complicated by his death.

The drive to exact punishment even beyond the grave is a sign of vindictiveness in public officials and shareholders, defense lawyers contend.

Reid H. Weingarten, a Washington-based lawyer for Ebbers, said in an e-mail that the judge in his case had public relations, not justice, in mind. "The purpose of the sentence was to please and appease the howling mob demanding Ebbers's head, not a worthy goal of the criminal justice system," he said.

Fastow, 44, assessed the prospect of spending decades behind bars after the government hit him with a 98-count indictment for serving as the architect of the Enron fraud. Prosecutors also accused Fastow of enlisting his wife and using the bank accounts of his two young sons to siphon money from the company undetected. Lea W. Fastow, indicted to pressure her husband to cooperate with investigators, pleaded guilty to a tax charge two years ago for underreporting income from his business partnerships. She served almost a year in a high-security prison.

As part of the couple's package deal, Andrew Fastow pleaded guilty, agreed to testify against Lay and former chief executive Jeffrey K. Skilling, and negotiated a substantial break in his prison term. Skilling, 52, was convicted of 19 criminal charges in May and faces decades in prison when he is sentenced next month.

Fordham University law professor Daniel Richman said shorter sentences in exchange for cooperation reflect the reality of white-collar investigations: Prosecutors must rely on tainted insiders to help convict higher-level executives. In this year's Enron trial, for example, lawyers for Skilling and Lay branded Fastow a liar, a thief and the person most responsible for Enron's collapse who avoided his just deserts by signing a deal with prosecutors.

"Sentences are the currency with which the government buys information," said Richman, a former federal prosecutor.

Not accepting a deal can be costly, as former mid-level Dynegy Inc. executive Jamie Olis, now 40, learned two years ago. Olis, who while growing up was physically abused by his mother's boyfriend and spent time in foster care before working his way through college, became a national symbol of inflexible sentencing policies. He lost his case and was sentenced to more than 24 years in prison -- despite the defense's presentation of his background -- for taking part in a $300 million accounting fraud. Olis's former boss at the energy company signed a plea agreement, testified against Olis and was sentenced to 15 months.

A federal appeals court last year threw out Olis's sentence, and a federal judge in Houston on Friday reduced it to six years. That means Olis is likely to spend about two more years in prison.

"Not every case is Enron, and not every white-collar offender is one of the smartest guys in the room," said Washington defense lawyer Barry Boss, referring to the name of a book and documentary film about the Enron scandal. "We're such a vindictive country."

But white-collar criminals are unusually sensitive to deterrence, according to prosecutors and securities regulators. The sight of colleagues in handcuffs, or signing away their homes and fortunes, sends a powerful message.

What's more, legal experts say, former executives do not deserve lighter treatment than drug dealers or burglars simply because they broke accounting rules or lied -- crimes that are harder to unravel and whose victims are more diffuse.

"You want people to understand that just because they're in high places, they make a lot of money and they can hire fabulous lawyers, that they're not going to walk away with a slap on the wrist," said former Securities and Exchange Commission chairman Harvey L. Pitt. "If you ask me, 'Did Bernie Ebbers destroy lives?' I would tell you that his conduct did."

Historically, white-collar criminals have not received long sentences. Probation was common even for crimes that involved large losses, and even the most famous defendants received sentences that by today's standards appear lenient. Junk-bond king Michael Milken was initially sentenced to 10 years on fraud charges, but a judge reduced the sentence to 33 months, and he was paroled after serving only two years.

That began to change in the mid-1990s, after policymakers expressed concern that punitive sentences for nonviolent drug crimes carried life sentences while white-collar criminals often skated. In 1994, financier Tom J. Billman, who bilked savings and loans of $25 million and fled the country, was sentenced to 40 years in prison. He served about 10 years before being paroled in 2005.

Sentences became even longer when parole was abolished in the federal system and sentencing guidelines were repeatedly amended to increase prison terms for white-collar crimes.

Were the WorldCom and Enron scandals to happen today, the sentences for Ebbers and Fastow might be even longer. Angry lawmakers enacted even tougher penalties for corporate fraud after those companies filed for bankruptcy protection. But the stiff new punishments apply only to people who committed crimes after 2002.

"On a personal level, you've got to feel for people" like Ebbers who will probably die in prison, said University of Texas law professor Henry T.C. Hu, "but overall I think the system's got it right."