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."

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Toy Recall

One of the considerations in manufacturing toys is that there should be no components
that could choke or pose safety hazards for the children.

Washington Post has this news today Sept. 23, 2006.

Hasbro Inc. yesterday recalled about 255,000 Playskool toy tool benches after a toddler in West Virginia and another in Texas died from choking on the set's oversize plastic nails.

The nails are part of the Team Talkin' Tool Bench, a set that comes with a toy hammer, screwdriver, two 2¼-inch plastic screws and two 3-inch plastic nails.

Hasbro agreed to conduct the recall voluntarily after notifying the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission.

A commission statement said the two young children died after the plastic nails became "forcefully lodged in their throats."

The workbench was sold nationwide at stores including Toys R Us, Wal-Mart, Target and KB Toys from October 2005 through September 2006 for about $35.

Consumers with the workbench should keep the toy nails away from children and can contact Hasbro to exchange the nails for a $50 certificate for another Hasbro product.

"The toy without the nails does not present a hazard," Consumer Product Safety Commission spokeswoman Julie Vallese said. "Parents don't have to take the entire toy away, they just have to remove the nails."

The first victim, a 19-month-old boy from Martinsburg, W.Va., died in January. Hasbro learned of the death in February after an employee saw a reference to it on during a routine check of online comments about Hasbro products, spokesman Wayne S. Charness said.

A message left with an attorney for the family of the Martinsburg boy was not returned.

Hasbro asked the Consumer Product Safety Commission to investigate. The agency concluded that the oversize plastic nail met federal regulations for small parts and that the company had complied with federal labeling standards. The toy was marketed for use by children age 3 and older.

The second victim, a 2-year-old in League City, Tex., died in July after running and falling on one of the plastic nails, said Michael Howell, an attorney for the family.

Howell said that the family reported the death to the commission a week after it happened, but that the agency did not interview family members until this week.

When asked why the agency did not investigate the case earlier, Vallese said the investigation took place "in a timely manner from when we learned about it."

Hasbro, of Pawtucket, R.I., learned of the death Sept. 15, after the family filed a lawsuit against the company in Galveston, Tex. Hasbro, in turn, notified the Consumer Product Safety Commission, which is still investigating the case, Vallese said.

Deaths caused by toys "are very rare," said Alan Korn, director of public policy for the nonprofit group National Safe Kids.

"For the most part, toys in this country are wildly safe, so when there's been a death with a toy involving choking and then a second death, it should be a concern to parents, the government and the company," he said. "Just because a toy is compliant with federal regulations does not mean it is necessarily safe for the marketplace."

Don Mays, senior director for product safety at Consumer Reports magazine, said federal product safety officials should reconsider how they determine when a small part is a choking hazard.

Parts that are small enough to cause such harm are tested to see if they fit inside a cylinder with a 1.25-inch diameter when tested. If they fit and they are intended for use by children younger than 3, they are banned.

"That is a screening tool but not a panacea for catching choking hazards," Mays said.

Mays believes the cylinder used for testing should be larger. Consumer Reports recommends that parents do their own test, using a tube from a roll of toilet paper.

Mays also questioned the target age group for the Team Talkin' Tool Bench. "Clearly this is a toy that is attractive to a child under three," he said.

As with most recalls, major retailers have begun pulling the toy from store shelves.

Hasbro's recall hotline is 800-509-9554.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Is Bin Laden dead?

People are shocked. Is it true or not?

News from BBC.

President Jacques Chirac has ordered an inquiry into the leak of a French secret service memo claiming that Osama Bin Laden had died.

Mr Chirac told reporters he was surprised the memo had been leaked, and refused to comment on the claim itself.

A French newspaper quoted a document as saying the Saudi secret services were convinced the al-Qaeda leader had died of typhoid in Pakistan in late August.

Officials in Pakistan and the US said they could not confirm the account.

Saudi-born Bin Laden was based in Afghanistan until the Taleban government there was overthrown by US-backed forces in 2001 after the 9/11 attacks.

Since then, US and Pakistani officials have regularly said they believe he is hiding in the lawless border area between Afghanistan and Pakistan.

His last videotaped message was released in late 2004, but several audio tapes have been released this year - the last at the end of June, in which Bin Laden praised Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq, who was killed in an American air strike.

Internal organs paralysed

In its report, French regional daily L'Est Republicain said it had obtained a copy of a DGSE foreign intelligence service report dated 21 September.

"According to a usually reliable source, the Saudi services are now convinced that Osama Bin Laden is dead," it read.

"The information gathered by the Saudis indicates that the head of al-Qaeda fell victim, while he was in Pakistan on August 23, 2006, to a very serious case of typhoid that led to a partial paralysis of his internal organs."

Mr Chirac said: "I am surprised that a confidential memo from the secret services has been published, therefore I've ordered the defence minister to start an inquiry.

"As far as the information itself is concerned, it's not confirmed in any way. Therefore I have no comment at all."

The Washington-based IntelCenter, which monitors terrorism communications, said it was not aware of any similar reports on the internet.

"We've seen nothing from any al-Qaeda messaging or other indicators that would point to the death of Osama Bin Laden," director Ben Venzke told the Associated Press news agency.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

First Penis Transplant Reversed

This could have been a solution to problem of penile erection for old men but it seems there is still a need for psychological preparation for the spouses.

Read the news.

Surgeons in China who said they performed the first successful penis transplant had to remove the donated organ because of the severe psychological problems it caused to the recipient and his wife.

Dr Weilie Hu and surgeons at Guangzhou General Hospital in China performed the complex 15-hour surgery on a 44-year-old man whose penis had been damaged in a traumatic accident.

The microsurgery to attach the penis, which had been donated by the parents of a 22-year-old brain-dead man, was successful but Dr Hu and his team removed it two weeks later.

"Because of a severe psychological problem of the recipient and his wife, the transplanted penis regretfully had to be cut off," Dr Hu said in a report published online by the peer-reviewed journal European Urology, without elaborating.

"This is the first reported case of penile transplantation in a human."

Both the man and his wife had requested the surgery.

He had been unable to have intercourse or urinate properly since the accident that occurred eight months before the surgery was performed.

Ten days after the operation, which had been approved by the hospital's medical ethical committee, the recipient had been able to urinate.

There had been no signs of the 10-centimetre organ being rejected by the recipient's body.

But Dr Hu said more cases and longer observation are needed to determine whether sexual sensation and function can be restored.

"The patient finally decided to give up the treatment because of the wife's psychological rejection, as well as the swollen shape of the transplanted penis" Dr Hu said.

In a commentary in the journal, Yoram Vardi, of the Rambam Medical Centre in Haifa in Israel, said the successful surgery represents an additional step in contemporary medicine.

But he added that careful patient selection is required as well as thorough informed consent of the patient and his family.

"Satisfactory consideration of these issues must be taken into account so that this approach can be considered a serious therapeutic option in the future," he said.

- Reuters

Search for Fountain of Youth Continues

This news from San Francisco Chronicle shows that the quest for Eternal youth continues.

Entrepreneur backs research on anti-aging
Scientist says humans could live indefinitely

- Keay Davidson, Chronicle Science Writer
Monday, September 18, 2006

A controversial scientist who hopes to help humans live for thousands of years has received a multimillion-dollar grant from a Bay Area entrepreneur.

Peter A. Thiel, co-founder and former chief executive officer of the online payments system PayPal, announced Saturday he is pledging $3.5 million "to support scientific research into the alleviation and eventual reversal of the debilities caused by aging."

The recipient will be the Methuselah Foundation, a Springfield, Va., nonprofit started and run by the most colorful scientist in aging research: Aubrey de Grey, a 43-year-old English researcher who says he hopes to "radically postpone aging, giving indefinite life spans."

In short, de Grey's thesis is that there are seven main causes of aging, and that if those can be licked, then people could live indefinitely.

Among aging experts, de Grey's reputation is so widely contested that a headline over an article last year in an MIT-based publication, Technology Review, asked: "He's brilliant, but is he nuts?" In a tongue-in-cheek letter to the magazine in response to the story, top authority on aging Richard Miller, of the University of Michigan, wrote that he would like de Grey to help him solve a similarly complex technological problem: how to make pigs fly.

De Grey told The Chronicle in e-mails and phone conversations last week that he isn't disturbed by scientific critics. Some of them, he noted, argue that death is inevitable because the cells and genes of living organisms inevitably accumulate errors that eventually kill them. But, he pointed out, because of careful upkeep "we have vintage cars driving around that were designed to last 15 years -- and they're 100 years old."

So why should humans be any different?

De Grey, who received a doctorate in biology at Cambridge University in 2000 and worked in the university's genetics department from 1992 until a few months ago, characterized the $3.5 million grant as a "major breakthrough" in his effort to get research on indefinite extension of life span "really moving in the laboratory."

"It's "pump-priming," he said. "I need probably $1 billion over 10 years" to achieve that goal."

Advocates of indefinite life extension seem to hope the future will resemble the film "Boynton Beach Club," in which white-haired, super-fit senior citizens party, play and have busy sex lives that would shame a college fraternity. But critics of de Grey-style longevity research fear that if everyone lived indefinitely, Earth would become miserably packed with old, sick people, and nursing homes would be more ubiquitous than Starbucks.

De Grey is confident that humanity will figure out a solution to the crowding dilemma. One possibility: "Maybe people of the future will decide that children are not much fun anyway and will reduce the birth rate," he said.

Experts on aging tended to have a strong personal liking for de Grey, and said he had stimulated some interesting thinking in aging research, but believe that in recent years, he has become sensationalistic in his public comments.

"Many of my colleagues are extremely critical of him -- they believe he's a pseudoscientist, that he is out for publicity -- and that he has no redeeming features," said Judith Campisi, a cell and molecular biologist who has joint appointments at the Buck Institute for Age Research in Novato and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.

"I must say I don't agree with that," added Campisi. "I do think he started out sincerely hoping to stimulate interesting research. And I think in his small way he did get people to think. ... But where he seems to have lost his way is he doesn't listen to rational argument anymore."

S. Jay Olshansky, a demographer at the University of Illinois who confronted de Grey on CBS' "60 Minutes" earlier this year, added: "Where I have vehemently disagreed with Aubrey is where he tries to convince people, especially reporters, that we are on the verge of immortality -- that we have people alive today who will live for 1,000 or for 5,000 years."

At present, scientists don't even know what causes aging, but "Aubrey seems to think that he does -- that there are seven (causes for aging), that we have to reengineer the body to eliminate them, and that we'll live forever.

"In the world of science," Olshansky said, "you don't make declarative statements (like that) without evidence to support them."

No. 1 on de Grey's list of seven causes of aging is to focus on the atrophy or degeneration of cells. Others include gene mutations, mutations to the energy-generating mitochondria inside cells, and the unhealthy accumulation of "junk" inside and outside cells such as the amyloid proteins found in the brains of Alzheimer's patients.

In response to Olshansky's criticism, de Grey told The Chronicle by e-mail that "I have published a lot of papers that provide the scientific basis for my optimism."

Thiel could not be reached for comment.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Heartbreak heaven for staff

I just wrote about how to mend a broken heart and among those recommendations is taking a leave. In Japan, they call it shitsuren kyuka.


Staff writer

It's 9 o'clock on a Monday morning. A phone rings in an office and the boss picks it up. At the other end she hears the fragile voice of one of her staff telling her she broke up with her boyfriend the day before. "I would like to take a shitsuren kyuka," the staffer says. Unperturbed, the boss replies: "No problem. Take care of yourself." And with that the conversation ends.
* * * * *

That phone conversation is likely to occur in the future in the Tokyo office of Miki Hiradate's market-research company Hime & Company. By asking for a shitsuren kyuka, the staffer would be requesting "compassionate leave to fix a broken heart" -- and its granting would be the norm.

News photo
Miki Hiradate in the Tokyo salon of her market-research firm Hime & Company, whose all-female staff she treats in considerate ways that most women workers in Japan could only dream of.

"Unless you are extremely lucky," says Hiradate, the firm's 37-year-old founder and president, "you will definitely have the experience in your 20s and 30s of being brokenhearted after someone leaves you.

"So, shitsuren kyuka is a [paid] holiday you take when that happens and you feel too devastated to come to the office. I introduced it after I asked young women what they wanted from 'female-friendly companies,' and they suggested these holidays."

Of course, a female-friendly workplace would offer flexible working hours and child-care leave to help women balance their lives as both mothers and workers. But Hiradate wanted something more, and when she heard the suggestion for "heartbreak leave," she went for it at once.

"Some people may just call their office and say they're taking a day off because they don't feel well, but in my company the employees can openly say they are taking a shitsuren kyuka. They are not asked anything more.

"You know, when you are brokenhearted, you feel terrible and have red eyes and the condition affects your work performance. I recommend them to come to the office after taking some rest. That's good for the company, too," Hiradate says in an upbeat tone.

As for how much rest a lovelorn lady might be allowed, Hiradate believes that the damage done by breaking up gets more serious the older you become. Consequently, her company grants one day a year off to staff in their early 20s, two days off to those in their late 20s and three days off to thirtysomethings.

Sounds nice. How many staff have actually taken the holidays since the company introduced them last year?

"Fortunately, nobody has," Hiradate says. But she swears that she herself will take her shitsuren kyuka if the need arises. "Of course, I will take three days off!" she says.

In fact, in the way it reflects women's real needs, Hiradate's shitsuren kyuka policy also aptly symbolizes the character of her business, which hinges on reflecting the women's market.

Hiradate started her Hime Club (meaning Princess Club) market-research business mainly targeting women in their 20s and 30s in 2002, then renamed it Hime & Company. The business has grown steadily while attracting such clients as cosmetics and beverage makers who create and sell products tailored to that age group.

Hiradate currently employs four full-time staff, all women, who organize and conduct market research on a pool of about 4,000 women who signed up to her "focus groups" mainly through her Web site at . She calls those women her hime (princesses) because the purpose of her business is ultimately to promote products and services that make them and their contemporaries happy, she says.

The decor in the salon of her Aoyama office is deliberately girlish, with a white fluffy carpet and pink artificial flowers twined around the spiral stairs up to her office -- as it is there that her hime often come to evaluate new drinks, cosmetics and other products.

"One day, I would like to create a big, castle-shaped department store which sells items selected by hime," she says, smiling, in the rosy room.

But to push forward to achieve her grand design, Hiradate freely admits that she relies on having the right kind of staff coming up with unique ideas.

"I started shitsuren kyuka also because I wanted to have staff who are freed from stereotype and who understand humor. I needed people who would say: 'Shitsuren kyuka? Cool. Can I take that if I get brokenhearted when it's revealed that my favorite pop star has got a girlfriend?"

As unusual as her "heartbreak holidays" may be, Hiradate says she is not just "trying to challenge stereotypes." Rather, she seems to enjoy the reactions to what she is doing.

"When we started the business under the name Hime Club, it probably sounded like a hostess club in Ginza. People in PR companies, for example, had to explain to their client companies that we were actually a marketing company. However, the impact of the name was far stronger than the usual names of marketing businesses, such as 'AA Research' or 'Woman Something.' So that way our business became widely known in the industry.

"I did that on purpose. I try to create something that people cannot help chatting about."

Hiradate's stream of new strategies seems to never stop. Another new holiday at her company is bagen hankyu (a half-day off to go to the sales) -- an idea that came from her experience of working in a big company.

"You can't miss the seasonal discount sales, especially the morning of the day when they start. Of course you can take a half day off in any company, but in a big company employees tend to do that secretly and often keep their booty in the company locker.

"But in my opinion, shopping in the sales is exciting and also fun, because you can show off your bargains and share your excitement and happiness later. It's nonsense to hide them away."

The system benefits the company, too, Hiradate says. "My company is a venture business, and I can't pay much to my employees. But if they can buy their clothes at half-price utilizing the holidays, that may help."

So what's next?

"I will try and do anything -- as long as it's legal -- to help make my staff happy," Hiradate says with a broad smile and a twinkle in her eye that suggests she already has something else in mind.

Toilet College in Japan

This is not a news but an article written by Amy Chavez, entitled
Commode confession of Sound Princess

While this may be true for Japan nowadays, just a decade ago, Japan had such a reputation for filthy toilets, there was an entire page on the Internet dedicated to the location of the dirtiest toilets in Japan. Then toilet manufacturing giants such as Toto started flaunting their toilet technology in public areas. I remember walking into a public toilet five years ago and being so in awe of the cleanliness and gadgetry, I thought: "Whoa! Toto, we're not in Kansas anymore!" No, urine Japan, and ready to meet a different kind of Wiz.

Most public toilets nowadays offer deluxe Western-style toilets that feature bottom washers, bottom dryers and heated seats. Some public bathrooms even have odor-decomposing walls.

While wee in the United States would never imagine outfitting even our home bathrooms with such luxurious thrones, half the households in Japan pay the princely sum of $ 3,000 for one. Those privy to the wonders of modern toilet technology can then empress their friends with remote-control toilet seats that play music and open and close on command. For the first time, at weekly bridge parties, everyone will have an equal chance at a royal flush. Some toilet seats even measure your body fat ratio with electrodes, and others glow in the dark. In short, Japanese toilet companies are out to make sure that no man will yearn the urinal. For the new, modern whiz kid.

Japan, proud of its toilet technology, has even started a toilet college and has sent experts to Singapore to teach bathroom attendants how to properly clean toilets in public restrooms.

I suppose it would not be fair for me to criticize, from my humble commode, one of Japan's original pit-style toilets, which makes sounds so atrocious that no Oto Hime could ever cover them up. Over the years, this toilet has provided many a child with stories of the toilet monster and many an adult with night soil to fertilize gardens with. There's no need to worry you may smell up the bathroom or forget to flush. And the toilet seat doesn't sing, so you have to do the singing yourself.

As I sit on my throne right now, singing, I can finally feel the royal connection. I have become my own Sound Princess.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Japan's centenarians are increasing in number

This news intrigued me a lot as to the lifestyle of the Japanese which contributes to their longevity.

From Associated Press/Yahoo News

By CHISAKI WATANABE, Associated Press WriterSat Sep 16, 12:34 PM ET

The number of Japanese living beyond 100 has almost quadrupled in the past 10 years, with the once-exclusive centenarian club expected to surpass 28,000 this year, the government said Friday.

The Health Ministry said Japan was likely to have 28,395 citizens aged 100 years or older at the end of September, a jump from last year's record 25,554 — of which women comprised 85 percent. The ministry conducted a nationwide survey and the figure is a projection of centenarians by the end of the month.

The number of people living older than 100 has been on the rise since 1971, and has accelerated since 1996 when Japan had 7,373 people who had reached three figures, according to the ministry.

The rapid increase underscores both positive and negative sides of the country's aging population.

While experts say that there are more active centenarians than before, the rapidly graying population adds to concerns over Japan's overburdened public pension system.

Its centenarian population is expected to reach nearly 1 million — the world's largest — by 2050, according to U.N. projections.

Yone Minagawa is the oldest woman at 113 in the southern Japanese prefecture of Fukuoka, while the oldest man at 110 is Tomoji Tanabe in another southern prefecture, Miyazaki, the ministry said.

Tanabe drinks milk and keeps a diary every day, saying that the key to long life is not to drink alcohol, the ministry said.

Tokyo has the most centenarians with 2,562. Okinawa, Japan's southernmost chain of islands, has the highest concentration, with 740 centenarians, or 54 for every 100,000 people, well above a nationwide average of 22 per 100,000.

The ratio for the United States was about 18 in 100,000, according to the 2000 census.

The announcement was made prior to Respect for the Aged Day on Sept. 18, a national holiday honoring the country's elderly, when the government gives each new centenarian a letter from the prime minister and a silver cup.