Walk Away Guilt Free

Walk away from your negative equity house. Wow, that’s some harsh advice. Luckily I’m not in this situation, but I know some people who are. As Brett Arends writes, the economy is amoral, banks are not your friends, why should you be theirs?

Can't Get Out of Here

Millions of Americans are now deeply underwater on their mortgage. If you’re among them, you need to stop living in a dream world and give serious thought to walking away from the debt.

No, you shouldn’t feel bad about it, and you shouldn’t feel guilty. The lenders would do the same to you—in a heartbeat. You need to put yourself and your family’s finances first.

How widespread is this? More than 11 million families are in “negative equity”—that is, they owe more on their home than it is worth—according to a report out this week by FirstAmerican Core Logic, a real-estate data firm. That’s a quarter of all families with mortgages. And for more than five million of those borrowers, the crisis is extreme: They are more than 25% underwater—the equivalent of having a $100,000 loan on a property now worth just $75,000 or less. That’s true for a fifth of mortgage holders in California, nearly a third in Florida and an incredible 50% in Nevada.

[Click to continue reading ROI: When It’s OK to Walk Away From Your Home – WSJ.com]

If you are 25% underwater, your home would have to raise 33% in value before you break even. What’s the time frame of that? Will your home value increase 3% a year, every year? So when do the math to see when your equity is no longer “negative”, it isn’t pretty.

As far as legal consequences, there might not be any…

Are you worried about the legal consequences of walking away? Certainly, you should check with a lawyer before doing anything, but the consequences will probably be more limited than you think.

In “non-recourse” states, the mortgage lender may have no right to come after you for any shortfall. They may have no option but to take the home, sell it and eat the loss. According to a survey last year by the Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond, such states include negative-equity hot spots California and Arizona. Even in “recourse” states, lenders may have limited ability to come after you. Often they’d have to jump a lot of legal hurdles, and it’s just not worth it for them. They’re swamped with cases anyway.

“In my experience, right now they’re not really going after anyone,” says Richard Nemeth, a bankruptcy attorney in Cleveland. “They just don’t have the resources.”

So what are the non-recourse states, anyway?

Here’s one list, but I’d make sure to discuss options with a lawyer or two before doing any drastic deeds.

District of Columbia (Washington DC)
Montana (if non-judicial foreclosure is used)
Nevada – (lender can get a deficiency judgment)
New Hampshire
Texas (lender can get a deficiency judgment)
West Virginia

The following states allow non-judicial foreclosure:

North Carolina
Rhode Island
South Dakota

[Click to continue reading WikiAnswers – Which states are non-recourse states for mortgage debt]

How Google’s Algorithm Rules the Web

Interesting reading about Google’s search algorithm team written by Steven Levy, though as of this moment, this particular search is not as described:

Even the Bingers confess that, when it comes to the simple task of taking a search term and returning relevant results, Google is still miles ahead. But they also think that if they can come up with a few areas where Bing excels, people will get used to tapping a different search engine for some kinds of queries. “The algorithm is extremely important in search, but it’s not the only thing,” says Brian MacDonald, Microsoft’s VP of core search. “You buy a car for reasons beyond just the engine.”

Google’s response can be summed up in four words: mike siwek lawyer mi.

Amit Singhal types that koan into his company’s search box. Singhal, a gentle man in his forties, is a Google Fellow, an honorific bestowed upon him four years ago to reward his rewrite of the search engine in 2001. He jabs the Enter key. In a time span best measured in a hummingbird’s wing-flaps, a page of links appears. The top result connects to a listing for an attorney named Michael Siwek in Grand Rapids, Michigan. It’s a fairly innocuous search — the kind that Google’s servers handle billions of times a day — but it is deceptively complicated. Type those same words into Bing, for instance, and the first result is a page about the NFL draft that includes safety Lawyer Milloy. Several pages into the results, there’s no direct referral to Siwek.

The comparison demonstrates the power, even intelligence, of Google’s algorithm, honed over countless iterations. It possesses the seemingly magical ability to interpret searchers’ requests — no matter how awkward or misspelled. Google refers to that ability as search quality, and for years the company has closely guarded the process by which it delivers such accurate results. But now I am sitting with Singhal in the search giant’s Building 43, where the core search team works, because Google has offered to give me an unprecedented look at just how it attains search quality. The subtext is clear: You may think the algorithm is little more than an engine, but wait until you get under the hood and see what this baby can really do.

[From Exclusive: How Google’s Algorithm Rules the Web | Magazine]

Probably because Bing has now indexed the Wired article and various links to it, if you search Bing for “mike siwek lawyer mi“, you currently do get relevant results, well, results of lawyers in Grand Rapids anyway1. Google still gives a better search result most of the time, I haven’t switched to using a different search engine.

Bing search results (click to embiggen, or do the search yourself)

Google search results (click to embiggen, or do the search yourself)

Quite interesting article though, worth reading more

For instance:

The search engine currently uses more than 200 signals to help rank its results.

Google’s engineers have discovered that some of the most important signals can come from Google itself. PageRank has been celebrated as instituting a measure of populism into search engines: the democracy of millions of people deciding what to link to on the Web. But Singhal notes that the engineers in Building 43 are exploiting another democracy — the hundreds of millions who search on Google. The data people generate when they search — what results they click on, what words they replace in the query when they’re unsatisfied, how their queries match with their physical locations — turns out to be an invaluable resource in discovering new signals and improving the relevance of results. The most direct example of this process is what Google calls personalized search — an opt-in feature that uses someone’s search history and location as signals to determine what kind of results they’ll find useful. (This applies only to those who sign into Google before they search.) But more generally, Google has used its huge mass of collected data to bolster its algorithm with an amazingly deep knowledge base that helps interpret the complex intent of cryptic queries.

Take, for instance, the way Google’s engine learns which words are synonyms. “We discovered a nifty thing very early on,” Singhal says. “People change words in their queries. So someone would say, ‘pictures of dogs,’ and then they’d say, ‘pictures of puppies.’ So that told us that maybe ‘dogs’ and ‘puppies’ were interchangeable. We also learned that when you boil water, it’s hot water. We were relearning semantics from humans, and that was a great advance.”

But there were obstacles. Google’s synonym system understood that a dog was similar to a puppy and that boiling water was hot. But it also concluded that a hot dog was the same as a boiling puppy. The problem was fixed in late 2002 by a breakthrough based on philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein’s theories about how words are defined by context. As Google crawled and archived billions of documents and Web pages, it analyzed what words were close to each other. “Hot dog” would be found in searches that also contained “bread” and “mustard” and “baseball games” — not poached pooches. That helped the algorithm understand what “hot dog” — and millions of other terms — meant. “Today, if you type ‘Gandhi bio,’ we know that bio means biography,” Singhal says. “And if you type ‘bio warfare,’ it means biological.”

  1. update, I notice that the Bing results are actually not as precise as Google’s results []

Fair And Balanced with some caveats

Fox News takes great pains not to embarrass the Saudi family, especially since they are one of the largest shareholders in News Corp.

Selling Access to Power Brokers

It was not until a few days later that I learned what may have been behind the absence of a video clip on the Web site. I had said to Doocy that Saudi Arabian money was still financing Al Qaeda. Doocy did not react to my comment. But ten days later I learned that Fox’s parent company, News Corporation, was, at the time of my interview, negotiating with a Saudi prince to vastly increase his stake in the company.

The notorious Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, nephew to the Saudi king, met with Rupert Murdoch in Hong Kong on Jan. 14. The prince issued a press release after the meeting stating that the prince’s Kingdom Holding Company had discussions that “touched upon future potential alliances with News Corp.”

By the time I appeared on Fox News, Prince Alwaleed was about to become News Corp’s fourth largest voting shareholder (behind the Murdoch family, Liberty Media, and Fidelity Management & Research Co, a mutual fund). The prince has repeatedly defended his homeland as a problem-free place. What he has failed to mention is that he has personally donated huge amounts of money to the families of Palestinian suicide bombers.

Alwaleed is the same Saudi prince who made headlines right after 9/11 when he personally went to Ground Zero and offered then-New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani a $10 million check for the relief efforts. But Alwaleed could not keep his mouth shut. He released a bizarre statement that blamed the attacks – not on the 15 airline hijackers from Saudi Arabia – but on the United States’ support of Israel.

[Click to continue reading Trento’s Take: Fox News Can’t Upset Murdoch’s Saudi Prince]

Amusing thought experiment: imagine that Fox News discovered that MSNBC was mostly owned by Kim Jong-il. Would Fox commentators mention this more than once an hour? or more frequently?

Glaxo Drug Faces More Scrutiny

Follow up on the NYT article on GSK and their drug, Avandia that we blogged about recently

18th Street El Stop

A Senate report that revives concerns about a GlaxoSmithKline PLC diabetes drug’s link to heart attacks is putting pressure on the Food and Drug Administration to make changes to its drug-safety program.

People familiar with the situation say agency leaders held calls over the weekend to discuss how to address complaints from Sens. Max Baucus (D., Mont.) and Chuck Grassley (R., Iowa), who released a new report Saturday on the Glaxo drug, called Avandia.

The FDA is trying to assemble a timeline of what the FDA knew of risks associated with Avandia, these people say, and plans to call a meeting of an outside advisory committee in the next few months to look at recent information on the drug, which Glaxo reported as having global sales of £771 million ($1.2 billion) in 2009.

According to a two-year investigation by the Senate Finance Committee, Glaxo knew about data linking Avandia to elevated risk of cardiovascular events for several years, but played down the information and tried to suppress doctors who raised concerns. Starting in 1999, Glaxo executives complained to superiors about researchers who questioned Avandia’s safety, the report says.

[Click to continue reading Glaxo Drug Faces More Scrutiny – WSJ.com]

and the FDA is certainly not blameless in this mess

Some critics of the FDA cited the Avandia report in renewing calls for an independent safety unit at the agency to track problems with drugs after they go on the market. Currently the section that does “post-market surveillance” is subordinate to the division that approves new drugs. As a result, there is an inherent conflict of interest because the approval officers are judging their own previous decisions, critics say.

The question is: will public outrage be sufficiently heated to force some structural changes in the FDA? Jury is still out…

California Dreamin of Water

California is going to have to make some hard decisions about its water1 fairly soon. Their current model is just not sustainable. Doesn’t sound like Senator Feinstein’s plan is the solution, at least from where I sit2

A Screaming Comes Across the Sky

Senator Dianne Feinstein, who angered environmentalists, fishing groups and other Democratic lawmakers by proposing to divert more water to California’s farmers, said on Friday she was working to avoid controversial legislation.

Feinstein’s plan would ease Endangered Species Act restrictions to allow more water to be pumped out of the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta for growers in the state’s Central Valley.

Dramatic cutbacks in irrigation supplies this year alone from both California and federal water projects have idled about 23,000 farm workers and 300,000 acres of cropland in America’s No. 1 Farm state.

Feinstein’s proposal has quickly become a flashpoint in the state’s epic and long-running water wars as opponents say it could ultimately lead to the extinction of Sacramento River salmon and eliminate up to 23,000 jobs in the Pacific coast fishing industry.

[Click to continue reading Senator suggests truce in California’s water fight | Reuters ]

So divert water so that California agribusinesses get it to spray wastefully on their crops? Short term fix, of course, but what happens in two years? Maybe iceberg lettuce is not what should be grown in the first place, nor year-round tomatoes and canteloupes. Maybe food cannot be as cheap as it once was. Something has to change, or this water war will continue forever.

And if California cannot figure out what to do, there are precedents of worse to come:

Yemeni water trader Mohammed al-Tawwa runs his diesel pumps day and night, but gets less and less from his well in Sanaa, which experts say could become the world’s first capital city to run dry.

“My well is now 400 meters (1,300 feet) deep and I don’t think I can drill any deeper here,” said Tawwa, pointing to the meager flow into tanks that supply water trucks and companies.

From dawn, dozens of people with yellow jerricans collect water from a special canister Tawwa has set aside for the poor.

“Sometimes we don’t have any water for a whole week, sometimes for two days and then it stops again,” said Talal al-Bahr, who comes almost daily to supply his family of six.

The West frets that al Qaeda will exploit instability in Yemen to prepare new attacks like the failed December 25 bombing of a U.S. airliner, but this impoverished Arabian peninsula country faces a catastrophe that poses a far deadlier long-term threat.

Nature cannot recharge ground water to keep pace with demand from a population of 23 million expected to double in 20 years.

[Click to continue reading Yemen’s water crisis eclipses al Qaeda threat| Reuters]

  1. and other topics too []
  2. which is about a mile from one of the Great Lakes, a source of fresh water for many years to come. Full disclosure and all that []

Diabetes Drug Avandia Harms the Heart

Speaking of Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations, GlaxoSmithKline wants to protect its drug profits at the expense of hundreds of deaths a year.

Hundreds of people taking Avandia, a controversial diabetes medicine, needlessly suffer heart attacks and heart failure each month, according to confidential government reports that recommend the drug be removed from the market.

The reports, obtained by The New York Times, say that if every diabetic now taking Avandia were instead given a similar pill named Actos, about 500 heart attacks and 300 cases of heart failure would be averted every month because Avandia can hurt the heart. Avandia, intended to treat Type 2 diabetes, is known as rosiglitazone and was linked to 304 deaths during the third quarter of 2009.

“Rosiglitazone should be removed from the market,” one report, by Dr. David Graham and Dr. Kate Gelperin of the Food and Drug Administration, concludes. Both authors recommended that Avandia be withdrawn.

The internal F.D.A. reports are part of a fierce debate within the agency over what to do about Avandia, manufactured by GlaxoSmithKline. Some agency officials want the drug withdrawn because they believe there is a safer alternative; others insist that studies of the drug provide contradictory information and that Avandia should continue to be an option for doctors and patients. GlaxoSmithKline said that it had studied Avandia extensively and that “scientific evidence simply does not establish that Avandia increases” the risk of heart attacks.

[Click to continue reading Diabetes Drug Avandia Harms the Heart, Studies Find – NYTimes.com]

Nancy Reagan - Just Say Yo

GSK is more interested in resurrecting their cash cow:

Driven in part by a multimillion-dollar advertising campaign, sales [of Avandia] were $3.2 billion in 2006

despite the US Senate suggesting the process itself was/is flawed:

Just Say No Drugs

In a letter sent Thursday to Dr. Hamburg, the Food and Drug Administration commissioner, Mr. Baucus and Mr. Grassley asked “what steps the F.D.A. has taken to protect patients in the TIDE trial” and said the trial’s patients had never been told about the concerns raised by the agency’s own safety officers.

Mr. Grassley said the internal agency battle showed that the agency needed to be restructured to give more power to safety officials like Dr. Graham and Dr. Gelperin over their counterparts who approve medicines and deal more directly with drug makers.

“It doesn’t make any sense to have these experts who study drugs after they have been on the market for several years under the thumb of the officials who approved the drug in the first place and have a natural interest in defending that decision,” Mr. Grassley said. “The Avandia case may be the most alarming example of the problem with this setup.”

The question of when and how to communicate possible drug risks has long bedeviled drug makers and regulators. Hints are common that drugs may cause injuries; thousands of drug injury reports pour into the Food and Drug Administration every week. For example, Avandia ranked first among all prescribed drugs in the number of serious, disabling and fatal problems — including 304 deaths — reported to the agency in the third quarter of 2009, according to an analysis done by the Institute for Safe Medication Practice, a drug safety oversight group.

The Senate investigation — the result of years of digging through more than 250,000 internal company documents — concludes that GlaxoSmithKline and by extension the F.D.A. delayed far too long in this process.

Don’t forget that the FDA’s coziness with the pharmaceutical corporations is part of the problem too. Unless there are some drastic structural changes in the FDA, these sorts of issues are going to come up repeatedly.

Google Invades Privacy With Buzz

The Google Buzz seems a little half-baked, if you ask me. Perhaps there should have been a public beta first before Google just turned Buzz on for all of its customers.

Don't disappear in your own life

But what Google viewed as an obvious shortcut stirred up a beehive of angry critics. Many users bristled at what they considered an invasion of privacy, and they faulted the company for failing to ask permission before sharing a person’s Buzz contacts with a broad audience. For the last three days, Google has faced a firestorm of criticism on blogs and Web sites, and it has already been forced to alter some features of the service.

E-mail, it turns out, can hold many secrets, from the names of personal physicians and illicit lovers to the identities of whistle-blowers and antigovernment activists. And Google, so recently a hero to many people for threatening to leave China after hacking attempts against the Gmail accounts of human rights activists, now finds itself being pilloried as a clumsy violator of privacy.

As Evgeny Morozov wrote in a blog post for Foreign Policy, “If I were working for the Iranian or the Chinese government, I would immediately dispatch my Internet geek squads to check on Google Buzz accounts for political activists and see if they have any connections that were previously unknown to the government.”

[Click to continue reading Critics Say Google Invades Privacy With New Service – NYTimes.com]

And The Grey Lady is too delicate to link directly to Harriet Jacobs complaint:

In an expletive-laden article that was widely cited on the Web, a blogger who writes about issues related to violence against women complained that Google had made her fearful. She said that she had unexpectedly discovered a list of people, which may have included her abusive ex-husband or people who sent hostile comments to her blog, following her and her comments on Google Reader, a service for reading blogs and automated news feeds.

In a further effort to contain the fallout, Google reached out to her and made changes to enhance the privacy of shared comments on Google Reader.

But Gizmodo isn’t:

Oh, yes, I suppose I could opt out of Buzz – which I did when it was introduced, though that apparently has no effect on whether or not I am now using Buzz – but as soon as I did that, all sorts of new people were following me on my Reader! People I couldn’t block, because I am not on Buzz!

Fuck you, Google. My privacy concerns are not trite. They are linked to my actual physical safety, and I will now have to spend the next few days maintaining that safety by continually knocking down followers as they pop up. A few days is how long I expect it will take before you either knock this shit off, or I delete every Google account I have ever had and use Bing out of fucking spite.

Fuck you, Google. You have destroyed over ten years of my goodwill and adoration, just so you could try and out-MySpace MySpace.

Harriet Jacobs is the nom de plume of the author of Fugitivus. She’s a mid-twenties white girl living in the Midwest, working at a non-profit that assists families and deals with a lot of racial politics. Harriet has had a fucked-up life, and Fugitivus —fugitive—is her space to talk, where the fucked-up people who did the fucked-up things couldn’t find her and be creepy.

Ms. Jacobs has now hidden her blog from the public, at least for a while, and who could blame her?

No Admittance

For me, I’m less concerned with embarrassing details leaking to a salacious public as I’ve always tried to keep a so-called Chinese Wall separating public and private sphere. Of course occasionally I blab too much, but then I’m happy to remain low profile enough so it doesn’t really matter anyway.

As far as Google Buzz, not really sure what the point of it is, but hey, I’m no stock-holder in Google, so if they want to dip their corporate toes in social networking, that is their decision to make. I’m much more interested in having access to super-fast network provided by a less obnoxious telecom, as Google also mentioned this week.

Google to offer high speed internet

Alternative Google

Press release from Google’s corporate blog:

Official Google Blog: Think big with a gig: Our experimental fiber network: “We’re planning to build and test ultra high-speed broadband networks in a small number of trial locations across the United States. We’ll deliver Internet speeds more than 100 times faster than what most Americans have access to today with 1 gigabit per second, fiber-to-the-home connections. We plan to offer service at a competitive price to at least 50,000 and potentially up to 500,000 people.”

Sign me up! Much more interested in a fast, reliable, neutral network for my business than any social networking dreck.

I’d wager that the City of Chicago will not be part of the initial test, but maybe we’ll make the second round? Google is not the perfect corporate entity of course, but have you ever dealt with the AT&T Death Star? I’d much rather have our pipes supplied by Google.

Dirty Dirty Dirty

Nobody wants to be on The List, of course, but at least TripAdvisor seems to have more credibility than a site like Yelp! who allows the process to be subverted by financial concerns.1

Rooms 75 cents

Those are just a few excerpts from reader-generated reviews of various hotels in Britain, culled from the “2010 Dirtiest Hotels” lists published recently by TripAdvisor.com, the online network of travel sites. TripAdvisor says it has reviews of more than 450,000 hotels around the world.

In the United States, hard-hitting online travel reviews cause a lot less commotion, even though TripAdvisor’s reviews of the “dirtiest” hotels in the United States are just as blunt as the rest of the worldwide lists. (“Sleep in your car, not here!” warns LuckyDude, Chicago.)

Web sites using online reader-generated commentary are rewriting the rule book for travel reporting, and no site has as much impact as TripAdvisor, which is owned by Expedia and is one of the biggest online reader review sites. So it was a good time to talk with TripAdvisor’s chief executive, Stephen Kaufer.

The dirtiest hotels lists are a tiny part of what TripAdvisor does, of course. But Mr. Kaufer was happy to address the criticism.

“You bet, if you’re a hotel on that list, it is not a good sign for your business,” he said. “We have advertisers who call us up after they see one of their chain properties on the list and say, ‘Come on, I spent money with you advertising, and you put the property on the list?’ The sales guys tell them, ‘The editorial team looks at all the reviews; they look at what the guests say on the site — and one bad review does not get you on the list. But when it’s consistently ranked as a bad hotel by lots of people saying terrible things, hey, we are not shy.’ ”

“Please believe me,” he added, “we are careful about the lists, so a hotel isn’t named just because there are four bad reviews. We are dealing with someone’s reputation. It’s the ones that are consistently bad that make it — and I challenge any curious ind

[Click to continue reading On the Road – A TripAdvisor List That No Hotel Wants to Be On – NYTimes.com]

Surprisingly, the Hooker Hotel Radisson near Dallas Love Field did not make the TripAdvisor 2010 list, though the reviews of that shit hole are nearly as bad as they should be.2

  1. Or so it seems []
  2. Obviously, I’ve stayed there recently, and I’ll tell you about it sometime. Quite the story []

Mushroom Bricks Rock

Alice in Wonderland

Amusingly intriguing mushroom-based building material called EcoCradle.

Mycelium doesn’t taste very good, but once it’s dried, it has some remarkable properties. It’s nontoxic, fireproof and mold- and water-resistant, and it traps more heat than fiberglass insulation. It’s also stronger, pound for pound, than concrete. In December, Ross completed what is believed to be the first structure made entirely of mushroom … The 500 bricks he grew at Far West Fungi were so sturdy that he destroyed many a metal file and saw blade in shaping the ’shrooms into an archway 6 feet high and 6 feet wide. Dubbed Mycotectural Alpha, it is currently on display at a gallery in Germany.

Nutty as “mycotecture” sounds, Ross may be onto something bigger than an art project. A promising start-up named Ecovative is building a 10,000-square-foot myco-factory in Green Island, N.Y. “We see this as a whole new material, a woodlike equivalent to plastic,” says C.E.O. Eben Bayer.

[Click to continue reading Reading File – NYTimes.com]

Time Magazine adds more detail:

After the husks are cooked, sprayed with water and myco-vitamins and seeded with mushroom spores, the mixture is poured into a mold of the desired shape and left to grow in a dark warehouse. A week or two later, the finished product is popped out and the material rendered biologically inert. The company’s first product, a green alternative to Styrofoam, is taking on the packaging industry. Called Ecocradle, it is set to be shipped around a yet-to-be-disclosed consumer item this spring.

One of the beauties of Ecocradle is that unlike Styrofoam–which is hard to recycle, let alone biodegrade–this myco-material can easily serve as mulch in your garden. Ecovative’s next product, Greensulate, will begin targeting the home-insulation market sometime next year. And according to Bayer’s engineering tests, densely packed mycelium is strong enough to be used in place of wooden beams. “It’s not so far-out,” he says of Ross’s art house. So could Bayer see himself growing a mushroom house and living in it? “Well”–he hesitates–“maybe we’d start with a doghouse.”

[Click to continue reading Industrial-Strength Fungus – TIME]

According to the EcoCradle website, the stuff will be available pretty soon

Thorium and the Defense Lobby

Could our nation’s love affair with the defense contractors sabotage a possible solution to global climate change? Nuclear power is much more efficient than coal and natural gas, there just was that little problem of nuclear (uranium) waste.

But the book [Fluid Fuel Reactors] inspired him to pursue an intense study of nuclear energy over the next few years, during which he became convinced that thorium could solve the nuclear power industry’s most intractable problems. After it has been used as fuel for power plants, the element leaves behind minuscule amounts of waste. And that waste needs to be stored for only a few hundred years, not a few hundred thousand like other nuclear byproducts. Because it’s so plentiful in nature, it’s virtually inexhaustible. It’s also one of only a few substances that acts as a thermal breeder, in theory creating enough new fuel as it breaks down to sustain a high-temperature chain reaction indefinitely. And it would be virtually impossible for the byproducts of a thorium reactor to be used by terrorists or anyone else to make nuclear weapons.

Weinberg and his men proved the efficacy of thorium reactors in hundreds of tests at Oak Ridge from the ’50s through the early ’70s. But thorium hit a dead end. Locked in a struggle with a nuclear- armed Soviet Union, the US government in the ’60s chose to build uranium-fueled reactors — in part because they produce plutonium that can be refined into weapons-grade material. The course of the nuclear industry was set for the next four decades, and thorium power became one of the great what-if technologies of the 20th century.

[Click to continue reading Uranium Is So Last Century — Enter Thorium, the New Green Nuke | Magazine]

Perhaps the contemporary energy crises will encourage nations, and their engineers, to re-examine thorium.

What it is

From Wikipedia

Thorium is a naturally occurring, slightly radioactive metal. It is estimated to be about three to four times more abundant than uranium in the Earth’s crust.

Thorium was successfully used as an alternative nuclear fuel to uranium in the molten-salt reactor experiment (MSR) from 1964 to 1969 to produce thermal energy, as well as in several light-water reactors using fuel composed of a mixture of 232Th and 233U, including the Shippingport Atomic Power Station (operation commenced 1957, decommissioned in 1982). Currently, officials in the Republic of India are advocating a thorium-based nuclear program, and a seed-and-blanket fuel utilizing thorium is undergoing irradiation testing at the Kurchatov Institute in Moscow. Advocates of the use of thorium as the fuel source for nuclear reactors state that they can be built to operate significantly cleaner than uranium based power plants as the waste products are much easier to handle.

[Click to continue reading Thorium – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia]

I have slightly more than zero knowledge to apply to this question, but I’m intrigued by the thought of thorium becoming more widely utilized. What are the downsides to transferring nuclear power plants to thorium from uranium, other than cost? What is this somewhat celebratory article leaving out? What’s the flaw? Nothing is ever this simple. I don’t think…

Chicago Independent Radio Project

I support the mission of Chirp, though to be honest, I never even consider listening to the radio these days. The pool has been brackish and dead for too many years thanks to the corporate radio model utilized by such behemoths as Clear Channel and their ilk. Now I just keep an iPod or an iPhone with me anywhere that I might have listened to the radio in years past- car, walking, biking, riding the CTA.

Ain't Misbehavin' - Joe Daniels and his Hot Shots - Decca Records

What will set Chirp apart, Ms. Campbell said, is not only the sheer breadth of its offerings, which she described as “a diverse array of independent and under-appreciated music from a wide range of eras and genres,” but also its D.J.’s passionate love for the songs they play.

“Maybe I’ll play a great new local band sandwiched between a David Bowie song and a Yo La Tengo song,” said Mr. Drase, who will co-host a show. “You never know what you’re going to turn people on to.”

Unlike most commercial stations, where the average play list might include about 500 songs, Chirp has a catalog of nearly 50,000 albums, which were donated. And the idea, said Billy Kalb, the station’s music director, is to play as many as possible.

“We want to be like the friend with the really amazing record collection,” said Mr. Kalb, 24, as he sorted through donated CD’s. “We want to play enough new music to keep things interesting, and the local bands that other stations probably won’t touch.”

[Click to continue reading Independent Station’s Power Lies With Its People – NYTimes.com]

If Chirp had only been launched fifteen years ago, before we all started carrying around our music libraries1 nearly everywhere we go…

CDs shelf one

Here’s what they say about themselves:

The Chicago Independent Radio Project, or CHIRP, was formed to bring a truly independent music- and arts-focused community radio station to Chicago.

At a time when corporate-owned radio grows ever more bland, repetitious, and commercialized, community radio is more important than ever. The volunteers at CHIRP are true believers in radio that is diverse, exciting, live, and locally-based. Community radio is non-commercial, and is created by regular people from all walks of life, not just broadcast professionals. It is committed to playing music the big stations won’t touch, and to focusing on the vibrant culture of a community that often flies under the radar. This is the kind of station CHIRP is creating.

CHIRP is launching its new service on the web at CHIRPradio.org in the fall of 2009. In addition, we are working to change the law so we can eventually apply for a broadcast license. In order to do this, CHIRP and its allies must convince Congress and the FCC to change rules that say there is no room for new low power FM radio stations in big cities like Chicago.

CHIRP must raise money to cover the costs of its day-to-day operation, which includes costs like rent, streaming, utilities, and equipment. The organization also needs funds on hand so that it is in good position to apply for a new broadcast license at some point in the future.

Fortunately, these goals are well underway. Studio buildout is nearly complete. Congress and the FCC are in the midst of reconsidering the law that limited LPFM to rural and exurban areas. And CHIRP has already raised thousands of dollars thanks to the generous support of individuals, bands, venues, and foundations.

[Click to continue reading CHIRP: The Chicago Independent Radio Project]

  1. I have over 171 days worth of music in my library at the moment. Of course some of it is shite, but at least I am in control of what song gets played when []

The Nation versus Buzzflash

I received1 this same email solicitation from The Nation as Mark Karlin did. I’ve been a subscriber to The Nation since before there was such a thing as a browser, but I’ve been a reader of BuzzFlash for nearly their entire existence as well. The Nation’s attack seems a bit odd, why attack fellow progressives when there are so many other, juicier targets?

Lower Congress Parkway

In the meantime, we were a bit astonished to receive a mass solicitation e-mail on December 16 from Katrina vanden Heuvel (the editorial and marketing genius currently publishing “The Nation”) — whom we deeply admire — accusing BuzzFlash, among others, of running “Nation” stories “without contributing a penny to support and produce the journalism we invest in.”

We don’t mind being called out by name by people who have a different opinion, but it’s another story when a publication you deeply admire slanders you. The fact is that we post headline links to “The Nation” stories from which they derive more hits because of our size, and they then can charge more money to the likes of Coca Cola and Discover Card for running ads for those corporations. BuzzFlash has never reproduced, copied, nor violated the copyright of any “Nation” article, and many of “The Nation” writers, including Jeremy Scahill whom vanden Heuvel mentions, read BuzzFlash and have been interviewed by BuzzFlash.

In short, as far as BuzzFlash is concerned, Katrina vanden Heuvel is defaming our proud and unblemished heritage.

Furthermore, BuzzFlash is probably the largest non-bookstore seller of Nation Books on the Web and plans to continue selling Nation Books, just as we plan continuing linking to “Nation” articles.

Vanden Heuvel, with whom we have communicated positively and admiringly in our early years (including an interview we did and posted about her book “Dictionary of Republicanisms”; BuzzFlash also sold her tome, “Meltdown”), also should know that BuzzFlash has a staff, posts much of its own original content on our blog, runs advocacy campaigns such as Turn Off Fox, and has created a marketplace for progressive writers, musicians, actors, Fair Trade (living wage), and eco-products. Our staff has broken and brought to the forefront many a story over the years.

In fact, BuzzFlash has played an instrumental role in publicizing and distributing Nation Books such as “Blackwater” and “Republican Gomorrah” and many others. Katrina vanden Heuvel sits on the Board of the Nation Institute, which publishes Nation Books (through Perseus), and the Nation Institute is strongly affiliated with “The Nation.”

In short, when vanden Heuvel writes in her e-mail fundraising plea, “While I suspect you may have read Scahill or Roston or Jones — and other Nation investigations — on Common Dreams, Alternet or Buzzflash, please remember that these ‘aggregator’ websites use our work without contributing a penny to support and produce the journalism we invest in.”

I can’t speak for Common Dreams or Alternet, but vanden Heuvel is making the same argument that Rupert Murdoch does, which makes them a very odd couple indeed. Let’s see: BuzzFlash links directly to Nation articles, which drives up their “hits” and page views, which means that they can charge Coca Cola more money to greenwash itself! And BuzzFlash promotes “The Nation” writers and books through interviews.

[Click to continue reading In Desperation for Funds, “The Nation” Slanders BuzzFlash: Progressive Sites Need More Financial Support So This Doesn’t Happen | BuzzFlash.org]

Daily News

I tried to find an example of a Scahill article lifted from The Nation, and could not find one. There are links like:

Who will mete out justice for America’s merchants of death? Jeremy Scahaill brilliantly analyzes Blackwater USA after their deadly shootout in the streets of Baghdad. This article will be printed in the Oct. 15th, 2007 edition of the Nation.

[Click to continue reading BuzzFlash.net – Progressive News and Commentary with an Attitude | Fight Ignorance: Read BuzzFlash]

but that’s pretty clearly a link to The Nation’s website, and is no more than a teaser. BuzzFlash does post a lot of links to other places, but they don’t excerpt much of the original story; if a reader was interested in the topic, they would click through the link to read the rest at the original publisher.

There is even a FAQ entry about the practice:

Why just the links?

Our job is made much simpler and legally safer if we point you to the articles, instead of copying, formatting, and posting them to the BuzzFlash site.

So I don’t understand the slam. If The Nation wants to hide itself behind a paywall, just do it already. I hope they don’t, I like directing people who are not subscribers to read articles at the Nation website, but if Ms. Vanden Heuvel is worried about copyright theft, she should take action and stop pointing the finger at fellow travelers like BuzzFlash.

  1. and responded negatively to []

Public Financing and Private Profit

part the nine-gazillionith

Which End Has the Pot of Gold?

The federal government has committed more than $50 million to build a sophisticated highway traffic monitoring system that has produced unreliable data and cannot freely share live reports on highway bottlenecks with the public, an audit by the Transportation Department’s inspector general has found.

Thousands of tiny traffic-monitoring sensors are being installed along highways in 27 cities nationwide under the program. The monitors collect information on lane occupancy and traffic speed, and the data then is supposed to be transmitted live to electronic message boards and other devices.[quote]

But the decade-old agreement that the department signed with Traffic.com, the contractor hired to install the system, included a provision that granted the contractor exclusive control of the data, says the report, a copy of which was provided to The New York Times in advance of its public release.

That means Traffic.com, a subsidiary of Navteq of Chicago1 can sell the data to commercial providers like The Weather Channel or post it on its own Internet site. But state and local governments that are partners in the project have been told they are not allowed to share the information with the public unless they pay a fee, the report says.

In San Francisco, for example, the state collects and distributes its own traffic data, offering traffic updates for the metropolitan area. But it cannot do the same with the detailed information gathered by Traffic.com through the federally subsidized system.

The Massachusetts Highway Department, the report says, was formally prohibited from using the data to offer highway message board estimates to Boston-area commuters on traffic delays. Local and state governments were also prohibited from posting the traffic information on government Internet sites or traffic information telephone hotlines, unless they paid Traffic.com a fee for the data.

State and local governments are allowed to use the data to study trends in highway use. But for the most part, Traffic.com is the only entity that stands to profit from the equipment installed in the public right of way and paid for with federal money, the report concluded.

[Click to continue reading U.S. System for Tracking Traffic Flow Is Faulted – NYTimes.com]

Time to go home

What lobbyist wrote this bill anyway? Was Bill Cat Killer Frist involved in some way? Really, why is this even a valid use of public tax dollars? Navteq doesn’t need federal money to underwrite its own infrastructure improvements. If it does, Navteq should rent the space on public highways, not be given the data for free, especially if its plan was all along to sell the data for profit.

  1. apparently, right down the street from me, 425 West Randolph St []

Stilton Cheese and Stilton England

Strange byproduct of EU food rules: Stilton cheese is not really Stilton cheese, and probably will never be.

John Major is a Twat

STILTON, England — This small hamlet shares its name with a famous curd. But under European Union law, it’s illegal to make Stilton cheese in Stilton.

The bar on producing Stilton cheese here is a curious consequence of EU efforts to protect revered local foods by limiting the geographical area where they can be made.

The EU’s protected list of more than 800 foods and drinks includes famous names like Champagne and Parma as well as lesser-known delicacies such as Moutarde de Bourgogne, Munchener Bier and a Spanish chili pepper called Asado del Bierzo. It even covers Foin de Crau, a hay for animals from the fields of Bouches-du-Rhône in southern France.

But to the chagrin of locals, no cheese made here can be branded as Stilton. That’s because a group of outsiders, called the Stilton Cheesemakers Association, raised a formal stink.

The association, whose members have been making the cheese for more than a hundred years, in 1996 sought to protect the “Stilton” name by applying for a Product Designation of Origin from the EU. In its application, the group wrote that “the cheese became known as Stilton because it was at the Bell Inn in this village that the cheese was first sold to the public.” The 17th-century inn, which still stands in the main street, is the village’s oldest.

[Click to continue reading English Village Tries to Milk a Connection to Its Cheesy Past – WSJ.com]

Gotta love this detail:

One 18th-century notable who dropped by was Daniel Defoe, author of “Robinson Crusoe.” He wrote about the inn, and the cheese he enjoyed there, in a travelogue published in 1724. He remarked that the cheese, unfettered at the time by EU product rules, was known as the English Parmesan, and he offered a mouth-watering description of how it was consumed. The cheese, he wrote, “is brought to Table so full of Mites or Maggots that they use a Spoon to eat them.”