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 veryhotthread  Author  Topic: Stuff & Nonsense  (Read 3389 times)
philliman
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xx Re: Stuff & Nonsense
« Reply #6345 on: Mar 13th, 2012, 08:22am »

on Mar 13th, 2012, 08:20am, Swamprat wrote:
I'm baaaack!! laugh

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xx Re: Stuff & Nonsense
« Reply #6346 on: Mar 13th, 2012, 09:19am »

on Mar 13th, 2012, 08:20am, Swamprat wrote:
I'm baaaack!! laugh



Hooray!!!!!

Missed you Swamp! cheesy
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« Reply #6347 on: Mar 13th, 2012, 09:20am »

on Mar 13th, 2012, 08:22am, philliman wrote:
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Good morning Phil!

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« Reply #6348 on: Mar 13th, 2012, 09:22am »

New York Times

March 13, 2012
U.S. Officials Debate Speeding Afghan Pullout
By HELENE COOPER and ERIC SCHMITT

WASHINGTON — The Obama administration is discussing whether to reduce American forces in Afghanistan by at least an additional 20,000 troops by 2013, reflecting a growing belief within the White House that the mission there has now reached the point of diminishing returns.

Accelerating the withdrawal of United States forces has been under consideration for weeks by senior White House officials, but those discussions are now taking place in the context of two major setbacks to American efforts in Afghanistan — the killings on Sunday of Afghan civilians attributed to a United States Army staff sergeant and the violence touched off by burning of Korans last month by American troops.

Administration officials cautioned on Monday that no decisions on additional troop cuts have been made, and in a radio interview President Obama reaffirmed his commitment to the Afghan mission in spite of the recent setbacks, warning against “a rush for the exits” amid questions about the American war strategy. “It’s important for us to make sure that we get out in a responsible way, so that we don’t end up having to go back in,” Mr. Obama said in an interview with KDKA in Pittsburgh.

Any accelerated withdrawal would face stiff opposition from military commanders, who want to keep the bulk of the remaining American troops in Afghanistan until the end of 2014, when the NATO mission in Afghanistan is supposed to end. Their resistance puts Mr. Obama in a quandary, as he balances how to hasten what is increasingly becoming a messy withdrawal while still painting a portrait of success for NATO allies and the American people.

The United States now has just under 90,000 troops in Afghanistan, with 22,000 of them due home by September. There has been no schedule set for the withdrawal of the remaining 68,000 American troops, although Mr. Obama said last year that the drawdown would continue “at a steady pace” until the United States handed over security to the Afghan forces in 2014.

At least three options are now under consideration, according to officials at the White House, the Pentagon and the State Department. One plan, backed by Thomas E. Donilon, the national security adviser, would be to announce that at least 10,000 more troops would come home by the end of December, and then 10,000 to 20,000 more by June 2013.

Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. has been pushing for a bigger withdrawal that would reduce the bulk of the troops around the same time the mission shifts to a support role, leaving behind Special Operations teams to conduct targeted raids. Mr. Biden has long said that the United States mission in Afghanistan is too broad and should focus primarily on a narrow counterterrorism mission against insurgents seeking to attack the United States.

Mr. Obama’s military commanders, meanwhile, want to maintain troops in Afghanistan as long as possible. If cuts have to be made, the commanders favor making them at the end of 2013, after the fighting season is largely finished. Any troop cuts made midyear would mean that those forces would not be available during the main fighting season, which runs from spring to early fall.

“We’ve come up with several options, but they’re back-of-the-envelope options,” said a senior military official, who said the internal discussions were just now beginning to focus on the costs, logistics and security risks of each plan.

Additional troop reductions would be consistent with a shift in mission that Mr. Obama plans to announce at a meeting of NATO members in Chicago in May. Under this plan, American troops would step away from the lead combat role to a supporting mission focused primarily on counterterrorism and training Afghan security forces. Mr. Obama will not announce the next troop reduction at the NATO meeting, aides said on Monday, but the size of the reduction will flow from the NATO decision on when to shift the mission in Afghanistan from combat to support.

In his news conference last week, Mr. Obama called the goal for the NATO meeting to make “sure that the transition is not a cliff, but that there are benchmarks and steps that are taken along the way.”

Benjamin J. Rhodes, one of the president’s senior national security advisers, said in an interview on Monday that “the trajectory we’ve set here is one of transition and Afghan sovereignty.” He added, “We have a goal here of having the Afghans move into the lead and having us steadily pulling back.”

Once the United States and its allies agree on the timing for the shift in mission —Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta has already said that it will take place as early as mid-2013 — the administration must decide exactly when the remaining 68,000 troops will come home. Already, debate there has fallen along familiar lines, according to the officials.

Gen. John R. Allen, the commander of allied forces in Afghanistan, is expected to face tough questioning on the mission and the pace of withdrawal in Congressional hearings scheduled for next week. “The campaign is sound,” General Allen said in an interview on Monday with Wolf Blitzer of CNN. “It is solid. It does not contemplate, at this time, any form of an accelerated drawdown.”

His comments were similar to those of Mr. Panetta, who told reporters on Monday while flying to Kyrgyzstan that the killings of Afghan civilians a day earlier would not undermine United States strategy in Afghanistan or speed up a planned drawdown of American troops over the next two years.

One prominent supporter of the Afghan mission, Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina, warned that steep troop cuts before 2014 could jeopardize General Allen’s ability to carry out the mission. “You don’t put a man in charge of a war and undercut his ability to do his job,” Mr. Graham said in a telephone interview.

The shootings on Sunday, and the burning of the Korans, come at a time when Afghans seem increasingly uncertain about their country’s fate once the Americans withdraw. Asylum applications to other countries are at an all-time high, while passport applications have overwhelmed the Afghan Foreign Ministry’s ability to process them. More than 500 people line up outside the passport office in Kabul every morning even in the bitterest weather.

Many respected Afghans have fled the country or lost their jobs, including the head of the country’s Central Bank and the deputy head of the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission. Meanwhile, analysts say the Afghan economy appears more and more to be built on the Western aid that has enriched the country’s elite, who have taken much of the money out of the country. Cash moving through Kabul International Airport has gone up drastically in the past year, so that now about $4 billion is leaving the country, in a legitimate annual economy of about $15 billion.

Little of that is expected to be mentioned publicly at the Chicago meeting. Mr. Obama and the NATO allies, European and American officials said, must instead present a picture of success that includes the possibility of reconciliation talks with the Taliban and a NATO withdrawal that is coming only after a job well done.

“The critical issue in Chicago is for the president to make the case that the military picture is good, the insurgency has been weakened, and the Afghan security forces are ready to take over,” said Vali Nasr, a former State Department official under the Obama administration who worked on these issues. “And that reconciliation is under way.”

Mr. Obama will be discussing the NATO mission in Afghanistan when he meets with Prime Minister David Cameron of Britain on Tuesday and Wednesday. A European official said Monday that it was imperative that the United States and its NATO partners project a public face to the Afghans that while NATO troops will be leaving Afghanistan, the West will not abandon the country. “The most important thing now is the messaging,” the official said.

Reporting was contributed by Alissa J. Rubin, Matthew Rosenberg, Graham Bowley and Rod Nordland from Kabul, Afghanistan, and by Elisabeth Bumiller en route to Kyrgyzstan.


http://www.nytimes.com/2012/03/13/world/asia/us-officials-debate-speeding-up-afghan-pullout.html?hp

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« Reply #6349 on: Mar 13th, 2012, 09:24am »

Reuters

February retail sales rise, highest in five months

By Lucia Mutikani
Tue Mar 13, 2012 9:37am EDT

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Retail sales posted their largest gain in five months in February as Americans stepped up purchases of motor vehicles and other goods even as they paid more for gasoline.

Total retail sales increased 1.1 percent, the Commerce Department said on Tuesday, after a 0.6 percent rise in January. The increase was broadly in line with expectations.

Details of the report were fairly upbeat and its tenor was also boosted by upward revisions to the prior months' data, suggesting recent solid gains in employment were helping to cushion consumers against steep rises in gasoline prices.

"The big thing for the consumer is that the labor market has improved and there's income growth. Things look better than six months ago," said Stephen Stanley, chief economist at Pierpont Securities in Stamford, Connecticut.

"There is a risk if gasoline prices continue to rise. That will bite into household budgets."

Stock index futures added slightly to gains, while Treasury debt prices held at lower levels. The dollar maintained gains versus the euro and the yen.

Sales last month were buoyed by a 1.6 percent rise in sales of motor vehicles, reflecting pent-up demand by households and growing confidence in the economy as job creation speeds up.

A devastating earthquake and tsunami in Japan caused disruptions to auto production last year and left dealers without models that consumers wanted to buy.

Excluding autos, retail sales advanced 0.9 percent last month, adding to January's upwardly revised 1.1 percent gain.

Consumers bought motor vehicles even as they paid more for gasoline at the pump. Gas prices rose 20 cents last month, according to government data.

Sales at gasoline stations surged 3.3 percent, the biggest gain since March last year, after rising 1.9 percent in January. Excluding autos and gasoline, sales rose 0.6 percent in February after increasing 1.0 percent the prior month. Gasoline accounted for 11.5 percent of retail sales in February.

BROAD-BASED GAINS

Outside autos and gas stations, sales were broad-based, suggesting recent solid gains in employment and modest increases in income were supporting consumer spending.

Employers have added just over half a million new jobs to their payrolls so far this year and the unemployment rate has held at a three year-low of 8.3 percent.

But the brightening labor market picture, which has reduced the chances of further monetary stimulus from the Federal Reserve through a third round of bond purchases or quantitative easing, is at odds with expectations of slower growth this quarter.

Fed officials meet on Tuesday and are not expected to announce any policy changes, opting to wait for more evidence given that unseasonably mild weather has given the economy some lift in the past few months.

"In terms of the Fed, I think we still have a long way to go before they feel comfortable about unemployment. However, we have seen improvement," said Camilla Sutton, chief currency strategist at Scotia Capital in Toronto.

The central bank, which has promised to keep interest rates ultra low at least through late 2014, will release its statement around 2:15 p.m. (1815 GMT).

Last month, clothing store receipts jumped 1.8 percent, the largest increase since November 2010, while sales at building materials and garden equipment suppliers advanced 1.4 percent.

Mild weather has boosted the volume of traffic to shopping malls even though retailers have had to offer huge discounts to clear shelves of winter clothing and other merchandise.

So-called core retail sales, which exclude autos, gasoline and building materials, were up 0.5 percent after advancing 1.0 percent in January.

Core sales correspond most closely with the consumer spending component of the government's gross domestic product report.

Sales at restaurants and bars rose 0.8 percent, while receipts at sporting goods, hobby, book and music stores increased 1.0 percent. Sales of electronics and appliances rose 1.0 percent, while receipts at furniture stores fell 1.2 percent.

(Additional reporting by Richard Leong and Luciana Lopez in New York; Editing by Andrea Ricci)

http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/03/13/us-retail-sales-idUSBRE82C0NG20120313

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« Reply #6350 on: Mar 13th, 2012, 09:31am »

Wired Science

Mysterious Hog Farm Explosions Stump Scientists
By Brandon Keim
March 13, 2012 | 6:30 am
Categories: Biology


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Foam climbs through the vent of a hog farm's manure pit.
Photo: Charles Clanton



A strange new growth has emerged from the manure pits of midwestern hog farms. The results are literally explosive.

Since 2009, six farms have blown up after methane trapped in an unidentified, pit-topping foam caught a spark. In the afflicted region, the foam is found in roughly 1 in 4 hog farms.

There’s nothing farmers can do except be very careful. Researchers aren’t even sure what the foam is.

“This has all started in the last four or five years here. We don’t have any idea where it came from or how it got started,” said agricultural engineer Charles Clanton of the University of Minnesota. “Whatever has happened is new.”

A gelatinous goop that resembles melted brown Nerf, the foam captures gases emitted by bacteria living in manure, which on industrial farms gathers in pits beneath barns that may contain several thousand animals.

The pits are emptied each fall, after which waste builds up again, turning them into something like giant stomachs: dark, oxygen-starved percolators in which bacteria and single-celled organisms metabolize the muck.

Methane is a natural byproduct, and is typically dispersed by fans before it reaches explosive levels. But inside the foam’s bubbles, methane reaches levels of 60 to 70 percent, or more than four times what’s considered dangerous. The foam can reach depths of more than four feet.

Disturb the bubbles, and enormous quantities of methane are released in a very short time. Add a spark — from, say, a bit of routine metal repair, as happened in a September 2011 accident that killed 1,500 hogs and injured a worker — and the barn will blow.

If it’s easy to see what the foam causes, however, it’s much more difficult to understand what causes the foam.

Among the possibilities are new bacterial communities that cause foam to form, or a change to the molecular structure of hog waste — a new foodstock, for example, or a pit-cleaning soap that makes the waste more frothy.

Or it could be both factors, or neither. Scientists have so far been stumped by the foam’s patterns.

It can appear in one barn but not another on a farm where every barn is operated identically. Once the foam’s established, it keeps coming back, regardless of efforts at cleaning and decontamination.

But though it’s now common in southern Minnesota and northern Iowa, and in adjacent parts of northwestern Illinois and southwestern Wisconsin, the foam doesn’t seem to be spreading outside that area.

A possible clue comes from historical experiences at wastewater treatment plants, where similar-looking foams have been caused by bacteria, though the identified species can’t always survive in low-oxygen environments like manure pits.

If microbes are to blame, the next question would be: Why now? Deep-pit manure collection on high-density hog farms has been around for decades. Some recent and specific change would need to be responsible for altering the communities of microbes inside them.

“I don’t think it’s a dangerous new microbe,” said Angela Kent, a microbial ecologist at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. “I think it’s a shift in the environment that’s favoring a particular microbial assemblage that’s inadvertently causing this.”

One possibility is a dramatic rise in the agricultural use of so-called distiller’s grain, a byproduct of alcohol and ethanol production: Between 2001 and 2003, the amount of distiller’s grain in hog food quadrupled in the United States. Some evidence suggests a link to foaming, though it’s still tentative.

Changes in water use, antibiotic distribution and even corn genetics have also been suggested as hypothetically plausible culprits, but hypothetical is the operative term.

Kent is current comparing microbial differences between foam and foam-free manure pits, and hopes that a new round of carefully controlled studies on farms using pigs with identical characteristics and diets will give new insight into this unlikely scientific frontier.

“I don’t think anyone’s very familiar with what microbes are present in a manure pit on a hog farm,” she said.

http://www.wired.com/wiredscience/2012/03/hog-manure-foam/

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« Reply #6351 on: Mar 13th, 2012, 09:34am »

Deadline Hollywood

Rebekah Brooks, Ex-News International CEO, Said Arrested (Again): Reports
By NANCY TARTAGLIONE, International Editor
Tuesday, 13 March 2012 12:12 UK
Tags: News International, Rebekah Brooks, Rupert Murdoch

This would make the second time in 8 months the former News Of The World editor has been arrested in connection with the investigation into phone hacking at the newspaper. The UK media is reporting that Brooks, a once close associate of Rupert Murdoch, was taken into custody this morning – along with her horse-trainer husband – on suspicion of conspiracy to pervert the course of justice.

Scotland Yard has not confirmed the identities of the total 6 people arrested today, but has detailed the age, sex and location of the suspects. “A 43 year old woman was arrested at her home address in Oxfordshire and is being interviewed at an Oxfordshire police station,” the Metropolitan Police said in a statement on its website. Brooks is 43 and lives in Oxfordshire. It recently emerged that Scotland Yard agreed to lend Brooks a horse for two years, reigniting questions about the relationships between police officers and News Corp’s UK press arm, News International, The Independent notes.

Brooks was also arrested last summer after the phone hacking scandal broke open and 2 days after she resigned as chief executive of News International. She was released on bail. All of today’s arrests were made between 5 and 7am by officers from Operation Weeting, the taskforce charged with investigating the illegal interception of phone messages.

http://www.deadline.com/2012/03/rebekah-brooks-ex-news-international-ceo-said-arrested-again-reports/

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« Reply #6352 on: Mar 14th, 2012, 09:26am »

New York Times

March 14, 2012
Emboldened Syrian Army Now Moves to Quell Southern City
By ANNE BARNARD and RICK GLADSTONE

BEIRUT, Lebanon — Gathering confidence after forcing rebels out of strongholds in the north, the Syrian government on Wednesday launched its biggest raid in months on the southern city of Dara’a, where the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad began a year ago, opposition activists said.

The activists feared that the government was now emboldened after seizing most of the northern city of Idlib on Tuesday amid faltering international efforts to stop the violence and was turning its attention to crushing centers of the rebellion in the south as the symbolically important one-year mark of the uprising approached.

Thursday is the anniversary of protests in Dara’a that followed the killing of schoolchildren who had scrawled anti-government graffiti. Those demonstrations turned what had been sporadic protests into a nationwide uprising.

There have been regular clashes in Dara’a, but “today the situation is different,” with about 150 tanks and many busloads of security forces sweeping the city from the west, said Anwar Fares, an anti-government activist reached by telephone in the city.

“It is the most violent military raid on Dara’a since April 25,” Mr. Fares said. “It seems they want to have a situation similar to Idlib and Homs,” he added, referring to cities where the government forced armed rebels out of their strongholds.

But unlike those cities, Dara’a lacks a strong presence of the Free Syrian Army, the main armed opposition group made up of defecting soldiers and other fighters. Rebels have not held entire neighborhoods in Dara’a, as they did in the north.

Mr. Fares lamented that Mr. Assad seemed to feel he has a freer hand in recent weeks. “He is taking his sweet time,” he said.

As diplomacy faltered and Russia pledged to keep supplying weapons, Syria’s armed forces have pressed their assault on insurgent enclaves in several parts of the country in recent weeks.

The military moves came as Amnesty International claimed in a new report that Syrians detained in the crackdown, which the United Nations says has claimed some 7,500 lives, had been “thrust into a nightmarish world of systemic torture,” the scale of which had not been witnessed for decades.

The report, made public on Wednesday, documented 31 methods of torture, described by witnesses or victims to Amnesty International researchers in Jordan in February, the report said. The descriptions “indicate that detainees are at most risk when being interrogated,” some of them forced into vehicle tires and others manacled and suspended so that only the tips of the toes touch the floor.

Ann Harrison, an Amnesty International official, said “a system of detention and interrogation” seemed “intended primarily to degrade, humiliate and terrify its victims into silence.”

On Tuesday, opposition activists reported heavy shelling by army tanks and artillery both in areas around Idlib and around Homs, the city in central Syria that government forces claimed to have pacified after weeks of shelling.

There were unconfirmed reports that Syrian forces had seized all or part of Idlib, a haven for the Free Syrian Army, an insurgent group of former soldiers. Hundreds of refugees were reported to be fleeing for the borders of Lebanon and Turkey, activists said.

In ominous new barometers of the conflict, the United Nations reported a surge in Syrian refugees and displaced civilians and Human Rights Watch accused Syria’s military of placing mines at the borders with Turkey and Lebanon.

By Tuesday evening, Syrian troops controlled the main roads in Idlib, while opposition fighters kept up resistance within several neighborhoods, said the head of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an opposition group based in London, who goes by the pseudonym Rami Abdul-Rahman for reasons of personal safety.

In an interview, he said that both sides were engaged in “a media war,” with each claiming control, but that the situation was similar to what had prevailed in Homs, where government forces controlled about two-thirds of the city and some central neighborhoods were in rebel hands.

A Syrian television channel, Addounia, showed scenes of destruction in Idlib, for which it blamed “foreigners and terrorists,” and showed interviews with nervous-looking residents who praised the Syrian Army for protecting them.

The Syrian military’s expanded campaign in the north came after days of seemingly fruitless diplomatic pressure on Mr. Assad to reach some accommodation with the array of opposition groups aligned against him. Kofi Annan, the former United Nations secretary general appointed by the United Nations and the Arab League as a special emissary to meet with Mr. Assad, left Damascus last weekend without an agreement.

At the Security Council on Monday, there was no sign that efforts to reach consensus on a Syria cease-fire resolution had made any progress, with Russia resisting Western efforts to portray Mr. Assad as responsible for the violence. Russia maintains that the opposition has equal responsibility for the violence.

Reinforcing Russia’s support for Mr. Assad, a senior official in Moscow dismissed requests by Western and Arab governments for a halt in weapons shipments to the Syrian Army. Russia is supplying them under existing contracts, the official, Anatoly I. Antonov, a deputy defense minister, said at a briefing for foreign journalists in Moscow.

“We have specialists in Syria and we cooperate militarily with Syria,” he said. “This is not a secret. We have good, solid, military and technical cooperation with Syria. And today, we don’t have a basis to reconsider this military cooperation.”

Syria’s restriction on foreign news coverage of the conflict has made it impossible to independently assess the fighting and differing accounts of casualties and blame. But it was clear from witnesses and activists reached by Skype and telephone on Tuesday that the military’s campaign was intensifying in and around Idlib.

An activist contacted via Skype in the border town of Khan Shaykhoun, about 40 miles from Idlib, reported heavy fighting there. The activist, who gave his name as Derar, said the town had been under heavy shelling since the morning and that he had seen about two dozen soldiers defect and burn a seized tank.

Another activist reached in Syria via Skype, Sami Ibrahim of the London-based Observatory group, said soldiers had stopped a car in Idlib Province and killed all seven occupants, including a child and two men wounded by shelling en route to a private hospital, because the nearest hospital was working with security forces.

Mr. Assad has portrayed the uprising as a crime wave by foreign-backed terrorist gangs, while opposition groups have insisted that his promises of reform and compromise are lies and that he must leave power as part of any cease-fire or peace proposal. The struggle, already the most violent of the Arab uprisings, has increasingly taken on the appearance of a civil war.

Reinforcing that appearance, the main United Nations refugee agency said at least 30,000 Syrians had fled to neighboring countries since the conflict began last March, and at least 200,000 more had been internally displaced.

Illustrating a further danger to fleeing civilians, Human Rights Watch reported that Syrian forces had planted antipersonnel land mines banned by an international treaty on the borders, and that the mines had already caused civilian casualties. Syria is among 37 countries — including Russia and the United States — that are not signatories to that treaty.

While his forces were assaulting Idlib, Syrian state television reported that Mr. Assad had issued a decree setting parliamentary elections for May 7, the latest in his series of proffered political reforms. Opposition groups and their supporters called the election announcement a farce.

The announcement came as Mr. Annan said in a statement that he was expecting a response from Mr. Assad to proposals he had made to end the fighting. Mr. Annan has not publicly discussed the specifics of those proposals.

“Once I receive their answer we will know how to react,” Mr. Annan said in a statement. “The killings and violence must cease. The Syrian people have gone through a lot and they deserve better.”

The main exile opposition group, the Syrian National Council, had issued an urgent call on Monday for international military intervention, after activists said soldiers and pro-government thugs had executed dozens of civilians in Homs. The government said its opponents were responsible for those killings.

Internal struggles continue within the Syrian National Council, though, with Reuters reporting Tuesday that three prominent members had resigned because they felt the group was not effective enough. A group member told Reuters that others could leave as well.

But the council also seemed to be having some success overcoming its differences with other groups. A commander of the Free Syrian Army told Al Jazeera that it had agreed to coordinate actions with the Syrian National Council. Riyadh al-Assad, the commander, said that the Free Officers, an armed group that had been closer to the council, had joined the Free Syrian Army.

Anne Barnard reported from Beirut, and Rick Gladstone from New York. Reporting was contributed by Hwaida Saad and Hala Droubi from Beirut, Alan Cowell from London, and Andrew E. Kramer from Moscow.

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/03/15/world/middleeast/syria-torture-report-military-maintains-assaults.html?hp#

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« Reply #6353 on: Mar 14th, 2012, 09:37am »

Reuters

Departing Goldman banker slams "rip-off" culture

By Douwe Miedema
LONDON | Wed Mar 14, 2012 10:20am EDT

A Goldman Sachs banker has launched a withering attack on the bank in a newspaper column announcing his resignation, saying that several managing directors at the Wall Street firm had referred to their own clients as "muppets".

In an opinion column for Wednesday's New York Times, Greg Smith, who worked in equity derivatives, said Goldman had become "as toxic and destructive as I have ever seen it".

"It makes me ill how callously people talk about ripping their clients off. Over the last 12 months I have seen five different managing directors refer to their own clients as "muppets"," Smith said in the newspaper.

Goldman Sachs issued a short statement in response:

"We disagree with the views expressed, which we don't think reflect the way we run our business. In our view, we will only be successful if our clients are successful. This fundamental truth lies at the heart of how we conduct ourselves."

Calls to Smith, who was a vice president in derivatives sales at the firm, were referred to the bank's press office. According to the British Financial Services Authority's register, he joined Goldman Sachs's UK unit a year ago.

Smith's letter set off a blizzard of comments on Twitter and other social media. In Britain, "muppet" is used as a derogatory term to describe someone who is regarded as being ignorant.

While many of the commentators expressed surprise about the allegations in the piece, others called for Smith to shed light on why he left the bank, or pointed out that he seemed to have been employed in a comparatively junior role.

Some poked fun at Smith's description of how he won a bronze medal for table tennis at the Maccabiah Games in Israel, which he says was one of the proudest moments.

"Goldman Sachs today has become too much about shortcuts and not enough about achievement. It just doesn't feel right to me anymore," Smith said in the article.

PAST MEDIA STORMS

Smith's column said the London-based banker had spent 12 years at the bank and was resigning on Wednesday.

Goldman Sachs, fourth among investment banks last year according to fee-income rankings compiled by Thomson Reuters and Freeman Consulting, was once described as "a great vampire squid" in the Rolling Stone music magazine. The reference was to the extensive influence of Goldman in politics and business.

In recent years it has faced a series of high-profile incidents potentially damaging to its image after the near-collapse of the global banking system since the middle of 2007.

One of its bankers, Fabrice Tourre -- who referred to himself as "fabulous Fab" in emails -- is still embroiled in legal claims in the United States after allegations that he duped buyers of a complex credit instrument.

And two years ago, Chief Executive Lloyd Blankfein caused a media storm when he said that as a banker he was just "doing God's work", defending high banker pay and the role their institutions play in the economy.

Earlier this month, Goldman Sachs's public relations chief Lucas van Praag left after many years in the job, and was replaced by Richard "Jake" Siewert, a veteran of the Clinton and Obama administrations.

Van Praag was known for defending Goldman executives' actions and their multimillion-dollar pay packages, often telling reporters in public statements that their stories were half-baked or unintelligent.

Siewert's appointment came as the broader financial industry faces protests from groups like Occupy Wall Street and is under continuous pressure from regulators after the financial crisis.

(Additional reporting by Kirstin Ridley; Editing by Andrew Callus and Alexander Smith)

http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/03/14/us-goldman-smith-idUSBRE82D0RV20120314

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« Reply #6354 on: Mar 14th, 2012, 09:41am »

Wired Threat Level

Exclusive: Mystery Court Challenge Sheds Light on Pervasive Patriot Act Power
By Kim Zetter
March 14, 2012 | 6:35 am
Categories: privacy

Sometime earlier this year, a provider of communication services in the United States – perhaps a phone company, perhaps Twitter – got a letter from the FBI demanding it turn over information on one, or possibly even hundreds, of its customers. The letter instructed the company to never disclose the existence of the demand to anyone – in particular, the target of the investigation.

This sort of letter is not uncommon post-9/11 and with the passage of the U.S. Patriot Act, which gave the FBI increased authority to issue so-called National Security Letters (NSLs). In 2010, the FBI sent more than 24,000 NSLs to ISPs and other companies, seeking information on more than 14,000 individuals in the U.S.

The public heard about none of these letters.

But this time, the company that received the request pushed back. It told the agency that it wanted to tell its customer that he or she was being targeted, which would give the customer a chance to fight the request in court, as a group of Twitter users did last year when the Justice Department sought their records under a different kind of request. The minor defiance in this latest case was enough to land the NSL request in a federal court docket last Friday, where the government filed a request for a court order to force the company to adhere to the gag order.

In its petition, the government asserted that disclosure of the fact or contents of its NSL “may endanger the national security of the United States” and urged the court to issue an order binding the company to the nondisclosure provision, or be in violation of federal law and face contempt charges.

Although documents in the case are redacted to hide the identity of the company and the target of the investigation, they shed a little light on how NSLs are working these days, after a few reforms.

National security letters are written demands from the FBI that compel internet service providers, credit companies, financial institutions and others to hand over confidential records about their customers, such as subscriber information, phone numbers and e-mail addresses, websites visited and more. NSLs have been used since the 1980s, but the Patriot Act expanded the kinds of records that could be obtained with them. They do not require court approval, and they come with a built-in gag order.

The public has become aware of only a handful of some 300,000 NSLs handed out over the last decade, and those became public only after the recipients launched legal battles opposing them. As a result of these battles, courts have chipped away at the gag order requirement as a violation of the First Amendment, and internal watchdogs have uncovered some abuses of the FBI’s NSL authority. But the letters are still one of the FBI’s most powerful tools; a tool that is rarely discussed inside or outside Congress these days.

According to documents filed in the U.S. District Court in Alexandria, Virginia, last Friday, the FBI appears to have served the unknown company with an NSL (.pdf) sometime around the end of January seeking information about a customer or customers.

The company, identified only as a corporation “with employees dispersed across the world” that offers electronic communication services to customers and account holders, was told to hand over “electronic communications transaction” records of an unidentified target or targets. The NSL specifically excluded the contents of the communications.

The NSL indicated that the company had 10 days to challenge the gag order if it intended to do so. The company did so via fax, and on March 9 the government filed a request for a court order enforcing the gag order. The legal dance is a new feature of NSLs that is the result of hard-fought battles. Before a federal appeals court struck down some of the gag provisions of NSLs, ISPs and other companies that wanted to challenge the orders had to file suit in secret in court – now companies can simply notify the FBI in writing that they oppose the gag order.

The FBI asked the court to uphold the gag order on grounds that disclosure of the NSL would harm national security. According to the government, the information it wants is relevant to an investigation involving “international terrorism or clandestine intelligence activities.” The government also asked that any documents filed in the case, other than its initial redacted request to the court, be sealed. On Tuesday, the court issued an order granting the motion to seal records (.pdf), and also issued another sealed order whose contents are unknown.

The FBI did not respond to a call seeking comment.

NSLs are a powerful tool because an FBI agent looking into a possible anti-terrorism case can essentially self-issue the NSL to a credit bureau, ISP or phone company with only the sign-off of the Special Agent in Charge of their office. The FBI has to merely assert that the information is “relevant” to an investigation.

The gag orders raise the possibility for extensive abuse of NSLs, under the cover of secrecy. In fact, in 2007, a Justice Department Inspector General audit found that the FBI, which issued almost 200,000 NSLs between 2003 and 2006, had indeed abused its authority and misused NSLs.

The inspector general found that the FBI evaded limits on (and sometimes illegally issued) NSLs to obtain phone, e-mail and financial information on American citizens, and that it had also underreported the use of NSLs to Congress. In 2006 alone, the FBI issued more than 49,000 NSLs, but that number dropped dramatically to 16,804 in 2007 following the inspector general’s report. After the Justice Department claimed it instituted reforms to address the legal lapses, the number of NSLs issued increased to 24,744 in 2008. In 2010, the most recent year for which statistics are available, the FBI issued 24,287 NSLs.

Two cases helped shine a light on the real-world uses of NSLs. In 2007 the Internet Archive challenged an NSL it received seeking information about one of the online library’s registered users. The Electronic Frontier Foundation challenged the constitutionality of the NSL, which ultimately resulted in the FBI rescinding the NSL and agreeing to unseal the records in the court battle. It was the first extensive look the public got at the nature of the NSL process.

In 2010, Nicholas Merrill won a six-year battle to lift a gag order in relation to an NSL that he received in 2004 when he was owner of a small ISP called Calyx Internet Access. The NSL was very broad and listed 16 categories of records the FBI was seeking, including e-mail and billing records.

Merrill and the ACLU filed a legal challenge under the name “John Doe,” since they weren’t allowed to identify Merrill or the name of his ISP. The ACLU asserted that customer records were constitutionally protected information.

“Internet users do not give up their privacy rights when they log on, and the FBI should not have the power to secretly demand that ISPs turn over constitutionally protected information about their users without a court order,” Merrill told Wired.

In December 2008, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that some of the gag provisions in NSLs were unconstitutional — in part because they limited judicial review of the gag orders and forced courts to defer to the government’s assertions about the necessity of a gag order, and in part because they thwarted the ability of recipients to challenge the gag order. The case was sent back to the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, forcing the government to justify the constitutionality of the gag order imposed on Merrill.

In June 2009, the government introduced secret evidence to the court to justify continuing the gag order, claiming that if information were revealed about the letter it would harm an ongoing investigation. Merrill and his attorneys were prevented from learning the specifics of the evidence in order to refute it. The government was then ordered by the court to produce an unclassified summary of its evidence.

more after the jump
http://www.wired.com/threatlevel/2012/03/mystery-nsl/

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« Reply #6355 on: Mar 14th, 2012, 09:49am »

Science Daily

Scientists Produce Eye Structures from Human Blood-Derived Stem Cells
ScienceDaily (Mar. 13, 2012)

For the first time, scientists at the University of Wisconsin-Madison have made early retina structures containing proliferating neuroretinal progenitor cells using induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells derived from human blood.


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At 72 days, stem cells derived from human blood formed an early retina structure,
with specialized cells resembling photoreceptors (red) and ganglion cells (green) located within the outer and inner layers, respectively.
Nuclei of cells within the middle layer are shown in blue. These layers are similar to those present during normal human eye development.
(Credit: Image courtesy of University of Wisconsin-Madison)



And in another advance, the retina structures showed the capacity to form layers of cells – as the retina does in normal human development – and these cells possessed the machinery that could allow them to communicate information. (Light-sensitive photoreceptor cells in the retina along the back wall of the eye produce impulses that are ultimately transmitted through the optic nerve and then to the brain, allowing you to see.) Put together, these findings suggest that it is possible to assemble human retinal cells into more complex retinal tissues, all starting from a routine patient blood sample.

Many applications of laboratory-built human retinal tissues can be envisioned, including using them to test drugs and study degenerative diseases of the retina such as retinitis pigmentosa, a prominent cause of blindness in children and young adults. One day, it may also be possible replace multiple layers of the retina in order to help patients with more widespread retinal damage.

“We don’t know how far this technology will take us, but the fact that we are able to grow a rudimentary retina structure from a patient’s blood cells is encouraging, not only because it confirms our earlier work using human skin cells, but also because blood as a starting source is convenient to obtain,” says Dr. David Gamm, pediatric ophthalmologist and senior author of the study. “This is a solid step forward.”

In 2011, the Gamm lab at the UW Waisman Center created structures from the most primitive stage of retinal development using embryonic stem cells and stem cells derived from human skin. While those structures generated the major types of retinal cells, including photoreceptors, they lacked the organization found in more mature retina.

This time, the team, led by Gamm, Assistant Professor of Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences in the UW School of Medicine and Public Health, and postdoctoral researcher and lead author Dr. Joseph Phillips, used their method to grow retina-like tissue from iPS cells derived from human blood gathered via standard blood draw techniques.

In their study, about 16 percent of the initial retinal structures developed distinct layers. The outermost layer primarily contained photoreceptors, whereas the middle and inner layers harbored intermediary retinal neurons and ganglion cells, respectively. This particular arrangement of cells is reminiscent of what is found in the back of the eye. Further, work by Dr. Phillips showed that these retinal cells were capable of making synapses, a prerequisite for them to communicate with one another.

The iPS cells used in the study were generated through collaboration with Cellular Dynamics International (CDI) of Madison, Wis., who pioneered the technique to convert blood cells into iPS cells. CDI scientists extracted a type of blood cell called a T-lymphocyte from the donor sample, and reprogrammed the cells into iPS cells. CDI was founded by UW stem cell pioneer Dr. James Thomson.

“We were fortunate that CDI shared an interest in our work. Combining our lab’s expertise with that of CDI was critical to the success of this study,” added Dr. Gamm.

Other members of the research team include:

– Kyle Wallace, Amelia Verhoeven, Jessica Martin, Lynda Wright, Wei Shen, Elizabeth Capowski and Enio Perez, of the Waisman Center.
– Sarah Dickerson and Michael Miller of CDI.
– E. Ferda Percen of the Faculty of Medicine, Gazi University, Ankara, Turkey.
– Xiufeng Zhong and Maria Canto-Soler, of the Wilmer Eye Institute at Johns Hopkins Univerity.

The research is supported by the Foundation Fighting Blindness, the National Institutes of Health, the Retina Research Foundation, the UW Institute for Clinical and Translational Research, the UW Eye Research Institute and the E. Matilda Ziegler Foundation for the Blind, Inc.

http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/03/120313185232.htm

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« Reply #6356 on: Mar 15th, 2012, 08:49am »

New York Times

March 14, 2012, 8:00 pm
Public Rebuke of Culture at Goldman Opens Debate
By SUSANNE CRAIG and LANDON THOMAS JR.

Until early Wednesday morning, Greg Smith was a largely anonymous 33-year-old midlevel executive at Goldman Sachs in London.

Now everyone at the firm — and on Wall Street — knows his name.

Mr. Smith resigned in an e-mail message to his bosses at 6:40 a.m. London time, laying out concerns that Goldman’s culture had gone haywire, putting its own interests ahead of its clients.

What the e-mail didn’t say was that about 15 minutes later, an Op-Ed article he had written detailing his criticisms was to be published in The New York Times. “It makes me ill how callously people still talk about ripping off clients,” he wrote in the Op-Ed article.

The Op-Ed landed “like a bomb,” inside Goldman, said one executive who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

The article reignited a debate on the Internet and on cable television over whether Wall Street was corrupted by greed and excess. By noon, television crews crowded outside Goldman’s headquarters in Lower Manhattan. More than three years after the financial crisis, the perception that little has changed on Wall Street — and that no one has been held accountable for the risk-taking that led to the crisis — looms large in the public consciousness. While it was an unusual cry from the heart of a Wall Street insider, many questioned whether it would prompt any change.

Goldman disagreed with the assertions in the Op-Ed article, saying that they did not reflect how the firm treated its clients. Top executives have previously said that despite some rough times of late, clients have stuck with the firm.

Friends of Mr. Smith, who had a list of Goldman’s business principles taped on a wall by his computers in London, say they were not surprised by his public farewell. “He has a really high moral fiber and really cared about the culture of the firm,” said Daniel Lipkin, a Miami lawyer who went to Stanford with Mr. Smith. Mr. Lipkin learned about the Op-Ed on Wednesday from Mr. Smith. “He sounded confident and felt good about his decision to go public,” he said.

Although he isn’t highly paid by Wall Street standards — earning about $500,000 last year, according to people briefed on the matter — Mr. Smith is part of what some Goldman staff members and alumni refer to as a sizable, yet silent contingent within the investment bank. These people are increasingly frustrated with what they see as a shift in recent years to a profit-above-all mentality.

Evidence of this shift, they say, can be seen in the accusations brought by the Securities and Exchange Commission in 2010 that the firm intentionally duped certain clients by selling a mortgage-security product that was designed by another Goldman client betting that the housing market would crash. More recently, a Delaware judge criticized Goldman over the multiple, and potentially conflicting, roles it played in brokering an energy deal. (In both cases, Goldman has denied any wrongdoing.)

The reaction on Wall Street to Mr. Smith’s resignation ranged from those cheering him to others criticizing him for resigning in such a public way. Some within Goldman sought to portray Mr. Smith as a lone wolf — he did not manage anyone — who had failed to become a managing director. (There are about 12,000 executive directors, the equivalent of being a vice president in the United States, but only about 2,500 managing directors among Goldman’s 33,300 employees.)

Still, the ripple effects were felt beyond Wall Street. Shares of Goldman fell 3.4 percent. And media coverage was worldwide. “Goldman Boss: We Call Our Clients Muppets,” screamed the front page of The London Evening Standard.

Others were less surprised. One Goldman client who spoke on the condition of anonymity called the letter “naïve,” saying that the firm had been trading against its clients for years. “Come on, that is what they do and they are good traders, so I do business with them.”

Another Wall Street executive said it was “unforgivable” for Mr. Smith to make his opinions so public and he should have taken them privately to the firm’s senior managers. While Mr. Smith may have tried to raise his concerns with his superiors in meetings, as a fairly junior employee, he did not have much of a voice.

Goldman’s top two executives, Lloyd C. Blankfein and Gary Cohn, said in a letter to employees: “We were disappointed to read the assertions made by this individual that do not reflect our values, our culture and how the vast majority of people at Goldman Sachs think about the firm and the work it does on behalf of our clients. Everyone is entitled to his or her opinion. But it is unfortunate that an individual opinion about Goldman Sachs is amplified in a newspaper and speaks louder than the regular, detailed and intensive feedback you have provided the firm and independent, public surveys of workplace environments.”

But questions about Goldman’s culture persist at a time when the firm — and the rest of Wall Street — are undergoing a transition as the postfinancial crisis framework of regulations known as Dodd-Frank takes hold and as some profitable businesses show little sign of returning to their precrisis highs. It is not a hospitable environment for trading, yet Goldman remains very much a trading firm. Mr. Blankfein, a former gold salesman, comes from the trading business, as does the man who is seen as the most likely to succeed him as chief executive in the next year or two, Mr. Cohn.

Mr. Smith started at Goldman in sales. Born in Johannesburg, Mr. Smith is a grandson of Lithuanian Jews who emigrated to South Africa. His father is a pharmacist and his mother is pursuing a career in social work.

He won a full scholarship to Stanford and after graduating in 2001 landed a spot at Goldman, where he quickly worked his way up in the organization. A table tennis player, Mr. Smith won a bronze medal in the event at the Maccabiah Games in Israel.

He was sent to London about a year ago to sell United States derivative products to European and Middle Eastern investment funds.

What motivated Mr. Smith to come forward now? People close to him said he had high hopes for an internal report that came out after the S.E.C. case, which Goldman settled.

In 2010, Goldman embarked on an internal study that looked at the way it did business. The report reaffirmed the firm’s principles and outlined changes aimed largely at bolstering internal controls and disclosure.

But Mr. Smith thought it fell on deaf ears among senior managers, his friends say.

“I think this was the ultimate act of loyalty,” said Lex Bayer, a friend of Mr. Smith’s from high school in Johannesburg, who went to Stanford with him. “He has always been an advocate for the firm, but he wanted Goldman to do things the right way. In his mind, this was the only way that he could change the culture of the firm.”

He may not be alone inside Goldman. At staff meetings, Goldman’s leadership has been peppered with questions about the firm’s public reputation, say people who have attended those meetings, but who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak on the record.

Mr. Smith is making a considerable financial sacrifice in publicly criticizing Goldman. Most Wall Street employees sign nondisparagement and nondisclosure agreements before they join a firm. If Mr. Smith did, Goldman may take legal action and refuse to release stock options he has accumulated. Mr. Smith may also find it difficult to find work on Wall Street after such a public resignation. A spokesman said that Goldman tried to contact Mr. Smith on Wednesday. It is not known whether he responded.

Mr. Smith did not speak publicly about his decision to leave Goldman. On Wednesday, Mr. Smith received messages of support from clients of Goldman.

“You do not know me, but I am a client of Goldman Sachs,” one of them said. “We trade a lot with Goldman and we know that we have to be very careful when we do so,” the person said. “We understand your message.”

People who have spoken to Mr. Smith said that he was flying back to New York on Wednesday night to see his family and friends. These people say Mr. Smith still has no concrete plan for what to do next. He tells friends that he wants to effect change in Goldman’s business practices, although it is unclear what that change would be.

Recruiters say it may be tough slogging for Mr. Smith to find work again on Wall Street, at least in the near term.

“There is a rule of thumb when interviewing — you don’t bad-mouth your old boss. No one wants to hear it,“ said Eric Fleming, the chief executive of the Wall Street recruiting firm Exemplar Partners. “You can argue something like this needed to be said, but if you hire the guy who said it you are taking the risk he will do it again.”

http://dealbook.nytimes.com/2012/03/14/public-rebuke-of-culture-at-goldman-opens-debate/?hp

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« Reply #6357 on: Mar 15th, 2012, 08:56am »

Seattle Times

Wednesday, March 14, 2012 at 10:05 PM

Kansas man knows free throws, has 14 Guinness records to show

Nobody contemplates the lowly free throw as does Bob Fisher, a 54-year-old soil-conservation technician and failed high-school basketball coach. Nobody on the planet shoots them so well, so fast.

By John Branch
The New York Times

CENTRALIA, Kan. — With the start of the NCAA men's basketball tournament, the country again will contemplate the art of the free throw — mainly, why so many of the uncontested shots are missed.

Nobody contemplates the lowly free throw as does Bob Fisher, a 54-year-old soil-conservation technician and failed high-school basketball coach. Nobody on the planet shoots them so well, so fast.

Fisher has set 14 Guinness world records in the past 26 months. He has made 33 free throws in 30 seconds, 50 in a minute, 92 in two minutes, 448 in 10 minutes. He made 2,371 in an hour — nearly 40 a minute — which he called "pretty close to a superhuman feat."

Fisher has bookcases full of books on basketball and the art of shooting. He absorbs books about biomechanics and anatomy. He has filled three-ring binders with photographs, diagrams and equations.

"I've studied it more than anybody," Fisher said.

He has befriended members of a loose fraternity of shooting gurus and record holders such as Gary Boren, shooting coach for the Dallas Mavericks; Dr. Tom Amberry who, at age 71 in 1993, made 2,750 consecutive free throws; Ted St. Martin, who pushed the consecutive mark to 5,221 in 1996; and Fred Newman, who once made 20,371 free throws in 24 hours, and 88 in a row blindfolded. In this community of shooters and showmen, some clamor for attention, and most believe they have developed the foolproof method for shooting, particularly free throws.

Fisher is different. He does not believe in a one-fits-all technique. Counter to conventional wisdom, he encourages each shooter to use the most natural wrist motion, even if the fingers do not point to the basket during the follow-through. Optimum launch angles depend on height, as Fisher learned from John Fontanella, author of "The Physics of Basketball," and he prescribes placement of the fingers on the ball to complement the direction of the wrist action.

"For me, it's a natural 16-degree inward position," Fisher said, flicking his wrist toward the basket. "I measured it."

No one gets rich peddling shooting tips. Local coaches, from junior high to college, spurned Fisher. He was hired in 2009 as a shooting coach by a high-school girls' team, coached by Ryan Noel. He was paid $1. Fisher produced a slick video. He sold 18 last year, for $24.95 each.

Amberry suggested Fisher show people how smart he is.

"The records were just simply the outlet for a lot of frustration," Fisher said. He nodded toward Noel. "Other than this guy, there was nobody who was going to listen to what some small-town, losing coach had to say."

In Centralia, Kan., best known as the boyhood home of Hall of Fame running back John Riggins, Fisher was an average basketball player. The fourth of 10 children, he bypassed college. He had been married and divorced when he and his wife, Connie, reconnected. He has held the same job with the Department of Agriculture for 24 years. And he coached boys' teams in the area for seven seasons, never compiling a winning record.

"Around here," Fisher said, "people thought I was an idiot."

His house sits outside Centralia, a no-stoplight town of 500 near the Nebraska border. The view from the porch is of farmland and sky. In the basement, above a rack of basketballs, a homemade shooting contraption hangs from the joists supporting the floor above.

The thump-thump-thumping of basketballs wakes Connie every morning at 6:30. Each night after work (he helps design drainage for farmland), Fisher shoots alone for two hours at a gym in nearby Vermillion.

In the fall of 2009, Fisher set his sights on records. After a couple of months, he made 246 consecutive free throws, missed one, then made 200.

"From that point on," Fisher said, "it was: 'That's enough. Let's speed it up.' "

He set his first record, 50 free throws in a minute, on Jan. 9, 2010. Two months later, he made 88 in two minutes. He set eight Guinness records that year, including two with high-school player Garrett Steinlage. Their 29 in one minute by a pair using unlimited balls beat the 26 by Lamar Odom and Shannon Brown, then with the Los Angeles Lakers. Fisher later established a coed record with another high-school player, Dana Kramer.

Fisher was invited to the 2011 NBA All-Star Game, where he set a record for most free throws in a minute while standing on one leg: 49. The Fishers flew to Beijing for a TV show last summer. Before an audience of millions, Fisher failed to beat his record for free throws in a minute, a source of great embarrassment to him.

Fisher in December made 2,371 shots in an hour, blowing past the old record of 1,968. By then, to fight fatigue, he had developed five shooting techniques for each hand. He made 86 percent of the shots with his right hand, 71 percent with his left, while making nearly 40 a minute on average.

"No one's going to break that one until they find out what I know," Fisher said.

Fisher set out to break six records at the Centralia High School gym last week. There were 63 spectators.

Seven helpers, teenagers to septuagenarians, retrieved balls and placed them on a ramp that put a continuous supply at Fisher's fingertips.

Two others held counters. A woman operated the scoreboard clock at half-court. A photographer chronicled the event. A newspaper reporter took notes. Connie Fisher whispered encouragement.

Two video cameras on tripods recorded the action, as required by Guinness. A banker was one of two required official witnesses. A high-school referee, in uniform, was the other.

Fisher, with a blank expression, launched balls, about one every second, depending on which record he was trying to break.

Most fell through the net. People in the stands were mesmerized.

Fisher set six world records in an hour. He smiled after the third — 88 free throws made in two minutes with alternating hands, crushing his old record, 62.

"I've gotten better," he said amid applause. "I've gotten better, and I haven't reached my potential yet."

Fisher, pending Guinness approval, broke four of his records. He and Steinlage, now a college freshman, regained a pairs record. Fisher made 25 shots in two minutes while blindfolded, a new category.

Connie later set up a buffet of barbecue beef, salads and homemade cookies.

Unable to sleep that night, the Fishers rose at 4:30 Tuesday to watch the video and verify the counts. At 6:30, he went to the basement to shoot for 30 minutes.

By midmorning, he was still restless, his mind consumed by missed shots.

In raising the 10-minute record to 448 from 366, for example, Fisher shot 73 percent.

"It was a pretty poor performance," he said. "There is a speed-accuracy trade-off."

He clearly was thinking: There must be a formula for that.

http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/html/nationworld/2017752435_freethrows15.html

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« Reply #6358 on: Mar 15th, 2012, 09:14am »

Wired

Crowdsourced Movie Studio Creates a Bold New Kind of Sci-Fi Series
By Hugh Hart
March 15, 2012 | 6:30 am
Categories: internet, sci-fi, video


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A new sci-fi web series teams Hollywood visual effects artists with a global scattering of up-and-coming animators, all of whom are working for free to craft CGI elements for a wigged-out futuristic saga.

The New Kind project is being spearheaded by visual effects hot shots whose resumes include Star Wars, Avatar and Hugo. These moonlighting pros are sharing their expertise with 200 anime enthusiasts to produce a crowdsourced labor of love made possible because the cost of CGI animation tools has dropped several hundred thousand dollars in the past few years.

“Somebody in Malaysia or Greece who lives in their mom’s basement can now create visual effects with a $2,000 computer and a $3,000 software license that’s on par, or even superior to, what you would have seen in Jurassic Park,” New Kind creator Peter Hyoguchi said in a phone interview with Wired. “If you know how to find them, there’s a glut of visual effects artists out there.”

Judging from concept art and an eerie teaser clip that’s already become a viral sensation, Hyoguchi may be on to something big. While risk-averse Hollywood studios increasingly rely on blockbuster brands and nine-figure budgets, Hyoguchi is experimenting with a super-cheap production model that costs nearly nothing to implement. Everybody works on spec, and creative talent will be paid for their efforts if the 80-episode adventure turns a profit, according to Hyoguchi, who plans to post the series for free, but make money on merchandising and by charging viewers $1 for a sneak preview of the following week’s episode. He estimates that $1 million in assets have been created since The New Kind project launched last spring, and his Kickstarter campaign, running through Friday, aims to raise $100,000 in cash to finish the first two episodes.

The New Kind pulls in top-tier digital artists who are eager to collaborate simply because they love the genre. According to Hyoguchi, a typical New Kind contributor normally does effects for mainstream popcorn flicks, but would rather be making anime. “Everything’s about DC and Marvel superheroes, but what I’ve discovered is that people my age are not really loving it,” said the 40-year old writer-director. “There’s this entire generation of visual effects artists who grew up on anime and Robotech. Hollywood doesn’t want to make those kinds of movies, so when I present them with this story, they want to be part of it.”

That story, set 30 years in the future on the heels of a global economic meltdown, focuses on teenage protagonists Darvin, from Texas, and Yuka, from Japan. The two traverse urban wastelands dotted with self-illuminated graffitti and populated by robotic street gangs wearing mecha suits. Ruling the chaos is The Dark Order, whose members live in opulence and secretly manipulate countries, industries and religions. Darvin and Yuki have never met, but they’re psychically linked, and if they ever get together their union will lead to an evolutionary upgrade for humanity and spell doom for Dark Order villains.

The project’s visual style pays open homage to the work of anime legend Shinji Aramaki, who designed the original Transformers action figures for Hasbro in 1983, and later pioneered the mecha genre in Japan. The mid-1980s Japanese cartoon Robotech also influences New Kind characters, who routinely clamp themselves into Iron Man-like mecha suits to do battle.

The plot owes much to Japan’s “New Type” sub-genre, in which children or young adults represent the next evolutionary step for the human species. It’s a ‘bot-fueled narrative aesthetic that dangles like catnip for anime nerds and sci-fi geeks, but doesn’t do much for Hollywood execs.

Hyoguchi learned that the hard way over a decade ago. Son of an architect and a mother who animated Hanna-Barbera cartoons, the Marin County native dropped out of high school to make his first film, then lived in his car and squatted in an abandoned house in Berkley, California, for a year before moving to Los Angeles. In L.A., Hyoguchi wrote several unproduced screenplays, including a 1997 Ray Bradbury collaboration called The Waking. After directing festival circuit favorite First, Last and Deposit, he successfully pitched an early version of The New Kind to MTV in 2000, but the deal collapsed when Viacom acquired the music network.

Disheartened, Hyoguchi temporarily quit show biz and moved to Japan. “The New Kind just sat on the shelf until the world changed a couple of years ago,” says Hyoguchi. “I realized I could do it on my own without having to give up rights or anything like that because the software had become so cheap and so many artists knew how to use it.”

Last April, a freshly emboldened Hyoguchi, by now CEO of the Strike.TV webotainment site, pitched matte painting maestro Christopher Evans to volunteer as art director on The New Kind. Evans, who was neighbors with Hyoguchi growing up, is a legend in certain circles – he helped bring to life the worlds of Star Wars, Alice in Wonderland, Captain America and dozens of other movies.

“I thought it was an intriguing idea,” Evans recalled. “I said, ‘Sure I’ll be happy to do some concept sketches of the opening shots.’” Evans adds, “Of course you have to make a living, but people in this business who are good love to work, whether it’s for a famous director like Steven Spielberg or David Fincher, or someone who’s unknown. Peter has a great imagination and that’s what I responded to.”

Getting Evans on board proved to be a turning point for Hyoguchi’s fortune. With concept art to show off, Hyoguchi got Industrial Light & Magic model maker Fon Davis to send an e-mail blast to industry colleagues urging them to jump on the New Kind bandwagon. Soon, a Who’s Who of virtual effects artists were on board: Hugo effects artist M. Alexendar Weller, Ice Age visual effects supervisor Stephen Jenkins, Coraline editor Margaret Andres, The Matrix texture artist Devorah Petty, The Simpsons director David Silverman, Avatar motion capture producer Reuben Langdon and others.

“I’d tell somebody like David Wolgemuth II, who worked as a compositor on the last Harry Potter movie, ‘I don’t have any money, but I will give you a team of 20 people who will do all the heavy lifting,” Hyoguchi recalls. “All you have to do is supervise and make sure they’re hitting the quality.’”

To leverage New Kind‘s traction with the Hollywood VFX community, Hyoguchi posted Evans’ art on a Facebook page, then trawled forums and YouTube pages for talented unknowns. “You tell them, ‘Would you like to be part of this? I’ve got the texture designer who worked on The Matrix,’ and they start jumping up and down,” said Hyoguchi.

The collaboration works like this: volunteer digital artists, working from concept art approved by Hyoguchi, sculpt 3-d digital environments, objects and characters. They upload the files to a central FTP server in San Francisco. Next, riggers access the files and embed each object with motion controllers. Five supervisors sort the contributions into folders, and dole them out to the specific animators, texture artists and lighting techies tasked with different pieces of the project. Those volunteers add motion capture data, texture, color and lighting effects to each element. Compositing teams then blend all the pieces into a video file. In Portland, Oregon, editor Margaret Andres downloads these .mov files and cuts scenes with Final Cut Pro, consulting via Skype with Hyoguchi and sound designer Chris Thomas to craft the final product.

That’s the same kind of production pipeline you’d find at places like Industrial Light & Magic, Digital Domain and other big CGI outfits. But unlike secretive studios, The New Kind Facebook page posts hundreds of elements-in-progress and invites strangers to weigh in. ”It’s like having an open-door discussion at ILM,” laughed Hyoguchi. “Anybody can walk in and say, “I think that’s too blue!”

For Martin Lindgren, a 28-year old freelance graphic artist working on the project from Sweden, New Kind’s web-powered production chain provided all the assets needed to assemble a killer trailer piece. “We created the city behind the wall using matte-paintings,” he said proudly. “Then we added atmospheric layers and created the final look.”

The far-flung artists working from home in their spare time see The New Kind as a way to buff up their demo reels while getting an opportunity to work with high-powered mentors. “I loved just knowing that Chris Evans was involved,” said 25-year old Turkish modeler Kerem Açıkgöz. By day, he churns out 3-D elements for Japanese TV commercials and videogames. By night, Açıkgöz obsesses over fantastical pistols for evil Dark Order cops using off-the-shelf Maya software “I get a lot of Facebook or e-mail messages from people who want me to do projects but they’re very amateur and don’t have much future,” Açıkgöz said in an e-mail interview. “I don’t have time for that. But when Peter saw another mech model I did on my YouTube page and sent me a message about this New Kind project, I really liked the story.”

It remains to be seen if Hyoguchi’s dream translates into commercial success, but at the very least, The New Kind makes its mark as an entirely new kind of filmmaking. Part open source project, part artistic incubator, the project exerts a powerful spell on its participants.

“For the teaser clip I was tasked with creating and animating the cloud drifting in front of the moon,” Lindgren said....

more after the jump
http://www.wired.com/underwire/2012/03/the-new-kind-anime-series/

Crystal

series trailer below
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Uploaded by dahgooch on Feb 18, 2012

http://www.thenewkindseries.com
http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/729054704/the-new-kind?ref=category

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