Sunday, January 31, 2010

Sunday Final: Sticky, Smelly Bag Balm

Winter is most definitely here. It must be. The phones are ringing at Bag Balm headquarters.

Everyone wants a new tub of the gooey, yellow-green ointment. And all have a story about its problem-salving - they use it on squeaky bed springs, psoriasis, dry facial skin, cracked fingers, burns, zits, diaper rash, saddle sores, sunburn, pruned trees, rifles, shell casings, bed sores and radiation burns.

Everything, it seems, except for cows.

"Some, you don't really even want to hear, but they're gonna tell you anyway," said accounts manager Krystina McMorrow, who is half the office staff.

"I've been here 14 years," said accounts-receivable clerk Shawna Wilkerson, the other half. "The oddest one I've heard was somebody who reloads his ammunition. He puts Bag Balm on the bullet casing and it makes it easier to reload 'em."

Developed in 1899 to soothe the irritated udders of milking cows, the substance with the mild medicinal odor has evolved into a medicine chest must-have, with as many uses as Elmer's glue. According to Bag Balm lore, the stuff went from barns to bedrooms when dairy farmers' wives noticed how smooth their spouses' fingers were after using it on cows' udders. The wives were jealous.

Bag Balm went to the North Pole with Admiral Byrd, to Allied troops in World War II, who used it to keep weapons from corroding, to Ground Zero for the paws of cadaver-sniffing dogs searching the World Trade Center rubble, and to troops in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Sold off pet care shelves and at farm stores for $8.99 per 10-oz. green tub (with cow's head on the lid), it's made of petrolatum, lanolin and an antiseptic, 8-hydroxyquinoline sulfate - substantially the same formula used since John L. Norris bought it from a Wells River druggist before the turn of the century.

It is made in a one-room "plant" by the family owned Dairy Association Co., Inc. - six employees, two officers and no sales force - operating in a cluster of converted railroad buildings in this small (pop. 1,215) northern Vermont town.

Petrolatum is shoveled from 50-gallon drums into a large vat and blended with lanolin from Uruguay, then heated to 95 degrees. A machine quickly squirts the goop into metal cans that are cooled, capped and packaged.

The plant is inspected annually by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, though the product is marketed for use by animals, not humans.

Distributed by wholesalers and sold retail in farm stores, national drugstore chains and general stores, its popularity has grown largely with word-of-mouth advertising as converts becomes users and then devotees.

Imitators through the years have included Udderly Smooth Udder Cream and Udder Balm.

The Dairy Association won't divulge sales figures.

In a 1983 report, the late CBS News journalist Charles Kuralt said upward of 400,000 units were shipped annually. Norris' granddaughter, company President Barbara Norris Allen, won't say how today's shipments compare.

"The colder the weather, the better our business," said Ron Bean, production manager at the plant, which is open for tours but not photographers.

To call the operation old-fashioned is an understatement.

The plant operates with one shift, Monday through Friday. The Dairy Association doesn't take credit cards ("Send us a good ol' check," says Allen). And the names of individual stores that buy directly are kept on index cards in file cabinets.

Long-distance bicyclist Andy Claflin says he started using Bag Balm on a cross-country race last June, when a teammate turned him on to it for saddle sores.

Claflin, 37, from Dayton, Minn., was suffering from saddle sores as he competed in the Race Across America. A teammate told him it was good for the sores, a bane of long-distance biking. So he slathered some on, down below.

"I was sitting there in Arizona, it's 110 degrees, the air conditioning wasn't working, the crapper in the RV wasn't working, I gotta' bike 100 miles in this heat and great, I've got to deal with this," he said. "It was nasty and filthy and it felt weird ... But I didn't have saddle sores from then on, riding 130 miles a day. When you're on the bike, you're like 'Oh, this stuff is great.'"

Marge Boyle, 62, a quilter in Paducah, Ky., keeps a tin by her sewing machine.

"It's really a wonderful product when you're sewing, because of all the pinpricks you get. It soothes and heals your fingers. Quilters are always pricking their fingers. We wash our hands constantly to keep them free of dirt, and you need something to soothe them," she said.

And it's still de rigeur in barns, where it all started.

Dairy farmer Willie Ryan has used it since the '70s, to soothe the chapped teats of cows. And more.

"The cows get frostbit sometime, so we use the Bag Balm," said Ryan, 60, of Craftsbury, Vt. "Any open wound with swelling, you just put some of that in and put a pack bandage on it and it does wonders. Don't ask me how, but it does," he said.

For all its myriad uses, there's one place its makers say never to use it.

"Never put Bag Balm in your hair, because you will not get it out," said Wilkerson.

Good night. Have a great week and a terrific February.

Pastor Defends Church Members Held In Haiti

Ten U.S. Baptists were being held in the Haitian capital Sunday after trying to take 33 children out of Haiti at a time of growing fears over possible child trafficking.

The church members, most from Idaho, said they were trying to rescue abandoned and traumatized children. But officials said they lacked the proper documents when they were arrested Friday night in a bus along with earthquake survivors aged from 2 months to 12 years.

The group said its "Haitian Orphan Rescue Mission" was an effort to help abandoned children by taking them to an orphanage across the border in the Dominican Republic.

"In this chaos the government is in right now, we were just trying to do the right thing," the group's spokeswoman, Laura Silsby, told The Associated Press at the judicial police headquarters in the capital, where the Americans were being held pending a Monday hearing before a judge. No charges had been filed.

The children, some of them sick and dehydrated, were taken to an orphanage run by Austrian-based SOS Children's Villages, which was trying to find their parents or close relatives, said a spokesman there, George Willeit.

"One child, an 8- or 9-year-old, said she thought she was going to some sort of summer or vacation camp in the Dominican Republic," Willeit said.

The Baptist group planned to scoop up 100 kids and take them by bus to a 45-room hotel at Cabarete, a beach resort in the Dominican Republic, that they were converting into an orphanage, Silsby told the AP.

Whether they realized it or not, these Americans -- the first known to be taken into custody since the Jan. 12 quake -- put themselves in the middle of a firestorm in Haiti, where government leaders have suspended adoptions amid fears that parentless or lost children are more vulnerable than ever to child trafficking.

The quake apparently orphaned many children and left others separated from parents, adding to the difficulty of helping children in need while preventing exploitation of them.

While many legitimate adoption agencies and orphanages operate in Haiti, often run by religious groups, the intergovernmental International Organization for Migration reported in 2007 that bogus adoption agencies in Haiti were offering children to rich Haitians and foreigners in return for processing fees reaching US$10,000.

Silsby said her group, including members from Texas and Kansas, paid no money for the children, whom she said they obtained from a Haitian pastor named Jean Sanbil of the Sharing Jesus Ministries.

Silsby, 40, of Boise, Idaho, was asked if she didn't consider it naive to cross the border without adoption papers at a time when Haitians are so concerned about child trafficking. "By no means are we any part of that. That's exactly what we are trying to combat," she said.

She said she hadn't been following news reports while in Haiti.

Social Affairs Minister Yves Cristallin told the AP that the Americans were suspected of taking part in an illegal adoption scheme.

Some members of the Central Valley Baptist Church in Meridian, Idaho, wept on Sunday as Pastor Clint Henry reported the team had been detained and asked for prayers.

"They have been arrested. They've been charged with child trafficking," he told the congregation. "You need to understand that obviously those are serious charges, but they're in a nation where this has been a practice, a wicked and evil practice."

Willeit, the SOS spokesman, said the children arrived at his orphanage "very hungry, very thirsty, some dehydrated." All had their names written on pink tape on their shirts.

Following the quake, children's rights groups have urged a halt to adoptions until it can be determined that the children have no relatives who can raise them. Many children in Haitian orphanages have parents who cannot afford to care for them.

The government now requires Prime Minister Max Bellerive to personally authorize the departure of any child as a way to prevent child trafficking - though that has not stopped the flow of orphans abroad.

Florida Gov. Charlie Crist told ABC News' Good Morning America on Sunday that his state has taken in 300 Haitian orphans since the quake, with 60 to 80 orphans arriving there Friday night alone.

From The AP; ABC News; Fox News; The IOM

Watchdog: Bailouts Created More Risk In System

Finally, it's being said what most of us already knew.

The government's response to the financial meltdown has made it more likely the United States will face a deeper crisis in the future, an independent watchdog at the Treasury Department warned.

The problems that led to the last crisis have not yet been addressed, and in some cases have grown worse, says Neil Barofsky, the special inspector general for the trouble asset relief program, or TARP. The quarterly report to Congress was released Sunday.

"Even if TARP saved our financial system from driving off a cliff back in 2008, absent meaningful reform, we are still driving on the same winding mountain road, but this time in a faster car," Barofsky wrote.

Since Congress passed $700 billion financial bailout, the remaining institutions considered "too big to fail" have grown larger and failed to restrain the lavish pay for their executives, Barofsky wrote. He said the banks still have an incentive to take on risk because they know the government will save them rather than bring down the financial system.

Barofsky also said his office is investigating 77 cases of possible criminal and civil fraud, including crimes of tax evasion, insider trading, mortgage lending and payment collection, false statements and public corruption.

One case concerns apparent self-dealing by one of the private fund managers Treasury picked to buy bad assets from banks at discounted prices. A portfolio manager at the firm apparently sold a bond out of a private fund, then repurchased it at a higher price for a government-backed fund. A rating agency had just downgraded the bond, so it likely was worth less, not more, when the government fund bought it. The company is not being named pending the outcome of Barofsky's investigation.

Barofsky renewed a call for Treasury to enact clearer walls so that such apparent conflicts are less likely.

Treasury said it welcomed Barofsky's oversight but resisted the call to erect new barriers against conflicts of interest. The new rules "would be detrimental to the program," Treasury spokeswoman Meg Reilly said in a statement. The existing compliance rules "are a rigorous and effective method of protecting taxpayers," she said.

Much of Barofsky's report focused on the government's growing role in the housing market, which he said has increased the risk of another housing bubble.

Over the past year, the federal government has spent hundreds of billions propping up the housing market. About 90 percent of home loans are backed by government controlled entities, mainly Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac and the Federal Housing Administration.

The Federal Reserve is spending $1.25 trillion to hold down mortgage rates, and millions of homeowners have refinanced at lower rates.

"The government has stepped in where the private players have gone away," Barofsky said in an interview. "If we take government resources and replace that market without addressing the serious (underlying) concerns, there really is a risk of" artificially pushing up home prices in the coming years.

The report warned that these supports mean the government "has done more than simply support the mortgage market, in many ways it has become the mortgage market, with the taxpayer shouldering the risk that had once been borne by the private investor."

Barofsky's report echoed concerns raised by housing experts in recent months, as home sales and prices rebounded. They warn that the primary reason for the turnaround last year has been billions of dollars in federal spending to lower mortgage rates and prop up demand.

Once that spigot of cash is turned off, they caution, the market will be vulnerable to a dramatic turn for the worse. Daniel Alpert, managing partner of investment bank Westwood Capital, wrote in a report that national home prices are bound to fall 8 to 10 percent below the lows of last spring.

"The lion's share of the remaining decline will occur in markets that saw sizable bubbles but have not yet retrenched," he wrote.

Officials from the Obama administration counter that massive federal intervention has helped the housing market stabilize and prevented more dire consequences.

Barofsky's report also disclosed that, while the Obama administration has pledged to spend $75 billion to prevent foreclosures, only a tiny fraction -- just over $15 million -- has been spent so far. Under the Making Home Affordable program, only about 66,500 borrowers, or 7 percent of those who signed up, had completed the process as of December.

He said the key to preventing future crises is to reform Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, create and improve loan underwriting and supervision of banks. He stopped short of endorsing specific proposals for overhauling financial regulation, but said many of the proposals would go far to improving the system.

Fit For More: Honda Recalls 140,000 Fits In US

Honda is recalling 646,000 Fit hatchbacks worldwide because of a glitch that could cause water to enter the power window mechanism, causing components to overheat.

A spokeswoman says the recall affects the 2007-2008 models of the Fit, which is sold in other countries as the Jazz and City. The recall affects Asia, Latin America, Europe, South Africa and North America. About 140,000 vehicles are affected in the U.S.

In South Africa, one person was killed last year in a vehicle fire related to the malfunction. The spokeswoman says no injuries have been reported in the U.S.

The company will notify customers by mail once it has a solution. For now, customers are being advised to keep their windows rolled up during rain or snow.

Neighbors Kept Salinger's Privacy

To the world, he was J.D. Salinger, the legendary and reclusive author of the classic novel "The Catcher in the Rye." But to friends and neighbors, he was just Jerry, Manchester television station WMUR reported.

Salinger, 91, died at his home in Cornish, N.H., on Wednesday. He moved to Cornish in 1952, and neighbors said he lived in seclusion. Those who knew him said he wanted to get away from the intense public glare caused by his rise to fame, and he did so on a secluded property in the quiet New Hampshire town.

Cornish Selectman John Hammond said Salinger had been in declining health.

"When I heard the news, I called his wife and offered our condolences, and she said he was at peace and she was with him when he passed away," Hammond said.

In life, the renowned author wanted to be left alone. His property bristles with "no trespassing" signs. But the power of works such as "The Catcher in the Rye" drew literary seekers to the quiet corner of New Hampshire for decades after he stopped publishing.

"He was a man who loved his privacy," said his neighbor, Peter Burling. "He was, I would say, pursued in life by people who wanted to nibble on him, and he didn't want any of that."

Burling said the people of Cornish did their best to shield Salinger from the over-eager grad students and readers who seemed to swarm the town every spring.

"Of course, a great many of us used to study the ways in which we could be less than informative about how to give directions," Burling said.

As people in town continue to respect and guard the Salinger family's privacy, they, along with many others, wonder if the giant of 20th century letters was waiting until he was beyond anyone's reach to publish again.

"Of course, an end comes to every story, but Salinger's is one of extraordinary gifts and wonderful writing, and I look forward to reading what may have been set aside in some publisher's safe for later production," Burling said.

Salinger has not published an original work since the 1960s. Burling said he has no particular insight into whether Salinger kept writing in his later years, but he has faith that he did.


Law Official: Passenger On Flight Not Terrorist

A law enforcement official says the passenger on a diverted flight was not a match to a person listed on the government's list of suspected terrorists who are banned from flying.

Continental Flight 881 was diverted mid-flight to Jacksonville, Fla., because officials thought one of the passengers might be someone on the government's no-fly list.

The official said that after the plane landed the government determined there was no match. The official was not authorized to discuss the matter and spoke on condition of anonymity.

An airline is not supposed to issue a boarding pass to a person on the no fly list.

From the AP

The Latest Studies of Note

Study: Being Overweight After 70 May Extend Life

People over age 70 whose BMI classifies them as overweight are less likely to die over 10 years than those who are considered normal, a new study says.

Leon Flicker of the University of Western Australia said the results could lead to changes in the BMI recommendations for older people.

The results were based on studies of more than 9,200 men and women in Australia. Australia is ranked as the third most-obese country, behind the U.S. and the U.K., according to a news release on the study. It found that older people classified as overweight were 13 percent less likely to die over 10 years.

However, those who fall into the obese category were not less likely to die. The statistics also showed that while being overweight had an equal benefit for men and women, being sedentary doubled the risk of death for women but only increased the risk by a quarter in men.

"Our study suggests that those people who survive to age 70 in reasonable health have a different set of risks and benefits associated with the amount of body fat to younger people, and these should be reflected in BMI guidelines," Flicker said.

The study was published in the Journal of The American Geriatrics Society.

Study: Distracted Driving Laws Don't Stop Crashes

A new insurance industry study has found that state laws banning the use of handheld devices to make calls or send text messages while driving have not resulted in fewer vehicle crashes.

The study, released Friday by the Highway Loss Data Institute, examined insurance claims from crashes before and after such bans took effect in California, New York, Connecticut and Washington, D.C.

The organization found that claims rates did not go down after the laws were enacted. It also found no change in patterns compared with nearby states without such bans. Adrian Lund, the group's president, said the finding doesn't bode well "for any safety payoff from all the new laws."

Six states and the District of Columbia ban talking on a hand-held device for all drivers, while 19 states and the District of Columbia ban texting while driving, according to the Governors Highway Safety Association.

The Highway Loss Data Institute, an affiliate of the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, said its findings "don't match what we already know about the risk of phoning and texting while driving" and said it is gathering data to "figure out this mismatch."

It said one explanation could be an increase in the use of handsfree devices in places with bans on handset use while driving. Jonathan Adkins, a spokesman for the governors association, said the new study "raises as many questions as it answers." The group is concerned that bans on handheld devices simply encourage more drivers to use handsfree devices, which, it says, are just as risky.

The governors association is urging states to pass texting bans, but hold off on banning other cell phone use while driving until there is more data. The National Safety Council, meanwhile, supports a total ban on cell phone use while driving, including the use of handsfree devices.

In the Senate, Democratic Sens. Charles Schumer of New York and Robert Menendez of New Jersey have introduced a bill that would reduce federal highway aid by 25 percent to states that don't pass laws banning texting by all drivers.

Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood also has been campaigning against texting and cell phone use while driving. In a blog post Friday, LaHood dismissed the new study's conclusions as irresponsible and said the study will lead people "to wrongly conclude that talking on cell phones while driving is not dangerous."

"At this early stage in our work against distracted driving, no one should be discouraging strong nationwide efforts to make our roadways safer," LaHood wrote. "Unfortunately, a study released by the Highway Loss Data Institute casts doubt on the reality of this epidemic."

Earlier this week, the Transportation Department banned truck and bus drivers from sending text messages on hand-held devices while operating commercial vehicles of more than 10,000 pounds. Federal employees are also prohibited from texting while driving government-owned vehicles or using government-owned equipment.

Study: Do Ski Resorts Exaggerate Snow Reports?

Ever hit the slopes only to find 4 inches of fresh snow instead of the 8 inches you were promised? That may be because ski areas have exaggerated their snowfalls on weekends to entice skiers, according to a study by two Dartmouth College professors.

That depth deception may fall by the wayside, however, as skiers and snowboarders can now use an iPhone application to report real-time snow levels and keep resorts honest, the study said.

Economists Jonathan Zinman and Eric Zitzewitz, skiers who took offense to a fluffed-up claim, studied snow reports from 2004 to 2008 and compared them to area government weather stations. They found that ski resorts across the U.S. and Canada reported more fresh snow -- 23 percent more, on average -- on skier-coveted weekends than during the week. Resorts with more business to gain were the ones most likely to boast of deeper snowfalls, their study said.

It may not seem like much: a resort's bragging of an 8-inch snowfall when the slopes really got only 4 or 6 inches. But to a skier or snowboarder, those extra inches make slopes more desirable.

The so-called "weekend effects" in snow reporting were larger for resorts with more expert terrain and within closer driving distance to populated areas, Zinman and Zitzewitz said.

"This is consistent with expert skiers valuing fresh snow more highly and with resorts near cities having more potential to attract weekend skiers," the report said.

The resorts question the findings. For one thing, they say, the government's weather stations aren't necessarily in the same snowy spots as the slopes. And they say overreporting snow does them no good if disgruntled skiers and riders find less snow than expected.

"It doesn't serve you to overreport snow," said JJ Toland, spokesman for Sugarbush Resort. "If you do overreport and make a false promise, people show up and they just become angry that you lied to them and they won't come back."

And in the age of camera phones, Twitter, blogs and other social media, they couldn't lie if they wanted to, the resorts say.

"The resorts, now, frankly they can't get away with it," said Parker Riehle, of the Vermont Ski Areas Association. "They won't get away with it because the skiers and riders won't put up with it."

Apple Inc.'s iPhone and the application are apparently helping keep resorts honest, allowing skiers to log reports in real time, from chairlifts or base lodges. "Exaggerations fall sharply, especially at resorts where iPhones can get reception," the report said.

Anna Rosenthal, 57, of Portland, Conn., said she wasn't surprised to learn ski areas may have snowed their customers.

"I believe that they want to get people out there to ski," she said, before boarding a lift at Sugarbush resort in Vermont. "As long as the conditions are good when I get there, I'm fine."

And David Ilsley, 51, of Lexington, Mass., who has skied all over the U.S., said he expects some hype.

"I think you expect it, so you kind of plan for it," he said, standing outside a Sugarbush lodge. "So, if they're saying one thing, you know it's probably not quite that good."

He's found resorts in the East tend to exaggerate more than those in the West, which get more snow, but neither do so enough to harm the quality of the skiing, he said.

Some say it's all a bit of a gamble.

"We expect snow, and you don't always get what they tell you're going to get," said another Sugarbush skier, Lou Bizian, 45, of Rutherford, N.J. "But, fortunately, this week, we got what we thought we were going to get."

Other skiers and riders say the resorts' recent snow reports are right on.

"Usually they're pretty accurate," said snowboarder Isabel Beavers, 20, of Northboro, Mass., who reads snow reports daily. "I mean Sugarbush at least is honest because they've been saying they haven't had any snow for the past few days, and it's true."

The report's authors decided to investigate after hitting the slopes at an unnamed Vermont resort that had reported 6 inches of new snow.

"We got there, and there was like 2," Zitzewitz said.

He and Zinman compared new natural snowfall reported by more than 400 ski areas to snow amounts reported by area government weather stations. Their work, presented at a National Bureau of Economic Research conference in July, has not been published.

In calculating average daily snowfall, the researchers considered a wide range of snowfalls over time - as deep, for instance, as the 29 inches recorded on Feb. 14-15, 2007, in Waitsfield, about 5 miles from Warren, as well as mere dustings of snow. The report did not break out individual daily reports or name resorts.

Ski areas complain there can be big variations between the amount of snow at the mountain and the amount at a weather station in a different spot.

But that's not the point, Zitzewitz said. The average match weather station was 26 miles away and 160 feet below the summit in the East; in the West it was 52 miles away and 280 feet below, he said.

"In general, if all we were finding was the resorts were reporting more snow than the weather stations, we'd probably say, well, that's because they put ski resorts in good places for snowfall. But that's not what we're finding," he said. "What we're finding is that the difference changes with the day of the week, and so that's got to be due to something man-made."

From: University of Western Australia and Journal of The American Geriatrics Society; Highway Loss Data Institute; Governors Highway Safety Association; Dartmouth College

Sunday Special: Men of Faith

QB Kurt Warner Retires, Ending 12-Year NFL Career

Kurt Warner has called an end to one of the great storybook careers in NFL history. The 38-year-old quarterback announced his retirement from the game on Friday after a dozen years in a league that at first rejected him, then revered him as he came from nowhere to lead the lowly St. Louis Rams to two Super Bowls, winning the first of them.

Written off as a has-been, he rose again to lead the long-suffering Arizona Cardinals to the Super Bowl a year ago.

Warner, a man of deep faith who carried a Bible to each post-game news conference, walked away with a year left on a two-year, $23 million contract, knowing he still had the skills to play at the highest level.

"It's been an amazing ride," he said. "I don't think I could have dreamt it would have played out like it has, but I've been humbled every day that I woke up the last 12 years and amazed that God would choose to use me to do what he's given me the opportunity to do."

Warner had one of the greatest postseason performances ever in Arizona's 51-45 overtime wild card victory over Green Bay on Jan. 10, but sustained a brutal hit in the Cardinals' 45-14 divisional round loss at New Orleans six days later.

"He has had a dominant career. He's a good person," Cardinals defensive tackle Darnell Dockett said. "He's got to do what's best for his family. He played long enough. He took us to the Super Bowl last year. We had a great season this year. It's a good thing. If you're going to go out, go out on top."

The Cardinals signed Warner to a one-year contract in 2005 largely because no other team would give him a chance to be a starter. His opportunities over the next two years were scattered and even when coach Ken Whisenhunt took over in 2007, Warner was the backup to Matt Leinart.

But when Leinart went down with an injury five games into the season, Warner got his chance. He started 48 of the remaining 49 games of his career. Warner leaves the game with a legacy that could land him in the Hall of Fame even though he didn't get his first start until he was 28.

In a comparison with the 14 quarterbacks to make the Hall of Fame in the last 25 years, Warner has a better career completion percentage, yards per pass attempt and yards per game. Only Dan Marino had more career 300-yard passing games.

In 124 regular-season games, Warner completed 65.5 percent of his passes for 32,344 yards and 208 touchdowns. He and Fran Tarkenton are the only NFL quarterbacks to throw for 100 touchdowns and 14,000 yards for two teams.

Cardinals general manager Rod Graves called it an emotional day "because I realize once again how extraordinary he was."

"I've only had the privilege of being around one other person that I can say was close to him and that was Walter Payton," Graves said. "I think when you have an extraordinary player and one who is just as extraordinary off the field, then you realize you were in the presence of someone special."

Whisenhunt said Warner ranked "at the top" of players he had coached.

"He's one of the best quarterbacks in this league," he said, "and I think it's well noted that he's one of the best people I've been around."

Warner brought his wife, Brenda, and their seven children to the podium, hugging each one of them. He choked up as he thanked them.

"Every day I come home and it doesn't matter if you won or lost or have thrown touchdowns or interceptions, the one thing that I always knew is that when I entered that door, when I stepped in our house, that none of that mattered to these guys," he said. "I can't tell you how much of a blessing that is."

Warner, who grew up in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, and played collegiately at Northern Iowa, ranks among the career leaders in a variety of passing statistics.

He was the fastest player in NFL history to 10,000 yards passing and tied Marino as fastest to reach 30,000. He has the top three passing performances in Super Bowl history. His 1,156 yards passing in the 2008 playoffs broke the NFL record of 1,063 he set with St. Louis in 1999.

Travolta Says Faith Helped Him Through Son's Death

John Travolta said faith has helped him survive the tragic death of his 16-year-old son, Jett.

"We work hard every day with our church on healing," Travolta said. "And Kelly and I and Ella have all been working very hard and they've been helping us," he said, referring to himself, Preston and their daughter.

Jett Travolta died last year after a seizure at the family's vacation home in the Bahamas.

Asked what gave him the strength to return to his movie career, Travolta said, "Once you get yourself stable, then you're able to reach out again, you know, and I think this whole year every day we've been working on stabilizing ourselves and it's been successful so far."

Travolta flew a jetliner earlier this week carrying relief supplies, doctors and ministers to Port-au-Prince, Haiti, to help survivors of that country's devastating earthquake. He said he is working to bring more aid to Haiti and did not rule out additional flights.

Off-Beat Animals Making Off-Beat News This Week

Dog Drifts 75 Mi. On Ice, Rescued In Baltic Sea

A frightened, shivering dog was rescued after floating at least 75 miles (120 kilometers) on an ice floe down Poland's Vistula River and into the Baltic Sea, officials said Thursday.

Now his saviors just have to figure out who really owns him. Four people have already claimed him, but so far rescuers say there's been no wagging tail of joy from the miracle dog they nicknamed "Baltic."

The dog's frozen odyssey came as Poland suffers through a winter cold snap, with temperatures dipping to below minus 4 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 20 Celsius). The thick-furred male dog was found adrift Monday 15 miles (24 kilometers) out in the Baltic Sea by the crew of the Baltica, a Polish ship of ocean scientists carrying out research.

Researcher Natalia Drgas said Thursday the rescue was difficult and at one point it seemed the dog had drowned.

"It was really a tough struggle. It kept slipping into the water and crawling back on top of the ice. At one point it vanished underwater, under the ship and we thought it was the end, but it emerged again and crawled on an ice sheet," Drgas said.

At that point, the crew lowered a pontoon down to the water and a crew member managed to grab the dog by the scruff of his neck and pull him to safety. Too weak to shake off the frigid water, Baltic was dried and wrapped in blankets. After he warmed up, he was massaged, fed and soon got on his feet to seek company, Drgas said.

A firefighter in Grudziadz, on the Vistula river 60 miles (100 kilometers) inland from the Bay of Gdansk, told The Associated Press the dog was spotted Saturday floating on ice through the city. Firefighters tried to save him but could not approach the dog due to shifting ice sheets, said the officer, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

The Baltica crew, now moored in the port city of Gdynia, have been searching for the dog's owners, ship captain Jerzy Wosachlo said. So far four people have claimed him, but Baltic has not claimed any of them back, Drgas said.

The dog didn't welcome the first two people to come for him, keeping his distance and showing no recognition toward a couple on Wednesday and a woman on Thursday who both said he was theirs. Two other would-be owners were still en route to Gdynia for a possible reunion.

Once in port, the brown-and-black mongrel was taken to a veterinarian, who found him in surprisingly good condition and estimated his age at around 5 or 6 years old. Veterinarian Aleksandra Lawniczak said the 44-pound (20-kilogram) dog was clearly frightened but in strikingly good shape and had suffered no frostbite.

A dog with thick fur and a layer of fat can survive such cold conditions for as long as eight days if it has water to drink, Lawniczak said. She described Baltic as a friendly dog who was clearly well treated before getting lost.

Wosachlo said the research team is prepared to adopt Baltic if his original owner is never found.

Chicken Plays Chicken With Drivers On Busy Street

A chicken playing chicken? That's what's happening on a busy Glendale street where a black hen has been dodging cars, captors and coyotes for two months.

Officials say the bird has been darting into traffic outside Glendale Community College since it was first reported Nov. 20. The chicken has drawn a growing crowd of photographers and journalists as animal control officers struggle to catch it.

A spokeswoman for the Pasadena Humane Society, which handles animal control in Glendale, said the bird either runs onto the street or flies into a tree when officers approach. Hillary Gatlin said a humane trap has not worked because the chicken doesn't weigh enough to trigger it or she isn't interested in the feed used as bait.

Gatlin said the standoff could continue awhile.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

80s Music Video Flashback

Simple Minds - "Don't You (Forget About Me)"

Simple Minds are a rock band from Scotland, who had their greatest worldwide popularity from the mid-1980s to the early 1990s. The band, from the south side of Glasgow, produced a handful of critically acclaimed albums in the early 1980s.

Simple Minds have secured a string of successful hit singles, the best known being their number 1 worldwide hit single "Don't You (Forget About Me)", from the soundtrack of the John Hughes move The Breakfast Club. The lyrics recall the theme of the movie - people who were strangers before an encounter, revealing their inner selves to each other and becoming intimate. The music video, directed by Daniel Kleinman takes place on a dancing floor in a dark room with a chandelier, a rocking horse and Sony televisions, whose screens are displaying scenes from The Breakfast Club. Jim Kerr, the band's lead singer, dances in many scenes.

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The Breakfast Club Trailer

Friday, January 29, 2010

Foot Of Snow Could Fall In Mountains; Rain Hits Atlanta

From WSB-TV/AM 750 WSB Radio

Snow covered the ground in the north Georgia mountains Friday night, as a cold rain fell in metro Atlanta.

Some areas in north Georgia already had 5 inches of snow on the ground by late Friday night, with more expected.

"What we're looking at is 7-9 inches of snow accumulation and a few spots could see up to a foot of snow," said Severe Weather Team 2 meteorologist Brad Nitz.

Anticipating the snow and icy roads, school officials across north Georgia dismissed students early on Friday. Students in Gilmer, Rabun and Union counties went home early.

"It's a rain, snow, sleet mix in White County, Habersham County and into the Rabun County area," said Severe Weather Team 2 chief meteorologist Glenn Burns on Channel 2 Action News at 11.

"A winter storm warning is in effect through 1 p.m. Saturday for the north Georgia mountains for 3-6 inches of snow and ice," Burns reported. "A winter weather advisory is in effect for our north and northwest suburbs until 1 p.m. Saturday for possibly a half inch of accumulating snow, sleet, and freezing rain. Looks like most of metro Atlanta will see mostly a cold rain, possibly mixed with sleet from time to time."

Some mountain roads were closed by Friday afternoon.

"We're expecting everyone to stay home, at least we're hoping they do," said Sgt. Russell Walker of the Blairsville Police Department. "If you have to be out in the morning, don't drive."

In North Carolina, Interstate 26 near Asheville and Interstate 40 near Black Mountain were shut down Friday night after snow and icy roads caused multiple wrecks. Troopers said they expected the highways to remain closed until early Saturday.

In Western Kentucky, shoppers at Murray Home & Auto store snatched up every available sled in anticipation of a heavy snow, said store manager Chris Burgess. Others grabbed shovels, kerosene heaters and chain saws, mindful of another winter storm a year ago that caused widespread power outages in the region.

"They're trying to be prepared this time," Burgess said.

The Nashville area saw up to 3 inches of snow by late afternoon, and I-40 traffic crawled toward Nashville International Airport for miles because of an accident.

Snowfall was subsiding late Friday afternoon in Memphis after an estimated 3 inches had fallen. Most flights at Memphis International Airport were canceled, and Graceland stopped giving tours of the Elvis Presley home at midmorning.

Memphis officials worried because temperatures were forecast to remain below freezing overnight, posing a threat of icy highways and falling tree limbs.

General contractor Tom Baldwin, 59, said he cut loose his crew at a downtown Nashville building at noon to give them time to get home safely.

"I want to tell people to have some common sense out there," he said. "Only because you have big four-wheel-drive doesn't make you stop any quicker."

The steady snowfall didn't keep Jason Martin from delivering beer to Lonnie's Western Room in Nashville's Printer's Alley.

"When it snows, everyone goes out and buys milk and eggs - and beer," joked Martin, 37. "We're like the Pony Express."

The Texas Department of Transportation closed I-40 east and west of Amarillo on Friday but later reopened it. Downed power lines and icy, dangerous road conditions also temporarily closed a 50-mile stretch of I-44 southwest of Oklahoma City and parts of I-40 in far western Oklahoma and eastern New Mexico on Thursday.

The storm was good for business at the Days Inn and Suites in Guymon, Okla., where stranded travelers waited for road crews to clear U.S. Highway 54 of ice and snow, employee Rocky Bhagavan said. Sixteen of the hotel's 35 rooms were occupied at the motel in the Oklahoma Panhandle, he said - twice as many as usual.

"Most of the travelers decided to leave this morning. As soon as they got to the Texas border they had to come back," Bhagavan said.

Heide Brandes, spokeswoman for the Salvation Army in Oklahoma City, said the organization's men's shelter has been full since the slow-moving storm moved into the area Thursday. She said some of the 90 men in the shelter are homeless and sought relief when temperatures dropped to the mid-20s.

Flights were canceled Friday morning at airports in Oklahoma City and Little Rock, Ark.

Arkansas State Police warned people who were driving to work on Friday to be prepared to be stranded. Spokesman Bill Sadler encouraged motorists to bring blankets, water and snacks and to make plans for an overnight stay.

Regulators Shut Banks In 5 States: Development and Update

Regulators have shut down a big bank in California, along with two banks in Georgia and one each in Florida, Minnesota and Washington. That brings to 15 the number of bank failures so far in 2010 atop the 140 shuttered last year in the punishing economic climate.

The failure on Friday of Los Angeles-based First Regional Bank, with nearly $2.2 billion in assets and $1.9 billion in deposits, is expected to cost the federal deposit insurance fund $825.5 million.

The Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. took over the bank as well as the others: First National Bank of Georgia, based in Carrollton, Ga.; Community Bank and Trust of Cornelia, Ga.; Florida Community Bank of Immokalee, Fla.; Marshall Bank of Hallock, Minn.; and American Marine Bank of Bainbridge Island, Wash.

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. WSJ/AP's earlier story is below:

WASHINGTON ----- Regulators shut down a big bank in California on Friday, along with two banks in Georgia and one each in Florida and Minnesota. That brought to 14 the number of bank failures so far in 2010 atop the 140 shuttered last year in the punishing economic climate.

The failure of Los Angeles-based First Regional Bank, with nearly $2.2 billion in assets and $1.9 billion in deposits, is expected to cost the federal deposit insurance fund $825.5 million.

The Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. took over the bank as well as the others: First National Bank of Georgia, based in Carrollton, Ga., with $832.6 million in assets and $757.9 million in deposits and Community Bank and Trust of Cornelia, Ga., with $1.2 billion in assets and $1.1 billion in deposits; Florida Community Bank of Immokalee, Fla., with $875.5 million in assets and $795.5 million in deposits; and Marshall Bank of Hallock, Minn., with $59.9 million in assets and $54.7 million in deposits.

First Regional Bank's collapse followed the shutdown of several large California banks in the last months of 2009. California was one of the states hardest hit by the real estate market meltdown, and many banks there have suffered under the weight of soured mortgage loans.

First-Citizens Bank & Trust Co., based in Raleigh, N.C., agreed to buy the deposits and $2.17 billion of the assets of First Regional Bank. The FDIC retained the remaining assets for later sale. In addition, the FDIC and First-Citizens agreed to share losses on $2 billion of the failed bank's loans and other assets.

Community & Southern Bank, also based in Carrollton, Ga., agreed to assume the deposits and assets of First National Bank of Georgia.

SCBT, a national bank based in Orangeburg, S.C., is assuming the assets and deposits of Community Bank and Trust. United Valley Bank, based in Cavalier, N.D., is buying the assets and deposits of Marshall Bank.

Miami-based Premier American Bank, N.A., a new bank with a national charter set up last week, is buying the deposits and $499.1 million of the assets of Florida Community Bank. The FDIC will retain the remaining assets for later sale.

The two shuttered banks in Georgia followed 25 bank failures there last year, more than in any other state.

The government's resolution of First National Bank of Georgia is expected to cost the deposit insurance fund $260.4 million. That of Community Bank and Trust is estimated to cost $354.5 million. Florida Community Bank's resolution is expected to cost the fund $352.6 million and Marshall Bank is expected to cost $4.1 million.

As the economy has soured, with unemployment rising, home prices tumbling and loan defaults soaring, bank failures have accelerated and sapped billions out of the federal deposit insurance fund. It fell into the red last year.

The 140 bank failures last year were the highest annual tally since 1992, at the height of the savings and loan crisis. They cost the insurance fund more than $30 billion. There were 25 bank failures in 2008 and just three in 2007.

The number of bank failures is expected to rise further this year. The FDIC expects the cost of resolving failed banks to grow to about $100 billion over the next four years.

The agency last year mandated banks to prepay about $45 billion in premiums, for 2010 through 2012, to replenish the insurance fund.

Depositors' money -- insured up to $250,000 per account -- is not at risk, with the FDIC backed by the government. Besides the fund, the FDIC has about $21 billion in cash available in reserve to cover losses at failed banks.

Banks have been especially hurt by failed real estate loans, both residential and commercial. Banks that had lent to seemingly solid businesses are suffering losses as buildings sit vacant. As development projects collapse, builders are defaulting on their loans.

If the economic recovery falters, defaults on the high-risk loans could spike. Many regional banks hold large concentrations of these loans. Nearly $500 billion in commercial real estate loans are expected to come due annually over the next few years.

In his State of the Union address this week, President Barack Obama said he will initiate a $30 billion program to provide money to community banks at low rates, if they boost lending to small businesses. The money would come from balances left in the $700 billion bailout fund.

Hundreds of banks, including major Wall Street institutions, received taxpayer support through that politically unpopular rescue program, enacted by Congress in October 2008 at the height of the financial crisis.

From: AP; WSB; The Wall Street Journal; Bloomberg


Plan To Send FEMA Trailers To Haiti Criticized

The trailer industry and lawmakers are pressing the government to send Haiti thousands of potentially formaldehyde-laced trailers left over from Hurricane Katrina - an idea denounced by some as a crass and self-serving attempt to dump inferior American products on the poor.

The 100,000 trailers became a symbol of the Federal Emergency Management Agency's bungled response to Katrina. The government had bought the trailers to house victims of the 2005 storm, but after people began falling ill, high levels of formaldehyde, a chemical that is used in building materials and can cause breathing problems and perhaps cancer, were found inside. Many of the trailers have sat idle for years, and many are damaged.

The U.S. Agency for International Development, which is coordinating American assistance in Haiti, has expressed no interest in sending the trailers to the earthquake-stricken country. FEMA spokesman Clark Stevens declined to comment on the idea and said it was not FEMA's decision to make.

Haitian Culture and Communications Minister Marie Laurence Jocelyn Lassegue said Thursday she had not heard of the proposal but added: "I don't think we would use them. I don't think we would accept them."

In a Jan. 15 letter to FEMA, Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., chairman of the House Committee on Homeland Security, said the trailers could be used as temporary shelter or emergency clinics.

For the recreational-vehicle and trailer industry, which lost thousands of jobs during the recession, the push to send the units to Haiti is motivated by more than charity.

Bidding is under way in an online government-run auction to sell the trailers in large lots at bargain-basement prices -- something the RV industry fears will reduce demand for new products. Some of the bids received so far work out to less than $500 for a trailer that would sell for about $20,000 new.

Lobbyists for the Recreational Vehicle Industry Association -- which includes some major manufacturers in Elkhart, Ind., among them Gulf Stream -- have been talking with members of Congress, the government and disaster relief agencies to see if it would be possible to send the trailers to Haiti instead.

How much formaldehyde the trailers contain -- or if they still have any at all -- isn't known. The auction site warns that the trailers may not have been tested for the chemical, and FEMA said buyers must sign an agreement not to use the auctioned trailers for housing. Broom contends the majority are "perfectly safe," and "the handful of trailers that might have a problem" can be removed.

Pepper In Salami May Be Source Of Salmonella

Black pepper used to coat salami is the possible cause of a salmonella outbreak that sickened people in 40 states, the Rhode Island Department of Health said Thursday.

Tests showed the same strain of salmonella that has sickened at least 189 people since July was also found in two open containers of pepper at meat company Daniele International Inc.'s facility in Burrillville. Thirty-seven people have been hospitalized in the outbreak, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control.

Annemarie Beardsworth, a spokeswoman for the Rhode Island health department, said officials there are still waiting for results from closed containers of pepper, which are expected in two to three days.

"We're pretty sure right now that the ground pepper is the source of the outbreak, but until we get a positive result that was taken from a closed container, we can't be 100 percent certain," she said.

Daniele International recalled 1.2 million pounds of pepper-coated salami on Saturday after officials used the shopping records of people who were sickened to pinpoint the source of the problem.

The Department of Health said no additional products were being recalled.

The 40 states where illnesses related to the outbreak have been reported are: Alabama, Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Iowa, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Maryland, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, North Carolina, North Dakota, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia and Wyoming.

Official: Terror Case May Happen Outside Manhattan

Facing growing opposition to its plans to hold the Sept. 11 terrorist trial in New York City, the Obama administration is considering moving the proceedings elsewhere.

Two administration officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said Friday the Justice department is drawing up plans for possible alternate locations to try professed 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and four alleged accomplices in case Congress or local officials prevent the trial from being held in Manhattan.

The two officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the deliberation.

Attorney General Eric Holder announced last year that the trial would be held in Manhattan federal court, generating stiff opposition in Congress and in New York.

Word that the administration is considering a backup plan for its most high-profile terrorism trial comes after President Barack Obama and Holder have spent weeks on the defensive about their handling of terrorism threats.

The administration has admitted intelligence missteps leading up to the failed Christmas bombing of a Detroit-bound airliner, and the case re-ignited a debate in Congress about whether such terror suspects should face civilian or military justice.

Moving the trial would be a major political setback for the administration's oft-stated aims in the fight against terrorism.

The officials did not say where else the trial might be held, but others have suggested an unpopulated island near Manhattan, or nearby military installations.

Obama has maintained his support for a civilian trial. White House spokesman Bill Burton said Thursday that the president is committed to seeing Mohammed and his alleged accomplices brought to justice, and believes that can be done successfully and securely in a federal court.

Wages, Benefits Rise By Record-Low Amount

Wages and benefits paid to U.S. workers posted a modest gain in the fourth quarter, ending a year in which recession-battered workers saw their compensation rise by the smallest amount on records going back more than a quarter-century.

The anemic gains have raised concerns about the durability of the economic recovery. The fear is that consumer spending, which accounts for 70 percent of economic activity, could falter if households don't have the income growth to support their spending.

The Labor Department said Friday that wages and benefits rose by 0.5 percent in the three months ending in December. For the entire year, wages and benefits were up 1.5 percent, the weakest showing on records that go back to 1982.

The 1.5 percent increase in total compensation in 2009 was about half the 2.6 percent increase in 2008 and both years represented the smallest gains for the government's Employment Compensation Index.

Last year, wages were up by just 1.5 percent and benefits rose by the same 1.5 percent, both record lows. In 2008, wages and salaries had been up 2.7 percent and benefits, which cover such things as health insurance and pension contributions, had risen by 2.2 percent.

The 0.5 percent rise in the fourth quarter for total compensation was slightly higher than the 0.4 percent advance economists had expected, and was the biggest quarterly gain since a 0.6 percent rise in the third quarter of 2008. Compensation had been up 0.4 percent in both the second and third quarters of this year.

Workers' compensation has been battered by the country's deep recession as a loss of 7.2 million jobs over the past two years has depressed wage gains. A separate report from the Labor Department earlier this month showed that nonsupervisory workers' inflation-adjusted weekly earnings fell by 1.6 percent last year, the sharpest drop since 1990.

Gates Makes $10 Billion Vaccines Pledge

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation will donate $10 billion over the next decade to research new vaccines and bring them to the world's poorest countries, the Microsoft co-founder and his wife said Friday.

Calling upon governments and business to also contribute, they said the money will produce higher immunization rates and aims to make sure that 90 percent of children are immunized against dangerous diseases such as diarrhea and pneumonia in poorer nations.

"We must make this the decade of vaccines," Bill Gates said in a statement. "Vaccines already save and improve millions of lives in developing countries. Innovation will make it possible to save more children than ever before."

Gates said the commitment more than doubles the $4.5 billion the foundation has given to vaccine research over the years.

The foundation said up to 7.6 million children under 5 could be saved through 2019 as a result of the donation. It also estimates that an additional 1.1 million kids would be saved if a malaria vaccine can be introduced by 2014. A tuberculosis vaccine would prevent even more deaths.

Genealogist: Obama, Sen.-Elect Brown Related

It was bad enough that President Barack Obama lost his filibuster-proof margin in the U.S. Senate to a Republican. Now it turns out he also lost it to a relative.

Genealogists said Friday that the Democratic president and the newly elected senator from Massachusetts, Scott Brown, are 10th cousins.

The New England Historic Genealogical Society said Obama's mother, Stanley Ann Dunham, and Brown's mother, Judith Ann Rugg, both descend from Richard Singletary of Haverhill, Mass.

He died in 1687 at, for the time, the unusually old age of 102.

"I think it's a really interesting thing, where you have the separation between a Democrat and a Republican, but you have one link," said David Allen Lambert, the society genealogist who co-discovered the connection with colleague Chris Child.

Lambert said the work was aided by prior research about Obama, as well as Brown's cooperation with the society when researchers first contacted him in December.

"I'm glad to be in such distinguished company," Brown said of the findings.

In 2008, the society discovered that Obama is related to seven prior presidents, including George H. W. Bush, George W. Bush, Jimmy Carter, Gerald Ford, Lyndon Johnson, Harry S. Truman and James Madison. They also learned he was related to actor Brad Pitt.

Brown, once a little-known state senator, jolted the national political landscape by capturing the Senate seat held for nearly a half-century by the late Democratic Sen. Edward Kennedy.

The genealogical chart shows that Obama descends from Richard's eldest son, Jonathan Singletary. He later changed his surname to Dunham. Brown, meanwhile, descends from Jonathan's brother, Nathaniel Singletary.

Also Friday, George Stephanopoulos, co-anchor of ABC News' "Good Morning America," learned he was likely related to Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton.

Stephanopoulos underwent DNA testing to promote "Faces of America With Henry Louis Gates Jr.," a four-part series on family histories making its premiere Feb. 10 on PBS.

Gates told him during Friday's "GMA" show that he's "very likely a maternal cousin with Hillary Clinton."

"Sorry, Secretary Clinton," Stephanopoulos said. "I did not set this up."

From; FEMA; US DOJ; US Dept of Health/CDC; The Gates Foundation; The New England Historic Genealogical Society