Friday, February 26, 2010

360 News Briefs

Heavy Rain Hits Haiti's Quake-Ravaged Capital

The first heavy rain since the earthquake doused Haiti's capital Thursday night, soaking hundreds of thousands of homeless in a city where barren hillsides and weakened buildings are threatening to give way.

The storm hit as relief officials changed tack on dealing with quake survivors, delaying plans to build big refugee camps outside Port-au-Prince. Instead, they want the homeless to pack up their tents and tarps and return to destroyed neighborhoods.

People dashed for shelter down streets streaming with runoff from the driving tropical rain. The downpour swept trash along roadside gutters, clogging drains and turning depressions into ponds.

Some women stripped naked and took advantage of the downpour to take a shower - there are no bathing facilities in overcrowded tent camps that officials want to move people out of.

Snowstorm In Northeast, Rain Pounds New England

A slow-moving winter storm packing heavy, wet snow and potentially flooding rain spread over the Northeast on Thursday, disrupting air traffic and closing schools. Utility companies braced for possible widespread power outages overnight due to high winds and toppled trees.

The strongest wind and heaviest snow was forecast for late Thursday and early Friday, with a foot or more of snow and high winds expected from southeastern Pennsylvania, into New Jersey and New York and up to parts of New England.

Parts of western Maine received nearly a foot a snow, while Philadelphia received a dusting. About 4 inches of snow fell in New York City, where a man was killed by a falling snow-laden tree branch in Central Park -- one of at least three deaths being blamed on the storm.

In parts of southern and mid-coastal Maine more than 3 inches of rain had fallen and forecasters say some areas could get more than 7 inches. The Presumpscot River in Westbrook was expected to crest at 9 feet over flood stage by Friday afternoon. The river in the flood-prone New Hampshire town of Goffstown was nearing flood stage and residents were told to prepare for possible evacuation.

Hundreds of flights were canceled at major East Coast airports.

The latest blast of winter was expected to linger more than 24 hours, meaning more headaches Friday. More snow is predicted for much of the region Saturday, too. The National Weather Service put much of the East Coast under wind advisories and warnings until 7 a.m. Friday.

3 Gold Medals Stolen From 1972 Olympian

Three gold medals have been stolen from the Arizona home of former Olympic swimmer Melissa Belote, who won them as a 15-year-old at the 1972 games in Munich.

Belote, now 53, normally kept the medals in a safety-deposit box, but had put them underneath clothes in a dresser drawer at her Tempe home after taking them to an elementary school for a presentation.

Tempe police Sgt. Steve Carbajal said Thursday that one or more thieves broke into Belote's home sometime during the day Wednesday by prying open a back window. They stole the medals, an iPod, some cash, and jewelry, but left other things like computers and TVs.

Belote, who now coaches children and teens in swim, told The Associated Press on Thursday that when she found out her medals were taken, she "wept like a baby."

If melted down, the medals wouldn't be worth much because they're not made of real gold but are actually silver plated with gold. It's unclear how much they'd be worth in tact.

The medals are engraved with Belote's name, and have Munich and two Xs on them to represent the 20th Olympiad. Belote, who grew up in Springfield, Va., was an All-America swimmer at Arizona State University and was named the nation's top college swimmer in 1977.

Coroner: Anemia, Meds Left Murphy Vulnerable

Severe anemia left actress Brittany Murphy weakened and vulnerable to pneumonia and the prescription medications she was using to treat it, according to an autopsy report released Thursday.

The report stated Murphy's menstrual period contributed to her anemia and left her in a weakened state and vulnerable to infection. It also contributed the effects that a host of drugs, including hydrocodone and acetaminophen, had on the 32-year-old actress, according to the report.

Coroner's officials had already concluded Murphy's death was accidental, but likely preventable. She died after collapsing in her Hollywood Hills home on Dec. 20.

The report notes that the medications found in Murphy's system were consistent with treatment of a cold or respiratory infection. Murphy's mother and husband had reported the actress was ill with flu-like symptoms in the days before her death.

An autopsy found no evidence that Murphy abused drugs. Investigators found numerous prescription medications in the actress' home, which she shared with her mother, Sharon, and husband, Simon Monjack.

The actress was taking anti-seizure medications and hydrocodone, the report said.

Murphy had been complaining of severe abdominal pain for seven to 10 days before her death. The report states her family thought it was a result of her menstrual period, which they told investigators was often severe.

13-Year-Old Takes School Buses On Joyride

A 13-year-old boy went on a late-night joyride, breaking into school buses and driving them in circles in the Hall County bus barn on Atlanta Highway in Gainesville, Georgia, according to Jeff Strickland of the Hall County Sheriff's Office.

"It's very unusual and out of the ordinary," said Mike Garner of Hall County Schools.

Investigators said the boy broke into and drove four or five Hall County buses on Feb. 22 and stole the keys when he left. Surveillance cameras show the boy scaling the lot's chain fence and driving the buses around. Bus drivers arriving for work noticed their buses weren't where they left them.

Investigators said the boy was on the lot for at least 45 minutes, going from bus to bus. Sheriff's deputies found the stolen school bus keys in an abandoned house near the boy's home. Officials said the boy also went on a crime spree the following day, breaking into a home, stealing a cell phone and taking the homeowner's car for a joyride. The boy was caught hours later breaking into another house.

The boy is being held in juvenile detention, facing numerous charges.

Virginia Couple's Dog Found In Florida

A Virginia couple has been reunited with their German shepherd, which was found hundreds of miles from home in Florida.

Pamela Holt, of Stuart, Va., says she thought DeLand Animal Control Officer Gary Thomas was playing a "mean trick" when he called to say he found 18-month old Deacon. The dog had been missing since December. The Holts thought their dog had died.

According to police reports, a convenience store clerk saw Deacon and another dog running in traffic on Feb. 18. The clerk called authorities and the dogs were taken to a kennel.

Deacon had a microchip implanted, which helped Thomas track down the Holts. The couple arrived in Florida to pick up Deacon this weekend.

Taken from reports by NOAA/National Weather Service; The AP; WSB; Reuters; Daytona Beach News-Journal

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Doing the Laundry

We don't know if they still teach good ol' Home Ec in high school any more, but in the laundry room, Americans are prone to overkill. They pour too much detergent into their washing machines which make our clothes dingy and our machines smell.

Generations of consumers have washed clothes with the idea that more soap means cleaner laundry. But the sudsy habits are creating messy problems from dingy clothing to worn machines.

Making matters worse, the latest generation of detergents are concentrated and so require users to use less product-per-washload than ever before. And more consumers are buying high-efficiency washers, which need far less water than older models. It's a combination begging for more careful measuring—something Americans stubbornly resist.

"Before it didn't matter as much," says Mary Zeitler, consumer scientist for Whirlpool Corp.'s Institute of Fabric Science. "But now you have to be much more precise in dosing."

Over the next few weeks, Procter & Gamble Co. plans to introduce easier-to-read plastic measuring caps for its liquid detergent brands, including Tide, Gain, Era and Cheer. The new caps will have more-defined measurement lines inside and bigger numbers that are staggered, not stacked, says Dawn French, P&G's head of laundry research and development for North America.

Laundry remains a time-consuming chore and one done largely by women. It was the primary household responsibility of 76% of women and 24% of men in a 2007 Whirlpool survey of 2,500 consumers; some 78% of those surveyed do approximately nine loads of laundry each week. The equivalent of 1,100 washloads are started every second of every day, P&G says.

Packaging, in most cases, hasn't helped. The molded lines and numbers inside detergent caps are hard to read, especially in a dimly lit laundry room. And even though concentrated detergents have been on the market since at least 2007, many caps still hold more than is needed for an average load.

Method Products Inc. last month launched an ad blitz for a new detergent with a pump dispenser, designed to help curb overdosing. Method found that 53% of people don't use the recommended amount of detergent per washload, preferring instead to guess or, worse, to simply fill the cap up to the top—a practice that wastes more than half the loads a detergent bottle could wash, Method executives say.

"Take a cap and look at where the lines are—nowhere near the top," says Adam Lowry, co-founder of San Francisco-based Method. "That's not accidental. In an extremely mature market like laundry, for established players to grow they have to either steal share or get people to use more," Mr. Lowry says. "They are trying to dupe people into using more product than they need."

Hogwash, big detergent makers say. And besides, companies don't want to boost sales by confusing consumers, because they don't want their customers disappointed in how the product makes their clothes look and washing machines wear. Detergent "overpouring" creates a high, foamy tide inside the machine, lifting soil and lint above the water level so it isn't rinsed away. That leaves residue on clothing that fades colors and attracts more dirt, they say. Inside the machine, detergent buildup encourages odor and bacteria growth, and leads in time to wear and tear that will require professional attention, washer manufacturers say.

"We're constantly doing research to try to get the lines easier to read," says P&G's Ms. French.

Making the caps difficult to read "isn't our intent whatsoever," says Greg Tipsord, general manager of laundry for Henkel A.G.'s U.S. consumer goods unit, which makes Purex detergent. Consumers do so much laundry each week that they consider themselves experts. "They all know there are directions on the back of the bottle," he says. "They just choose to ignore them."

Even so, a cap needs to fit a bottle and hold detergent without leaking—two priorities that take precedence over legibility, says Jonathan Asher, a senior vice president at Perception Research Services, a package-design consulting firm. Also, touting that a cap corrects a consumer's laundry mistakes would be a tricky marketing feat, he says. "You have to avoid implying that the consumer isn't smart enough to get it right in the first place."

Through much of Europe, detergent premeasured in tablets and sachets has been popular for years. But in the U.S., pre-dosed products have been largely unsuccessful. Consumers usually pick up their laundry habits during adolescence from their mothers, and changing them is hard, says Bob Deutsch, founder of Brain Sells, a marketing consulting firm.

American consumers, it seems, also want more control. Many people have their own laundry "recipe," and each one believes her unique method leads to superior results, industry executives say. P&G, the world's leading detergent maker, calls such involved laundry doers "master chemists."

When it was designing packages for its concentrated detergents, P&G made sure a half-cap, filled to the "2" line, would wash a medium-size load of laundry, Ms. French says. The highest line, numbered "3," is meant for heavy loads—an option the master chemist wants, Ms. French says. "We're trying to help her get more precise," she says. "We also have a line '1,' by the way, so she can use that, too."

Thanks to modern washer technology, many overpourers will never have to come to grips with their habit. Ms. Zeitler, at Whirlpool, says some washers have software that corrects for too much suds by adding extra rinses. To clean the buildup from overpouring, Ms. Zeitler recommends cleaning washers monthly using an empty hot-water cycle and either bleach or Affresh, a cleaning product it introduced just as concentrated detergents hit. Another tip: Use a marker to draw a line on the outside of the detergent cap to make it easier to see.

Executives at Henkel see an opening for pre-dosed detergent. This month marked the start of a big ad push for Purex three-in-one laundry sheets, each containing detergent, fabric-softener and anti-static agents. Some people find ways to customize, even with a laundry sheet, Mr. Tipsord says. "If they think their load is especially dirty, they use two sheets."

General Electric Co.'s top-of-the-line Profile frontload washer offers to take on all dosing decisions itself. The SmartDispense feature, adding $600 to the cost of the machine, holds up to six months' worth of detergent and allocates the right amount for each load, taking the detergent concentration level and the amount of clothes into account.

Proper dosing is the biggest laundry concern among callers to Seventh Generation Inc.'s help line, says Sue Holden, head of the consumer-insights team at the Burlington, Vt., household-product maker. Two years ago, the company started making its detergent bottle cap with translucent plastic partly to make it easier to read. "We're trying to train people to do something that doesn't come naturally," says Ms. Holden. "Growing up, a lot of us just poured it in."

Seventh Generation's co-founder, Jeffrey Hollender, wonders why more people haven't stumbled upon laundry's big, dirty secret: "You don't even need soap to wash most loads," he says. The agitation of washing machines often does the job on its own.

On that note, we'll say good night....we have laundry to do.

Random Thoughts: Random Stats

  1. The US interstate highway system requires that one mile in every five be straight. These straight sections function as airstrips in times of war and other emergencies.

  2. The Boston University Bridge is the only place in the world where a boat can sail under a train driving under a car driving under an airplane.

  3. Cats have over one hundred vocal sounds, while dogs have only about ten.

  4. Our eyes are always the same size from birth, but our nose and ears never stop growing.

  5. In every episode of Seinfeld, there is a superman somewhere.

  6. February 1965 is the only month in recorded history not to have a full moon.

  7. The cruise liner, Queen Elisabeth II, moves only six inches for every gallon of diesel fuel that it burns.

  8. Isaac Asimov is the only author to have a book published in every major Dewey Decimal category.

  9. Columbia University is the second largest land owner in New York City, after the Catholic Church.

  10. Cat urine glows under a black light.

  11. Back in the mid-80s, an IBM compatible computer wasn't considered 100% compatible unless it could run Microsoft's Flight Simulator.

  12. Leonardo Da Vinci invented the scissors.

  13. In the last 4000 years, no new animals have been domesticated.

  14. Babies are born without kneecaps. They don't appear until the child is 2-6 years of age.

  15. Nutmeg is extremely poisonous if injected intravenously.

  16. If you have three quarters, four dimes and four pennies, you have $1.19. You also have the largest amount of money in coins without being able to make change for a dollar.

  17. The most common name in the world is Mohammed.

  18. Michael Jordan makes more money from Nike annually that all of the Nike factory workers in Malaysia combined.

  19. No NFL team which plays its home games in a dome has ever won a Superbowl.

  20. The first toilet ever seen on TV was on "Leave it to Beaver".

  21. In the Great Fire of London in 1666, half of the city was burned down but only 6 people were injured.

  22. One of the reasons marijuana is illegal today is because cotton growers in the 30s lobbied against hemp farmers - they saw them as competitors.

  23. Only one person in two billion will live to be 116 years old.

  24. The name Wendy was made up for the book -"Peter Pan".

  25. The characters Bert and Ernie on Sesame Street were named after Bert the cop and Ernie the taxi driver in Frank Capra's "It's a Wonderful Life".

  26. It was discovered on a space mission that a frog can throw up. The frog throws up its stomach first, so the stomach is dangling out of its mouth. The frog then uses its forearms to dig out all of the stomach's contents and then swallows the stomach back down again.

  27. Armored knights raised their visors to identify themselves when they rode past their king. This custom has become the modern military salute.

  28. Sylvia Miles had the shortest performance ever nominated for an Oscar, in "Midnight Cowboy". Her entire role lasted only 6 minutes.

  29. Charles Lindburgh took only four sandwiches with him on his famous transatlantic flight.

  30. Goethe couldn't stand the sound of barking dogs and could only write if he had an apple rotting in the drawer of his desk.

  31. Stewardesses is the longest word that is formally typed with only the left hand.

  32. Armadillos have four babies at a time and they are always the same sex.

  33. To escape the jaws of a crocodile, push your thumbs into its eyes - it will release you instantly.

  34. If you toss a penny 10,000 times, it will come up heads approximately 4950 times because the heads picture weighs more than the tails side, so it ends up on the bottom more often.

  35. Hydroxydeoxycorticosterones is the longest anagram in the English language.

  36. Los Angeles' full name is El Pueblo de Nuestra Senora la Reina de los Angeles de Pornciuncula.

  37. An ostrich's eye is bigger than its brain.

  38. Al Capone's business card said he was a furniture dealer.

  39. The longest recorded flight of a chicken is 13 seconds.

  40. Wilma Flintstone's maiden name was Wilma Slaghoopal, and Betty Rubbles' maiden name was Betty Jean Mcbricker.

  41. A pregnant goldfish is called a twit.

  42. 111,111,111 x 111,111,111 = 12,345,678,987,654,321

  43. The Ramses brand condom is named after the great Pharoh Ramses II, who fathered over 160 children.

  44. If NASA sent birds into space, they would soon die because birds need gravity to swallow.

  45. Dueling is legal in Paraguay as long as both parties are registered blood donors.

  46. The computer term "byte" is a contraction of "by eight".

  47. The average ear of corn has eight hundred kernels arranged in sixteen rows.

  48. The famous split-fingered Vulcan salute is actually intended to represent the first letter ("shin", pronounced "sheen") of the word "shalom". As a boy, Leonard Nimoy observed his rabbi using it in a benediction and never forgot it; he was eventually able to add it to Star Trek lore.

  49. The idea that "the Boogey Man will get you" comes from the Boogey people, who still inhabit an area of Indonesia. These people still act as pirates today, and attack passing ships.

  50. Underground is the only word in the English language that begins and ends with the letters "und"

360 In-Depth: Greece Defaults on Debt That Banks Helped Hide

In a related story we broke and ran yesterday, guarantees by some of the same banks that helped Greece shroud its mounting debts may actually now be pushing the nation closer to the brink of financial ruin.

Echoing the kind of trades that nearly toppled the American International Group, the increasingly popular insurance against the risk of a Greek default is making it harder for Athens to raise the money it needs to pay its bills, according to traders and money managers.

These contracts, known as credit-default swaps, effectively let banks and hedge funds wager on the financial equivalent of a four-alarm fire: a default by a company or, in the case of Greece, an entire country. If Greece reneges on its debts, traders who own these swaps stand to profit.

Goldman Sachs arranged swaps that effectively allowed Greece to borrow 1 billion Euros without adding to its official public debt. While it arranged the swaps, Goldman also sought to buy insurance on Greek debt and engage in other trades to protect itself against the risk of a default on those swaps. Eventually, Goldman sold the swaps to the national bank of Greece.

“It’s like buying fire insurance on your neighbor’s house — you create an incentive to burn down the house,” said Philip Gisdakis, head of credit strategy at UniCredit in Munich.

As Greece’s financial condition has worsened, undermining the euro, the role of Goldman Sachs and other major banks in masking the true extent of the country’s problems has drawn criticism from European leaders. But even before that issue became apparent, a little-known company backed by Goldman, JP Morgan Chase and about a dozen other banks had created an index that enabled market players to bet on whether Greece and other European nations would go bust.

Last September, the company, the Markit Group of London, introduced the iTraxx SovX Western Europe index, which is based on such swaps and let traders gamble on Greece shortly before the crisis. Such derivatives have assumed an outsize role in Europe’s debt crisis, as traders focus on their daily gyrations.

A result, some traders say, is a vicious circle. As banks and others rush into these swaps, the cost of insuring Greece’s debt rises. Alarmed by that bearish signal, bond investors then shun Greek bonds, making it harder for the country to borrow. That, in turn, adds to the anxiety — and the whole thing starts over again.

On trading desks, there is fierce debate over what exactly is behind Greece’s recent troubles. Some traders say swaps have made the problem worse, while others say Greece’s deteriorating finances are to blame.

“This is a country that is issuing paper into a weakening market,” said Ashish Shah, co-head of credit strategy at Barclays Capital, referring to Greece’s need for continual borrowing.

But while some European leaders have blamed financial speculators in general for worsening the crisis, the French finance minister, Christine Lagarde, last week singled out credit-default swaps. Ms. Lagarde said a few players dominated this arena, which she said needed tighter regulation.

Trading in Markit’s sovereign credit derivative index soared this year, helping to drive up the cost of insuring Greek debt, and, in turn, what Athens must pay to borrow money. The cost of insuring $10 million of Greek bonds, for instance, rose to more than $400,000 in February, up from $282,000 in early January.

On several days in late January and early February, as demand for swaps protection soared, investors in Greek bonds fled the market, raising doubts about whether Greece could find buyers for coming bond offerings.

“It’s the blind leading the blind,” said Sylvain R. Raynes, an expert in structured finance at R&R Consulting in New York. “The iTraxx SovX did not create the situation, but it has exacerbated it.”

The Markit index is made up of the 15 most heavily traded credit-default swaps in Europe and covers other troubled economies like Portugal and Spain. And as worries about those countries’ debts moved markets around the world in February, trading in the index exploded.

In February, demand for such index contracts hit $109.3 billion, up from $52.9 billion in January. Markit collects a flat fee by licensing brokers to trade the index.

“It’s the blind leading the blind.”

- Sylvain R. Raynes, R&R Consulting

European banks including the Swiss giants Credit Suisse and UBS, France’s Société Générale and BNP Paribas and Deutsche Bank of Germany have been among the heaviest buyers of swaps insurance, according to traders and bankers who asked for anonymity because they were not authorized to comment publicly.

That is because those countries are the most exposed. French banks hold $75.4 billion worth of Greek debt, followed by Swiss institutions, at $64 billion, according to the Bank for International Settlements. German banks’ exposure stands at $43.2 billion.

Trading in credit-default swaps linked only to Greek debt has also surged, but is still smaller than the country’s actual debt load of $300 billion. The overall amount of insurance on Greek debt hit $85 billion in February, up from $38 billion a year ago, according to the Depository Trust and Clearing Corporation, which tracks swaps trading.

Markit says its index is a tool for traders, rather than a market driver.

In a statement, Markit said its index was started to satisfy market demand, and had improved the ability of traders to hedge their risks. The index and similar products, it added, actually make it easier for buyers and sellers to gauge prices for instruments that are traded among players over the counter, rather than on exchanges.

“These indices have helped bring transparency to the sovereign C.D.S. market,” Markit said. “Prior to their creation, there was no established benchmark index enabling investors to track the performance of segments of the sovereign C.D.S. market.”

Some money managers say trading in Greek swaps alone, not the broader index, is the problem.

“It’s like the tail wagging the dog,” said Markus Krygier, senior portfolio manager at Amundi Asset Management in London, which has $40 billion in global fixed-income assets. “There is a knock-on effect, as underlying positions begin to seem riskier, triggering risk models and forcing portfolio managers to sell Greek bonds.”

If that sounds familiar, it should. Critics of these instruments contend swaps contributed to the fall of Lehman Brothers. But until recently, there was little demand for insurance on government debt. The possibility that a developed country could default on its obligations seemed remote.

As a result, many foreign banks that held Greek bonds or entered into other financial transactions with the government did not hedge against the risk of a default. Now, they are scrambling for insurance.

“Greece is not a small country,” said Mr. Raynes, at R&R in New York. “Credit-default swaps give the illusion of safety but actually increase systemic risk.”

140-Year-Old Hot Dog Found In New York

A 140-year-old hot dog has been discovered on New York's Coney Island.

News 12 The Bronx reported that the hot dog was found encased in ice underneath the boardwalk's Feltman's Kitchen. The restaurant was formerly owned by the inventor of the Coney Island hot dog.

Officials at the Coney Island History Project said the hot dog still had its original restaurant receipt attached to it.

The hot dog and receipt will be on display at Coney Island beginning March 28. We'll have ours with cheese, slaw and chili, thank you very much.

Poll shows concern about American influence waning as China's grows

Facing high unemployment and a difficult economy, most Americans think the United States will have a smaller role in the world economy in the coming years, and many believe that while the 20th century may have been the "American Century," the 21st century will belong to China.

These results come from a new Washington Post-ABC News poll conducted during a time of significant tension between Washington and Beijing.

"China's on the rise," said Wayne Nunnery, 56, a retired U.S. Air Force employee from Bexar, Tex., who was one of 1,004 randomly selected adults polled. "I don't worry about a Chinese century, but I do wonder how it's going to be for my three sons."

Asked whether this century would be more of an "American Century" or more of a "Chinese Century," Americans divide evenly in terms of the economy (41 percent say Chinese, 40 percent American) and tilt toward the Chinese in terms of world affairs (43 percent say Chinese, 38 percent American). A slim majority say the United States will play a diminished role in the world's economy this century, and nearly half see the country's position shrinking in world affairs more generally.

The results are consistent with recent polls by Gallup, the Pew Research Center and others that have tracked a significant public concern about China's growing prominence on the world stage, as its economy has expanded into what is arguably the second-biggest in the world. In 2000, for example, when the U.S. economy was booming, 65 percent of Americans polled by Gallup said the United States had the world's strongest economy. By last year, the United States and China ran neck-and-neck on the question.

Analysts say the bubbling anti-China sentiment in the United States could constitute a problem for U.S. policy toward that country if the polls also coincide, as they seem to, with growing support for trade protectionism.

Annetta Jordan, another poll participant, said in a follow-up interview that she has witnessed the shifting economic strength firsthand. Jordan, a mother of two from Sandoval, N.M., was working at a cellular telephone plant in the early 1990s as production and hiring were ramped up. By 1992, the plant had 3,200 workers. "Then this whole China thing started and we were very quickly training Chinese to take our jobs," she said. Now the plant has 100 people left.

"We're transferring our wealth to China," she said. "I see that as a very negative thing. When I was younger, a lot of corporations had a lot of pride and patriotism toward America. But corporations have changed. If we in the U.S. go down, that's okay; they'll just move their offices to Beijing."

Carla Hills, the former U.S. trade representative who negotiated China's entry into the World Trade Organization in the late 1990s, said any shift in American public opinion away from China is a concern.

"I really worry about public opinion in both countries getting ahead of where we want to be," she said. "I worry about the public discourse here that 'it's all China's fault,' and the reverse in China that says we're trying to push China around."

In a poll last year in urban areas of China done by the Lowy Institute, Australia's premier think tank, Chinese respondents picked the United States as the No. 1 threat to China's rise by a factor of two over Japan and India, which were tied for second place.

Despite the mutual wariness, most Americans in the Post-ABC News poll say a diminished U.S. role in the world's economy or affairs would be positive or "neither good nor bad."

For Andrew Kohut, the president of the Pew Research Center, increasing public concerns with China remind him of America's reaction to another rising Asian nation three decades ago: Japan.

"This is déjà vu all over again, to quote Yogi," he said. "When a Japanese company bought Rockefeller Center, Americans went nuts. We asked questions about whether Japan was going to become No. 1 and people said yes. These two sentiments are very similar."

Kohut said he doesn't necessarily agree with the answers.

"Anyone who would say that China has eclipsed the United States hasn't been in a Chinese house," he said. But, he added, an "inflated view of what China is today" could have ramifications.

"When Americans are unhappy with themselves, they are unhappy with others, which can translate into protectionist pressure and security anxieties, both of which make it hard to manage U.S.-China relations," said David M. Lampton, a professor of China studies at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies. "People tend to be anxious about big, rapidly changing, nontransparent things -- China is all three."

In recent weeks, U.S. relations with Beijing have taken a nose dive as President Obama met the Tibetan spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, who is considered a separatist by China, and the administration moved to sell $6.4 billion in weapons to Taiwan. Although both Washington and Beijing have signaled that they don't want the relationship to be damaged, other issues -- most notably trade and a U.S. belief that China's currency needs to rise against the dollar -- could conspire to keep tension high.

Other analysts say the polling may foreshadow something bigger and more complicated than just a potential rise in protectionist sentiment.

"If we face perceptions around the world that China's rise is inexorable and the U.S. is on the decline," said Bonnie S. Glaser, a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, "this will hamper U.S. diplomacy and negatively affect U.S. interests."

This explains why, for example, Asian countries near China routinely raise concerns with U.S. officials about America's commitment to Asia.

"All of us want to hedge against China," said a senior official in the region, "but we need to know that the U.S. government will be here for the long haul.

"But even if you do stick around," he said, "there is no doubt that all of us now factor in how China will react to what America wants."

The Post-ABC News poll was conducted Feb. 4-8 by conventional and cellular telephone. The questions reported here were asked of half-samples of respondents; the results have a margin of sampling error of plus or minus five percentage points.

Polling analyst Jennifer Agiesta contributed to this report.

Washington Post-ABC News

Dad Who Took Boy Called 'Armed, Dangerous'

A nationwide search is under way for a 7-year-old Paulding County boy police believe is in danger.

Josh Hoover disappeared on Jan. 17 with his biological father, who officials said lied under oath to get custody of his son.

The Paulding County Sheriff's Office told Channel 2 Action News that Josh Hoover was taken from his grandmother, who had been caring for the child since his mother died, and turned over to his biological father, William Hoover.

Investigators believe William Hoover has left the state with his son.

"There are several indications at this point of different states that he could be traveling to or that he may be in. Our strongest possibility at this point is going to be Texas," said Corporal Brandon Gurley of the Paulding County Sheriff's Office.

The 50-year-old is considered armed and dangerous.

"We do have an arrest warrant issued for Mr. Hoover in this case, charging him with one felony count of interstate interference with child custody," said Gurley.

"He's believed to be traveling with the child in a green 2001 Ford Expedition with an expired Georgia tag BDU 9044," said Gurley.

Anyone with information is asked to contact the Paulding County Sheriff's Office at 770-443-3010.

From WSB

360 News Briefs

Colo. Gunman Had Grown Increasingly Erratic

The man accused of wounding two middle school students in a community still haunted by the Columbine massacre had become increasingly erratic in recent weeks, yelling at imaginary friends and complaining that eating macaroni and cheese made too much noise, his father said Wednesday.

Investigators are looking into the bizarre behavior of 32-year-old Bruco Strong Eagle Eastwood as they try to figure out why the unemployed ranch hand allegedly showed up at his old school and started firing at students in the parking lot before being tackled by a math teacher.

Eastwood's father described his son's recent strange behavior in an interview with The Associated Press at his ranch outside Denver.

The older man said that his son used to talk to himself a lot, but in the past month, he had begun yelling. The younger man also complained that the refrigerator was too loud and that certain foods made too much noise, his father said.

Others said Eastwood would show up at a nearby gas station to buy cigarettes, but was often 20 or 30 cents short, and would mumble to himself as he read the sports section the newspaper.

Lawyer: Jaycee Dugard Kidnapper Mentally Ill

The Northern California man charged with kidnapping and raping Jaycee Dugard has "a serious mental illness" and "may not be competent to be a defendant," his defense lawyer said in court papers filed Wednesday.

Susan Gellman, a deputy public defender in El Dorado County, offered the blunt assessment of Phillip Garrido's fitness to stand trial while disputing assertions by prosecutors that she should be prohibited from trying to contact Dugard because Garrido is using her to manipulate Dugard from jail.

Senate Extends Patriot Act For 1 Year

The Senate voted Wednesday to extend for a year key provisions of the nation's counterterrorism surveillance law that are scheduled to expire at the end of the month.

In agreeing to pass the bill, Senate Democrats retreated from adding new privacy protections to the USA Patriot Act.

The Senate approved the bill on a voice vote with no debate. It now goes to the House.

Three important sections of the Patriot Act are to expire at the end of this month.

One authorizes court-approved roving wiretaps that permit surveillance on multiple phones. A second allows court-approved seizure of records and property in anti-terrorism operations. A third permits surveillance against a so-called lone wolf, a non-U.S. citizen suspected of engaging in terrorism who may not be part of a recognized terrorist group.

Supporters say extending the law enables authorities to keep important tools in the fight against terrorism. It would also give Democrats some cover from Republican criticism that the Obama administration is soft on terrorism. Republicans have criticized the administration for trying terrorist suspects in civilians courts, rather than military ones, and for trying to close the military-run prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

Some Democrats, however, had to forfeit new privacy protections they had sought for the law.

The Judiciary Committee bill would have restricted FBI information demands known as national security letters and made it easier to challenge gag orders imposed on Americans whose records are seized. Library records would have received extra protections. Congress would have closely scrutinized FBI use of the law to prevent abuses. Dissemination of surveillance results would have been restricted and after a time, unneeded records would have been destroyed.

30 Inches Of Snow For Parts Of Northeast

A powerful winter storm dumped a foot or more of snow in the Northeast on Wednesday, knocking out power to thousands and stalling air traffic from Boston to Philadelphia, all ahead of a second system packing strong winds that could blanket the area with another foot of snow.

The storm cut a swath from eastern Pennsylvania into northern New England, slamming typically snowy regions that had been spared the paralyzing storms that hit cities farther south earlier this winter. About 150,000 customers lost power Wednesday, hundreds of schools were closed and at least three traffic deaths were blamed on the storm.

An 89-year-old woman died in a crash in New York's Hudson Valley. In Pennsylvania's Pocono Mountains, a woman and a boy died when their vehicle slid off snow- and ice-covered Interstate 80; The man driving the car was not expected to survive.

The system was the first of a 1-2 winter punch. The National Weather Service said the storm forecast to hit Thursday is expected to be "significant and long-lasting," packing wind gusts of 40 to 50 mph, which could cause more power outages, and dump a foot or more of snow on some areas by Friday. Meteorologists said some areas of New York's Adirondack and Catskill mountains and Vermont's Green Mountains could get as much as 2 feet by the weekend.

Philadelphia, which has had its snowiest winter with more than 70 inches and is still digging out from earlier back-to-back storms, could see as much as a foot of snow.

360 News & Comment: Students' train deaths are the latest tragedy for Florida high school

Melbourne, Florida - Middle school students and the community itself - still reeling from the deaths of two classmates earlier this school year are now coping this week with the loss of three more peers who were killed by a train that struck them as they crossed a railroad bridge.

The three teenage girls, along with a teenage boy, ignored "no trespassing" signs and walked out onto the railroad trestle Saturday evening in downtown Melbourne, a city of about 77,000 nearly 50 miles southeast of Orlando. Onlookers yelled for the teens to run or jump into the slow-moving water of Crane Creek 20 feet below as the train approached, but only the boy made it off the 200-foot span. The girls had less than 7 seconds to react.

We've read numerous emails sent to us and we've read hundreds of online comments from various sites about this tragedy. Remarks have ranged from outright sadness from young lives ending so suddenly and so tragically to unbelievably insensitive. Yes - they disregarded basic safety, yes - they didn't take their location to be a death-defying stunt. But teens are that way - they don't always pay attention and think they are invincible. It is up to us as adults to educate them - even to the point of monitoring their whereabouts.

It is sometimes in the face of an unfortunate

accident like this, we are goaded, motivated

and even enraged toward prevention....

Of all those in the Palm Bay and Melbourne area

who read this blog, there must be someone who

can take the mantle and initiate this.

The teenage girls were classmates at Southwest Middle School in Palm Bay, which has had its share of tragedies this school year. Another student at the school of more than 1,300 seventh-, eighth- and ninth-graders recently committed suicide, and another pupil was electrocuted last year while putting up an antenna for a ham radio. The antenna fell on power lines, also killing two family members.

"It is a terrible accident that is going to have a profound impact on our community," Christine Davis, a spokeswoman for Brevard County Schools, said of the train accident. Grief counselors are available for students at the school.

All the teens have been identified, with the funerals to take place soon. We hope and pray healing can begin - for the families, the school, the community. It is the horror of horrors to learn a child has died - suddenly, tragically - even if they were being irresponsible; which does make their deaths harder to accept, as it could have been avoided. And this is not the first time someone has died because of a train in Melbourne. Another incident happened in May of 2009 when a young man was walking the trestle and killed.

It is sometimes in the face of an unfortunate accident like this, we are goaded, motivated and even enraged toward prevention. That's unfair for past victims, but in doing so we remember them and prevent a repeat of what has happened - their life wasn't in vain and neither will be their deaths. Jennifer, Ciara and Wraya deserved to live a long life, go to college, get married, but it wasn't to be.

The Editorial Staff at 360 Degrees calls on parents (as responsibility begins at home), local schools, law enforcement and even the railway system itself to mount an unprecedented educational campaign to illustrate the potential dangers and the horrors of getting anywhere near trains, their tracks and be safety conscious at rail crossings. We already have educational campaigns for teen drivers, now let's come full circle and discuss pedestrian safety and even exercising common sense. In not doing so will add to the current list of victims.

Of all those in the Palm Bay and Melbourne area who read this blog, there must be someone who can take the mantle and initiate this.

Make it happen, Melbourne.

The track is owned by the Florida East Coast Railway, which operates about 350 miles of track along the state's east coast. In a statement, the company said it was deeply saddened. It said the tragedy was a reminder that people need "to respect the dangers presented by railroad tracks and operations."

In closing, we remember not only the three teens and their male companion (who survived), their family and friends, but also the crew of the train. It is our hope they find peace in the midst of chaos.

360 Degrees

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

How a hobbit is rewriting the history of the human race

Research suggests that the little apemen, not Homo erectus, were the first to leave Africa.
— The Guardian

Mexico: More on the Hidalgo Incident

Multiple reports were received on February 10 regarding the sighting of a fireball crossing the skies over Mexico.
— Inexplicata

An egg inside another egg? Eggcellent

An Auckland man made an unusual discovery while cooking his breakfast.
— 3 News (New Zealand)

Invisible Extraterrestrials?

One of world's leading physicist says "they could exist in forms we can't conceive."
— Daily Galaxy

Saturn Moon Riddled with Gushing Geysers

Geysers are gushing water ice from fissures near the south pole of the icy moon Enceladus.

The Complex Physics of Clouds

How well do scientists understand clouds?
— Scientific American

The Future of Money

It’s flexible, frictionless and (almost) free.
— Wired Magazine

Prehistoric UFO and ET images found in remote cave in India

A group of anthropologists working with hill tribes have made a startling discovery.
— Archaeology Daily News

At 22ins tall, is this Nepali teenager the world's smallest man?

Khagendra Thapa Magar, 17, is flying to Italy to file a claim with Guinness World Records.
— Daily Mail

Placebo treatments stronger than doctors thought

There is increasing evidence that fake treatments have an actual biological effect in the body.
— Associated Press

Sheep gives birth to human-faced lamb

The lamb was born in a village not far from the city of Izmir, Turkey.
— Daily Telegraph

Runaway Animals

Injured Zebra Found Wandering on I-75

Motorists see a lot of things along I-75, but this was a horse of a different color.

Actually it wasn't a horse at all, but a baby zebra.Morning commuters reported the animal was grazing next to the Interstate in Henry County on Tuesday. When would-be rescuers from the Department of Natural Resources got to the scene they realized they'd need help and called in the folks from Noah's Ark, an animal rehabilitation center just down the road in Locust Grove. Staffers retrieved the zebra and dubbed him Evidence. That's what police officers on the scene were calling him and the name stuck. They said from his injuries it appears Evidence fell from a truck or trailer and then was hit by another vehicle.

Noah's Ark veterinarian Dr. Karen Thomas checked out Evidence and found extensive injuries."There were more than 50 wounds on his body, including two knocked out teeth," officials at Noah's Ark said in a release. Realizing the zebra needed emergency care he was rushed to the veterinary school at Auburn University. Doctors there discovered Evidence suffered a crushed pelvis and other internal injuries.Auburn doctors performed surgery and Evidence is expected to recover and will have a permanent home at Noah's Ark.If you want to contribute to a fund to help cover the $5,000 in medical expenses go to for more information.

Runaway Zebra Captured on Connector

A runaway zebra was spotted on Atlanta's downtown connector during the afternoon rush hour last week.

Atlanta police followed the zebra on their motorcycles until they could safely capture it.After capturing the zebra, police had to walk the zebra off the connector. Traffic was backed up for several miles along the downtown connector. The zebra had been spotted in various locations in Atlanta.

Lima, the zebra that broke loose from the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus area late last week, is at UGA's College of Veterinary Medicine and is "fine," a spokeswoman for the circus told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution on Friday.

The 12-year-old zebra broke loose from a training-and-exercise area and ran through downtown Atlanta in the middle of rush-hour traffic.

His hooves were bloody from running along the pavement. Circus spokeswoman Crystal Drake said several vets examined Lima on Thursday, and he was taken to UGA on Friday for a full, comprehensive exam, she said.

Bovine Stops Traffic

Miami, Florida - Traffic in one South Florida town came to a grinding halt Wednesday thanks to a curious cow hoofing it through a neighborhood.

Davie police said they received a call around midnight that a cow from a nearby field had gotten loose and was walking around, reported WPLG-TV in Miami.

According to police, the cow somehow got through a holding fence and went for a stroll.

The cow casually walked through yards, along fences and even paid a visit to a nearby church.

Drivers slowed down and stopped as the animal crossed the street several times.

A team of Broward Sheriff's Office deputies and Davie police officers kept the cow from entering any major thoroughfares.

At around 8 a.m., it wandered onto the parking lot of the Calvary Chapel, which is next door to the pasture it escaped from. That's when an officer and a construction worker roped the animal - but it didn't go quite as peacefully as they had expected.

"It kind of dragged us around a little bit, but we tied it to the Bobcat so it couldn't go anyplace," construction worker Lance Vincent said.

Vincent said he's been around cows all his life so he wasn't afraid and knew exactly what had to be done to capture the wayward animal.

After pulling an all-nighter, the cow was finally brought back to safety, a bit reluctantly, but unhurt.


Economics: Engineering an EU Fraud Conspiracy

Something still doesn't seem right when it comes to many companies taking their share of the taxpayer pie. The biggest conundrum continues to be Goldman Sachs.

According to Bloomberg, "Goldman Sachs Group Inc. managed $15 billion of bond sales for Greece after arranging a currency swap that allowed the government to hide the extent of its deficit."

So what was the role of credit default swaps in this scheme?

Very simply put, a credit default swap is an insurance policy. The premiums are assigned by what the marketplace perceives as the risk of guaranteeing payment on a certain financial instrument.

Bloomberg further reports that Goldman Sachs "raised $1 Billion in off-balance sheet funding" using credit default swaps. According to the Wall Street Journal (Feb 22, 2010), "Goldman Sachs did 12 swaps for Greece from 1998 to 2001, according to people familiar with the matter."(You gotta love the Journal's anonymous faceless sources.)

In other words, Goldman Sachs created a complex series of default swaps on behalf of the Greek treasury, or more specifically the Department of Finance in Greece, which effectively turned "liabilities" into "assets.

And that was the net effect - making it appear that liabilities, which were discounted assets, were not worth, let's say, 30 cents on the dollar, but were worth 50 cents on the dollar. This financial fraud is now roiling the Euro-zone.

So what will happen next in this latest Euro-crisis? Will it spread to the United States?

And think about this: Since the fall of Bear Stearns Cos. a little more than two years ago, Goldman has taken more than $20 billion in taxpayer cash through loans, payments and backstops. Goldman's latest bailout coup was a $12.5 billion paid out of AIG's $180 billion government cash infusion.

Until it was fully extricated, Goldman always characterized its exposure to AIG as "immaterial," and that its $20 billion notional exposure to AIG was hedged. Turns out that it was - through government bailouts that didn't exist when Goldman entered the contracts.

New Dinosaur Discovered Head First...

...for a change.

A team of paleontologists has discovered a new dinosaur species they're calling Abydosaurus, which belongs to the group of gigantic, long-necked, long-tailed, four-legged, plant-eating dinosaurs such as Brachiosaurus.

In a rare twist, they recovered four heads - two still fully intact - from a quarry in Dinosaur National Monument in eastern Utah. Complete skulls have been recovered for only eight of more than 120 known varieties of sauropod.

"Their heads are built lighter than mammal skulls because they sit way out at the end of very long necks," said Brooks Britt, a paleontologist at Brigham Young University. "Instead of thick bones fused together, sauropod skulls are made of thin bones bound together by soft tissue. Usually it falls apart quickly after death and disintegrates."

Britt is a co-author on the discovery paper scheduled to appear in the journal Naturwissenshaften.

The lead author is Daniel Chure, a paleontologist at Dinosaur National Monument, who has no trouble boiling down the significance of the discovery.

"We've got skulls!" he shouted with sweeping hand gestures during a recent visit to the site.

BYU geology students and faculty resorted to jackhammers and concrete saws to cut through the hardened 105-million-year-old sandstone containing the bones. At one point the National Park Service called in a crew to blast away the overlying rock with explosives.

The skulls are temporarily on display at BYU's Museum of Paleontology, where visitors can also watch BYU students prepare other bones from Abydosaurus.

"The hardest bone I personally have worked on is a vertebra that was half-eroded before discovery and is so fragile that it crumbles if you look at it wrong," said Kimmy Hales, a geology major studying vertebrate paleontology at BYU. "The funnest project I have worked on was a set of five toe bones. Each toe bone was larger than my hand."

Analysis of the bones indicates that the closest relative of Abydosaurus is Brachiosaurus, which lived 45 million years earlier. The four Abydosaurus specimens were all juveniles.

Most of what scientists know about sauropods is from the neck down, but the skulls from Abydosaurus give a few clues about how the largest land animals to roam the earth ate their food.

"They didn't chew their food; they just grabbed it and swallowed it," Britt said. "The skulls are only one two-hundredth of total body volume and don't have an elaborate chewing system."

All sauropods ate plants and continually replaced their teeth throughout their lives. In the Jurassic Period, sauropods exhibited a wide range of tooth shapes. But by the end of the dinosaur age, all sauropods had narrow, pencil-like teeth.

Abydosaurus teeth are somewhere in between, reflecting a trend toward smaller teeth and more rapid tooth replacement.

The fossils were excavated from the Cedar Mountain Formation in Dinosaur National Monument near Vernal, Utah. The site is just a quarter of a mile away from the condemned visitor center that displays thousands of bones that remain in place on an uplifted slab of sandstone.

University of Michigan researchers John Whitlock and Jeffrey Wilson are also co-authors on the study.

What's in the name Abydosaurus mcintoshi?

The generic name refers to Abydos, the Greek name for the city along the Nile River (now El Araba el Madfuna) that was the burial place of the head and neck of Osiris, Egyptian god of life, death and fertility. Abydos alludes to the type specimen, which is a skull and neck found in a quarry overlooking the Green River. Sauros is the Greek word for lizard.

The specific name mcintoshi honors the American paleontologist Jack McIntosh for his contributions to the study of sauropod dinosaurs. In 1975 McIntosh debunked the myth of Brontosaurus, exposing it as a mixed-up skeleton with an Apatosaurus body and a Camarasaurus skull.

BYU; ScienceDaily