Thursday, September 22, 2011
Police Ticket Guy Who Helped Direct Traffic After Traffic Light Failure; Then Leave Without Handling Traffic
Apparently the traffic light went out, leading to backups of more than a mile. It was taking cars more than 30 minutes to get through. Ehrlich decided to help out -- grabbing an orange shirt and some safety flags that he had, and helped direct traffic, apparently clearing up much of the backup in about 10 minutes. It was about that time that the police showed up and issued him a citation. And... at no point did the police decide that maybe they should be directing traffic.
Amazingly, the police chief is defending all of this by saying that the force does "not have the man power" to staff someone there to direct traffic -- but they apparently have the staff to issue a citation to the guy who volunteered to help out.
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Wednesday, September 14, 2011
UK worst place to live in Europe: Quality of Life Index - while France and Spain are the best
Ha!!http://www.uswitch.com/news/money/uk-worst-place-to-live-in-europe-uswitch-quality-of-life-index-890419/The UK and Ireland are the worst places to live in Europe, while France and Spain are the best, according to the latest uSwitch Quality of Life IndexThe UK came 9th out of the 10 European countries in the Index, thanks to high living costs, below average government spending on health and education, short holidays and late retirement. The Index shows that people in France enjoy the highest quality of life, closely followed by Spain.People in the UK pay the highest prices for food and diesel, yet the government spends below the European average (as a percentage of GDP) on health and education. We also work longer hours, retire later, receive less annual leave than most of our European counterparts and get less sunshine along the way - not to mention the fact that we can expect to die two years younger than our French counterparts.The UK no longer has the highest net household income in Europe, after falling behind Ireland, the Netherlands and Denmark. In the past, the relatively high net income in the UK has offset the poor quality of life, but this year net household income it is only around £5000 above the European average, compared to £10,000 above last year.France enjoys the earliest retirement age (joint with Poland), spends the most on healthcare (11% of GDP) and has the longest life expectancy in Europe. Its workers also benefit from 36 days holiday a year, compared with just 28 in the UK, and it comes only behind Spain and Italy for hours of sunshine.Spain has the most sunshine, the lowest prices for alcohol and the highest number of days holiday in Europe at 43 days a year. However, the Spanish government spends the least on education.
Wednesday, September 7, 2011
$200 To not deal with the hassles of the airport...
Elite for a Day, in Coach, for a Fee
Published: August 31, 2011
FOR an American Airlines flight to Miami last month, my husband and I and our 16-month-old daughter were treated like celebrities. We were greeted at the curb at La Guardia Airport by an American representative, her hair swept back in a practical ponytail, who checked us in and handled our baggage, and then whisked us through security, bypassing a long line of disgruntled passengers whose looks read, "Who the heck are you?"
Then she guided us into the airline's tranquil lounge, where we sank into leather chairs and were treated to bagels, apples, coffee and orange juice. While we waited, our daughter tested out some virtually soundproof glass-fronted mini-conference rooms by screeching at us from the other side, and our personal assistant worked on getting us better seats toward the front of the plane.
"I tried to block a seat next to you for the baby," she said apologetically, "but the plane is oversold." When it was time to board, she walked us to our gate and up to the plane with the first-class and other elite passengers.
It was then that our taste of the good life ended and we took our seats — in coach.
So how did we gain such special treatment? We paid for it: $200 a couple in addition to the price of our tickets for myself and my husband to receive American's V.I.P. treatment (our baby received it free of charge) through the carrier's Five Star Service program. Once reserved for celebrities and V.I.P.'s traveling between New York, Los Angeles and Miami, American began offering the service to passengers at Kennedy Airport in 2007, and expanded it to 11 airports last year. The program is being promoted through an online sweepstakes that promises to get you through the airport "like a star (jealous glances included)."
American isn't the only airline offering V.I.P. service to coach passengers willing to pay for it. In June, JetBlue introduced Even More Speed, which offers passengers who, depending on the flight, pay $10 to $75 extra for a seat with more legroom, as well as a spot in an expedited security line at 15 airports, including Newark Liberty, San Franciscoand Kennedy. And United began selling a variety of perks a couple of years ago, like door-to-door baggage delivery ($79 to $99, depending on the flight) and expedited security and preboarding (from $9). Its Premier Travel package, which starts at $47 for short flights, bundles several add-ons, including Economy Plus seating with extra legroom ($9 to $163, depending on the flight), expedited security and priority boarding (from $9), and bonus miles (from $9). And practically every airline will sell you a day pass to its airline lounge for about $50, often less if you buy it online in advance.
These pay-as-you-go perks follow a recent spate of charges for services that used to be free on many carriers — like checked bags, exit row seats and on-board meals — as airlines continue to look for ways to boost revenue through add-ons. But unlike fees for baggage and similar amenities, these new à la carte options come with special treatment previously unavailable to coach passengers unless they were an elite frequent flier or a movie star.
For us, the extra treatment was well worth it. We did have a 10-minute wait outside at the curb while our assistant entered our daughter's passport details for security purposes into American's computer system (which, annoyingly, does not allow parents to enter the data online or over the phone for children traveling in their parents' laps). Otherwise, we didn't wait in a single line during the entire check-in, security and boarding procedures. Although we did, of course, have to take off our shoes and walk through the metal detector at security, we were not subjected to any of the usual rigamarole of pulling out our toiletries to verify that they complied with the three-ounce rule, or having our carry-on bags rifled through.
We had plenty of time to board and settle into our seats, and avoided the usual fight for the overhead bins. Simply put: for $200 we gained the exclusive privilege of a civilized airport experience. If we had gone à la carte, and just paid for two day passes to the lounge and expedited boarding, it would have cost $80 less.
We could have paid another $200 for assistance with our connecting flight in Miami and yet another $200 for help getting through customs and baggage claim at our final destination. At $125 a person or $200 a couple, it's a pricey proposition that doesn't really make sense for a savvy single traveler who knows her way around an airport. But for families traveling on a particularly tight schedule; people worried about, say, an elderly mother traveling alone; or those who simply don't want to deal with the usual stress of getting through the airport, taking advantage of this service can be worth it for one leg of the trip.
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07 September 2011
A decade after 9/11, one extraordinary aspect of the attacks is the connection with Israel. While bin Laden blamed US’ support for Israel as one of the causes of al-Qaeda's terrorism, the majority of the Taliban, who make up the backbone of the terrorist movement, actually claim Israelite origin.
By Shalva Weil for ISN Insights
It is difficult to believe that a decade has passed since the 9/11 attacks in which nearly 3,000 innocent people died in four coordinated suicide attacks perpetrated by al-Qaeda. The United States reacted by invading Afghanistan and declaring war against the Taliban, an extremist Islamic terrorist movement, which had harbored al-Qaeda.
A decade after the suicide bombings, one of the more extraordinary aspects of the attacks is the connection with Israel. In 2004, al-Qaeda’s leader Osama bin Laden blamed the US’ support of Israel as one of the causes for the movement’s terrorism. However, the fact that the majority of the Taliban, who make up the backbone of al-Qaeda, themselves claim Israelite origin is relatively unknown.
The Taliban operate in Afghanistan and northwestern Pakistan. They are fundamentalist Sunni Muslims, who wish to impose their brand of Islam and their interpretation of Sharia law on others. They despise western democracy and secularism, are notorious for their treatment of women and ferociously oppose the US and Israel.
The Taliban are largely made up of members of the Pashtun or Pathan tribes, who constitute the largest single tribal grouping in the world, numbering over 15 million. They are divided into distinct local tribes reminiscent of the names of the Lost Ten Tribes of Israel. According to the Bible, the Ten Lost Tribes were taken captive by the Assyrians in the eighth century BCE, while the inhabitants of the kingdom of Judah remained in Israel. The Ten Tribes were exiled to “Halah, Habor, the cities of Medes and the River Gozan”, in the very geographical and cultural area in which the Pashtuns live. The fate of the Lost Israelites has always been something of an enigma, and discussed throughout the ages in the Talmud and other Jewish texts, but Jews and Christians alike have generally believed that at the “end of days”, they would eventually be reunited with the descendants of the tribe of Judah.
The first president of Israel, Itzchak Ben-Zvi, in his book, The Exiled and the Redeemed, devoted a whole chapter to the purported Israelite origins of the Pashtuns. He explained that the Pashtun tribe Rabbani could be the lost Israelite tribe of Reuben; Shinwari could be Shimon; Daftani could be a corruption of Naftali; Jajani – Gad, Afridi – Ephraim, and so on. He quoted local Jews from Afghanistan who had reported to him in the early 1950s that these fierce tribesmen wore an embroidered Hanukka (Jewish Festival of Lights) lamp on their backs. He had heard that they wrapped themselves in a tallith (prayer shawl), and lit candles on Friday night. They also wore, and to this day, insist on keeping their pe’ot (sidecurls). Abraham Benjamin, a Jew from Herat in Afghanistan, reported that “According to the tradition current among the Afridis (one of the Pashtun sub-tribes), they are descendants of the Israelites, more particularly, the sons of Ephraim.”
In a recent email from a member of the Pashtun tribes, the enquirer (anonymous for obvious reasons) wrote: “I have always been curious about my ancestry…I was told very early on in my life that we are like the Jews and that our customs and rituals are the same…I would be amazed to find out whether there is a gene link in my ancestry to Israel”.
The Pashtun, even if they are virulently anti-Zionist, accede that they are the “sons of Israel”. When I interviewed members of the Yusuf-Zai (sons of Joseph) tribe years ago in the orchards of Kashmir, they related their origins with pride. Even today, many Pashtun agree that they are Israelites, even if they generally disassociate themselves with the modern state of Israel.
According to Pashtun tradition, King Saul bore a son by the name of Jeremy, whose birth is not recorded in Jewish texts. Jeremy fathered a royal prince called Afghana, whose descendants fled to Jat in Afghanistan. In 662 CE the descendants of Afghana were converted to Islam at the explicit request of Mohammed. The mission was accomplished by his emissary Khalid ibn al-Walid, who returned to his master with “proof” of his activities – 76 converts and seven leaders of the “Children of Israel”, including a descendant of Afghana named Kish. Kish subsequently changed his name to Ibn Rashid, and he was entrusted by Mohammed with the task of spreading the Islamic word. Many of today’s Taliban terrorists claim descent from Ibn Rashid.
Many Afghan and western scholars alike have made detailed investigations into the subject from historical, anthropological and philological points of view, and provided “proofs” of the Israelite origins of the Pashtun. Some write that they “look” Jewish. They have sallow skins and dark hair and eyes, are of medium stature, wear beards and sidecurls and have a typically “Jewish” profile. Others claim that they also observe Israelite/Jewish practices. They perform circumcision on their boys near the eighth day; the women observe purification laws prescribed in the Torah; and they wear amulets, which some people claim contain the words of the Shema – “Hear O Israel, O Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord is One.”
For some, the Pashtuns’ ancient code of hospitality, known as Pukhtunwali, by which generosity (khegara) and protection of guests are paramount, is sufficient proof that they are affiliated with Israelites and hence Jews. This code lays down the guiding principles behind the Pashtuns’ refusal to give up bin Laden, who sought sanctuary in Pakistan, until he was eventually shot down by US gunmen in May 2011. Similarly, al-Qaeda’s second-in-command, Atiyah Abd al-Rahman, killed by US forces on 22 August 2011, had sought refuge and was operating out of traditional Pashtun territory in north Waziristan in Pakistan.
Like the ancient Israelites, revenge (badal) is one of the driving forces of Pashtun society. If attacked, or pride wounded, the Pashtun, who make up the rank and file of the Taliban, will partake in a jihad (holy war) against the invaders. They succeeded with the British in the 19 th century. They repulsed the Communists; and they are still resisting the American coalition.
The older generation of Pashtun did not hide the fact of their Israelite descent, but recently some (though certainly not all) of the younger generation have suppressed this fact which could render them highly unpopular in the present political constellation.
Dr Shalva Weil is a Hebrew University anthropologist and a specialist on the Ten Lost Tribes of Israel.
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The MasterLiving Blog
Tuesday, September 6, 2011
One Sperm Donor, 150 Offspring
By JACQUELINE MROZ
Cynthia Daily and her partner used a sperm donor to conceive a baby seven years ago, and they hoped that one day their son would get to know some of his half siblings — an extended family of sorts for modern times.
So Ms. Daily searched a Web-based registry for other children fathered by the same donor and helped to create an online group to track them. Over the years, she watched the number of children in her son’s group grow.
Today there are 150 children, all conceived with sperm from one donor, in this group of half siblings, and more are on the way. “It’s wild when we see them all together — they all look alike,” said Ms. Daily, 48, a social worker in the Washington area who sometimes vacations with other families in her son’s group.
As more women choose to have babies on their own, and the number of children born through artificial insemination increases, outsize groups of donor siblings are starting to appear. While Ms. Daily’s group is among the largest, many others comprising 50 or more half siblings are cropping up on Web sites and in chat groups, where sperm donors are tagged with unique identifying numbers.
Now, there is growing concern among parents, donors and medical experts about potential negative consequences of having so many children fathered by the same donors, including the possibility that genes for rare diseases could be spread more widely through the population. Some experts are even calling attention to the increased odds of accidental incest between half sisters and half brothers, who often live close to one another.
“My daughter knows her donor’s number for this very reason,” said the mother of a teenager conceived via sperm donation in California who asked that her name be withheld to protect her daughter’s privacy. “She’s been in school with numerous kids who were born through donors. She’s had crushes on boys who are donor children. It’s become part of sex education” for her.
Critics say that fertility clinics and sperm banks are earning huge profits by allowing too many children to be conceived with sperm from popular donors, and that families should be given more information on the health of donors and the children conceived with their sperm. They are also calling for legal limits on the number of children conceived using the same donor’s sperm and a re-examination of the anonymity that cloaks many donors.
“We have more rules that go into place when you buy a used car than when you buy sperm,” said Debora L. Spar, president of Barnard College and author of “The Baby Business: How Money, Science and Politics Drive the Commerce of Conception.” “It’s very clear that the dealer can’t sell you a lemon, and there’s information about the history of the car. There are no such rules in the fertility industry right now.”
Although other countries, including Britain, France and Sweden, limit how many children a sperm donor can father, there is no such limit in the United States. There are only guidelines issued by the American Society for Reproductive Medicine, a professional group that recommends restricting conceptions by individual donors to 25 births per population of 800,000.
No one knows how many children are born in this country each year using sperm donors. Some estimates put the number at 30,000 to 60,000, perhaps more. Mothers of donor children are asked to report a child’s birth to the sperm bank voluntarily, but just 20 to 40 percent of them do so, said Wendy Kramer, founder of the Donor Sibling Registry.
Because of this dearth of records, many families turn to the registry’s Web site, donorsiblingregistry.com, for information about a child’s half brothers or half sisters.
Ms. Kramer, who had her son, Ryan, through a sperm donor, started the registry in 2000 to help connect so-called donor families. On the Web site, parents can register the birth of a child and find half siblings by looking up a number assigned to a sperm donor. Many parents, she said, are shocked to learn just how many half siblings a child has.
“They think their daughter may have a few siblings,” Ms. Kramer said, “but then they go on our site and find out their daughter actually has 18 brothers and sisters. They’re freaked out. I’m amazed that these groups keep growing and growing.”
Ms. Kramer said that some sperm banks in the United States have treated donor families unethically and that it is time to consider new legislation.
“Just as it’s happened in many other countries around the world,” Ms. Kramer said, “we need to publicly ask the questions ‘What is in the best interests of the child to be born?’ and ‘Is it fair to bring a child into the world who will have no access to knowing about one half of their genetics, medical history and ancestry?’
“These sperm banks are keeping donors anonymous, making women babies and making a lot of money. But nowhere in that formula is doing what’s right for the donor families.”
Many of those questions were debated in Britain shortly after the birth there, in 1978, of Louise Brown, the first baby born using in vitro fertilization. In 1982, the British government appointed a committee, led by Mary Warnock, a well-known English philosopher, to look into the issues surrounding reproductive health.
The groundbreaking Warnock Report contained a list of recommendations, including regulation of the sale of human sperm and embryos and strict limits on how many children a donor could father (10 per donor). The regulations have become a model for industry practices in other countries.
“It is quite unpredictable what the ultimate effect on the gene pool of a society might be if donors were permitted to donate as many times as they chose,” Baroness Warnock wrote recently in an e-mail.
Without limits, the same donor could theoretically produce hundreds of related children. And it is even possible that accidental incest could occur among hundreds of half siblings, said Naomi R. Cahn, a law professor at George Washington University and the author of “Test Tube Families: Why the Fertility Markets Need Legal Regulation.”
Sperm donors, too, are becoming concerned. “When I asked specifically how many children might result, I was told nobody knows for sure but that five would be a safe estimate,” said a sperm donor in Texas who asked that his name be withheld because of privacy concerns. “I was told that it would be very rare for a donor to have more than 10 children.”
He later discovered in the Donor Sibling Registry that some donors had dozens of children listed. “It was all about whatever they could get away with,” he said of the sperm bank to which he donated. “It is unfair and reprehensible to the donor families, donors and donor children.”
Ms. Kramer, the registry’s founder, said that one sperm donor on her site learned that he had 70 children. He now keeps track of them all on an Excel spreadsheet. “Every once in a while he gets a new kid or twins,” she said. “It’s overwhelming, and not what he signed up for. He was promised low numbers of children.”
The fertility industry has long resisted regulation, but the explosion of related half siblings may change that. Dr. Robert G. Brzyski, chairman of the American Society for Reproductive Medicine ethics committee, had been skeptical that there could be donors with more than 100 children. But now, he said, it is time to take another look at donor limits.
“In the past, when decisions were made about how many children should be attributed to a donor, it was based on estimates of the risk of unintended consanguinity between brothers and sisters who could meet and marry,” Dr. Brzyski said. “I think those models were very limited in their vision when they were created. Now I think there needs to be a reassessment of the criteria and the policies regarding the appropriate number of offspring.”
Because there is so much secrecy surrounding sperm and egg donations, Ms. Kramer said, it has been difficult for families of children born via sperm donation to step forward with their concerns. Some heterosexual couples never tell a child that he or she is the product of a sperm donation.
Ms. Daily, the Washington social worker, said that other parents in her son’s group had been secretive because of fears that their children would be stigmatized. She and other donor parents are coming forward, she said, because they “need to start advocating for some regulation.”
Experts are not certain what it means to a child to discover that he or she is but one of 50 children — or even more. “Experts don’t talk about this when they counsel people dealing with infertility,” Ms. Kramer said. “How do you make connections with so many siblings? What does family mean to these children?”
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Saturday, September 3, 2011
...in the law of the land. In November 2009, Fish and Wildlife agents, accompanied by a heavily armed FBI SWAT team, stormed Gibson's Nashville plant and confiscated ebony fingerboards that had been imported from Madagascar. On August 24, 2011 the Feds gave an encore, rushing into Gibson factories in Memphis and Nashville with weapons drawn to confiscate ebony and rosewood from India. The urgency of this "shock and awe" display of enforcement power would suggest a serious crime had been committed. Yet nearly two years after the first raid, no formal charges have been filed, leaving Gibson management to ponder what exactly they stand accused of.
The absence of a formal indictment has fueled wild speculation, but affidavits filed to secure search warrants indicate that this case is about suspected violations of the amended Lacey Act, the recently expanded law that gives the Fish & Wildlife Service the right to regulate all trade in plant material (including wood). The new, but we hesitate to say improved, Lacey Act makes it unlawful to import, export, sell, or purchase in interstate or foreign commerce any plant that violates any U.S. or foreign law.
There are no laws on the books in the U.S. prohibiting the use of Indian or Madagascar rosewood and ebony. That didn't stop the industrious John M. Rayfield, a special agent at the Fish and Wildlife service, from concluding that Gibson's use of these woods violated Indian law. The law he cites in his affidavit, "W.E.F. 23.08.2010 Government of India, Ministry of Commerce and Industry," has nothing to do with overharvesting, illegal logging, or anything else related to the environment. Rather, it specifies labor content levels for wood thicker than 6 millimeters that is exported from India. In other words, Gibson stands accused of using U.S. instead of Indian labor to produce its guitars. Had the company imported a finished guitar from India, using the same rosewood and ebony, it would have been in compliance with Lacey. Importing semi-finished component parts caused the violation. In practice, the Indian authorities have a different interpretation of their law: For decades they have allowed the export of millions of fingerboard blanks without challenge.
There isn't a guitar manufacturer of any scale in the U.S. that doesn't use some Indian rosewood or ebony for fingerboards, and all of them, to the best of our knowledge, import the same kind of semi-finished blanks that were seized from the Gibson plant. Thus, by the logic of Rayfield's affidavit, they are all potentially in violation of Lacey. Lacey applies to sellers, buyers, intermediaries, and anyone else who comes into contact with "illegal" wood, so retailers and consumers could be on the hook as well. If that isn't sufficiently unsettling, remember that Lacey is "a fact-based, rather than a document-based statute." Translation: having the right paperwork won't save you from fines, confiscation of product, or even imprisonment, and the world of music is populated with unsuspecting felons.
At a time when the U.S. economy has yet to return to 2008 production levels, when unemployment stands at 9.1%, when the 2011 national deficit will top $1.3 trillion, and when the trade deficit continues to grow, it's hard to understand why federal agencies would be spending millions to prosecute a thriving U.S. company that sells an acclaimed product that delights millions, is adding workers to its U.S. payroll, and exports 60% of its production. (Equally baffling is why Congress would pass such a poorly crafted bill as the amended Lacey Act, but that's an issue for another editorial.) If Fish and Wildlife and the FBI have a cause for action against Gibson, they should have spelled it out long ago. Absent a compelling case, they should pack it in and let the people of Gibson go about their business serving musicians without interference.
When the Oregon Congressional Delegation amended the Lacey act, their self-declared aim was primarily economic. Responding to an influential constituent, they sought expanded import documentation to slow timber imports and thereby boost a Pacific Northwest timber industry that had been hard hit by the downturn in housing construction. Thus, a bill to help loggers in Oregon has hurt guitar makers in Tennessee, proving that the law of unintended consequences is still very much in force.
Responsibility for enforcing Lacey, and making sure that all wood was in compliance with all of the world's regulations, was handed to the Animal Plant Heath Inspection Service (APHIS), an arm of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. In a December 15, 2008 presentation, APHIS officials appeared overwhelmed by the new job. They said that enforcement was a low priority and it would take at least a year to develop reporting requirements and proper forms. Yet 11 months later, the Feds were at Gibson's door with guns drawn.
We're not lawyers, but this prosecution (or should we say persecution) of Gibson seems a violation of "due process" and a clear-cut case of regulatory agencies run amok. And the problem extends beyond the pain inflicted on a single company. By the reasoning employed by Fish and Wildlife, the entire guitar world--manufacturers, retailers, vintage dealers, teachers, and players--could be implicated in a Lacey sting. This kind of open-ended threat of prosecution is an affront to a legion of decent, hardworking people who provide the tools for musicians; it's an unnecessary burden on an already struggling economy; and it's a blow to the credibility of a government that is not universally well regarded by its citizenry. As Gibson CEO Henry Juszkiewicz put it, "We feel totally abused. We believe the arrogance of federal power is impacting me personally, our company, and the employees here in Tennessee, and it's just plain wrong."
He's right, and his complaint is one that should be taken up by the entire industry.
Brian T. Majeski
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