Thursday, February 28, 2013

Iran thinks nuke talks going great, West not so much

ALMATY (Reuters) - Iran gave an upbeat assessment of two days of nuclear talks with world powers that ended on Wednesday, but Western officials said Tehran must start taking concrete steps to ease mounting concerns about its atomic activity.

The first negotiations between Iran and six world powers in eight months ended without a breakthrough in Almaty, but they agreed to meet again at expert level in Istanbul next month and resume political discussions in the Kazakh city on April 5.

Israel, assumed to be the Middle East's only nuclear-armed power, is watching the talks closely. It has strongly hinted it might attack Iran if diplomacy and sanctions fail to stop it from acquiring nuclear weapons. Iran denies any such aim.

Iran's foreign minister said he was optimistic an agreement could be reached with the powers - the United States, France, Russia, Britain, Germany and China - on the country's disputed nuclear program.

"Very confident," Ali Akbar Salehi told Reuters when asked on the sidelines of a U.N. conference in Vienna how confident he was of a positive outcome.

The six powers offered at the February 26-27 Almaty meeting to lift some sanctions if Iran scaled back nuclear activity that the West fears could be used to build a bomb.

Tehran, which says its program is entirely peaceful, did not agree to do so and the sides did not appear any closer to a deal to resolve a decade-old dispute that could lead to another war in the Middle East if diplomacy fails.

But Iran still said the talks were a positive step in which the six powers tried to "get closer to our viewpoint".

Western officials had made clear they did not expect major progress in Almaty, aware that the closeness of Iran's presidential election in June is raising political tensions in Tehran and makes significant concessions unlikely.

"I hope the Iranian side is looking positively on the proposal we put forward," said European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, who led the talks on behalf of the powers. "We have to see what happens next."

The United States did not expect a breakthrough and "the result was clearly in line with those expectations," a senior U.S. official said.

The meeting was "useful" as the two sides agreed dates and venues for follow-up talks but there was a need for progress on confidence building measures, the official added.


The West's immediate priority is that Iran halts higher-grade uranium enrichment and closes an underground facility, Fordow, where this work is carried out. The material is a relatively short technical step from bomb-grade uranium.

"What we care about at the end is concrete results," the U.S. official said.

One diplomat in Almaty said the Iranians appeared to be suggesting at the negotiations that they were opening new avenues, but that it was not clear if this was really the case.

Both sides said experts would meet for talks in the Turkish city of Istanbul on March 18 and that political negotiators would return to Almaty on April 5-6.

Russian negotiator Sergei Ryabkov confirmed that the powers had offered to ease sanctions on Iran if it stops enriching uranium to 20 percent fissile purity - a short technical step from weapons grade - at the Fordow underground site where it carries out its most controversial uranium enrichment work.

Western officials said the offer of sanctions relief included a resumption of trade in gold and precious metals.

One diplomat said that lifting an embargo on imports of Iranian petrochemical products to Europe, if Iran responded, was also on the table. But a U.S. official said the world powers had not offered to suspend oil or financial sanctions.

The sanctions are hurting Iran's economy and its chief nuclear negotiator, Saeed Jalili, suggested Iran could discuss its production of higher-grade nuclear fuel, although he appeared to rule out shutting Fordow.

In comments in Persian translated into English, Jalili told a news conference Fordow was under the supervision of the U.N. nuclear watchdog and there was no justification for closing it.


Asked about the production of 20-percent enriched fuel, he reiterated Iran's position that it needed this for a research reactor and had a right to produce it.

Iran says its enrichment program is aimed solely at fuelling nuclear power plants so that it can export more oil, and that Israel's assumed nuclear arsenal is the main threat to peace in the region.

But Jalili did indicate that Iran might be prepared to talk about the issue, saying: "This can be discussed in the negotiations ... in view of confidence building."

Iran has also previously suggested that 20-percent enrichment was up for negotiation if it received the fuel from abroad instead. It also wants sanctions lifted.

"While an agreement to meet again may not impress skeptics of diplomacy, an important development did occur," said Trita Parsi, an expert on Iran. "The parties began searching for a solution by offering positive measures in order to secure concessions from the other side.

Another expert, Dina Esfandiary of the International Institute for Strategic Studies, said: "I note that the mood is more optimistic and that's great, but a deal still hasn't been reached and in my view its unlikely to be reached before the Iranian elections have come and gone."

(Additional reporting Fredrik Dahl in Almaaty, Georgina Prodhan in Vienna, Zahra Hosseinian in Zurich, Gabriela Baczynska in Moscow, Dan Williams in Jerusalem and Marcus George in Dubai; Writing by Timothy Heritage and Fredrik Dahl; Editing by Jon Hemming)


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Head of Mexico's powerful teachers' union detained

MEXICO CITY (AP) ? The head of Mexico's powerful teachers' union was arrested at an airport outside Mexico City Tuesday for alleged embezzlement, with federal officials accusing her using union funds to pay for plastic surgery, buy a private plane and even pay her bill at Neiman Marcus.

Attorney General Jesus Murillo Karam said that Elba Esther Gordillo, who has led the 1.5 million-member National Union of Education Worker for 23 years, was detained in Toluca on charges that she embezzled 2.6 billion pesos (about $200 million) from union funds.

Her arrest comes a day after President Enrique Pena Nieto signed Mexico's most sweeping education reform in seven decades into law, seeking to change a system in which teaching positions could be sold or inherited, and no official census of schools, teachers and students was ever carried out. Gordillo was seen controlling the union and much of Mexico's education system like her personal fiefdom.

The overhaul was Pena Nieto's first major proposal since taking office Dec. 1 and was considered a political blow to Gordillo, who has played the role of kingmaker for many Mexican politicians.

The plan moves much of the control of the education system to the federal government from the teachers' union. Gordillo was elected to another six-year term as union leader in October. She was the only candidate and there was not a single dissenting vote.

For years, she has beaten back attacks from union dissidents, political foes and journalists who have seen her as a symbol of Mexico's corrupt, old-style politics. Rivals have accused her of corruption, misuse of union funds and even a murder, but prosecutors who investigated never brought a charge against her.

She was expelled from Pena Nieto's Institutional Revolutionary Party in 2006 for supporting other parties' candidates and the formation of her own New Alliance party.

Gordillo's arrest recalled the 1989 arrest of another once-feared union boss, Joaquin Hernandez Galicia, known as "La Quina." The longtime head of Mexico's powerful oil workers union, Hernandez Galicia was arrested during the first months of the new administration of then-President Carlos Salinas.

Like Gordillo, Hernandez Galicia's power was believed to represent a challenge to the president, and his arrest was interpreted as an assertion of the president's authority. He was freed from prison after Salinas de Gortari left office.

In 1988, he criticized Salinas' presidential candidacy and threatened an oil workers' strike if Salinas privatized any part of the government oil monopoly, Petroleos Mexicanos, or Pemex. On Jan. 10, 1989, ? about a month after Salinas took office ? soldiers used a bazooka to blow down the door of Hernandez' home in the Gulf Coast city of Ciudad Madero.


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Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Nokia Lumia 520 tries to arrive at FCC incognito, given away by codename

Nokia Lumia 520 tries to arrive at FCC incognito, given away by codename

Nokia just tried to hustle a certain RM-914 model through the FCC, but thanks to an earlier glance at the Fed's Indonesian counterpart POSTEL, we know we're actually looking at the Lumia 520. As the Finnish outfit just announced, that model represents the new low-end of its Windows Phone 8 line, though it's decently spec'd with a dual-core 1GHz Snapdragon CPU, 4-inch 800 x 480 IPS display and 1,430mAh battery. While eschewing LTE, the device will pack various WCDMA and HSPA+ frequencies for 3G, though in this case, we're not looking at WCDMA 900 / 2100 bands, meaning it's indeed a US model. Its next stop ought to be store shelves later this quarter -- followed by your pocket, if the $183 or so WP8 handset rings your bell.

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Source: FCC


Pirate Bay abandons Sweden for Norway and Spain after legal ...

Published time: February 26, 2013 13:47
Edited time: February 26, 2013 13:44

Screenshot from

The Swedish Pirate Party has handed over hosting of the Pirate Bay to sister parties in Norway and Spain after the country?s copyright lobby sent a letter threatening criminal charges for hosting the controversial file-sharing website.

The Swedish Rights Alliance gave the party until Tuesday to cut all ties with the Pirate Bay following threats of serious legal consequences. In a letter sent directly to the party's board members earlier this month, the Swedish Pirate Party was accused of violating copyright law by acting as an Internet service provider for the popular bittorrent site.

The alliance also charged that the Supreme Court of Sweden had ?legally settled that not only those who operate an illegal file-sharing service, but also those who provide internet access to such an illegal service are committing a criminal act.?

The Rights Alliance said that such violations of copyright law could entail stiff fines for noncompliance, payment of damages and even potential prison terms. ?These rules apply to legal entities, including non-profit organizations such as The Pirate Party and Serious Tubes, their board members, and other representatives of the organizations,? the letter continued.

The Pirate Bay?s decision to move its web-hosting services to Norway and Spain likely stems from legal precedents indicating more favorable climates for file-sharing sites.

In 2010, the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry (IFPI) and several movie studios were unable to force a Norwegian ISP to block the Pirate Bay. Spanish courts have so far failed to react to dozens of site closure requests from rightsholders, and threats from the United States that Spain will be put on a trade blacklist.

Swedish Pirate Party Leader Anna Troberg hailed the shift as a positive sign that despite legal pressure at home, the movement is continuing to become an international platform for reforming copyright laws and patents.

?Today, there are more than sixty different Pirate Parties all around the world. Every cut connection to The Pirate Bay will generate two new connections,? Torrent Freak quoted her as saying.

She further said that to take the Rights Alliance on at this time would not be prudent, despite the tenuous legal claims leveled at the Pirate Party.

?It would be crazy to enter a game where the rules are decided by the other team,? she said. ?The Pirate Party?s mission is not to produce martyrs for the copyright industry. Our mission is to create longterm political change that ensures that the copyright industry in the future will not be allowed to threaten companies, organizations and individuals into silence with our common judicial system as a weapon.?


Can Therapy Dogs Help Kids With Autism? - Health News and ...

black lab2 Can Therapy Dogs Help Kids With Autism?

By Amy Norton
HealthDay Reporter

TUESDAY, Feb. 26 (HealthDay News) ? For children with autism, trained dogs may offer not only a furry friend, but some therapeutic benefits, too, a new research review finds.

There is a ?substantial body of evidence? that dogs act as ?social catalysts,? even encouraging adults to be a little friendlier to each other, said senior researcher Francesca Cirulli, of the National Institute of Health in Rome, Italy. And the few studies that have focused on kids with autism suggest the same is true for them.

People have long turned to animals as a way to help with health conditions or disabilities ? either as part of formal therapy or to offer everyday assistance (such as guide dogs for the blind).

In some cases, ?therapy? or ?service? dogs are called into action to help children with autism spectrum disorders (ASDs) ? a group of developmental brain disorders that hinder a child?s ability to communicate and interact socially. ASDs range from the severe cases of ?classic? autism to the relatively mild form called Asperger?s syndrome.

In the United States, it?s estimated that about one in 88 children has some form of autism.

Yet there has been little research into whether trained dogs actually benefit those kids. The good news is, the existing evidence is promising, according to the new review, published in the February issue of the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine.

However, ?it is early to draw final conclusions,? said Cirulli.

Specifically, Cirulli?s team found six published studies of dogs? effects on children with an autism spectrum disorder. Four of them looked at therapy dogs ? dogs that therapists use during formal sessions to help children settle in, get engaged and be more open to communicating.

Overall, the studies were positive, Cirulli and her colleagues found.

In one study of 22 children, for example, kids were more talkative and socially engaged during therapy sessions where a dog was present. In another study, of 12 boys, the children were less aggressive and smiled more when their therapy session included a canine companion.

Two studies focused on service dogs ? trained dogs that live with the family. The animals serve mainly to keep kids with autism safe; when the family goes out, the child will be literally tethered to the dog to keep from running off or getting hurt.

?That can be a huge relief for families,? said Dr. Melissa Nishawala, medical director of the Autism Spectrum Disorders Clinical and Research Program at NYU Langone Medical Center in New York City.

Parents? anxiety over their child?s safety can lead to social isolation in some cases, noted Nishawala, who was not involved in the study. ?Your world can get very small,? she said, ?because you limit where you go.?

So a service dog can make a big difference to the whole family, Nishawala said.

Cirulli?s team found that service dogs might also benefit children?s behavior. In the two studies they reviewed, parents generally said their children were better behaved and more attentive after the family got a service dog.

There are still plenty of questions, though ? about both therapy dogs and service dogs.

For one, children with an autism spectrum disorder vary widely in the types of issues they have and their severity. No one is sure which kids might benefit most from time with a trained pooch, Nishawala noted.

She said more studies are needed ? not only larger ones, but also ones with better ?definitions.? That means making sure the children involved have been formally diagnosed with a form of autism, defining what the ?therapy? is, and being clear about what outcomes the study is assessing.

There is a lot of anecdotal evidence that a dog could help bring a child with autism out of his shell, said Nishawala, but scientific evidence is just coming in.

Cirulli agreed that better defined studies are key.

It?s possible, Cirulli noted, that a dog could have negative effects on some kids with an autism spectrum disorder. An animal might, for instance, increase ?hyper? behavior.

For parents wondering whether adopting a dog is a good idea, the answer seems to be, ?It depends.?

Cirulli pointed out that these studies focused on dogs trained to be around children with autism. So the findings cannot be assumed to apply to your average Fido.

You might first want to see how your child reacts to a friend?s or neighbor?s dog, Cirulli suggested.

?Getting a dog could be a nice thing for the family,? Nishawala agreed. ?It could be therapeutic for everyone.?

If you are interested in a trained service dog, be prepared for an investment. It costs about $20,000 to train a dog, and the family would have to foot much of that bill.

More information

Autism Service Dogs of America has more on which kids might benefit from a canine companion.

HEALTHDAY Web XSmall Can Therapy Dogs Help Kids With Autism?


Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Lower Capital Gains Taxes Drive Income Inequality ? Dispatches ...

A new study from the Congressional Research Service concludes that keeping the tax rate on capital gains far lower than the taxes on regular income for the wealthiest taxpayers is the primary thing that is driving income inequality in this country. The abstract:

This paper examines changes in after-tax income inequality among tax filers between 1991 and 2006. In particular, how changes in wages, capital income, and tax policy contribute to changes in income inequality is investigated. To examine the role of these three possible contributors to the increase in income inequality, the Gini coefficient is decomposed by income source using the method developed by Lerman and Yitzhaki (1985). The Gini coefficient of after-tax income increased by 15 percent (0.071 points) between 1991 and 2006. By far, the largest contributor to this increase was changes in income from capital gains and dividends. Changes in wages had an equalizing effect over this period as did changes in taxes. Most of the equalizing effect of taxes took place after the 1993 tax hike; most of the equalizing effect, however, was reversed after the 2001 and 2003 Bush-era tax cuts. Similar results are obtained with other inequality measures.

And from the text of the study:

CBO (2011) has documented that income inequality has been increasing in the United States over the past 35 years. Several factors have been identified as possibly contributing to increasing income inequality. This paper examines changes in after-tax income inequality among tax filers between 1991 and 2006. In particular, how changes in wages, capital income, and tax policy contribute to changes in income inequality is investigated. During this period,
there were changes in the sources of income that differed by income category and there were many changes in tax policy?

Three potential causes of the increase in after-tax income inequality between 1991 and 2006 are examined in the analysis: changes in labor income (wages and salaries), changes in capital income (interest income, capital gains, dividends, and business income), and changes in taxes?

The role of capital income and capital gains has recently been thrust into the debate over increasing income inequality with the OccupyWall Street movement and proposed legislation to increase the tax rate on carried interests received by private equity managers. CBO (2011) documents the increased concentration of business income, capital income, and capital gains between 1979 and 2007.

Capital income has generally been concentrated among higher-income tax filers. Capital income can be capital gains, dividends, and business income from partnerships and S-corporations. The number of partnerships and S-corporations has steadily increased between 1991 and 2006. The number of partnerships increased by 1.4 million over this period and the number of S-corporations increased by 2.2 million.3 Income from these types of business is reported on an individual tax filer?s tax return and is not subject to the corporate income tax. An increasing share of income for high-income tax filers is from capital income, which could be part of the explanation for the rising income of this group of tax filers and rising income inequality.

And here?s the critical part. Because many forms of investment income are taxed as capital gains at 15% or, starting in 2013, at 20% for the top tax bracket ? still half of what it would be if it were taxed as regular income ? the wealthy investing class has arranged their finances so most of their income comes in the form that is taxed the least, as capital gains. In 1991, 92% of all income was taxable at the regular rate; in 2006, that was down to 77%.

A return to the tax pre-2011 tax rates would shift the burden and make our tax system ever so slightly more progressive. It would also reduce income inequality. But the most important thing we could do is tax capital gains at the same rate we tax other forms of income. That would make the tax code considerably more progressive, boost federal revenue, reduce the deficit and reduce income inequality.


Liver stem cells grown in culture: Therapeutic benefit demonstrated

Feb. 25, 2013 ? For decades scientists around the world have attempted to regenerate primary liver cells known as hepatocytes because of their numerous biomedical applications, including hepatitis research, drug metabolism and toxicity studies, as well as transplantation for cirrhosis and other chronic liver conditions. But no lab in the world has been successful in identifying and growing liver stem cells in culture -- using any available technique -- until now.

In the journal Nature, physician-scientists in the Pap? Family Pediatric Research Institute at Oregon Health & Science University Doernbecher Children's Hospital, Portland, Ore., along with investigators at the Hubrecht Institute for Developmental Biology and Stem Cell Research, Utrecht, Netherlands, describe a new method through which they were able to infinitely expand liver stem cells from a mouse in a dish.

"This study raises the hope that the human equivalent of these mouse liver stem cells can be grown in a similar way and efficiently converted into functional liver cells," said Markus Grompe, M.D., study co-author, director of the Pap? Family Pediatric Research Institute at OHSU Doernbecher Children's Hospital; and professor of pediatrics, and molecular and medical genetics in the OHSU School of Medicine.

In a previous Nature study, investigators at the Hubrecht Institute, led by Hans Clever, M.D, Ph.D., were the first to identify stem cells in the small intestine and colon by observing the expression of the adult stem cell marker Lgr5 and growth in response to a growth factor called Wnt. They also hypothesized that the unique expression pattern of Lgr5 could mark stem cells in other adult tissues, including the liver, an organ for which stem cell identification remained elusive.

In the current Nature study, Grompe and colleagues in the Pap? Family Pediatric Research Institute at OHSU Doernbecher used a modified version of the Clever method and discovered that Wnt-induced Lgr5 expression not only marks stem cell production in the liver, but it also defines a class of stem cells that become active when the liver is damaged.

The scientists were able to grow these liver stem cells exponentially in a dish -- an accomplishment never before achieved -- and then transplant them in a specially designed mouse model of liver disease, where they continued to grow and show a modest therapeutic effect.

"We were able to massively expand the liver cells and subsequently convert them to hepatocytes at a modest percentage. Going forward, we will enlist other growth factors and conditions to improve that percentage. Liver stem cell therapy for chronic liver disease in humans is coming," said Grompe.

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Story Source:

The above story is reprinted from materials provided by Oregon Health & Science University, via EurekAlert!, a service of AAAS.

Note: Materials may be edited for content and length. For further information, please contact the source cited above.

Journal Reference:

  1. Meritxell Huch, Craig Dorrell, Sylvia F. Boj, Johan H. van Es, Vivian S. W. Li, Marc van de Wetering, Toshiro Sato, Karien Hamer, Nobuo Sasaki, Milton J. Finegold, Annelise Haft, Robert G. Vries, Markus Grompe, Hans Clevers. In vitro expansion of single Lgr5 liver stem cells induced by Wnt-driven regeneration. Nature, 2013; 494 (7436): 247 DOI: 10.1038/nature11826

Note: If no author is given, the source is cited instead.

Disclaimer: This article is not intended to provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of ScienceDaily or its staff.


Economists predicting moderate growth in 2013

(AP) ? Business economists expect 2013 will be another year of sub-par growth for the U.S. economy, reflecting uncertainty stemming from the budget battles in Washington and Europe's on-going debt problems. But they think the economy will improve as the year progresses and by 2014 will grow at the fastest pace in nine years.

In its latest survey of top forecasters, the National Association for Business Economics said it expected the economy, as measured by the gross domestic product, to expand at an annual rate of 2 percent this year, slightly worse than last year's lackluster 2.2 percent growth.

For 2014, however, the NABE forecasters believe the economy will be growing at a rate of 2.8 percent, which would be the best performance since 2005. The GDP, the economy's total output of goods and services, shrank in 2008 and 2009 as the country went through the worst economic contraction since the Great Depression of the 1930s.

Since then economic growth has been modest as the economy has been held back by a variety of factors including prolonged unemployment.

The latest quarterly forecast from NABE is based on responses from 49 forecasters gathered from Jan. 28 through Feb. 5. On growth, it represented a slight downgrade from the survey released in December which forecast the economy would grow 2.1 percent this year.

The NABE panelists were pessimistic about the effects the budget battles in Washington would have on growth. Nearly all felt growth would be reduced this year, given the uncertainty surrounding the budget. One-half of the panelists felt the drag would shave less than one-half percentage point from growth while one-third put the drag at between one-half and a full percentage point knocked off growth this year.

The panelists saw the economy strengthening as the budget uncertainty is resolved. They forecast growth in the second half of this year would average above a rate of 2.5 percent and get stronger next year.

"While the NABE forecasters see fiscal threats, they are optimistic that there will be some resolution toward the second half of this year and that will result in an improvement in many of the numbers is 2014," said Nayantara Hensel, an economics professor at the National Defense University in Washington and a member of the NABE forecasting panel.

The next budget deadline will occur Friday when across-the-board spending cuts totaling $85 billion, known as a sequester, are scheduled to go into effect.

Congress and President Barack Obama averted the so-called fiscal cliff at the end of December with a deal that allowed tax rates to rise on individuals making more than $400,000 and families making more than $450,000 per year. That deal also allowed the temporary 2 percentage point cut in Social Security payroll taxes, which was in effect for two years, to expire.

The tax increases in the fiscal-cliff deal, especially the rise in Social Security payroll taxes, will mean slower growth this year. It will mean that a worker earning $50,000 annually will see his Social Security tax go up by $1,000.

That will slow consumer spending, which accounts for 70 percent of economic activity. The NABE panel forecast consumer spending will rise at an annual rate of 1.9 percent this year but will accelerate in 2014 to a growth rate of 2.5 percent.

The NABE panelists were also pessimistic about Europe's on-going budget troubles, which have hurt the U.S. economy by cutting into export sales. Over one-third of the panelists said they believe Spain will need a larger bailout package this year and one-fourth think that on-going debt troubles in Italy will force that country to take bailout support as well.

"The problems in Europe and our own domestic fiscal drama will keep the investment outlook subdued," said Kenneth Simonson, chief economist for the Associated General Contractors of America and a member of the NABE panel.

Among other predictions in the latest NABE survey:

?Unemployment, currently at 7.9 percent, will decline slowly to 7.5 percent by the end of this year and to 7 percent by the end of 2014, with average monthly job growth of 170,000 this year and 193,000 in 2014.

?Inflation will remain modest at around 2 percent, giving the Federal Reserve leeway to keep a key short-term interest rate at a record low near zero this year and in 2014.

?New home construction, which is finally rebounding after the housing bust, will jump 25.6 percent this year and another 17.3 percent in 2014, pushing construction next year to 1.15 million homes.

Associated Press


Monday, February 25, 2013

GOP Might Fire Illinois Chair For Support of Marriage Equality

Just last month, Illinois Republican Chairman Pat Brady started calling on lawmakers to support marriage equality. At the time, Brady said:?"Giving gay and lesbian couples the freedom to get married honors the best conservative principles. It strengthens families and reinforces a key Republican value - that the law should treat all citizens equally."

6a00d8341c730253ef017ee6e86ff2970d-800wiThis led many Republicans calling for his resignation. Even NOM demanded Brady step down from his post.

Yesterday, Brady received a phone call in which he was told GOP leaders plan to meet next month to discuss his possible removal. All this because of his vocal support for marriage equality.

WBEZ reports:

Brady?s ouster would require the weighted vote of three-fifths of the state central committee. The votes are weighted differently based on turnout in the March primary. Committeeman Jim Oberweis, a state senator, said there are enough votes to fire Brady.

?We?d have exactly the same reaction if suddenly Pat decided to talk about the merits of Obamacare,? Oberweis told WBEZ Friday. Brady has said his position on gay marriage is personal, and that he wasn?t speaking on behalf of the party when he made his original statement. He?s since refused to step down.

Brady also?spoke to Crain's Chicago Busine?about the news:

"Absolutely not," Mr. Brady replied when I asked if he's willing to change his mind. "The more and more I talk to people, the more I'm convinced. (Allowing same-sex marriage) is the right thing to do."

The GOP meeting is scheduled?to take place March 9.


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Sunday, February 24, 2013

90% No

All Critics (58) | Top Critics (16) | Fresh (52) | Rotten (6)

Nominated by the Academy as the year's best foreign-language film, No grabs you hard, no mercy, and keeps you riveted.

Larra?n's unarguable point is that, in politics, if we wait for good to issue only from the pure in heart, we will be waiting a very long time.

[Lorrain has] made a few daring choices here, not all of which work.

A troubling, exhilarating and ingeniously realized film that's part stirring political drama and part devilish media satire ...

For anyone fascinated by the political process and the powers of persuasive advertising, No is a resounding yes.

It hangs on three ideas...While intriguing, the execution of all is less than satisfying.

Larra?n's script is punctuated by dark bursts of humour, and the filmmaker knowingly navigates his audience to a nail-biting - though never cloying, and fully warranted - climax.

It makes the superficial Mad Men seem like, well, a commercial. Buy, buy, buy.

A fascinating period re-creation if not an especially compelling drama.

Evocative and suspenseful, the film is a fascinating glimpse into recent history and the democratic process.

The film highlights the sad fact that logical arguments don't win political debates or elections. Sloganeering and advertising do.

Using a technique borrowed from cinema verit? documentaries, the director succeeds in making us feel as if we're living each moment right alongside his politically-charged characters.

It's a perfectly fine movie, but given its fairly radical storyline, the filmmaking tends to hew toward the safe and the familiar.

"No" gives a fresh look at the little known history of a country whose duly elected government under Salvador Allende was overthrown in a military coup led by Pinochet in 1973.

Savvy, often brilliant ...

Bernal plays the creative type perfectly. His big eyes always seem to be seeing things that others don't, and through his calm, methodical demeanor, you can sense the wheels turning in his head.

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Danielle Tumminio: Candida Moss on Whether Christian Martyrs are a Myth

I recently got my hands on a copy of Dr. Candida Moss's latest book, "The Myth of Persecution: How Early Christians Invented a Story of Martyrdom." As a person of faith and an academic, I was fascinated and challenged by some of her findings about how ancient Christian martyr stories continue to affect how many Christians understand their faith today, and I wanted to know more. What follows is an in-depth series of questions that I asked to Dr. Moss, who's a New Testament scholar at Notre Dame University:

So Dr. Moss, what led you to write this book?

I initially became interested in this subject because of a homily I heard that compared the situation facing modern Christians in America to the martyrs of the early church. I was surprised by the comparison because modern Americans aren't living in fear for their lives and the analogy seemed a little hyperbolic and sensational. After this, I began to notice the language of persecution and victimization being bandied about everywhere from politics, to sermons, to the media, but rarely in regard to situations that involve imprisonment and violence.

Huh. That's curious. Can you say a little more about how you saw martyrs being used in American public discourse?

Often these statements referred to the history of the early Church as evidence that Christians have always been persecuted and, thus, should expect to be persecuted today. In these arguments, a lot of weight rests on the idea that Christians were persecuted in the early church because, without the idea of near-continuous persecution, it would be difficult to recast, say, disagreements about the role of prayer in schools as persecution.

So you're saying that there's a widespread belief that we don't say Christians were always persecuted in history, then it's harder for some contemporary Christians to say that they're still persecuted?

Yes. But intriguingly, the historical evidence for systematic persecution of Christians by Jews and Romans is actually very slim. There were only a few years before the rise of the emperor Constantine that Christians were sought out by the authorities just for being Christians. The stories about early Christian martyrs have been edited, expanded, and sometimes even invented, giving the impression that Christians were under constant attack. This mistaken impression is important because it fosters a sense of Christian victimhood and that victim mentality continues to rear its head in modern politics and society. It's difficult to imagine that people could make the same claims about persecution today were it not for the idea that Christians have always been persecuted.

Wow -- so that sounds like a pretty bold claim that some contemporary Christians are making. What do these Christians gain by having this tradition of martyrs? What is lost or harmful about this tradition?

Christian martyrs are sources of inspiration and moral instruction. The traditions associated with these martyrs show them displaying virtues like courage, love, and perseverance. These are ordinary Christians who overcame human self-centeredness in defense of their faith. Stories about the sufferings and triumphs of women and slaves have proven particularly inspirational for those who are sick, suffering, or oppressed.

At the same time, however, and as I argue in my book, identifying oneself as a persecuted minority necessarily identifies others as persecutors. It turns disagreement into a struggle for survival with an innocent "us" pitted against a hateful "them." This polarizing view of the world not only makes it impossible to have meaningful dialogue and collaboration, but it can also be used to legitimize violence against others in the name of "self-defense." Perhaps the worst effect of this misuse is that it harms those who truly are persecuted: Sadly, people of many religious traditions continue to be persecuted around the world, and yet their voices are drowned out by our own. In my opinion, we need to reserve the language of persecution for the situations of violence that truly warrant them.

You're both a historian and a person of faith. Some of the historical evidence you offer in this book may be challenging for people of faith to read. Was it challenging for you to write? What would you say to those readers who might struggle with the historical evidence in this book?

In a word, yes. To those readers who might struggle with this book, I would say that you can appreciate the martyrs without subscribing to the view that Christians were, are, and always have been persecuted. We still have an obligation to get our facts straight, however painful that might be. Getting the history right can help reduce the alarmist, conspiratorial rhetoric of victimization so common today. And it can also strengthen our appreciation for the real martyrs. Martyrdom accounts are inspiring -- and should be -- but we do those people who suffered and died a deep disservice when we extend their experience to claim that "all Christians are persecuted and always will be" because that's not true, then and now.

In one of this book's early chapters, you write about the concept of a good death. What did it mean to die a good death in the ancient world? Can you talk a little bit about the differences between a good death in ancient Greece and in ancient Judaism?

It seems very counter-intuitive to us, but ancient Greeks, Romans, Jews and later Christians thought about death -- a lot. They theorized about what it meant to die nobly and even encouraged people to embrace death in the service of country, city, law or God. Iconic figures like Achilles and Socrates were remembered in large part because of the way in which they died. For ancient Greeks fighting in battle, dying nobly ensured that one would be remembered as a courageous hero. Ancient Jews were willing to lay down their lives out of obedience to the law but also in the knowledge that God would reward them in the afterlife. But while Jews and Romans differed about what, precisely, was worth dying for and the form of reward they could expect, they were in agreement that dying with self-control for something greater than oneself was a good thing.

So how did ancient Greek and Jewish ideas about a good death affect the early Christians?

Christianity emerged in a world in which everyone valued dying for a cause. So it makes sense that the early Christians shared this view and that they interpreted death -- especially the traumatizing death of their leader -- in a similar way. Sometimes scholars or modern observers will say that ancient Christians must have been crazy for desiring martyrdom because it is unnatural or insane. But the fact of the matter is that dying nobly was well regarded in ancient culture and Christians were perfectly in keeping with the rest of society valorizing certain kinds of death.

That's really interesting. In my role as a priest, I have the opportunity to talk to people fairly regularly about their own mortality, and most people I speak with believe that a good death involves dying peacefully, preferably in their sleep. I've also heard many people say that they would want to be surrounded by friends and loved ones. So dying for a cause isn't something that comes up often when they think about a good death. You don't write about this a lot, but I'm curious: Do you think that 21st century Westerners have a different idea about what it means to die a good death? Do you think our perception of death now is healthier than in the ancient world?

It's a good thing that we aren't volunteering to become martyrs as some early Christians did! But I think that 21st century Westerners don't think about death enough. Despite the maxim about death and taxes, we tend to imagine that we can live forever, and a lot of people speculate about whether or not we can eradicate death altogether. The effect of this is that we are shocked and traumatized when death takes place, and we don't think enough about the principles that we value more highly than ourselves.

So then how did Jesus' death affect what the early Christians thought about a good death and martyrdom?

The belief that Jesus was the Son of God has allowed Christians to ask themselves not just 'what does God want from us ' but also 'what would Jesus do?' When it comes to martyrdom, there is one very clear-cut answer: Jesus would die. In trying to follow in the footsteps of the Savior, early Christians self-consciously modeled their deaths on that of Jesus. The late first century bishop Ignatius of Antioch writes -- in terms that are a little uncomfortable to modern ears -- that he longs for his body to be consumed by the wild animals so that he can imitate the suffering of his God. He was not alone. This meant that dying like Christ was a dearly cherished ideal for Christians, even if, unlike Ignatius, they never underwent martyrdom themselves.

On page 52, you write that, "The afterlife that martyrs describe is bodily resurrection" in the ancient Jewish, and Christian communities. For me, at least, this makes me wonder if the afterlife was a kind of convenient coping mechanism that martyrs used to justify their suffering. Would you characterize it this way? And if this was the case -- or even if it wasn't -- would you consider this to be evidence against the existence of an afterlife?

The resurrection of the body does provide consolation for the grieving and it does function as a coping mechanism for people, even today. That said, just because people find consolation in something doesn't necessarily mean it's not true. I would say that the development of ideas about the resurrection in tandem with ideas about martyrdom isn't evidence against the afterlife, but it does help us understand the history of why people think about the afterlife in the way that they do. Jewish authors first described the afterlife as the restoration of the body in response to the disfiguring torture and execution of observant Jews in the second century BC. Christians were heirs to this tradition. And some Christians adopted the idea that they would be resurrected in their bodies along with the idea that they should suffer for God.

After offering some pretty compelling evidence, you conclude on page 213 that, "Many cherished and widely held beliefs about martyrs are far from the mark, that persecution was not as severe as Christian authors and two thousand years of tradition would lead us to believe, and that we have very little evidence for what the martyrs themselves actually said." Can you talk a little bit about why the early Christians created these myths? Do you think they saw the creation of these myths as problematic or would this have been an accepted practice at the time?

There were a lot of motivations for creating martyr stories. Sometimes there was a vague story of a particular saint floating around that a scribe simply set in writing and embellished in order to support local religious practices. Sometimes a scribe composed a martyrdom story for an anonymous deceased Christian who may or may not have been a martyr. Other times, stories were expanded or anecdotes added in order that the martyr could be remembered for approving bishops or condemning heretics. Christians weren't the only ones to do this-Greek historians Herodotus and Thucydides did the same thing -- so it clearly wasn't as problematic for ancient audiences as it is for us. At the same time, we can't accept this history of persecution uncritically. We need to be realistic about the nature of our traditions.

So along those lines, how can the historic martyrs who did sacrifice their lives for a greater good be a positive force in contemporary society? And if some of the martyr stories we have are fiction instead of fact, can they still serve a positive purpose?

We need to keep the figure of the righteous sufferer in our religious cast of characters because without it, we might lean too heavily towards the idea that the socially and politically marginalized deserve their lot in life. Some of these martyrs' stories may not be based on historical events, but these are stories of courage, of emboldened Christians standing up for their beliefs, and of people speaking out in the face of injustice and tyranny. They are stories about people suffering despite being good and sometimes because they were good, rather than because they were punished.

In the conclusion, you write about the rhetorical power of Joan of Arc, a well-known French martyr who still plays a role in French political and social life. Do you think that there is there such a thing as too much remembering? At some point, should the stories of a martyr be forgotten?

As a historian, I think that remembering is an aid to avoiding future mistakes, and as someone who works on martyrs, I want everyone to remember them, but I also know that that process of remembering the past is unavoidably partisan and ideological. My own work included! I think we need to treat religious memories with care because they exert a great deal of power-for good and for bad-in the present.

You present some rich evidence that the early Christian community was not persecuted and that many martyr stories were made up. In light of your scholarship, what needs to change in the Christian community today? Or, put differently, how would you like the Christian community to use your work?

In my opinion, the important thing is that we don't reproduce the false history of persecution in destructive ways: We're not always persecuted and situations are not always black and white. Conflict and disagreement are sometimes just that, and sometimes there are two valid sides to an argument. Even things that seem unjust might be the result of honest disagreements and good-natured misunderstandings. So we need to use language that reflects the wide variety of factors that contribute to conflict involving Christians. At the same time we also need to be attentive to all instances of injustice and violence. Unprovoked violence against another human being is morally wrong regardless of whether or not the attack is religiously motivated. By fixating on persecution, we're allowing ourselves to overlook a great deal of injustice.




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Sony BRAVIA 46" 1080p LCD HDTV for $412 + free shipping

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Saturday, February 23, 2013

In the News: Nike, Volkswagen, Google and more

brand news

Posted by Dale Buss on February 22, 2013 08:58 AM

In the NewsNike?quickly?backs away?from Oscar Pistorius.

Volkswagen?putting?plug-in hybrid?into production.

Google?unveils?touch-screen laptop.

Apple sees hedge-fund manager press his case against it.

Avon weighs exits from more countries.

Billabong posts record loss.

Boeing CEO stays in background to work on Dreamliner problem.

Citigroup toughens rules for executive bonuses.

Facebook COO bombs glass ceiling with new book.

Ford boosts domestic production of EcoBoost engines.

H-P tries to put the worst behind it as profit falls.

Lego shrugs off toy-market blues.

Lockheed Martin makes flawed F-35 fighter a defense project too big to kill.

Nielsen plans to expand ratings from TV to broadband views.

Nissan to introduce Datsun brand to South African market.

Oscars raises profile as important advertising platform and seeks young audience via host Seth MacFarlane.

Prada handbag business booms.

Samsung copies BlackBerry playbook to pursue business clients.

Vodafone leaves options open on Verizon.

Volvo purges more vestiges of Ford ownership and plans to cut jobs.

More about: Brand News, Apple, Avon, Billibong, BlackBerry, Boeing, Citigroup, Datsun, EcoBoost, F-35, Facebook, Ford, Google, H-P, Lego, Lockheed Martin, Seth MacFarlane, Nielsen, Nike, Nissan, Oscars, Oscar Pistorius, Prada, Samsung, T-Mobile, Verizon, Vodafone, Volkswagen, Volvo


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Livestock show begins with parade

Originally published February 21, 2013 at 4:48 P.M., updated February 22, 2013 at 12:24 A.M.

The Victoria Livestock Show will kick-off with a parade in downtown Victoria on Saturday morning.

The theme is "Sew it, Grow it, Show it" to represent the different aspects of the show, said Nick Rodriguez, parade chairman.

Thirty-five groups have pre-registered for the parade, including school groups and car clubs, he said.

"They decorate to try to go with theme," Rodriguez said. "It is fun to see what they come up with and where everyone's mind is."

Groups can still register to be in the parade, up to the day of the event, he said.

Other Livestock Show events on Saturday include the barbecue cook-off, horseshoes and washers throwing competitions, pet show and wiener dog races.

The cook-offs include bean, chicken, pork ribs, brisket, desserts and Bloody Marys.

A margarita cook-off will be Friday night.

  • • The parade starts at 10 a.m. Saturday on Main Street and Goodwin Avenue.

    • The BBQ cook-off is from 9:30 a.m. - 4 p.m. Saturday at the Community Center, 2905 E. North St.

    •  The horseshoe and washer competitions, pet show and wiener dog races will be from 1 p.m. - 4 p.m. Saturday at the community center.


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9 Fantasy Baseball Catching Sleepers to Watch Closely in Spring Training

John Jaso has been in the MLB for some time now, and his name has never been associated with the words "fantasy stud."

But the 28-year-old made huge strides in his offensive game last season, hitting a career-best .276 with 10 home runs and an .850 OPS.

One thing to remember is that Jaso spent his season platooning between positions for Seattle, and he saw only 361 plate appearances last season.

Despite playing half his games at Safeco Field, Jaso put up solid numbers for a catcher. After being traded this offseason to Oakland, his numbers could get even better.

Jaso should have full rein of the starter's spot in Oakland, and he's already proved he can hit in a pitcher's park.

The only thing to worry about is whether 2012 was a fluke for him. As long as he doesn't have any major issues this spring, Jaso will be worthy of his sleeper title in 2013.


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Friday, February 22, 2013

Congressman Paul Tonko to Saratoga Chamber members: Energy, foreign policies need change

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Congressman Paul Tonko met with the Saratoga County Chamber of Commerce for a breakfast at Saratoga National on Thursday morning to discuss what he is doing to improve the local economy.

Congressman Paul Tonko met with the Saratoga County Chamber of Commerce for a breakfast at Saratoga National on Thursday morning to discuss what he is doing to improve the local economy. Photo Erica Miller

SARATOGA SPRINGS ? Capital investment, retooling industry with advanced manufacturing and workforce training are keys to continued economic recovery, U.S. Rep. Paul Tonko said Thursday.

Improved energy efficiencies and increased renewable power generation, such as wind and solar, also would reduce America?s dependence on foreign energy, which represents a national security threat, he said.

Tonko, D-Amsterdam, was elected to his third term in Congress last fall and was recently named to the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

?We?re getting hit hard at the pump,? he said. ?It?s out of our control. We?re spending hundreds of billions of American consumer energy dollars that?s being invested in foreign budgets, and they?re using these American dollars to train their troops to kill our sons and daughters. It?s immoral, and it ought to stop.

?It?s time to bring the troops home and go forward with nation building at home.?

Tonko addressed more than 100 area business people gathered at a Saratoga County Chamber of Commerce event at Saratoga National Golf Course.

A former state Assemblyman, Tonko was also president and chief executive officer of the New York Energy Research and Development Authority before running for Congress. Energy policy is what prompted him to seek national office, he said.

His 20th district, which includes southern Saratoga County and Saratoga Springs, is one of the country?s leading hotbeds for high-tech industrial growth. To supply its energy demands, old transmission infrastructure must be replaced with super-conductive cable that can carry up to 10 times more electricity than existing lines, he said.

Deregulating the industry caused more problems than it solved, he said.

?Our system was designed to be a monopoly, to serve a region,? he said. ?The system now is asked to wheel electrons from region to region, state to state, country to country because of our importing of power from Canada. Our system is aged. It requires research. That research requires jobs.? Continued...

In a related matter, Tonko criticized proposed across-the-board ? so-called ?sequestration? ? federal budget cuts that are slated to kick in beginning next Friday, March 1, unless Congress and President Obama agree to a different deal.

Defense spending alone, a major contributor to Saratoga County?s economy, would be slashed $46 billion. The navy?s West Milton nuclear facility employs hundreds of people.

Also, Espey Manufacturing, in Saratoga Springs, relies heavily on military contracts and many Saratoga County residents are tied to the Air National Guard?s 109th Airlift Wing, at Stratton Air Base in Scotia.

Tonko said spending cuts should be priority-driven.

?Are you going to cut trips to the theater the same as trips to the grocery store?? he said. ?It?s mindless. It?s a lack-of-courage type of approach to the budget cutting we have to do. We?re going to hurt this economy with sequestration.?

Unlike recent predecessors, Tonko does not have a district office in Saratoga Springs, which be blamed on budget uncertainties.

However, his mobile office visited Malta last month and he?s planning a series of ?town hall? type meeting to garner public feedback including one from 1 to 3 p.m. on Saturday, March 9 at Saratoga Springs City Center.

In late April, he and U.S. Rep. Bill Owens, D-Plattsburgh, are planning a business-oriented meeting in Saratoga Springs. Owens represents northern Saratoga County.

Also, Tonko will be at the Clifton Park-Halfmoon Public Library on Friday, March 22.

His district director, Sean Shortell, originally from Saratoga Springs, is a 2002 Saratoga Catholic Central High School graduate.


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Community drive to help Dubai resident battling rare form of blood cancer

His voice cracks as Dubai resident Vic Bageria reminisces of his childhood days of misspent youth with best friend, Nimesh Joshi.

Describing him as someone who lived life king size, Bageria confesses that most of the friends and family are still battling with their own emotions even as Joshi fights the good fight against a rare form of cancer that is eating away at his body.

Currently in the midst of his second round of intensive chemotherapy in Los Angeles, the Dubai-born Joshi is suffering from Hepatosplenic T-Cell Lymphoma cancer and is in desperate need of a donor for a life-saving stem cell transplant.

There is a one in a million chance of finding a match, and his friends are now rallying the local community to step up and save his life.

?Nimesh started round two of his chemotherapy earlier this week, and we have 30 days within which we must find him a donor,? Bageria told Emirates 24|7, en route to a corporate drive to help his best friend.?

He continued: ?The chemotherapy is so painful, we are not sure Nimesh will able to handle it. We must find him a donor before that.?

While 38-year-old Joshi is surrounded by his wife, seven-year-old son and close family members at the City of Hope Hospital, Bageria has been spearheading a global drive to find a stem cell match across Singapore, Mumbai, Los Angeles and now Dubai.

??I?ve given up my work, my life for this,? said Bageria passionately. ?How could I not? He?s a brother to me.?

Stem cell transplant

Joshi?s cancer is in an aggressive form, with both his parents and sibling failing to be a match for his treatment.

?Nimesh needs a stem cell transplant, or what we are referring to as a bone marrow match,? explained Bageria. ?We have contacted all his family members in Gujarat and are awaiting results, but the tests take 30 days and we can?t afford to wait if none of them prove to be a 100 per cent DNA match.

?We have to widen our scope, and have reached out to the community to step up.?

According to the US National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, a blood and marrow stem cell transplant is a procedure that replaces a person?s faulty stem cells with healthy ones.

Stem cells are found in bone marrow, a spongy tissue inside the bones.

Doctors use stem cell transplants to treat people who suffer from certain types on cancer, such as leukaemia.

While doctors aim for a 100 per cent match, Bageria explained that in some cases right or nine out of 10 is also a workable situation.

Meanwhile, the initial test is a painless one, with volunteers requested to take a cotton bud and conduct a cheek swab ?20 times? before placing it in an envelope and signing a consent form that they are willing to step up as donors.

??Awareness is key; we want to educate and reiterate that it is essential that if they make a commitment, they stick to it; it?s a matter of someone?s life,? he stressed.

Community drive

Bageria and members of the Joshi family are conducting corporate and community drives over the next few days in the emirate, with February 22 and 23 seeing several test centres welcoming potential donors to step up.

??This Friday and Saturday, we are requesting donors to visit all the centres, with the possibility of extending over the next week,? he said.

On Friday, donors are requested to step up between 10am and 2pm at Al Ahmadiya Office in Satwa; followed by the Oasis Centre Management Office from 2pm to 10pm.

On Saturday, those interested can head to Sindhi Ceremonial Hall Bur Dubai from 10am to 2pm; and 4pm to 8pm at the India Club.

Bageria added: ?The results will take 30 days to come back; and if we find a match, we will take care of all the logistics and flights and fly them down to Los Angeles.

?However, if they are unable to travel, we will look at alternatives to harvest the stem cells here.?

Bageria added that the long-term goal is to create a database of donors for the South Asian community in Dubai, ?so those in future don?t have the same desperation that we are currently facing.?

Once Joshi is helped, Bageria hopes to continue conducting such donor drives on an annual basis in Dubai.

For further information, you can log on to to see the event page for Nimesh Joshi or contact Bageria on 050 6592589.



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Manswers Online ? Internet Business: the dot com revolution

You wouldn?t think it from most of the world?s headlines, but happy days are here again. Far from the bust becoming a high-tech South Sea Bubble, leaving nothing behind its speculative collapse, the frenzy can now be seen as Act One of a lasting and world-changing drama that today is gathering tremendous force; while creating sub-plots just as fantastic as any of the earlier explosions of unbridled entrepreneurship?drive ? and satisfied greed.

Take the astonishing case of Skype. After only three years of life, the company, founded by Niklas Zennstrom and Janus Friis, has won a reputation for having the top technology for internet telephony. This attracted the avid attention of some big, big names: Rupert Murdoch, Yahoo!, Google, Microsoft, etc. They were warned by Skype?s venture capital backers that a billion bucks was the lowest acceptable offer ? but the pair didn?t get that magic figure.

The price was actually $2.6 billion. It was paid by eBay, which itself went public not so long ago. And how much revenue does Skype generate? The amazing answer is a mere $60 million, on which it doesn?t even break even. That historic moment isn?t expected to arrive until late 2006. At that point, all being well, Skype?s sellers will be licking their lips over the prospect of pocketing another $1.5 billion in 2009, if the performance targets agreed with eBay for its new baby happen to be met.


What kind of lunatic, you may well ask, pays some 40 times sales for an unprofitable business? It?s not even that the purchaser is especially large; eBay is paying more than its own revenues ($2.1 billion) for what is, after all, a mere start-up. But in the highly charged atmosphere of this Act Two boom, all considerations of business economics and fiscal prudence have flown out of the window ? so much so that even Business Week?doesn?t?marvel at the surely miraculous Skype price. It mildly observes that ?it?s a lot of money? and notes that the ?gamble is hardly cheap?.

The deal is no gamble from one aspect, however. I have long argued that internet telephony is inherently superior to capital-intensive landlines and cables. Cheap, flexible, and tied in with other?internet business, this has to be the great wave of a fast-growing future: Skype already has 54 million ?subscribers?. They don?t pay for the computer-to-computer phone service, but get charged for linking PCs to phones and voice mail. So if the numbers don?t seem to make sense, the technological offer certainly does; eBay is betting on huge revenues from getting its auction buyers and sellers to use Skype automatically for transactions.

The negative side of the dot-com comeback is self-evident. Buoyed by their own excessive share prices, wallowing in cash, and driven by the hot pace of their sectors, the i-entrepreneurs believe that any price is worth paying to stay ahead of the game ? especially if they are paying in inflated shares. They forget the old-fashioned truth that the higher the shares are rated, the higher the cost of equity ? and the harder the task of getting a return on the gee-whiz investment.

Without question, fingers are going to be burnt, just as in Act One. In the first nine months of the year, according to Business Week, 66 ?tech deals? were completed for a total value of $61billion ? over half of it spent on software and services. Oracle alone has bought a string of companies for $17 billion. The Golden Oldies of high tech like Oracle are vying with the new start-up stars such as eBay and Google in a contest which is bound to breed a fair share of disasters ? unless the rules of management have changed.


Have they? As noted, one key principle has plainly gone by the board: financial prudence. When two young inventors can become billionaires over-night: when Microsoft can install an incentive scheme which stands to pay around 120 vice-presidents million dollar incomes: when a Wall Street investment bank pays executives over $100 million each to leave ? well, plainly incomes and other rewards have become as much a free-for-all as takeover tags.

These examples are all American. But the contagion will spread rapidly to Europe, from where the two Skype billionaires hail. The internet is truly and totally global, and so, of necessity, are the companies seeking to exploit the furious pace of change. Four years ago I wrote that?

?The Digital Revolution is unquestionably the broadest, most significant change that managers of the modern era have seen, a tide so powerful that even executives who try to resist it cannot fail to be swept along. Every aspect of running organisations, for profit or non-profit, is being or will be profoundly affected?.

Looking back over that quote only confirms its rightness. The tide is running still more swiftly, and it poses a major challenge for the Act One survivors. They are now three or so decades old. Some have become very large, in both numbers of business lines and employees. Age, size and spread have long been recognised as key enemies of corporate success. It was widely believed in Act One that the very nature of the high-tech companies and of the people they hired immunised these corporations from the afflictions of their elders at work in boring big businesses. But the disaster only emphasised that folly is a more destructive force than age, size or spread.

All the same, something new and vital is afoot. The Act Two companies run on ideas as cars run on gasoline. Like Skype, they started life with nothing but an idea. Sustaining their market positions has depended on constant, timely renewal of the founding idea and addition of many others. Diversification has tested their openness to the new and their readiness to embrace difference and variety.

The tech deals range from photo-sharing to wireless phone software, comparison shopping to mobile services. The buyers have to master the arts of swift appraisal and even faster action. The value of their buys mostly rests in the brains of those bought. The purchasers have to respect and nurture the brains while applying the pressure for performance taught by venture capitalists. At the same time they must defend the core businesses against some deadly serious would-be boarders.


As Steve Jobs of Apple observes, ?We have world-class competitors out there trying to kill us?. In fact, in its past Apple has often seemed in danger of pressing the auto-destruct button.

But time and again it survived by its dedication to The Idea. When all seemed lost, innovation came to the rescue, most recently and notably with the phenomenal success of the iPod music system. Those would-be world-class assassins have enjoyed scant success against Apple?s innovations, which spring from Jobs? success in preserving a unique?corporate culture.

He told Bobbie Johnson of The Guardian that ?There?s a very strong DNA within Apple, and that?s about taking state-of-the-art technology and making it easier for people? people who don?t want to read manuals, people who live very busy lives?. Unquestionably, the DNA owes much to Apple?s father figure. Jobs has shown his rare ability to turn ideas into profit by his parallel success with Pixar and its wonderfully entertaining computer animation.

What you won?t find in an outfit headed by Jobs are the Four Forces of Failure: innovation stagnation, slow product development, bureaucratic red tape, sagging morale. You can recognise the Fateful Four by these signs:

1. Lavishing time and money on existing products delays and handicaps developing the new.

2. Individual product groups are robbed of stand-alone individuality and forced to waste time on collective, cross-boundary efforts that make the fast move at the same pace as the slow.

3. New management processes, instituted to create greater discipline and order, impose endless meetings, rules and regulations which hamper creativity.

4. All the above contribute to worsening morale, whose giveaways are rising internal complaints and external poaching of key employees.

Business Week has found a company where all four afflictions appear to be in full flood ? Microsoft. If you don?t believe this star of stars could suffer such a fate, just look at one startling fact: the stock is worth no more than seven years ago. The only person BW found who was overtly bullish on all aspects was Steve Ballmer, the long-time friend and ally of Bill Gates and the man to whom the latter turned over control. Gates remains the software guru, but there?s an eerie echo of events at Apple in the mid-eighties: Jobs handed over executive power to a Pepsico recruit, John Sculley.


Like Ballmer, Sculley tried to impose management order and orthodoxy. For good (or bad} measure, he had Jobs removed completely; it took Sculley?s own removal and the return of Jobs to put Apple together again. Luckily there was enough of the original DNA around for Apple to work its magic. But that may also be true of Microsoft, to judge by a 12-page memo that two Microsofties sent to Gates a few months ago. Their ?Ten Crazy Ideas to Shake Up Microsoft? include six that are eminently sane:

? Break up the business. Build it round independent discrete units with their own?leadership.
? Set up development units to nurse new ideas to fruition ? like the ?skunk works? of legend.
? Allow people to pursue their own ideas in company time.
? Create ?bureaucracy police?, empowered to search out, expose and excise counter-productive red tape.
? Reduce staffing of large projects ? in its palmy days Microsoft created Windows (the key to its wonderful rise) with far less people than IBM devoted to a rival product ? which failed.
? Incentivise people to take risks ? give them rewards based on the achievements of their own independent units (see above).

The two authors of this document are by no means alone in confronting management with their criticisms. The company?s own technology helped to create what has become a thorn in the side of the corpocrats but a beacon for the disaffected ? the blog. Made possible by internet technology, the 2,000 blogs supposedly posted by Microsofties are a rich source for searchers after answers to questions like why has Micrsoft become a ?passionless, process-ridden, lumbering idiot??

Those are the words uttered by Mini-Microsoft, the king of the company?s anonymous bloggers. He is no troublemaker, telling BW that ?Microsoft has been wonderful to me. I really want to improve it. I really want to make a difference?. That?s a key phrase. The high-tech companies are not alone in hiring people who are highly educated, full of ideas, genuinely concerned with making the business a better place in which to work, and inherently not afraid to express their opinions.


Note that Microsoft?s leaders had nothing to do with the blog explosion. The employees created their own electronic talking shop as individuals. But the impact is organisational. For a start, it?s anarchic. But if you want an ideas company ? and I?ve argued that this is the only kind to have ? more anarchy is essential. Ballmer was heading off in the wrong direction with his reforms of the internal processes. Creative organisations are inimical to administrative order-and-obey cultures. Blogging is one means of penetrating the layers of hierarchy and custom and revitalising the business.

Kai-Fu Lee, a speech recognition expert, is one of Microsoft?s recent deserters, and a serious loss. He went to Google and to a culture which he feels is ?very supportive, collaborative, innovative, and internet-like ? and that?s bottom-up innovation rather than top-down direction?. As the Act Two products pile into the marketplace, more and more technologies will become available to allow companies to combine anarchy with reasonable order and to earn plaudits for a culture that lives up to Lee?s glowing portrait of Google.

There is, however, a real risk that the high-tech buying spree represents a falling away from this ideal, a move towards the same excesses that gave Act One such an unhappy ending. As the Microsoft story shows, being at the leading edge of technology is no protection against the hardening of the corporate arteries. Staying true to the original virtues is no easier than developing them from scratch in a mature business.

But failure here is deadly dangerous. Managers who don?t live by foundation ideas that generate a flood of genuinely new products and processes are in rotten shape for competition with others who do.



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