28 February 2011

Some things turn out as expected

Rico says he went to bed before the end, but, as anticipated, The King's Speech won the Oscar for Best Picture; we would all have been disappointed if not...
Along with that award, Colin Firth (shown, deservedly) won for best actor, but Natalie Portman won best actress for Black Swan, and Christian Bale for best supporting actor and Melissa Leo for best supporting actress for The Fighter.

27 February 2011

Coming soon, and loud

Ariel Kaminer has an article in The New York Times about the latest NYPD equipment:
Joe Bader tried setting the two tones of his invention four notes apart on the musical scale, but the result sounded like music, not a siren. Same thing when he played around with a five-note interval. But when he set the two tones apart by two octaves and gave the siren a test run outside the Florida Highway Patrol headquarters in Tallahassee, the effect was so attention-grabbing that people came streaming out of the building to see what the strange sound, with its unfamiliar vibrations, could possibly be.
Which was precisely what Mr. Bader, a vice president at the security firm Federal Signal Corporation, was going for: a siren that would make people sit up and take notice. Even people accustomed to hearing sirens all the time. Even people wearing ear buds or talking on the phone. Even people insulated from street noise by a layer of glass and steel. Even New Yorkers.
Rumblers, as Mr. Bader called his invention, achieve their striking effect with a low-frequency tone, in the range of 180 to 360 hertz (between the 33rd and the 46th key on a standard piano keyboard), which penetrates hard surfaces like car doors and windows better than a high tone does. When it is paired with the wail of a standard siren, the effect is hard to ignore; like the combination of a bagpipe’s high chanter and low drone, or perhaps like a train whistle and the caboose that moves that whistle through space.
Following the lead of some other municipalities, the New York Police Department gave the devices two limited test runs beginning in 2007. It liked what it heard, with the result that a Rumbler will be coming soon to a police car near you; perhaps one speeding right at you in a high-speed chase through traffic- and pedestrian-clogged streets. And, eventually, to about 5,000 of the department’s more than 8,000 vehicles.
Some New Yorkers have already raised concerns that the Rumbler’s low-frequency vibration could be injurious to their health. The Police Department insists that there is nothing to worry about and invited me to experience the effect for myself. But when Officer Joe Gallagher, a department spokesman, considered the fact that I am in what used to be known as “a family way”, he suggested that I not actually ride in a Rumbler-equipped squad car. “I don’t want you sitting in the back and going into childbirth,” he said. “I’m not handy with that.”
I’m not so handy with it either, so I rode in Officer Gallagher’s car while Officers Jeff Donato and Matthew Powlett of the 10th Precinct drove ahead of us, Rumbling as they went.
We zoomed up the Franklin D. Roosevelt Drive on what appeared to be the only day in recent history that it was free of traffic. When at last we did encounter at least a few other cars, the officers in the front car flipped on the Rumbler, switching among its sound effects: the wail, the yelp, the hi-lo, the fast stutter.
The Rumbler is no louder than a standard siren. In fact, it’s quieter; ten decibels lower, which translates to only half the volume. But because low-frequency sound waves penetrate cars better than those at a higher pitch, drivers experience the Rumbler as much louder than a standard siren. That’s good news for pedestrians who might prefer not to be deafened, though not necessarily for the officers in Rumbler-equipped cars. To spare the officers’ ears, the device cuts off after eight seconds.
But the officers who demonstrated it for me said they had used it in repeated intervals for longer durations. And though Federal Signal describes the Rumbler as an “intersection-clearing device”, the officers also recounted using it while zipping up long stretches of highway. “It’s like the Red Sea parting,” Captain Christopher Ikone said.
Low-frequency sound can have physical effects, like making you feel queasy. Enough, in fact, to be of interest to some weapons manufacturers, but their experiments take place at much lower frequencies and much higher amplification than the Rumbler employs. In fact, despite the siren’s name, the rumbling effect is subtle; far less than what you experience when an Escalade rolls up beside you at a stop light, tinted windows lowered, custom speakers blaring and thunder bass thumping. Hearing a Rumbler while standing on the street, I felt a slight tingle under my ribs; in Officer Gallagher’s car, I felt a gentle reverberation on the seat.
I can faithfully report that the Police Department’s newest and soon-to-be-ubiquitous emergency alert signal does not cause eyeglasses to sprout hairline cracks that branch out across the lens and hang there for one long moment before the entire thing shatters with a delicate plink, as in some Bugs Bunny cartoon. Nor does it reprogram the rhythm of your heartbeat, the way a loud song on the radio can make you completely forget what you’d been humming when you heard it. Nor does it induce premature labor in pregnant women. It may, however, have caused an innocent citizen heart palpitations.
As we zoomed back down the FDR Drive, dual-tone sirens blaring so we could see the other cars scatter, the driver of a Toyota RAV4 apparently thought he was being singled out and pulled to a complete halt, in the left lane of the highway. That’s an unwise thing to do in any case; an extremely unwise thing to do when you’ve got a police cruiser right behind you.
If the driver did sustain any coronary distress from the incident, help was nearby: a Fire Department ambulance was driving just a bit farther south. As we passed, its siren let out a few warning bleats. But they were the old variety: one tone, no tingling. Compared with the basso profundo confidence of a Rumbler, it sounded like a jealous whine.

Texas won't be left behind

Jim Vertuno of the Associated Press has an article about the Texas solution:
Texas is preparing to give college students and professors the right to carry guns on campus, adding momentum to a national campaign to open this part of society to firearms. More than half the members of the Texas House have signed on as co-authors of a measure directing universities to allow concealed handguns. The Senate passed a similar bill in 2009 and is expected to do so again. Republican Governor Rick Perry, who sometimes packs a pistol when he jogs, has said he's in favor of the idea.
Texas has become a prime battleground for the issue, because of its gun culture and its size, with 38 public universities and more than 500,000 students. It would become the second state, following Utah, to pass such a law. Colorado gives colleges the option, and several have allowed handguns. Supporters of the legislation argue that gun violence on campuses, such as the mass shootings at Virginia Tech in 2007 and Northern Illinois in 2008, show that the best defense against a gunman is students who can shoot back.
"It's strictly a matter of self-defense," said state Senator Jeff Wentworth, a Republican from San Antonio. "I don't ever want to see repeated on a Texas college campus what happened at Virginia Tech, where some deranged, suicidal madman goes into a building and is able to pick off totally defenseless kids like sitting ducks."
Until the Virginia Tech incident, the worst college shooting in U.S. history occurred at the University of Texas, when sniper Charles Whitman went to the top of the administration tower in 1966 and killed sixteen people and wounded dozens. Last September, a University of Texas student fired several shots from an assault rifle before killing himself.
Similar firearms measures have been proposed in about a dozen other states, but all face strong opposition, especially from college leaders. In Oklahoma, all 25 public college and university presidents declared their opposition to a concealed carry proposal. "There is no scenario where allowing concealed weapons on college campuses will do anything other than create a more dangerous environment for students, faculty, staff, and visitors," Oklahoma Chancellor of Higher Education Glen Johnson said in January.
University of Texas President William Powers has opposed concealed handguns on campus, saying the mix of students, guns, and campus parties is too volatile.
Guns occupy a special place in Texas culture. Politicians often tout owning a gun as essential to being Texan. Concealed handgun license holders are allowed to skip the metal detectors that scan Capitol visitors for guns, knives, and other contraband.
Guns on campus bills have been rejected in 23 states since 2007, but gun control activists acknowledge it will be difficult to stop the Texas bill from passing this year. "Things do look bleak," said Colin Goddard, assistant director of federal legislation for the Brady Campaign Against Gun Violence, who was in Austin recently to lobby against the Texas bills. Goddard was a student at Virginia Tech when he was shot four times in his French class. Student Seung-Hui Cho killed 32 people, including ten in Goddard's classroom, before shooting himself. Goddard dismisses the idea that another student with a gun could have stopped the killer. "People tell me that if they would have been there, they would have shot that guy. That offends me," Goddard said. "People want to be the hero, I understand that. They play video games and they think they understand the reality. It's nothing like that."
But Derek Titus, a senior at Texas A&M who has a state license to carry a concealed handgun, said someone with a gun that day could have improved the chances of survival. "Gun-free zones are shooting galleries for the mass murderers," Titus said. "We do not feel that we must rely on the police or security forces to defend our lives."
Texas enacted its concealed handgun law in 1995, allowing people 21 or older to carry weapons if they pass a training course and a background check. The state had 461,724 license holders as of the end of 2010, according to the state Department of Public Safety.
Businesses, schools and churches can set rules banning guns on their premises. On college campuses, guns are prohibited in buildings, dorms and certain grounds around them. Opponents of campus gun rights say students and faculty would live in fear of their classmates and colleagues, not knowing who might pull a gun over a poor grade, a broken romance, or a drunken fraternity argument.
Frankie Shulkin, a first-year law student at the University of Texas, said he doesn't think he'd feel safer if other students in his classes had guns. "If I was taking an exam and knew the person next to me had one, I don't know how comfortable I would feel," Shulkin said. "I am in favor of guns rights and your typical conservative guy, but the classroom thing bugs me."
Wentworth said he heard the "blood on the streets" warnings when Texas first passed the concealed handgun law. "They said we'd have shootouts at every intersection," he said. "None of that has happened."
Rico says "owning a gun is essential to being Texan" couldn't be more true...

Arizona, thinking ahead

Rico says his friend Kelley sends along this one:
In response to shooting rampages, Arizona is one of about a dozen states considering solving the problem of school campus shootings by arming their academics. Arizona currently has three bills in the works that would allow professors and others over the age of 21 on state campuses to carry weapons. A fierce debate has arisen over the proposed bills. Administrators and campus police chiefs at Arizona State University, Northern Arizona University, and the University of Arizona are all against allowing guns on campus. Supporters say that bringing weapons onto campuses will ensure safety. "Guns save lives, and it's a constitutional right of our citizens,' said State Senate president Russell Pearce. In reference to the Tucson shooting, the former sheriff's deputy continued: "If somebody had been there prepared to take action, they could have saved lives." Still others, including a student who witnessed a 2008 campus shooting, are against fighting violence with more violence.
Rico says everybody knows that gubs don't kill people, people kill people...

Sassoon? Who knew?

Rico says he was recently surprised to hear, on hisladyfriend's NPR wake-up radio, that Vidal Sassoon, the famed hairdresser of the 70s, while born in England, moved to what was then British-ruled Palestine and fought in the Palmach, the fighting force that helped Israel achieve independence.

Another leader going down

Tim Rogers has an article at Time.com about Nicaragua:
Under the banner We Will Not Remain Quiet: No More Reelection, some 16,000 Nicaraguan youth activists joined forces to protest a reelection bid by President Daniel Ortega. Inspired by the recent uprising in Egypt, Friday's protest against the Sandinista leader's candidacy— expected to be announced officially Saturday despite a constitutional ban on consecutive terms— was the largest demonstration against his rule in more than a year. But if you weren't logged onto Facebook, you probably missed it.
That's because the protest was Nicaragua's first "virtual march". Throughout the day, activists joined the cyber revolt by swapping out their normal Facebook profile photos for a common protest image and turning their status updates into a virtual picket line: Our Heroes and Martyrs Didn't Fight and Die to Replace One Dictatorship with Another!, Down with Mubarak, Gaddafi, and Ortega! and No to Idolatry! It's not a big stretch to lump Nicaragua's president in with the Libyan strongman: Ortega, who admitted to receiving personal financing from the Libyan leader before returning to office in 2007, has publicly offered Nicaragua's "total solidarity" to his longtime ally Muammar Gaddafi, saying he was "waging a great battle" to defend his nation. Last year, Ortega was awarded the Muammar al-Gaddafi International Award for Human Rights.
While joining the Facebook demonstration didn't exactly take the guerrilla grit of hurling Molotov cocktails at army tanks, or throwing rocks at riot police, analysts say the event's significance shouldn't be downplayed in a society where social networking websites are becoming increasingly widespread and influential.
"The virtual march is creating conscientiousness and animating youth who many thought were indifferent to politics," said Carlos Tunnermann, a leader of the nonpartisan pro-democracy movement ProNicaragua. "The message of the youths who participated in the virtual march was one of total rejection and repudiation of the candidacy of Daniel Ortega, which is illegal and illegitimate. I think this energy will translate into greater youth participation in upcoming street marches and at the polls on election day in November."
Yet it may be premature to expect the cyber conspirators to take to the streets. While Sandinista supporters and antigovernment demonstrators clashed often during the early years of Ortega's rule, the protesters appear to have gotten the message: there haven't been any big, organized marches for more than a year.
Javier Baez, the 27-year-old blogger who organized the Facebook march, says the strong turnout shows that people are scared; the only place young people feel they can demonstrate safely against Ortega is in cyberspace. "There will always be some brave people who protest in the streets, but this government has been good at creating apathy and fear among the rest of the population," Baez says. "Every time a protest march is organized, the Sandinistas call for a countermarch that ends in violence."
Indeed, the fear of reprisal in Nicaragua might have even affected turnout to the cyber protest. More than 2,200 Facebook users invited to attend the march clicked "maybe"— if, one assumes, it didn't conflict with other virtual commitments on their virtual calendars— and 76,800 didn't respond at all.
Still, the show of support was more than Baez ever imagined. A political science graduate who works on freedom of expression issues at Managua's Violeta Chamorro Foundation, Baez started the initiative with invitations to 500 of his Facebook friends. It quickly went viral, growing to more than 100,000 invites in less than two weeks and expanding to the sizable communities of Nicaraguans living in the U.S.
That response, in a country where only 60,000 people are on Facebook, generated hopes that the virtual march would create a wave of protest that would spill over into the real world, and prompted the Sandinista Youth declared a counter-virtual march, which they called The March of Happiness.
In celebration of Ortega, some 4,000 Ortega supporters changed their Facebook status to reflect pro-government campaign slogans and hurled message-board insults at anti-Sandinista protesters. They argued that thanks to the infrastructure development Ortega has spearheaded, Nicaraguans can now settle their differences in cyberspace, rather than the traditional method of throwing rocks at one another in the street.
In some ways they're right. Nicaragua, the second-poorest country in the hemisphere, now has one of the highest Internet connectivity rates in all of Latin America, says Edwin Garcia, president of the Internet Association of Nicaragua. While a majority of the country is still offline, 97% of the country is wired for broadband, and the number of users is increasing exponentially as cyber cafes pop up in rural areas and cell-phone providers offer pre-paid web browsing. As a result, Garcia said, Nicaragua now has 3G technology in corners of the country that don't even have roads, electricity, or running water.
The increase in online users is also translating into an increase in online activism. A similar anti-Ortega Facebook protest in 2008 attracted only 1,600 followers— a tenth of the number who joined this week's virtual march.
But has internet connectivity reached a critical mass in Nicaragua? And does Facebook protesting really count? It's too soon to say. Martin Mulligan, a social commentator who blogs under the name Emilia Persola, said that, unlike in the Middle East, cyber protesters in Nicaragua are unlikely to take to the streets right away. "This still won't translate into a tactical advantage for the opposition," he says.
Indeed, the fact that Ortega doesn't Facebook or Tweet like more wired leftist leaders Hugo Ch├ívez and Fidel Castro might be an indication that Nicaragua's social networking sites have yet to fully catch on. Still, for Baez, who says he's planning future events on his Facebook page, Cyber Activismo en Nicaragua, the lesson learned is that any initiative in defense of democracy counts. "The politicians want us to remain apathetic," he says. "So my message to others is: do something. Act on your ideas."
Rico says "Muammar al-Gaddafi International Award for Human Rights"? Now there's a Dubious Achievement award... But 3G over running water? That's not a good use of technology.

Old friends, moving

Rico says Diane Mastruli has the story at Philly.com, but apparently Rico's old employer, GlaxoSmithKline, is going to move to the Navy Yard:
The pair of Center City office buildings are not likely to turn many heads, through no fault of their own. One and Three Franklin Plaza simply have been upstaged by the glistening behemoth just a few blocks from them, the Comcast Center, and the equally stunning Cira Centre a dozen blocks west.
But, in recent weeks, the Franklin Plaza duo, tucked along 16th Street between Vine and Race Streets, have become the focus of much attention. A little more than two weeks ago, pharmaceutical titan GlaxoSmithKline, tenant of both, announced plans to move to more awe-inspiring quarters to be built in South Philadelphia at the Navy Yard.
Rather than trigger panic over the emptying of more downtown office space, where the vacancy rate has hovered between twelve and fifteen percent, landlords have largely regarded the Glaxo decision as an opportunity to reimagine a pocket of the city.
That certainly is the outlook of Dave Campoli, regional vice president for CommonWealth REIT, who would have reason to freak. His company is the landlord of the 600,000-square-foot One Franklin Plaza, larger of the two properties Glaxo will start moving out of at the end of next year. A Sheraton hotel separates the properties. "The way we're looking at One Franklin Plaza is almost like a blank slate," Campoli said last week.
The only thing keeping him from a meltdown over the prospect of watching 24 stories of office space go dark is the $786 million Pennsylvania Convention Center expansion, which debuts Friday. Much anticipated for its hoped-for economic impact on the city, the addition extends the eighteen-year-old Convention Center several blocks west to Broad Street, putting an entrance just two blocks east of One Franklin Plaza's lobby, which could, for instance, become a hotel lobby. "Without it, it would have been a much more difficult proposition for us to deal with," Campoli said. Glaxo's departure still smarts, he said, because CommonWealth REIT had been working with Glaxo on plans for a $110 million redevelopment of One Franklin, built in 1979.
The remake would have included outfitting offices with floor-to-ceiling glass, creating a six-story atrium, and replacing the building's heating and air-conditioning systems with energy-efficient models as part of an effort to bring the building up to the U.S. Green Building Council's LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) standards.
CommonWealth REIT, the largest Center City office landlord, with ownership of 4.7 million square feet of space, found out Glaxo was bound for the Navy Yard from reporters, Campoli said. In the time he has been working with the company on the renovation plans for One Franklin, Campoli said, the only place Glaxo mentioned as another prospect was Three Franklin, where it is leasing all 216,000 square feet. Together, One and Three Franklin house 1,300 Glaxo employees.
The company, which was not fully using One Franklin although leasing all of it, will move all 1,300 jobs to the Navy Yard, where it will lease 205,000 square feet in a four-story, glass-walled, green-roofed LEED-certified building to be developed by Liberty Property Trust, its landlord in Three Franklin. Part of a Keystone Opportunity Improvement Zone, it will qualify for a ten-year tax abatement.
Spokeswoman Jennifer Armstrong said Glaxo would have had to occupy more than fifty percent more space than it needed for CommonWealth to fund the renovations for One Franklin. "The Navy Yard was the most cost-effective option that we explored, and will save the company at least $26 million each year compared to current commitments," she wrote in an email.
Campoli said he hopes to have a new plan for One Franklin by summer. That plan might include a combination of hotel and offices, or hotel and student housing, along with outside gardens similar to the courtyards at the nearby Four Seasons Hotel, Campoli said.
At Three Franklin, built in 1999 with a wall of bow windows overlooking the Vine Street Expressway, Liberty Property plans extensive renovations once GSK leaves. The work, price still undetermined, will include modernized bathrooms, a restored lobby, mechanical-system upgrades to meet LEED certification, and construction of a rooftop patio and conference facility overlooking Center City, said John Gattuso, regional director of the Liberty, which also developed the Comcast headquarters. The property will remain an office building, he said. With no vacant office space available in its Center City portfolio, a renovated Three Franklin "will give us a great opportunity to have a competitively priced modern office building," Gattuso said.
Of the Franklin Plaza area, Alan Greenberger, deputy mayor for planning and economic development, said that with the Convention Center expansion and a planned plaza by the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts on Cherry Street, "there's a lot of energy being pushed in that direction." He also noted other assets "that haven't quite made themselves evident yet", including the Mormon temple planned for 17th and Vine Streets and the future Barnes Collection on the Ben Franklin Parkway.
The only thing missing is "meaningful tax reform", said Jim Mullarkey, partner at commercial brokers Newmark Knight Frank Smith Mack. The wage tax recently "knocked Center City out of the running" for offices for a Canadian energy company looking to establish a regional presence. It chose Bala Cynwyd, Mullarkey said.

History for the day

On 27 February 1991, President George H.W. Bush declared "Kuwait is liberated, Iraq's army is defeated", and announced that the Allies would suspend combat operations at midnight.

26 February 2011

Space history for the day

Denise Chow has an article at Space.com about a first in orbit:
When NASA's shuttle Discovery docked at the International Space Station on 26 February, it made some space history: It marks the first time ever that spaceships from four different space agencies are linked together at the same time.
The historic moment occurred when Discovery arrived at a docking port at the front of the space station's U.S.-built Harmony module. It joined two Russian Soyuz space capsules and three robotic space freighters (from Europe, Japan, and Russia) that were also docked to the orbiting lab.
"That's about as many different visiting vehicles as you can imagine," Discovery astronaut Alvin Drew radioed Mission Control in Houston before today's docking.
With Discovery's arrival, the space station's mass jumped to 1.2 million pounds. It is as long as a football field, making it the largest man-made structure in space. The station is so large that on clear nights it can easily be seen with the unaided eye if you know where to look, and sometimes even rivals the planet Venus in brightness.
The $100 billion International Space Station has been under construction by fifteen different countries since 1998. It is currently home to six crewmembers from the U.S., Russia, and Italy and has about the same amount of living space as a Boeing 747 jumbo jet.
Five different space agencies, representing the United States, Russia, Europe, Canada, and Japan, are leading the effort. Of those, only the Canadian Space Agency does not have a spacecraft docked at the space station today, although Canada provided the robotic arm and Dextre maintenance robot for the orbiting laboratory.
In the last few weeks, the station has seen a flurry of spaceship arrivals and departures leading up to Discovery's arrival. Here's a look at the busy port in space:
First, an unmanned Japanese cargo craft called the H-2 Transfer Vehicle-2 (HTV-2) arrived at the space station on 26 January. Astronauts used the station's robotic arm to latch onto the HTV-2 craft, which Japan's space agency named Kounotori 2 (Kounotori is Japanese for white stork), and attached it to the station's multi-port Harmony module. Last week, the station's crew had to move the Japanese craft to a different parking spot because it would have blocked access to Discovery's payload bay
On 28 January, Russian launched its robotic space freighter Progress 41 toward the station. It arrived two days later. An older Russian cargo ship, Progress 40, also undocked from the station to make room for yet another addition: the European Space Agency's second unmanned cargo ship.
ESA launched its Automated Transfer Vehicle 2, called the ATV-2 Johannes Kepler, on 16 February. It arrived at the space station on 24 February, the exact same day that Discovery blasted off toward the orbiting lab. The ATV-2 Johannes Kepler arrived at the station less than six hours before Discovery lifted off. Discovery launched 24 February from NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida. This is Discovery's 39th and final spaceflight, before being retired along with the rest of NASA's shuttle program later this year.The shuttle is delivering a new storage room and a humanoid robot, called Robonaut 2, to the International Space Station.
Two Russian Soyuz spacecraft, which carried the six astronauts aboard the station in teams of three, are also linked to the space station.
"It's a pretty amazing time if you think about it," Bill Gerstenmaier, NASA's space operations chief, said in a preflight news briefing. "To think of all these international control stations working together; it's an amazing system of operations and systems to keep all the bits moving forward. What a great time in spaceflight."
The novelty of so many different spacecraft at the International Space Station has not been lost on NASA or its international partners. They hope to stage a space photo session by cosmonauts flying around the station in a Soyuz spacecraft if time allows during Discovery's flight. A final decision has yet to be made, but if allowed, will add an extra day to Discovery's 11-day mission.

Barry O'Bama heads for the auld sod

Niall O'Dowd of IrishCentral.com has the story of the President's scheduled trip to Ireland:
President Obama is set to visit Ireland in late May, a senior White House source has apparently confirmed.
As first disclosed on Irish Central last week, the Obama White House is anxious to visit Ireland in May, and to set out the president’s credentials to Irish Americans prior to next year’s presidential election. “The end of May is likely,” the White House official told The Irish Times, adding that the aim was for Obama to arrive in Ireland before his U.K. visit, which is scheduled from 24 to 26 May. After that he travels to France for the G8 summit on 26 and 27 May.
Obama still has to receive an official invitation from the new Irish government, which is expected to be offered right after the government takes office on 9 March. This week the likely new Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny met with U.S. Ambassador to Ireland Dan Rooney in Dublin, and the visit was discussed.
Irish Central has learned that leading Irish Americans have been asked for their opinion on the visit, and asked to support it if it takes place.
Officials at the Irish Embassy in Washington, D.C. and the U.S. Embassy in Dublin remained tight-lipped about the visit, however. “I would welcome a visit one day from President Obama. However, I have no confirmation on timing,” said Rooney.
One problem remains: the historic first state visit of Queen Elizabeth II to Ireland, the timing of which has not been completely decided upon. Therefore, the incoming prime minister could be faced with a state visit from the Queen, and the first visit to Ireland from Obama. The Obama administration is well aware that there is a critical Irish American vote in several key states, such as Pennsylvania and Ohio. Vice President Joe Biden, who is of Irish extraction, was chosen as Obama’s running mate in part to appeal to the working class ethnic vote.
Mohammed Ghobari has a Reuters.com article on Yemen:
A prominent Yemeni tribal figure resigned from President Ali Abdullah Saleh's ruling party and called for the veteran Arab leader's overthrow, a day after fierce clashes in Aden killed seven people.
Hussein al-Ahmar announced his resignation at a rally of tens of thousands in the town of Amran, thirty miles northwest of the capital Sanaa, held to demand the end of Saleh's 32-year rule.
Twenty-four people have been killed since 17 February in daily protests against Saleh across the impoverished Arab state, though unrest has been most intense in the once-independent south where many people resent rule from the north.
"I announce my resignation from the General People's Congress, and I call on all noble Yemenis to overthrow the regime," Ahmar told the rally, dubbed the Festival of Freedom and Change. "The regime must go, so we can build a nation based on civil institutions." Ahmar belongs to the same powerful tribal federation as Saleh; his father Abdullah, who died in 2007, was considered Yemen's second most powerful figure after the president.
Hussein resigned once before from Saleh's party, two years ago, but rejoined in December and was offered a senior party post, which he declined. One of his brothers is a long-time critic of Saleh, while another is deputy speaker of parliament.
Saleh, a U.S. ally against a Yemen-based al-Qaeda wing that has launched attacks at home and abroad, is struggling to end protests flaring in the Arabian Peninsula's poorest state.
Opposition to Saleh, who was previously confronting a Shi'ite Muslim revolt in the north and a secessionist insurgency in the south, has now spread across the country, galvanised by successful uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia.
Tens of thousands of loyalists and opponents held rival rallies in Sana'a, while 10,000 people staged a sit-in in the city of Taiz, 125 miles south of the capital, and protests erupted across the southern port city of Aden.
Doctors said five more people died on Saturday after being shot during Aden's anti-government protests on Friday, bringing to seven the number killed in the clashes with security forces. About fifty people were wounded.
Protesters continued a sit-in outside Sana'a University, where huge crowds gathered on Friday, chanting the slogan which has echoed around the Arab world since the Egyptian and Tunisian revolts: The people demand the downfall of the regime.
Saleh supporters chanted their loyalty to a man they see as holding the impoverished tribal nation together: The creator of unity is in our hearts. We will not abandon him, they cried.
Saleh has promised to step down when his term ends in 2013 and not hand power to his son, though he has backed out of similar pledges in the past.
Nine members of parliament resigned from Saleh's ruling party on Wednesday in protest against what they said was government violence against protesters, but the president still has the support of around eighty percent of parliamentarians.

Dead man walking

Rico says this useless POS should do well (if not for long) in the general population of whatever prison they dump him in, hopefully for life:
A man faces charges of raping a two-year-old girl last week at SeaWorld Orlando after her mother left him to watch the toddler, according to the Orange County Sheriff's Office. The crime was discovered when pictures of the rape were found on Michael Grzybowicz's cell phone, sheriff's records state.
A member of the Cocoa Police Department's Sex Crimes Unit confiscated the phone. Four photographs in the phone's memory chip clearly show the violation of the youngster wearing a diaper and a yellow sun dress while she rode in a dark blue stroller, records state.
The child visited Sea World on 17 February with her mother, father and Grzybowicz, a family friend, records state.
A check of the camera showed the photos were emailed to the personal Yahoo account of the suspect, who works as a cook at Smokey Bones restaurant in Melbourne, records state.
Grzybowicz, 26, told investigators he didn't know how the photos got onto his cell phone, according to records.
The victim's mother told investigators that the only time she left her daughter in Grzybowicz' s care was for about ten minutes while she and her boyfriend enjoyed an amusement ride.
After learning of the attack, SeaWorld Orlando spokesman Nick Gollattscheck said, "Nothing is more important than the safety and welfare of our guests, and our team members are trained to report any kind of suspicious behavior. We are cooperating fully with the Orange County Sherriff's office investigation. Illegal behavior of any type is not tolerated at our parks. Our thoughts are with the family at this very difficult time."
Orange County Sheriff's Captain Angelo Nieves said the case had been under investigation by Cocoa police and the sheriff's office. Grzybowicz has been held without bail in the Brevard County Jail on charges of possessing child pornography. Nieves wrote that the defendant is "awaiting transport to the Orange County Jail on the warrant pending in this investigation".
The warrant states Grzybowicz faces charges of sexual battery on a child younger than twelve years old and lewd and lascivious molestation of a child younger than twelve years old. Sheriff's records indicate the case has been referred to the state Department of Children and Families, and that Cocoa police are investigating the possible molestation by Grzybowicz of another child unrelated to the toddler and the incident at Sea World.

Not that one, sorry

Nicholas Kolakowski has an eWeek.com article about the Verizon iPhone:
Verizon's iPhone 4, like the AT&T iPhone 4, remains un-recommended by Consumer Reports due to signal-dampening issues with the exterior antenna rim. “The Verizon iPhone 4 has a problem that could cause the phone to drop calls, or be unable to place calls, in weak signal conditions,” the publication reported in a 25 February blog posting. “The problem is similar to the one we confirmed in July with the AT&T version of Apple’s newest smartphone.”
Consumer Reports had its testers cover the gap in the lower-left portion of the iPhone 4’s exterior antenna rim with their bare finger, which apparently caused a decline in performance. In areas of low signal strength, finger-blocking the antenna gap led to a dropped call. “Given our findings, we believe the possibility exists for individual users to experience the problem since low signal conditions are unavoidable when using any cell-phone network,” the blog posting concludes. “For that reason, we are not including the Verizon iPhone 4 in our list of recommended smartphones, despite its high ranking in our Ratings.”
Soon after launching the iPhone 4 on AT&T last summer, Apple found itself wrestling with a crisis some wits dubbed “Antennagate”, with users complaining that bare hands on the antenna rim killed their signal. As reports of the issue gained momentum, Consumer Reports declined to endorse the device. “The signal can degrade enough to cause you to lose your connection altogether if you’re in an area with a weak signal,” the publication’s Mike Gikas blogged. “Due to this problem, we can’t recommend the iPhone 4.”
After weeks of what some outside pundits deemed a muddled PR response to the issue, Apple finally acted decisively when Apple CEO Steve Jobs announced that customers who purchased an iPhone 4 through 30 September would be eligible to receive a free rubber bumper that covered the rim.
Nonetheless, Apple insisted that issues with the phone’s antenna rim had little effect on sales. “My phone is ringing off the hook for people that want more supply,” Apple COO Tim Cook told media and analysts during a earnings call. “Right now it is hard to address the real question you’re asking, about is there an effect or not, because we’re selling everything we can make. You can’t run the experiment that way.”
Consumer Reports also reacted adversely to Apple’s bumper policy, writing in a blog posting that it was “less [than] consumer-friendly in several respects.” It maintained its non-recommendation.
Reports over the past few weeks, including a posting on the tech site iLounge, indicated that the Verizon iPhone 4 suffered some of the signal attenuation problems of its predecessor. Given how the reports of antenna issue in no way seemed to dampen iPhone 4 sales, however, it remains to be seen whether Verizon customers are turned away by Consumer Reports’ latest findings.

Good for you? Who knew?

John Robbins has an article at The Huffington Post about the benefits of, of all things, chocolate:
The food police may find this hard to take, but chocolate has gotten a bad rap. People say it causes acne, that you should eat carob instead, that it's junk food. But these accusations are not only undeserved and inaccurate, they falsely incriminate a delicious food that turns out to have profoundly important healing powers.
There is in fact a growing body of credible scientific evidence that chocolate contains a host of heart-healthy and mood-enhancing phytochemicals, with benefits to both body and mind.
For one, chocolate is a plentiful source of antioxidants. These are substances that reduce the ongoing cellular and arterial damage caused by oxidative reactions.
You may have heard of a type of antioxidants called polyphenols. These are protective chemicals found in plant foods such as red wine and green tea. Chocolate, it turns out, is particularly rich in polyphenols. According to researchers at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas, the same antioxidant properties found in red wine that protect against heart disease are also found in comparable quantities in chocolate.
How does chocolate help to prevent heart disease? The oxidation of LDL cholesterol is considered a major factor in the promotion of coronary disease. When this waxy substance oxidizes, it tends to stick to artery walls, increasing the risk of a heart attack or stroke. But chocolate to the rescue! The polyphenols in chocolate inhibit oxidation of LDL cholesterol.
And there's more. One of the causes of atherosclerosis is blood platelets clumping together, a process called aggregation. The polyphenols in chocolate inhibit this clumping, reducing the risks of atherosclerosis.
High blood pressure is a well-known risk factor for heart disease. It is also one of the most common causes of kidney failure, and a significant contributor to many kinds of dementia and cognitive impairment. Studies have shown that consuming a small bar of dark chocolate daily can reduce blood pressure in people with mild hypertension.
Why are people with risk factors for heart disease sometimes told to take a baby aspirin every day? The reason is that aspirin thins the blood and reduces the likelihood of clots forming (clots play a key role in many heart attacks and strokes). Research performed at the department of nutrition at the University of California, Davis, found that chocolate thins the blood and performs the same anti-clotting activity as aspirin. "Our work supports the concept that the chronic consumption of cocoa may be associated with improved cardiovascular health," said UC Davis researcher Carl Keen.
How much chocolate would you have to eat to obtain these benefits? Less than you might think. According to a study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, adding only half an ounce of dark chocolate to an average American diet is enough to increase total antioxidant capacity four percent, and lessen oxidation of LDL cholesterol.
Why, then, has chocolate gotten such a bum reputation? It's the ingredients we add to it. Nearly all of the calories in a typical chocolate bar are sugar and fat.
As far as fats go, it's the added fats that are the difficulty, not the natural fat (called cocoa butter) found in chocolate. Cocoa butter is high in saturated fat, so many people assume that it's not good for your cardiovascular system. But most of the saturated fat content in cocoa butter is stearic acid, which numerous studies have shown does not raise blood cholesterol levels. In the human body, it acts much like the monounsaturated fat in olive oil.
Milk chocolate, on the other hand, contains added butterfat which can raise blood cholesterol levels. And it has less antioxidants and other beneficial phytochemicals than dark chocolate.
Does chocolate contribute to acne? Milk chocolate has been shown to do so, but I've never heard of any evidence incriminating dark chocolate.
Dark chocolate is also healthier because it has less added sugar. I'm sure you don't need another lecture on the dangers of excess sugar consumption. But if you want to become obese and dramatically raise your odds of developing diabetes, heart disease, cancer and Alzheimer's disease, foods high in sugar (including high fructose corn syrup) are just the ticket.
Are chocolate's benefits limited to the health of the body? Hardly. Chocolate has long been renown for its remarkable effects on human mood. We are now beginning to understand why.
Chocolate is the richest known source of a little-known substance called theobromine, a close chemical relative of caffeine. Theobromine, like caffeine, and also like the asthma drug theophylline, belong to the chemical group known as xanthine alkaloids. Chocolate products contain small amounts of caffeine, but not nearly enough to explain the attractions, fascinations, addictions, and effects of chocolate. The mood enhancement produced by chocolate may be primarily due to theobromine.
Chocolate also contains other substances with mood elevating effects. One is phenethylamine, which triggers the release of pleasurable endorphins and potentates the action of dopamine, a neurochemical associated with sexual arousal and pleasure. Phenethylamine is released in the brain when people become infatuated or fall in love.
Another substance found in chocolate is anandamide (from the Sanskrit word "ananda," which means peaceful bliss). A fatty substance that is naturally produced in the brain, anandamide has been isolated from chocolate by pharmacologists at the Neurosciences Institute in San Diego. It binds to the same receptor sites in the brain as cannabinoids -- the psychoactive constituents in marijuana -- and produces feelings of elation and exhilaration. (If this becomes more widely known, will they make chocolate illegal?)
If that weren't enough, chocolate also boosts brain levels of serotonin. Women typically have lower serotonin levels during PMS and menstruation, which may be one reason women typically experience stronger cravings for chocolate at these times in their cycles. People suffering from depression so characteristically have lower serotonin levels that an entire class of anti-depressive medications called serotonin uptake inhibitors (including Prozac, Paxil, and Zooloft) have been developed that raise brain levels of serotonin.
Since I am known as an advocate of healthy eating, I'm often asked about my food indulgences. One of my favorite desserts is a piece of dark organic chocolate, along with a glass of a fine red wine. I do have a policy, though, to eat only organic and/or fair trade chocolate. This is because of what I have learned about child slavery in the cocoa trade.
May your life be full of healthy pleasures.

Bond. James Bond.

FoxNews.com has an article about the real Bond gadgets, courtesy of the CIA:
In a world where Russian femme fatales become international brands and that iconic martini-sipping spy has made a resurgent reboot (thank you, Daniel Craig) it seems only fitting that the notoriously secretive Central Intelligence Agency is giving the world an insider’s look at some of its wackier exploits.
Last week, the spy organization launched a complete overhaul to its cia.gov website, including new pages on YouTube and Flickr containing historical Agency videos and picture galleries.
“The idea behind these improvements is to make more information about the agency available to more people, more easily,” director Leon Panetta said in a statement. “The CIA wants the American people and the world to understand its mission and its vital role in keeping our country safe.”
In terms of pure coolness, however, the new Flickr pictures take the cake, including a never-before-seen gallery of special-agent supergadgets.
Some of the items featured are your run-of-the-mill spy gear: hidden cameras, devices to secretly extract letters from envelopes, and codebreaking machines, while others range from the bizarre to the spectacular.
The agency has also revealed a penchant for robotics. There's Charlie, for example, an unmanned underwater vehicle (UUV) shaped like a fish that the agency used to study aquatic robot technology. Controlled via radio, it contained built-in ballast and propulsion systems allowing it to covertly travel underwater.
Another is the dragonfly Insectothopter, one of the first micro spy drones of its times. Both gadgets were developed by the CIA’s Office of Research and Development in the 1970s. “It was an initiative to explore the concept of intelligence collection by miniaturized platforms,” according to the site.
Whether or not these devices were used in actual missions is unknown, but with the technological gains we’ve made in the past few decades, you can only wonder the kind of super toys the agency now have at its disposal.
James Bond would be duly impressed.
Rico says the photo is the Enigma coding machine of World War Two fame.

Rico was there for the last one

Jesse McKinley in The New York Times and John Boudreau in the San Jose Mercury News have articles about a mysterious white powder falling from the sky in, of all places, the San Francisco Bay Area:
As a Pacific storm coincided with a blast of cold Canadian air over their fair city, residents here saw snow late Friday, a long-absent visitor for a city accustomed to fog, sweater-weather, and other nearly bone-chilling accoutrements.
Predictions had called for the possibility of the first significant snowfall in San Francisco since February 1976, when all of an inch fell, according to the National Weather Service. Just before midnight several high-lying city neighborhoods, including Twin Peaks, at some 900 feet, reported light snowfall.
The scattering of flakes capped a weeklong flurry of activity among civic leaders and commuters — as well as dreams of flying down some of the city’s famous inclines.
“I can’t wait. It’ll be crazy,” said Marisa Belaski-Farias, 23, a graphic design student from Hawaii who has never seen snow in person. “I have a cardboard box at home. Hopefully there will be enough snow to sled.”
All Friday, it looked like that outing might have to wait. The storm brought soaking rain and howling gales in the early hours, but in classic San Francisco fashion— weather here can vary hour to hour and block to block— the morning rain gave way to clear skies and, in some quarters, profound disappointment.
“It’s a beautiful sunny day in San Francisco,” one Twitter user, LNSmithee, wrote in midafternoon. “Under normal circumstances, that would be great. But earlier this wk, we were promised snow.” (An unhappy emoticon was attached.)
But, just before midnight, those snow showers fell, inteterrupting local televsison broadcasts for up-to-the-minute reports. Meteorologists were reporting the city might, just might, get a dusting on Saturday as well, as a Canadian cold front lingered over the city and spotty showers moved in from the ocean. But, according to Chris Stumpf, a National Weather Service meteorologist in Monterey, California:“It’s going to be a little bit harder to get it to sea level.”
The very possibility that San Francisco could see snowfall led to all manner of mock dismay by online wiseacres, including Isitsnowinginsfyet.com, a website that offered a blunt assessment of the outcome at that time: “No.” Just before midnight, that assessment was updated: “Yes!”
There were more serious responses. Mayor Edwin M. Lee warned of unseasonable cold and asked city homeless shelters to increase capacity and outreach to the indigent. Crews planned to monitor roads for flooding, while the Department of Public Works planned to offer free sandbags.
Snow is more common outside the city, with small amounts accumulating at scenic mountain peaks. It is rare in San Francisco because moisture hitting Northern California is generally warmed by the Pacific before making landfall. In this case, however, the rain was being met by a cold blast coming in from the north.
Still, for some, the hype turned their feelings to mush even before the storm came and went without leaving any snow. “I’m already over the snow in San Francisco,” wrote Michael Owens, a Twitter user. “And it hasn’t even happened yet.”
Light snow flurries swirled across the Bay Area early Saturday morning, but dissipated before most people slipped out of their warm beds.
The dusting was reported in San Jose and other Santa Clara Valley cities, such as Cupertino, Los Gatos and Gilroy. But, for many valley residents, who hadn't seen snow accumulation on the valley floor since February 1976, the dusting was a disappointment. Still, cold-weather records were broken as a blast of arctic air bore down on Northern California. According to the National Weather Service, low temperatures wrapped the region overnight, with San Jose hitting 33 degrees, which it had not done on this date since 1897. Downtown San Francisco registered 37 degrees, which hadn't happened since 1952, while San Francisco International Airport reported 36 degrees for the first time since 1971.
The thin layer of snow fell between midnight and 2 a.m. "We did get some flurries overnight all over" the Bay Area, weather service meteorologist Chris Stumpf said. "We had reports of a light dusting near Monterey Bay. We actually had a guy in San Jose say he first thought it was frost but he went outside and saw that it was a light dusting of snow." Snow can occur with temperatures as warm as 38 degrees, Stumpf said.
In San Francisco, Friday's sunny skies turned snowy in hilly neighborhoods such as Twin Peaks after dark. Trained spotters for the National Weather Service reported snowflakes sticking o wooden fences and beams, but there were no reports of snow sticking to the ground in the hills, much less at sea level in the city.
The weather service, which saw a very light dusting Friday outside its officers in Monterey, does not expect any more snowy experiences near sea level this weekend, though there will be showers along the coast today and more cold temperatures Sunday morning. Temperatures are expected to rise Monday, and rain could return Tuesday and Wednesday; in other words, a more familiar Bay Area winter weather pattern.
In Southern California, hail fell Saturday morning in South Pasadena and snow fell along the Grapevine, but Interstate 5 remained open, officials said. The snow level dropped to 1,500 feet in parts of Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo counties, and the weather service said the level in Los Angeles County foothills could drop as low as 1,000 feet sometime today, depending on conditions.
Snowflakes could fall on the Santa Monica Mountains, in the Antelope and the Santa Clarita valleys, and in the higher elevations on the northern edge of the San Fernando Valley, said Curt Kaplan, a weather service meteorologist in Oxnard.
The arctic storm also brought snow to the San Joaquin Valley city of Arvin, at an elevation of 400 feet, and in the hills above the Central California coastal city of San Luis Obispo, Kaplan said.
As to whether the storm would be cold enough for snowflakes to dust the ground near the Hollywood sign, chances were looking slim. Kaplan said the weather service has updated its forecast to say snowfall in the Los Angeles area would be as low as 1,500 feet, higher than a previous forecast of 1,000 feet.
The Hollywood sign on Mt. Lee is at an elevation of about 1,600 feet. "I don't think it'll be down to the Hollywood sign," Kaplan said. "But, who knows?"

Better late than never

Helene Cooper and Mark Landler have an article in The New York Times about Libya:
The United States closed its embassy in Tripoli and imposed unilateral sanctions against Libya, including the freezing of billions in government assets, as the Obama administration made its most aggressive move against Colonel* Muammar el-Qaddafi since his security forces opened fire on protesters.
Just minutes after a charter flight left Tripoli carrying the last Americans who wanted to leave Libya, officials markedly toughened the administration’s words and actions against Colonel Qaddafi, announcing that high-ranking Libyan officials who supported or participated in his violent crackdown would also see their assets frozen and might, along with Colonel Qaddafi, be subject to war crimes prosecution.
“It’s clear that Colonel Qaddafi has lost the confidence of his people,” said the White House press secretary, Jay Carney, in a briefing that was delayed to allow the plane to take off because the Americans feared that the Libyan leader might harm the passengers. “His legitimacy has been reduced to zero.”
President Obama issued a formal executive order freezing the American-held assets of Colonel Qaddafi, his children and family, and senior members of the Libyan government. With Colonel Qaddafi killing more of his people every day in a desperate bid to remain in power, it was not clear that these actions would do much to mitigate the worsening crisis. Sanctions, for instance, take time to put in place, and every other option comes with its own set of complications. Colonel Qaddafi, increasingly erratic, has seemed to shrug off outside pressure, becoming even more bizarre— such as charges that protesters are on drugs— in the face of the world’s scorn. Unlike with Egypt and Bahrain, close American allies that also erupted into crisis, the United States has few contacts deep inside the Libyan government, and little personal sway with its leadership.
Libya and the United States resumed full diplomatic relations only in 2008; before that it was regarded as an outlaw state. In fact, even as he was announcing that the Obama administration was cutting off military to military cooperation with the Libyan Army, Mr. Carney noted that such cooperation was “limited”, a stark contrast to the deep ties that the Pentagon has cultivated with other Arab armies.
The tougher American response came nine days into the Libyan crisis and six days after Colonel Qaddafi’s security forces first opened fire on protesters at a funeral in Benghazi, plunging Libya into something akin to civil war and igniting worldwide condemnation. In the days after, the Obama administration repeatedly called for an end to the violence, but avoided criticizing Colonel Qaddafi by name; a cautious policy that brought criticism from the president’s Republican rivals.
Countering those criticisms, administration officials said they feared a hostage crisis, which tied President Obama’s hands until American citizens, diplomats, and their families were evacuated from Libya. A ferry with 167 Americans left Tripoli on Friday afternoon, having been delayed for two days by fifteen- to eighteen-foot waves in the Mediterranean, and a charter plane with additional Americans left Friday night. The embassy, Mr. Carney said, “has been shuttered.”
European leaders have been more aggressive. President Nicolas Sarkozy of France has called on Colonel Qaddafi to resign, a step that Mr. Obama has yet to take. But American allies and the United Nations also moved to isolate Libya diplomatically. A senior United Nations official said that the world should intervene to stop the bloodshed in Libya, and France and Britain called on the international organization to approve an arms embargo and sanctions. NATO said it was ready to help evacuate refugees.
In Geneva, the normally passive United Nations Human Rights Council voted unanimously to suspend Libya’s membership, but not before a junior delegate of the Libyan mission announced that he and his colleagues had resigned after deciding to side with the Libyan people. The gesture drew a standing ovation and a handshake from the United States ambassador, Eileen Donahoe.
Administration officials said that getting the people around Colonel Qaddafi to abandon him is a key part of the American and international strategy to isolate him. Administration officials say they are supporting a British proposal to bring Colonel Qaddafi and those who support or enable his violent crackdown before a war crimes tribunal.
“It’s hard to do, but the point is to encourage the remaining supporters of Qaddafi to peel off,” said Robert Malley, the Middle East and North Africa program director at the International Crisis Group. “If you want to accelerate his demise, you send the message that those who do not participate in the violence might not be prosecuted for their association with the regime.”
American officials are also discussing a no-fly zone over Libya to prevent Colonel Qaddafi from using military aircraft against demonstrators. But such a move would have to be coordinated with NATO, and would require a Security Council resolution, diplomats said. Arab governments might object on sovereignty grounds.
Administration officials have avoided public discussion of additional military options. When asked whether the United States was considering using its military assets in the region— including a Marine amphibious ship in the Red Sea— to support the rebellion in Libya, Mr. Carney said, “We are not taking any options off the table.” But administration officials said there were no immediate plans to intervene militarily.
The administration’s measures appeared to satisfy human-rights groups. Analysts said they wanted more details about the sanctions, but they were encouraged by signs that the United States would support the effort to have Colonel Qaddafi referred to the International Criminal Court on war-crimes charges, as well as by a special NATO meeting.
“Even if people aren’t explicitly talking about no-fly zones, the fact that NATO met today suggests there is more on people’s minds than diplomacy,” said Tom Malinowski, the director of the Washington office of Human Rights Watch. “I sense military contingencies are on the table.”
One complication that could speed up consideration of any military action would be evidence that Colonel Qaddafi was prepared to use his remaining stockpile of mustard gas.
The American sanctions will also include travel bans against Colonel Qaddafi and senior members of his government, and the freezing of assets, including a move to freeze all American-controlled portions of Libya’s sovereign wealth, administration officials said. Sanctions, once they go into effect, could have an impact on oil-rich Libya. According to an American diplomatic cable obtained by WikiLeaks, a senior Libyan official told American diplomats in January 2010 that the Libyan Investment Authority, which manages the country’s oil revenue, had $32 billion in cash, and that several American banks managed up to $500 million in each of those funds. Administration officials said they planned to go after that money as part of the punitive sanctions.
“The government of Libya has claimed that it holds as much as $130 billion in reserves and its sovereign wealth fund reportedly holds more than $70 billion in foreign assets,” an Obama administration official said. The official said that “while we are aware of certain assets owned by the Libyan government in the US, there are likely additional funds that we are not aware of.”
Analysts said that going after the assets of Colonel Qaddafi’s aides would probably be more effective than going after those held by the leader himself, given that he is engaged in an all-or-nothing defense of his rule.
A more draconian approach, suggested Danielle Pletka, an expert on sanctions at the American Enterprise Institute, would be to impose a trade embargo on Libya, excepting only food and other humanitarian aid.
The United Nations Security Council will discuss a proposal backed by France and Britain for multilateral sanctions, including an arms embargo and financial sanctions. But no definitive move was expected until next week. Italy, which is not in the Security Council and has deep investments in Libya, said that it also backed sanctions.
Rico says they used 'Col.' instead of 'Colonel' again. Fortunately, he's here to fix that... (And 'carrying the last Americans who wanted to leave Libya'? Does that mean there are Americans who didn't want to leave?)

Back to it in Egypt

Liam Stack has an article in The New York Times about new protests in Egypt:
Tens of thousands of protesters returned to Tahrir Square, the site of demonstrations that led to the ouster of President Hosni Mubarak two weeks ago, to keep up the pressure on Egypt’s military-led transitional government.
But by early Saturday, the military made it clear there would be limits to further dissent as soldiers and plainclothes security officers moved into the square, beating protesters and tearing down their tents, witnesses said.
In a day that had begun with equal parts carnival and anti-government demonstration, protesters’ called for the quick cancellation of the Emergency Law, which for three decades has allowed detentions without trial, and the resignation of Prime Minister Ahmed Shafiq, a former air force general appointed by Mr. Mubarak days before he stepped down.
But, after night fell, the protest transformed into a tense standoff between protesters and the military, whose neutrality during the uprising, and unwillingness to fire on the protesters, had turned them into popular heroes.
The first sign of tension arose when hundreds of people rallied in the intersection in front of the prime minister’s office, barred from taking their protest any closer to the ornate building by armored personnel carriers and a line of soldiers armed with Tasers.
The crowd returned to a chant heard often in the days before Mr. Mubarak fell, replacing his name with the prime minister’s: The people want the overthrow of Ahmed Shafiq!
Military police surrounded the protesters and kept them from leaving until late at night, witnesses said, while in Tahrir about a thousand people began to pitch tents and settle in for the night. After midnight, soldiers and police officers took over the square.
Salma Said was asleep in a tent when it began to fall down on top of her. Outside people were screaming, and she emerged to see people being beaten by soldiers and armed plainclothes security officers wearing masks. “They had their faces covered like criminals,” she said, “They only showed their eyes. One of the officers threatened to shoot us and said he was going to set our tent on fire,” she said.
During the day on Friday, the atmosphere could not have been more different. Many protesters had brought their families and were resting on blankets spread out in a grassy traffic island. A man sold chopped liver grilled on a portable stove, vendors offered cheese sandwiches and cups of sweet tea, and others sold revolution souvenirs like t-shirts and headbands.
Solidarity with the antigovernment protesters in Libya was also a major theme. Crowds circled the square carrying two massive flags more than 25 feet long, one Egyptian and one of the Libyan monarchy overthrown by Colonel Muammar el-Qaddafi in 1969. Throughout the day protesters chanted: Long live free Libya.
Protesters called on the military-led transitional government to fulfill demands made during the eighteen-day protest in Tahrir Square, including the release of political prisoners, the removal of all ministers appointed by Mr. Mubarak, and the prosecution of the former president and high ranking members of his party for corruption and abuse of power.
The military has shown little interest in firing Mr. Shafiq, but many Egyptians see him as a proxy for the former president, who has been keeping a low profile in the resort town of Sharm el Sheik since his ouster on 11 February.
“We overthrew the President and now we want to get rid of the rest of this corrupt government,” said Ashraf Abdel Aziz, a businessman accompanied by two daughters, ages five and two, who wore tight pigtails and whose faces were painted in the colors of Egypt’s flag. He described the girls, who came to daily protests with him for 18 days earlier this month, as “revolutionaries.”
The spirit of the revolution, which had included people from all segments of Egyptian society, was still evident in the mix of secular leftists, members of the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood, and women wearing full Islamic veils with children in their arms.
Ismael Abdul Latif, 27, a secular writer, chatted with the religious women, only their eyes showing, as they drew revolutionary posters. “I never dreamed in my wildest dreams that we would be talking to a munaqaba"— as women in full veils are called— “in Tahrir Square,” he said. “A secular artist is having a political debate with a fully0veiled lady and having a meaningful conversation. What’s the world coming to?”
But after midnight that answer was less clear. Ms. Said, after fleeing her tent, ran with a group of other protesters to a nearby plaza, where they began to plot their next move. “In the morning,” she said, “we are going back to Tahrir.”

And still he won't go


David Kirkpatrick and Kareem Fahim (that stalwart pair of reporters for The New York Times) have an article about Libya:
Mercenaries and army forces put down an attempt by protesters on Friday to break Colonel* Muammar el-Qaddafi’s hold on this capital city, opening fire on crowds who had taken to the streets after prayers to mount their first major challenge to the government’s crackdown, witnesses said.
The bloodshed heightened a standoff that has pitted Colonel Qaddafi— who vowed Friday to turn Libya into “a hell” as he hunkered down in his stronghold— against a spreading rebel force and increasingly alarmed international community, which condemned the violence and promised sanctions in coming days.
A rebel officer who is coordinating an attack on Tripoli, Colonel Tarek Saad Hussein, asserted in an interview that an armed volunteer force of about 2,000 men— including army defectors— was to arrive in Tripoli on Friday night. There was no way to confirm his claim. He was especially angered at the reports of security forces’ firing on protesters after prayers: “They did not have weapons,” he said, speaking at an abandoned army base in the eastern city of Benghazi, which is firmly under rebel control. “They shot people outside the mosque.”
Indeed, accounts of the bloodshed indicated that Colonel Qaddafi’s forces had deployed the same determined brutality as they had earlier in the week defending their leader, who has ruled for more than forty years.
“They shoot people from the ambulances,” said one terrified resident, Omar, by telephone, as he recalled an episode during the protests on Friday when one protester was wounded. “We thought they’d take him to the hospital,” he said, but the militiamen “shot him dead and left with a squeal”.
Reports said several people were killed, but a precise toll might be impossible. Omar said that friends who were doctors at a hospital in Tripoli saw bodies being removed from the morgue to conceal the death toll. Local residents told him that the bodies were being taken to beaches and burned. There was no way to confirm the account, and Omar did not want his full named used for fear of his life. “We have no freedom here,” he said. “We want our freedom, too.”
Heba Morayef, a researcher with Human Rights Watch trying to confirm the number of fatalities, said she had heard widespread reports of security forces inside hospitals. Top officials of the biggest Tripoli hospitals were said to be loyal to Colonel Qaddafi and understating the casualties, she said.
The Tripoli airport has become a refugee camp packed with thousands of people trying to flee. The floors inside are a carpet of flesh and blankets, including families with children. Outside, a thick wall of thousands of refugees was waiting to get in, and at least two guards were beating them back; one with a billy club and the other a whip.
The city had been cleansed Thursday night for a visit by a number of foreign journalists the Qaddafi government has invited. Billboards with pictures of Colonel Qaddafi that were burned and defaced last week have all been restored, witnesses said. “It is a stage set they built overnight,” one resident said.
Witnesses in Tripoli said that the streets were lined with extra police officers in riot gear before Friday Prayer services, and militia members patrolled the area near Bab al-Aziziya, Colonel Qaddafi’s military base.
A resident who spoke with friends in several neighborhoods said the police opened fire on worshipers after the prayers, killing at least five people in Siyahiya, in western Tripoli, and several other people in Zawiat al-Dahmani, in the city’s center. There were also reports of gunfire in Fashloom and the Souq al-Jumaa area. Those reports could not be immediately confirmed.
It was no longer possible to reach Tripoli’s central Green Square, the scene of many of the demonstrations, and much of the slaughter. The area was surrounded by checkpoints and barricades patrolled by members of the armed forces, Omar and other witnesses said.
Indeed, earlier on Friday, Libyan state television showed Colonel Qaddafi speaking from a parapet overlooking Green Square and addressing a crowd of supporters. There was no sign of resistance, only the sight of thousands of young loyalists. There was no way to know if the broadcast was live or pre-recorded.
“This is the formidable, invincible force of youth,” Colonel Qaddafi said. “Life without dignity is useless.” He blew kisses to the crowd and urged them to fight to the death. “Every individual will be armed,” he said. “Libya will become a hell.”
Libyan state television also announced that the government would give $400 to every family and raise the salaries of state employees by as much as 150 percent, in what appeared to be an attempt to buy support. But the gesture was too late to stop more painful defections. Libya’s ambassador to the United Nations, Abdurrahman Shalgham, a longtime friend of Colonel Qaddafi, denounced him Friday in New York, comparing him with Pol Pot and Hitler. Libya’s entire Arab League mission resigned for the same reasons on Friday, as did the country’s mission in Geneva.
Ahmed Gadhaf al-Dam, one of Colonel Gaddafi’s top security official and a cousin, left Wednesday evening for Egypt, where he denounced Colonel Qaddafi’s “grave violations of human rights”.
The protesters in Tripoli appeared emboldened by promises of help from rebels outside the capital and the surprisingly strong showing of protesters in cities close to the capital against Colonel Qaddafi’s forces, which brought the rebellion to the capital’s doorstep.
A potentially large force of armed fighters sympathetic to the protesters was now converging on Tripoli, according to military officials and soldiers who had defected to the rebels.
Colonel Hussein said the force consisted of active duty and retired soldiers and army reservists who had joined the rebel side. It was sent to the capital in small groups, he said, adding that they carried a mixture of light arms and heavier weapons, including rocket-propelled grenades.
He did not offer more details about the size of the groups, or their route. The road to Tripoli from the country’s eastern cities is blocked to the rebels by the city of Surt, Colonel Qaddafi’s hometown.
Colonel Hussein said he was negotiating with tribal leaders and military officers in Surt to abandon the government, or at least not stand in the way of the rebels. “We’re appealing to the people of Surt to help us stop the bloodshed,” he said.
Army soldiers stationed at a barracks near Benghazi said on Friday that 200 to 250 of their colleagues had left the barracks in recent days, headed to Tripoli to fight Colonel Qaddafi’s forces.
A group of sixty or so officers stood outside another barracks in Benghazi on Friday, saying they were volunteering to go fight in Tripoli. Colonel Hussein said they were joining the battle because protesters were being killed. “In cold blood,” said Colonel Hussein. Asked what would happen if Colonel Qaddafi was deposed or killed, Colonel Hussein said Libyans wanted a democracy: “It was our duty to enter the fight,” he added. “The regime started this. They are the ones who brought the revolution.”
Rico says the venerable New York Times is guilty of contracting military ranks (*like Col. for Colonel) on a daily basis, saving them, what, a few hundred keystrokes...

Reforming Jordan

Ranya Kadri and Isabel Kershner have an article in The New York Times about Jordan:
Thousands of people demonstrated peacefully for political reform in Amman, the capital, and in other Jordanian towns on Friday, with opposition forces drawing the largest crowds since the weekly Friday protests began eight weeks ago. The opposition also expanded its demands. The police estimated the number of protesters in the capital as 6,000, but organizers said that more than 10,000 people had turned out.
Activists from the Muslim Brotherhood and other opposition groups said that the large turnout was a reaction to the violence that erupted last week, when government supporters clashed with a relatively small group of several hundred demonstrators who were calling for political change, injuring eight people. The protesters described being attacked by “thugs” wielding wooden clubs and iron bars.
At the rallies on Friday, Jordanians were calling, among other things, for an end to corruption, more democracy, and for a return to the original formulation of the country’s 1952 constitution, without its numerous amendments, a step that would translate into less power for the king.
King Abdullah II of Jordan, a crucial American ally, has been contending with an economic crisis in the country he has reigned over, with sweeping powers, for the last twelve years. The protests represent the first serious challenge to his rule.
Early this month he dismissed his government , replacing the prime minister with Marouf al-Bakhit, who had served before in the post and is a widely considered not to be corrupt.
But opposition activists are calling for a more fundamental constitutional overhaul. “There has been an increase in the demands we are raising,” said Zaki Saad, head of the political bureau of the Muslim Brotherhood. “The regime is not serious about real reform,” he said, accusing the government of procrastination.
Naher Hattar, a political activist from Jayeen, a new coalition of leftists, unionists, and retired generals who organized the first protest on 7 January, said: “The main demand now was to go back to the 1952 constitution. This would be a step forward.”

Back in Bahrain, more troubles

Michael Slackman and Nadim Audi have an article in The New York Times about Bahrain:
In by far the largest protest yet, tens of thousands of demonstrators packed Manama’s streets and closed a stretch of highway as they demanded that their king dissolve the government and agree to a transition to a true constitutional monarchy.
The protest— which appeared to be twice as large as one on Tuesday that drew about 100,000 people— cut through Manama, the capital, with staggering numbers for a population of just 500,000. They marched in two huge, roaring crowds from the south and from the west, converging at Pearl Square.
“This is another great day for our movement,” said Abbas al-Mawali, 30, a security guard who joined the march. “We won’t stop until our demands are met. We will have a march like this every day if we have to.”
But after eleven days of protests, King Hamad ibn Isa al-Khalifa has slowly moved to meet protesters’ demands, taking incremental steps. Late Friday, he fired three cabinet ministers, but not the prime minister— one of the opposition’s top demands. He also has not addressed the issue of democratic change.
His emphasis appears to have been on defusing the protests and repairing the damage to Bahrain’s international reputation after the army fired on protesters last week, as well as on limiting concessions to ones that do not affect the government’s power.
“The government released prisoners and said it will investigate what happened; it will make some small changes in the government,” said a rights worker who is not being identified to protect him from potential reprisals by the government. “The whole region is changing. Now is our chance. I am saying, If we don’t do this now, we never will.” The protesters, meanwhile, have not articulated a strategy for bringing about change, beyond new protests and camping out in the square.
The unrest has been led by members of the nation’s Shi'ite majority, who have long been politically marginalized and who have accused the Sunni king and his government of discrimination. In a shift, it was the Shi'ite religious leaders who called for protests, rather than the political opposition. Although some of the chants on Friday had a religious cast— with some people shouting “victory comes from God”— the protesters’ demands remained the same, emphasizing a nonsectarian call for democracy and the downfall of the government.
Since the start of the crisis, the government’s response has evolved. First the king unleashed his armed forces, who killed seven protesters and wounded dozens. Then, under international pressure, he withdrew the police and military from the capital, called for a national dialogue, released three hundred political prisoners, and pointed to the protests as evidence of his government’s tolerance.
His government is also working with a public relations agency based in Britain, the Bell Pottinger Group, which says on its website that “we understand how to create, build and protect reputations in the modern age.” Bell Pottinger staff members distributed a statement from the government’s spokeswoman, Maysoon Sabkar, saying, in part: “The Crown Prince has called on all parts of society to engage in the national dialogue to progress reform.” Ms. Sabkar read a statement referring to the killings by government forces as “regrettable incidents” and announced that the king’s son, the crown prince, had called for Friday to be a national day of mourning, and that the king “extended condolences to the families” of the dead. Ms. Sabkar also said there were no shots fired from a helicopter or from a building last Friday. But she said she was not authorized to say who ordered the army to fire at all, or where the shots came from that killed one man and wounded dozens of others. Witnesses said they had seen shots fired from a helicopter and a nearby building.
The statement also said that large crowds at the hospital prevented emergency workers from doing their jobs. But witnesses said they had seen soldiers fire weapons at ambulances as they tried to pick up the wounded, and doctors in the ambulances said the security forces had prevented them from picking up wounded people.
The government’s message inflamed some people in the square. “These were not ‘incidents,’” Said Shamlouh, 37, an accountant, said, referring to last week’s protests, including one in which security forces shot at protesters sleeping in Pearl Square. “This was a massacre. It was people sleeping, families, children. And they opened fire on them. That’s not an incident.”
Rico says a real constitutional monarchy can last a long time; look at the British...

Being an idiot can be expensive

Bill Carter has an article in The New York Times about what Charlie Sheen's stupid behavior will cost the networks:
Charlie Sheen’s latest antics may leave CBS and Warner Brothers with a quarter-billion-dollar headache.
The two companies decided on Thursday to halt production of the hit CBS comedy Two and a Half Men after Mr. Sheen, the star of the show, unleashed a barrage of vituperative comments about the sitcom’s creator, Chuck Lorre.
The loss of next season’s episodes would mean forgoing about $250 million in revenue between Warner Brothers, which produces the show, and CBS. The actual shortfall would be much lower because the network would reduce its costs and would receive revenue from another show in its place. But it would still hurt the bottom line. In halting work on one of television’s most successful programs, network executives were fully aware of the financial implications. “We knew this was going to cost a ton of money,” one senior executive involved in the decisions said, adding, “tens of millions.”
Based on what the program was expected to take in from syndication sales of future episodes, Warner Brothers could fall short by about $100 million in revenue if the show never tapes another episode. And CBS, which charged about $200,000 for each thirty-second commercial, may have to make up close to $160 million: the amount it could have made during the next season.
That kind of money usually leads to compromises in Hollywood, even in the most distasteful of circumstances. In this case, however, several of the parties to the decision— all of whom asked not to be identified because the companies were standing by their official statements— said the most likely outcome of the confrontation is an untimely end of the series.
“We won’t know for sure until May,” one of the executives said, referring to the period when networks formally announce their prime-time schedule for the fall. But given the hostility expressed by Mr. Sheen, and Mr. Lorre’s avowed resistance to continue the show without him as the leading star, further episodes seem unlikely, the executive said.
If that proves to be the case, the show will fall about 32 episodes short— eight this season, 24 next— of what had already been committed. Stations and cable outlets that have purchased the reruns would then not have to pay the estimated cost of $3 million an episode. Those outlets would almost surely have spent the money because Two and a Half Men is the top-rated show in syndication. It has also provided an instant ratings increase for FX, the cable channel that bought its repeats (for about $800,000 an episode).
“There’s just no question,” said Brad Adgate, the senior vice president for research at Horizon Media. “If this show is over, these guys are going to feel it, especially given how hard it is to get a hit show.”
Mr. Sheen denigrated Mr. Lorre, the most successful comedy producer currently working in television, as a charlatan whose show became a success only because of Mr. Sheen’s own talents. He also repeatedly called Mr. Lorre by the name Chaim Levine, which executives from both CBS and Warner Brothers interpreted as a veiled anti-Semitic attack. Mr. Sheen was also criticized by the Anti-Defamation League for those comments. (The comments probably went back to a mention Mr. Lorre himself once included on the show, where he called himself Chaim Levine. That is his Hebrew name. He was born Charles Levine. Mr. Sheen also goes by another name. He was born Carlos Estevez.)
Jon Swallen, the senior vice president for research at Kantar Media, which measures the economic value of television shows, estimated that CBS took in about $155 million in advertising on the program last year, while Warner Brothers added $268 million in what are known as barter sales in the syndicated repeats of the show. Local television stations acquire the repeats for a small fee, and also hand over a portion of their advertising time to Warner Brothers to sell.
Not having any new episodes might not affect the advertising revenue for Warner in the short term, Mr. Swallen said, but “the ratings could decline if they don’t have new episodes to refresh the repeats.”
Similarly, CBS does not stand to lose all of the $160 million or so it could have made in ad revenue in the lost episodes this year and next. CBS will replace the show with something else and sell ratings points in that show. “That will presumably be at much lower prices,” Mr. Swallen said.
However, CBS pays a costly license fee to Warner Brothers to carry the show, as well as all the production costs on the show, a total of about $4 million an episode. It will not have to pay anywhere near that much on a new entry. So the network may not see much of a hit to its bottom line, at least not right away.
In fact, CBS said: “This will have no material impact to a company of our size. And, at the network level, given the economics of a show like this in its eighth season, any ratings declines will be more than offset by the reduced programming costs for the time period.”
The other value of Two and a Half Men is harder to quantify. The show has provided, perhaps more than any other other show on television, a boost for shows CBS has placed around it.
Mr. Lorre, who declined to comment, also stands to lose a substantial amount of money from the unproduced episodes of Two and a Half Men because of his share in syndication profits. But so does someone else who owns a percentage of the sales of each episode: Charlie Sheen.
Rico says the old phrase "you'll never work in this town again" will probably now apply to Charlie. (But 'veiled anti-Semitic attack'? Hardly veiled, in Rico's opinion. So, should we now refer to him as 'Sheenie'? That's not 'veiled'...)

Fixing Google

Claire Cain Miller has an article in The New York Times about issues with Google:
In a tacit admission that web publishers are flooding its search engine with low-quality pages, Google has revised its methods to improve the usefulness of its results. Google said the change would raise the rankings of high-quality Web sites and reduce those of lesser sites, affecting twelve percent of search queries.
Sites known as content farms, which churn out sometimes mindless articles based on what people are searching for, have recently worked their way to the top of search results, frustrating some Google users. High rankings in search results are crucial because they allow websites to get more traffic and bring in more business, either through sales of goods and services or through advertising.
“I haven’t seen as much negative attention on Google’s results as I have in the last month or two; it’s been fairly unprecedented,” said Danny Sullivan, editor of Search Engine Land and an industry expert.
Persuading users that it has the best results is crucial for Google, whose reputation and status as the front door to the Internet depend on them. Though there were many search engines before Google, it became the dominant player because its technology produced better results for users. If people begin to doubt the quality of its results, Google risks losing them to competitors.
While so-called content farms can provide useful information, many of their articles are of questionable value but achieve high rankings in searches. For example, an eHow article on making friends in college includes tips like “consider joining a sorority or fraternity” and “remember to have a good time, smile, and laugh.”
Google makes about five hundred changes a year to the algorithm, or formula, that runs its search engine, most of them minor. Amit Singhal, a Google Fellow who worked on the latest change, said in an interview that users were likely to quickly notice this one, which was announced late Thursday. “We haven’t done a change where we have impacted low-quality sites at this level in years,” Mr. Singhal said. “It’s a clear evolution of the algorithm as the Web is evolving, the content on the Web is evolving, the user expectation is evolving.”
Google still dominates the web search market, with a 66 percent share in the United States and a larger one in many other countries, according to comScore, a Web analytics company. But it faces ambitious competitors, most notably Microsoft’s Bing.
Hitwise, an analytics firm, measures how happy users are with their searches by looking at how many are successful, meaning the user stays at the first site they click on. At Bing, 82 percent of searches are deemed successful. At Google, the figure is 66 percent.
“This change is about more than just cleaning up content farms,” said Chris Copeland, chief executive of GroupM Search, a search marketing firm that is part of the advertising company WPP Group. “Google has a relevancy problem, and they are trying to do something about it.”
Google made the change after technology bloggers, industry analysts, and everyday users complained that its search results had useless pages. The response may help Google’s reputation, Mr. Sullivan said. “The change may not necessarily improve the results, though hopefully it will, but it will definitely improve the perception of Google,” he said.
The new algorithm change does not address the full scope of techniques that sites use to manipulate Google. It is a constant cat-and-mouse game: as soon as Google makes a change, web developers figure out a way around it.
When Google’s search engine was first introduced, in 1998, its primary advantage was that it considered the number of times other sites linked to a certain page, weighing those links as though they were endorsements. But as people quickly learned how to manipulate those links, Google’s search began focusing more heavily on other factors, too. Google has punished e-commerce sites, including J. C. Penney, for inflating its rankings by paying for links from unrelated sites.
“Our algorithm clearly gets attacked by these techniques every day,” Mr. Singhal said. “However, with the amount of information that we have, we are pretty far ahead in the game.”
Though Google’s announcement did not explicitly mention content farms, and the company declined to say which sites were appearing lower in results, Matt Cutts, who leads Google’s spam-fighting team, has spoken in recent weeks about content farms and said Google was working on ways to deal with them. “There are some content farms that I think it would be fair to call spam, in the sense that the quality is so low-quality that people complain,” Mr. Cutts said in a recent interview.
Sites that are frequently given the “content farm” label include Yahoo’s Associated Content, AOL’s Seed, and Demand Media’s eHow and Answerbag. Demand Media, for example, uses software to track what people are searching for on Google and other sites, generates headlines based on those searches, and pays small amounts to freelancers to write the articles.
Criticism of these sites has been on Google’s radar, and the company said it had worked on addressing these problems for more than a year. This winter, Demand Media went public, and its shares jumped 33 percent on its first day of trading; it is now worth $1.9 billion. Around that time, technology bloggers began writing posts like one that complained that a Google search for new dishwashers had produced useless results.
Of course, the quality of a particular site is subjective. To determine quality, Google does things like track “boomerang” searches, when people click on a link and promptly click back to the results, and ask people to compare search results.
Demand Media, which relies on traffic from Google for its livelihood, said in a blog post that it applauded the changes, but that it was too early to determine the long-term effect on Demand’s sites. This week, Richard Rosenblatt, Demand’s chief executive, said it was working to bring in readers from sites other than Google, and introduced a site that discusses Demand’s quality controls. The company’s stock opened sharply lower Friday but closed 1.6 percent higher at $22.96.
Some consultants who help websites to improve their search rankings said sites like Demand’s might not feel the brunt of the change. They said Google’s real target was the hundreds of no-profile companies that post duplicate copies of the same text on hundreds of websites.
Many of the sites will figure out a new way to climb back up Google’s rankings, said Mr. Copeland of GroupM Search: “This is a group of people who will analyze this change, come back with a new strategy on Tuesday and be ranking by Thursday,” he said. “It’s kind of like what happens when drug dealers get busted. They don’t find new jobs. They switch corners.”
 

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