Castro is nearly a billionaire: It pays to be a communist leader
What do Cuba’s fatigue-wearing president Fidel Castro and Monaco’s playboy bachelor Prince Albert have in common? Not much other than lofty positions and vast fortunes. It's a diverse group that includes a British queen, an African dictator and a few Middle Eastern potentates. This year, several new faces appear on our list, in part because of the deaths of some well-known rulers, such as Saudi Arabia’s King Fahd. Taking his spot: his half-brother Abdullah Bin Abdulaziz, who became king in August 2005.
Louisa Kroll, "Fortunes Of Kings, Queens And Dictators," Fortune Magazine, May 5, 2006 --- http://www.forbes.com/2006/05/04/rich-kings-dictators_cz_lk_0504royals.html
But sometimes being a communist leader does not pay so well, especially for women
"Nepal Maoist Leader: Women Driving Movement," by Doualy Xaykaothao, NPR, May 5, 2006 --- http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=5387419
Nepal's Maoist insurgency is unusual not just for its ideology but also for the many women in its ranks -- estimated at 30 to 50 percent. The most senior woman in the insurgency is known as Comrade Parvati. She mostly stays across the border in India, making occasional clandestine trips back to Nepal.
In a rare interview, conducted in New Delhi, Comrade Parvati offers her views on why women are drawn to the insurgency, how children are pulled in, too, and why she feels killing is sometimes necessary.
A female battalion commander in the hills of western Nepal says she joined the insurgency to resist discrimination against women.
But to the Nepalese army, the Maoists are little more than terrorists. And a U.N. human rights official says the army and the Maoists are both guilty of abuses.
What can top the Iraq war and fuel prices among U.S. Voters?
Just as the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, awakened the U.S. to the threat of
terrorism, the publicity surrounding the May 1 boycott by illegal aliens and
their supporters appears to have made the immigration issue one of
Americans' top concerns, according to a new Zogby Interactive survey, and
they're taking it out on President Bush.
"Immigration issue pushes toward 'top concern' Zogby survey finds illegals crisis eclipses economy, gas prices," WorldNetDaily, May 6, 2006 --- http://www.worldnetdaily.com/news/article.asp?ARTICLE_ID=50081
Slide Show from Forbes
Top 15 Ways to Live Longer --- http://www.forbes.com/2006/04/28/cx_vg_0501featslide2.html?partner=lycos
(This is really a slide show. Just sit back, read, and wait for the slides to change. You can control the speed.)
From the University of Wisconsin
Distance Education Clearinghouse --- http://www.uwex.edu/disted/home.html
The Distance Education Clearinghouse is a comprehensive and widely recognized Web site bringing together distance education information from Wisconsin, national, and international sources. New information and resources are being added to the Distance Education Clearinghouse on a continual basis.
The Clearinghouse is managed and maintained by the University of Wisconsin-Extension, in cooperation with its partners and other University of Wisconsin institutions.
This site has glossaries and many links to other distance education sites. The University of Wisconsin system has over 100,000 online students.
Bob Jensen's links to distance education sites are at
Some Reasons Harvard University Does Not Require Student Evaluations
Student course evaluations are ubiquitous these days, whether they be at a national site like ratemyprofessors.com or sponsored by individual institutions. But Harvard University faculty members are split on whether evaluations should be mandatory . . . Harvey C. Mansfield, a professor of government, reminded colleagues at the Tuesday meeting that there are plenty of pitfalls to evaluations. He said that evaluations promote “the rule of the less wise over the more wise … on the assumption students know best.” Mansfield called requiring evaluations an “intrusion on the sovereignty of the classroom,” and said that evaluations “reward popular teachers at the expense of serious teachers … popular teachers can be serious but many are not, and many teachers are serious but not popular.” Mansfield added that he would like to hear more discussion of evaluations, and to see their role diminished rather than increased.
David Epstein, "One Size Doesn’t Fit All," Inside Higher Ed, May 4, 2006 --- http://www.insidehighered.com/news/2006/05/04/harvard
Bob Jensen's is opposed to student evaluations that are used for
performance evaluations of instructors because of the studies showing that
they lead to grade inflation and students are not held accountable for
writing spurious and/or false reports.
I think there should be anonymous student evaluations that are privileged communications between students and the instructor. I might add that Professor Mansfield is one of the most popular professors at Harvard. He's an ardent opponent of grade inflation at Harvard and elsewhere --- http://www.trinity.edu/rjensen/assess.htm#GradeInflation
May 5, 2006 reply from Robin Alexander Robin [alexande.robi@UWLAX.EDU]
I am very much in favor of feedback from students. The problems with the evaluations as used in my institution is that 1) the way the questions were phrased and the strictly numeric responses gave no useful information to me regarding specific improvements that would have improved my teaching, and 2) I got a strong impression that their main purpose was to provide an easy (even if unreliable) way for administration to judge the quality of our teaching for purposes of merit, promotion and tenure.
One thing I discovered late in my career (I'm a slow learner) was that students above all wanted to know where they stood rather than necessarily getting a higher grade than they thought they deserved. One semester I made just one change: I kept a running total of assignment and test scores and grade-so-far on the network and each student could access his/her own record. My SEI score was a whole point higher (on a 5 point scale) than in the previous semester.
May 5, 2006 reply from Denny Beresford [DBeresfo@TERRY.UGA.EDU]
I agree that numeric evaluations are next to useless. In order to get something that I can actually act on I ask students to complete a short narrative survey about half way through each semester. This is done on Blackboard so it's anonymous and pretty painless for them. I usually get about 2/3 of the students to actually do the survey. Then I use a part of the next class session to give the students a summary of what I received and what changes will be made in the rest of the semester. No matter how many times I do this there are always a couple of minor adjustments I can make in response to feedback and I think the students appreciate the fact that I actually make some changes even if they are small.
Also, for my fifth year MAcc class, the students have to submit a series of about 20 very short (1-2 pages) papers on various topics throughout the semester. For one of the final papers I give them the choice of giving me additional feedback on the class and suggestions for the future. Usually about 1/3 to 1/2 of the students take advantage of this choice and I get a number of very good ideas for future classes.
The real reason Mexican's are gushing into the United States
Time and again we've heard rumors Mexico would tackle corruption and improve its judicial system. Outside observers and Mexican reformers alike were elated in 2000 when Vicente Fox's National Action Party defeated the PRI (Institutional Revolutionary Party), which had held authoritarian control for 71 years. At last, it seemed possible Mexico would begin tackling its strangling bureaucracy, its rotten police, its corrupt labor unions (who did nothing for labor) and its anti-competitive environment. If Mexico made even modest progress in improving its citizens' lives, the gusher of illegal migration north would slow. But as Fredo Arias-King explained in a 2005 article for the National Interest, Mr. Fox proved a lousy new broom. Instead of sweeping out the PRI officials, Mr. Fox kept them on, even hiring operatives from his opponent's campaign to run the Finance Secretariat and his own office, and reaching back to a particularly unsavory PRI official with ties to a deadly extortion attempt in the 1970s as head of the Public Security Secretariat. As for members of Mr. Fox's party, the PAN, only 78 received jobs in the new administration.
Mona Charin, "Misery across the border," Washington Times, April 26, 2006 --- http://washingtontimes.com/commentary/20060425-085314-9699r.htm
And so the Mexican government lumbers into the 21st century tolerating drug running (even profiting from it if reports by some accounts), stifling competition for the benefit of a few favored companies and suppressing the rights of workers. As the Defense and Foreign Affairs Strategic Policy magazine noted: "Mexico ranks No. 1 in the world for disappearances of women, No. 2 for kidnappings for ransom (No. 1 of countries not at war), No. 2 for number of narco-cartels, and No. 3 for murders per capita." In 2004, 300,000 people rallied in Mexico City to protest kidnappings by criminal gangs, which not infrequently result in death to the captive even after ransom has been paid. The police solve less than 1 percent of these cases. And, as the article details, even when the criminals are jailed, they can easily buy their way out of prison "with collusion of prison officials."
The World Economic Freedom Index says Mexico ranks 58th out of 123 nations in economic liberty (behind 10 other Latin American countries) and 88th in measures of legal structures and property rights.
So it is hardly surprising that Mexico's government does not discourage but facilitates migration north. The remittances illegal immigrants send to their families are a valuable source of cash, and the possibility of outmigration is a valve venting popular anger and frustration. Thus the Mexicans shunt some of their troubles onto us.
Those who obscure the distinction between legal and illegal immigrants overlook the huge burden illegals impose by their disproportionate criminality. As Heather MacDonald has discovered, 95 percent of all outstanding warrants for murder in Los Angeles target illegal aliens. Up to two-thirds of all fugitive felony warrants are for illegals. A California Justice Department study reported in 1995 that the infamous 18th Street Gang (20,000 strong) is at least 60 percent illegal.
This is not to suggest we close the border. There is every reason to believe we need more legal immigrants. But our wink, wink, nudge, nudge permitting of thousands to pour across the border every year without so much as a once-over from an immigration official is perverse.
Republicans should stress we need and welcome hard-working legal immigrants from around the world but will not and cannot be the dumping ground for Mexico's particular miseries.
Why will many small businesses in Massachusetts never grow beyond 10
The fine print of the new Massachusetts health care law is outrageous: A serious illness or injury of an employee's family member may end a business, bankrupt an employer, and force fellow employees out of work.
The Massachusetts House of Representatives overrode the veto -- but the reality is that the $295 penalty is small potatoes compared with the other obligations in the law. Say, for example, you open a restaurant and don't provide health coverage. If the chef's spouse or child is rushed to the hospital and can't pay because they don't have insurance, you -- the employer -- are responsible for up to 100% of the cost of that medical care. There is no cap on your obligation. Once the costs reach $50,000, the state will start billing you and fine you $5,000 a week for every week you are late in filling out the paperwork on your uncovered employees (Section 44). These provisions are onerous enough to motivate the owners of small businesses to limit their full-time workforce to 10 people, or even to lay employees off. What else is surprising about this new law? Union shops are exempt (Section 32).
"Romneycare's Fine Print," by Betsy McCaughey, The Wall Street Journal, May 5, 2006; Page A16 --- http://online.wsj.com/article/SB114679782365744636.html?mod=opinion&ojcontent=otep
Alice in Franceland
Mr. Chirac himself was the object of an investigation a few years back for the liberal use of public funds for his private needs when he was mayor of Paris, spending up to €600 a day for his own meals and having the taxpayer foot the bill -- gratuities presumably included. The statute of limitations put an end to the investigation.
Pierre Brancon, "Alice in Franceland, The Wall Street Journal, May 5, 2006 --- http://online.wsj.com/article/SB114677810602244145.html?mod=opinion&ojcontent=otep
"Q&A: What's Behind High Gas Prices?" NPR, April 27, 2006 ---
With average prices at the pump approaching $3 a gallon, filling up is causing American consumers increasing pain in the pocketbook. A look at the issues surrounding high gas prices:
What factors are causing gas prices to rise so quickly?
The biggest factor in rising costs is the price of crude oil, followed by the cost of refining.
If a gallon of gasoline costs $2.90 (this week's average, according to the Energy Department), crude oil accounts for about $1.60. The cost of crude oil on the futures market has risen about 33 percent in the last year. This reflects supply problems in such places as Nigeria, Iraq and the Gulf of Mexico, as well as the threat of supply problems in Iran.
Refining costs add another 64 cents or so to a gallon of gasoline. Refining margins have increased from a few years ago, and are especially high this spring, because many refineries are currently shut down for seasonal maintenance. Refineries are still recovering from the effects of last year's hurricanes. And they are adjusting to more stringent low-sulfur fuel requirements and the phase-out of the gasoline additive MTBE.
The balance of the price is taxes -- about 55 cents -- and distribution and marketing costs, which account for about 11 cents per gallon.
OK. So the rising cost of crude oil and of refining help account for the spike in gas prices. But at the same time, oil companies are reporting record net profits. They're being accused of price gouging. What's their response?
Big oil companies are making most of their money by producing crude oil. They invested in oil fields when prices were much lower, with the expectation that they could break even at, say, $25 per barrel. Since the market price is now more than $70 a barrel, the extra money is gravy. It's like a farmer who can raise corn for $1.50 a bushel. If the market price is $1.75, he makes a quarter per bushel. If the market price jumps to $2.25, his profits jump as well. (If the market crashes to $1 per bushel, the farmer loses money. That can happen to oil companies as well.) Oil companies, like the farmer, are the beneficiaries of high market prices, but they can no more control those prices than a farmer can dictate what he gets for a bushel of corn.
Critics would say the oil industry is far less competitive than the corn market, which is certainly true. But if oil companies could control the price of crude oil, they would not have allowed the price to fall to $10 a barrel as it did in 1998.
Then who sets the prices?
Oil companies don't set crude-oil prices; the global market does. Basically, the market decides what people are willing to pay at a certain moment in time. And a lot of that has to do with the fact that the world is getting richer. Countries like India and China are growing, and that has created more demand for oil and gas. In the United States, we're still going full throttle when it comes to energy use. At the same time, there have been supply disruptions and political instability in major oil-producing nations. So you have a situation where demand has been growing steadily and inexorably, and the system of supply is quite vulnerable. That's the basic recipe for high prices.
If the market sets prices for oil, then what role does OPEC play? How does it affect prices?
Traditionally, OPEC set limits on how much oil its member countries produce in order to keep the price higher than it would be in a truly competitive market (but not so high as to encourage development of alternatives). This often worked, despite widespread cheating by OPEC members, who often produced above their quotas. OPEC's production quotas are less of a factor in limiting supplies today, since members other than Saudi Arabia are almost all producing as much oil as they possibly can.
Iraq's oil production hasn't recovered to its prewar levels. Has this had a major impact on global oil supply and prices?
Yes. In January 2003, before the U.S. invasion, Iraq produced 2.5 million barrels of oil per day. Production fell sharply during the invasion, and recovered to as much as 2.3 million barrels per day in 2004. Last year, however, Iraq rarely produced as much as 2 million barrels a day. And in January of this year, daily production was only 1.6 million barrels. By itself, this would not be a huge loss to the world market. But coupled with supply problems in Nigeria, Venezuela and the Gulf of Mexico, it doesn't help.
Some Republicans want to open up Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) to oil and gas drilling. What kind of impact might ANWR oil have on prices?
The Energy Department forecasts that if ANWR were opened to drilling, it would add about 900,000 barrels of oil per day to global supplies. That would just about make up for the current gap in Iraq's production. But the new barrels wouldn't become available for many years.
Are prices really that high when compared to other countries or to the gas crisis of the late '70s and early '80s?
Gasoline prices have increased sharply in the last two years. But over a longer period of time, the prices of other goods have increased even more. In March of 1981, the average price of gasoline nationwide peaked at $1.42 a gallon. If gasoline prices had simply risen at the same rate as other goods since then, the average price today would be $3.08. (Although gas prices are higher than that in some areas, the national average is still about 18 cents shy of the all-time high.)
Drivers in some other countries have it worse. Gasoline prices in the United Kingdom, Italy and the Netherlands are at least twice as high as those in the United States. (But drivers in oil-rich countries such as Kuwait, Nigeria and Venezuela pay less than a $1 a gallon for gas.)
Is there any evidence that people are starting to change their habits in response to higher prices?
When you ask drivers at the gas station, "Are you trying to conserve?," they invariably say they are. But weekly data from the Energy Department show that we're still using more gasoline than we were a year ago. It's likely that the pace of growth has slowed because of the high price.
It also appears that people shopping for new cars are paying more attention to fuel economy than they were a few years ago. Buyers of hybrid and fuel-efficient diesel cars are already eligible for tax breaks, and this week President Bush called on Congress to expand those.
The Bush administration is supporting an investigation into possible price gouging. Meanwhile, some members of Congress are talking about a windfall profits tax. Will those measures help?
The government has conducted numerous investigations of suspected "price gouging" in the past; it usually finds that market forces of supply and demand, not illegal market manipulation, are responsible for high prices. The idea of a windfall profits tax was raised last year and went nowhere. Oil companies say taxing their profits would limit their ability to invest in new oil fields or refineries, although at least one proposal, from Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-ND), would tax only those windfall profits that were NOT reinvested.
Are there any short-term fixes?
The market solutions are: a) increase supply; and b) decrease demand. The seasonal crunch in refining capacity should ease in the next few weeks. But unless peace suddenly breaks out around the globe, crude oil supplies are likely to remain tight. So decreasing demand is our best hope in the short run.
What about long-term fixes?
They're the same: increase supply and decrease demand. But in the long term, we have more opportunities to do this, by developing new oil fields, building new refineries, replacing gas guzzlers with gas sippers, and searching for alternative fuels.
Links from eSnips --- http://esnips.com/web/FreeEbooks?docsPage=1#files
PC World - 2006 - 05.pdf
May 2006 Issue
Computer Shopper - May 2006.pdf
May 2006 Issue
SmartComputing April 2006 Issue Vol.17
TOP TEN RETAIL RIPOFFS
Sneaky Snake Sales Tricks and How to Avoid Being BIT! http://www.trampolinesales.com/ripoffs.htm
Tipping Guides in the United States
"Ignore the Tip Jar but Not the Maid," AccountingWeb, April 19,
Tip jars are turning up everywhere in America these days. Don’t feel guilty if you ignore the ones at fast food establishments, even coffee shops, if they don’t bring food or beverages to the table. Tip jars are often placed so conspicuously that employees at self-serve businesses, from gas stations, convenience stores, hot dog carts, coffee houses and fast food restaurants, are being rewarded for service they are not providing. In the meantime, people who do provide service are often overlooked, especially when we travel around the country.
Tips are not just rewards for good service. There are many people who depend on tips as part of their income. The people most commonly thought of in connection with tips are restaurant employees. In fact, restaurants report a percentage, usually around 12 percent, of gross sales for food and beverage to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) for their staff. Not all restaurant employees, however, should be tipped 12 percent. Some basic guidelines for restaurant tipping in the U.S. include:
- Food server/waitperson: 15-20 percent (for separate checks tip 18 percent on each check)
- Wine steward/Sommelier: 10-20 percent of wine bill
- Coat check attendant: $1/item if coat check is free
- Restroom attendant: $1
- Teppanyaki chef: 15-20 percent (this will usually be split with wait staff)
- Musician that visits the table: $2-3 for requests, optional if musician just stops and plays
- Bartender: 15-20 percent or $1 per drink (if at the bar while waiting for a table, settle the bill at the bar before going to your table)
- Musician in lounge: $1-5
- Cocktail server: 15-20 percent (tip $1-2 per round for free drinks in casinos or other similar places)
Tipping the Maitre d’ and busboys is not required unless they do something special. Withholding a tip is not the most effective way to register dissatisfaction with the quality of service. Make the manager aware of the problem, so they can correct the behavior.
There are a variety of other individuals who count on tips. At the airport, these individuals include:
- Skycaps/porters: $2 per bag and another $2 for curbside check-in
- Electric cart driver: $2-3 per person
- Wheelchair pusher: $5 for pushing, ticket counter to gate or gate to baggage claim, $10-20 for trips between terminals. Add $1-2 per bag if they help with luggage
- Courtesy shuttle driver: $1-2 per bag if they help with bags
- Taxi, limo, van or paid shuttle driver: 15 percent of the total fare and up to 20 percent if the driver helps with bags or makes extra stops. Never less than $1.
Some hotels are now charging a daily fee covering all tipping for hotel services, so be sure to ask whether gratuities are included in the price of the room. If there is no daily fee, tipping the following individuals is appropriate:
- Parking valet/attendant: $1-3 for returning car, the same is optional for parking the car
- Garage attendant: $1
- Doorman: $1-2 for hailing a cab, $0.50-1 per bag for luggage assistance unless he/she caries them all the way to the room, in which case tip $1-2 per bag, No tip for simply opening the door.
- Bellman: $1-2 for helping with luggage or packages.
- Concierge: $5-10 for helping get hard-to-get dinner reservations or theater tickets. Tipping for just advice is optional. Tip concierge at time of service or end of stay.
- Room service: 15-20 percent unless gratuity is included. $1 if gratuity is included
- Maid/housekeeping staff: $1-5 per day typically but up to $10 depending on mess or special services requested. Leave tip on pillow every day because staff may change.
- Swimming pool or gym attendants: $2-5 for special service such as extra seating or towels or help inflating pool toys.
- Delivery of requested items: $2 minimum, then $1 per item, such as pillows, iron, etc.
Tipping generously upon arrival can set the tone for an entire stay and ensure high quality service. Also, frequent visitors to a hotel may wish to err on the side of generosity, even infrequent visitors may wish to do so as it will make hotel staff more aware of the guest.
Research Professors More Accountable
Now, universities are increasingly demanding accountability, and refusing to coddle scholars who don't pull their weight in the competition to secure grant money. As Dr. Pettit's research field fell out of favor, he failed to get a renewal of a five-year grant from the National Institutes of Health, a vital source of his funding -- and later his bosses blocked his efforts to refile the proposal.
Bernard Wysocki, "Once Collegial, Research Schools Now Mean Business: Arizona State Strips Professor Of Empire as Funding Ebbs; Lawsuit Claims Retaliation A Price Tag on Lab Space," The Wall Street Journal, May 4, 2006; Page A1 --- http://online.wsj.com/article/SB114670909113943444.html?mod=todays_us_nonsub_page_one
An Enduring Story for a Pioneering For-Profit Distance Learning
60,000 undergraduate, graduate and doctoral degrees through its distance learning program
Administrators say that one of the state’s top
universities — either the University of Michigan or Michigan State — will
soon partner with Central on a distance-based business program, thanks to
its strong and solid history. Likewise, leading giants in the distance
education field, including Phoenix, have turned to the relatively small
Midwestern campus for advice.
"Distance Ed Pioneer Reassesses Itself," by Rob Capriccioso, Inside Higher Ed, May 3, 2006 --- http://www.insidehighered.com/news/2006/05/03/central
“People are very devoted to our campus,” says Terry Rawls, interim vice president and executive director of professional education at Central Michigan University, “but I’m embarrassed to say that most have never been to a Chippewa football game.”
That’s because — long before for-profit colleges like the University of Phoenix, Strayer University and Capella University made Internet-based education a widespread phenomenon — the institution has been churning out a variety of long distance degrees for individuals who live nowhere near Michigan. The university, located in Mt. Pleasant, smack dab in the middle of the state, has awarded about 60,000 undergraduate, graduate and doctoral degrees through its distance learning program since 1971, and about 7,000 students now enroll in distance learning courses during any given term, according to the university. Central has 60 satellite campuses total, with a majority of sites in Michigan, Georgia, Virginia and Ontario.
About 10 percent of regular fulltime instructors from the Central Michigan campus teach both online and satellite courses. A total of over 200 faculty and staff members administer the distance education programs. New instructors must pass a strict review by faculty members from the main campus in order to be hired. Of all institutions in the country, Central is the second largest granter of master’s of business degrees to African Americans.
Administrators say that one of the state’s top universities — either the University of Michigan or Michigan State — will soon partner with Central on a distance-based business program, thanks to its strong and solid history. Likewise, leading giants in the distance education field, including Phoenix, have turned to the relatively small Midwestern campus for advice.
But as more institutions — publics, privates and for-profits — get into the arena that Central first started researching in the early 1970s, administrators at the university are trying to cope with the competition. Like many other pioneering distance education institutions, including the University of Maryland University College, the institution is trying to figure out how to position itself for growth, while remaining focused on offering high quality education.
Phoenix, in particular, has recently opened several campuses in Michigan, where Central currently has 14 satellites. There has been concern among administrators at Central Michigan that enrollment growth would wane, which hasn’t happened yet.
“It’s difficult for a school like CMU to say that they’re a leader in this field in the Midwest when you’ve got all kinds of Phoenixes popping up,” says Charles Baker-Clark, a director with the American Association for Adult and Continuing Education, who notes that one Phoenix campus has recently opened in his hometown of Grand Rapids. “As a business, these kinds of shops can be much more adaptable than a traditional university.”
For-profits aren’t the only competition. Rawls says that many smaller public universities have created programs similar to Central’s in various regions of the country. “It’s the state schools that are trying to do what we’ve been doing for 35 years now. Everybody is having problems with state appropriations,” he says. “So more people are saying, ‘Let’s reach out to adult learners to make some money.’ ”
Alan Knox, an education policy expert with the University of Wisconsin at Madison, cautions that institutions that think of distance learning as a money-making venture would be wise to explore failures like Columbia University, which spent millions of dollars on a widely heralded distance education program that failed to take off. “When you look at the cost-benefit ratio, some assume that distance learning will be profitable,” says Knox. “But in actuality, it is not hugely different if you ignore the costs of building and operating bricks and mortar campuses.”
Rawls also says that Central Michigan is trying to be proactive on the recruitment and retention front. Not an easy task, considering the fact that the off-campus division of the university is limited in its budget abilities to spend money on marketing. Some for-profits spend up to 25 percent of their revenue on glossy marketing campaigns that have nationwide appeal. “There’s no way that we can afford to play that game,” says Rawls, even though his division is self-supporting and provided about $5 million in profits back to the Mt. Pleasant campus over the past year.
The off-campus programs, to date, have largely depended on word-of-mouth advertising, but administrators are currently upping their e-marketing efforts and working with Web-based companies on how to optimize keyword searches.
Administrators, too, have reached out to Eduventures, a consulting firm that focuses on the education industry, to help the institution communicate its strengths and learn from its weaknesses. That firm has suggested that Central focus on efforts that help them stand out from other institutions.
“Why are we successful?” asks Rawls. “Because we have been doing it longer than most and we are as good as or better than anyone in the country.”
In Rawls’s book, being “good” means implementing programs that work for adult learners, who make up the majority of consumer of Central’s distance learning programs. The university offers a variety of courses to meet the divergent needs of individuals, including Web-based programs as well as traditional distance learning programs where a student can take evening courses at a Central campus — in, for instance, Hawaii. In Atlanta alone, Central has 12 learning centers, which makes it easier for commuters to not have to deal with as much traffic, says Rawls.
“Our goal is to deliver the same academic experience in terms of educational quality in both on- and off- campus efforts,” says Cheri DeClercq, associate director of enrollment management for Central’s off-campus programs.
DeClercq also says that Central is competitive in terms of pricing. For most distance learning programs offered by the institution, the cost is $345 per credit hour, whether the classes are offered online or at satellite campuses. Many for-profit institutions charge substantially more for online courses than they do for in-person courses because they tend to be more attractive to students who need flexible scheduling.
Rawls also hopes to expand the number of online offerings vastly in the short term. About 15 percent of the classes currently offered in the off-campus programs are online, and he wants to be more competitive with other institutions on this front. “Central and many other institutions around the country are trying to respond to the for-profit market by embracing technology in ways that help students,” says Knox.
Deborah Ball, dean of the University of Michigan’s School of Education and an expert on distance education, says that Central should be careful what programs can and should be offered online and what needs to be done in person. Rawls says he realizes that one of the strongest aspects of the program to date has been the one-on-one interaction that Central has been able to offer thousands of students at satellite campuses.
Central Michigan’s Board of Trustees has kept a watchful eye over the growth and development of the off-campus programs. In the early part of this decade, they explored a plan to largely expand the off-campus program to try to create more funds. They determined that accreditation and other concerns put the idea out of reach at that time.
“We are such a different and unique beast,” says Rawls. He sees Central going one of two routes over the next 35 years. “We could have a damned good extended learning program in Michigan because of our infrastructure here already and really focus on that,” he says. “Or we could have a worldwide online operation, leveraging on our face-to-face presences already.”
He seems to favor a combination of the two.
Bob Jensen's threads on distance learning training and education alternatives are at http://www.trinity.edu/rjensen/crossborder.htm
Bob Jensen's threads on the dark side of distance learning and
education technology are at
Bob Jensen's threads on higher education controversies are at
"Why Few Women Run Plants: Georgia-Pacific Finds Family, Hours, Rural Locations Deter Many From Seeking Top Jobs," by Erin White, The Wall Street Journal, May 1, 2006; Page B1 --- http://online.wsj.com/article/SB114644746946540138.html?mod=todays_us_marketplace
The reasons are many. GP seeks engineers for many mill posts, but the mills' small-town locations make it hard to attract the relatively few women engineering graduates. Slow turnover in mill-management jobs limits promotion opportunities. Women must be comfortable as pioneers, supervising men who may never have had a woman boss. GP tries to persuade women to move to different mills for promotions. But as Ms. McCarty demonstrates, the company hasn't solved family concerns. "Lindsey's only in the second grade, and I really don't like traveling too much," she says.
At headquarters, GP gave women support by expanding recruiting, pairing them with mentors, encouraging alternative work schedules, offering on-site day care and hosting annual meetings of a "women's leadership forum" to discuss common challenges.
In the mills, though, GP, which was acquired last year by closely held Koch Industries, has moved more slowly. There is no on-site day care at any mill. Shift work and the 24-hour nature of mill operations limit flexible-scheduling options. Women managers from the mills weren't invited to the leadership-forum meetings until last year.
The result: As of last year, about 29% of GP's employees at the executive-vice-president level were women, up from 9% in 2001. But senior-level women are mostly in staff functions such as finance and accounting, communications, and human resources. In the mills, where many of GP's corporate leaders cut their teeth, only about 17% of the managers are currently women. That is up from about 12% in 2002 but well short of the company's goal of hitting the national level for this category, which is 24%, GP says. Only eight managers of GP's approximately 200 plants are women. Only one of its eight business-unit presidents is a woman, and she was hired from the outside in 2004.
Following the Fort James purchase, former Chief Executive A.D. "Pete" Correll, a Georgia native, insisted the company hire and advance more women and minorities to broaden the talent pool and better reflect the diversity of the company's customers. But officials moved gently in the mills because many mill managers were skeptical, says Patricia Barnard, a top human-resources executive who recently retired. Many mill managers believed "that women don't want to do that kind of work," she says.
To win over skeptics, GP executives scoured the mill operations for success stories. Ms. Barnard seized on a big, 1,400-worker paper mill in Muskogee, Okla., acquired from Fort James, that makes Mardi Gras napkins, Soft 'n Gentle toilet paper and other products. Karl Meyers, in charge since 1988, had recruited and promoted women partly because the sparsely populated area wouldn't have yielded enough talented employees without them.
Mr. Meyers noticed that women spotted things men overlooked. On visits to retailers about five years ago, women employees noticed that the perforation in on-shelf display boxes looked ragged. "We [men] think it's a little thing, but it's not," Mr. Meyers says.
The mill worked with a supplier to change the perforation. Today, Mr. Meyers counts several women who have worked their way up from the hourly ranks among his top managers, including the department head for toilet-tissue and paper-towel production.
By recounting stories like these, GP executives began to win converts in the mills. Officials also set out to bolster recruiting of women engineering graduates by building closer relationships with professors they hoped would steer candidates to GP.
But the pool of women is small and the competition intense. Fewer than 20% of full-time undergraduate engineering students were female in fall 2004, according to the American Association of Engineering Societies. GP and other manufacturers are at a disadvantage because many graduates prefer cosmopolitan areas to the isolated rural locations of many manufacturing sites, says Ralph Mobley, director of career services at the Georgia Institute of Technology. GP, for instance, has mills in Crossett, Ark., and Cedar Springs, Ga.,
Christine Primmer, 22, a fourth-year engineering student at Georgia Tech, is considering a manufacturing career when she graduates next year. The hands-on nature of working in a plant appeals to her. But small towns don't. Partly for that reason, she is also looking into health-care consulting. "I don't think I would want to develop a career in a place that was very remote," she says.
Continued in article
"A New Generation Gap: Differences Emerge Among Women in the Workplace," by Jeff Laslow, The Wall Street Journal, May 4, 2006; Page D1 --- http://online.wsj.com/article/SB114670525029943363.html?mod=todays_us_nonsub_pj
As Ms. Brod has learned, some female bosses from Generation X (born between 1965 and 1980) are finding a clear generation gap with female employees from Generation Y (born after 1980). Likewise, some female bosses who are baby boomers (1946 to 1964) or from the World War II generation (born before 1945) often have trouble relating to women born at other times. These struggles can hamper mentoring and damage productivity.
Workplace researchers lately have been intrigued by the fact that there now are four generations of women in the work force. Female leaders, meanwhile, are seeking ways to find their footing while managing women of different ages. That's what I learned last week at the Women Presidents' Organization conference in Chicago. It was a gathering of 500 women who run businesses with revenues of $2 million or more.
Continued in article
The New Financial Gap: Teachers Cannot Afford to Live Where They Work
"Education is sinking ship; teachers bail," by C.W. Nevius, San Francisco Chronicle, May 4, 2006 --- http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?file=/chronicle/archive/2006/05/04/BAG5HIKIM91.DTL
It is a double whammy. The teacher shortage is coming, and schools are losing their top professionals.
Hamilton-Meyer's classroom work is a great example of what schools need. She works with kids with special needs, many of whom do not speak English. She makes home visits, speaks some Spanish, and has a multi-subject teaching credential.
I wrote about Hamilton-Meyer in December 2004 after she got up to speak at a Mount Diablo Unified School District school board meeting. Her family, she said, was facing bankruptcy. It was hard not to hear that and think there was something wrong with this system.
Parker Blackman, who manages the San Francisco office of Fenton Communications, read the column and had to do something.
"I just found it so moving,'' said Blackman, 37, who is unmarried and does not have children. "Just the plight of a teacher trying to do so much good and then having the courage to speak out publicly about her financial problems. I think a lot of people would have been ashamed.''
Continued in article
"Two Tech Leaders Aim For Bold New Portable, But Miss the
Mark," by Walter S. Mossberg, The Wall Street Journal,
May 4, 2006; Page B1 ---
In the boring world of me-too personal computers, only a few companies are frequently bold enough to try something really new.
Apple and Sony are the usual suspects. Microsoft and Intel, which dominate the industry, rarely make the list of design risk-takers. So the latter two leaders deserve credit for cooking up a whole new type of Windows computer -- a machine that's smaller than the smallest mainstream laptop -- the Ultra Mobile PC, or UMPC. The first UMPC for the U.S. market, the Samsung Q1, goes on sale next week at Best Buy's Web site.
The idea behind the UMPC is that it's so small, yet so full-featured, it can replace a laptop. It's meant to fit in places a laptop won't, or simply to be held in your hands. It is also supposed to be a cool multimedia device for watching video or listening to music.
Unfortunately, the Samsung Q1 is so deeply flawed in key respects that it amounts to little more than a toy for techies. For everyone else, it's impractical and frustrating. Unless the UMPC can evolve significantly beyond this first effort, it may wind up as a footnote in the history of personal computers, rather than an exciting new category.
The Q1 is sleek and attractive. It's about the size of a hardcover book, only narrower, and is clad in shiny black plastic with silver accents. Most of the unit is occupied by a wide-angle color touch screen that measures 7 inches diagonally. Overall, it's about 9 inches long, 5.5 inches wide and just under an inch thick. It weighs a scant 1.7 pounds.
Inside, the little machine runs a full version of the Tablet edition of Windows XP. In fact, the UMPC, which Microsoft had code-named Origami, is really just a small Tablet PC. That's a good thing, because many of the Tablets shipped so far have been too big and bulky to use comfortably as electronic notepads or document readers, which are the main functions of tablet computers.
The Q1 uses a slow, low-end Intel processor, a Celeron running at 900 megahertz. But it was adequate for the common tasks I tested -- Web surfing, email, playback of audio and video files. There's also a 40 gigabyte hard disk, 512 megabytes of memory, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth wireless networking, an Ethernet port, two USB ports and a slot for Compact Flash memory cards.
There's no embedded cellphone modem and no slot for adding an external one. The Q1 also lacks an internal DVD drive. An external drive can be added for $219, but it's an extra piece to carry and plug in.
You operate the Q1 like a PDA -- by manipulating icons on the screen and writing on the screen using either a simple plastic stylus or your fingers. It lacks a built-in keyboard and doesn't come with a mouse.
In my tests, the Wi-Fi and wired networking worked well and were fast. All the applications I tried launched fine and worked fine. Video clips looked pretty good on the screen, and the stereo speakers, though small, did a decent job.
So what are the Q1's big flaws? The first is price. Microsoft's designers set a target retail price of $500, but Samsung is charging more than double that amount -- $1,099. That's more than many laptops cost, and much more than PDAs or smart phones. In fairness, the lightest laptops tend to cost more -- $1,500 to $2,500. But $1,099 is still a lot for a UMPC.
The second is battery life. In my harsh battery test, the Q1 lasted just two hours and two minutes. That means that, in normal use, it might approach three hours, if you're lucky. You can buy a larger battery for $119, but it adds bulk to the computer and nudges the weight up to two pounds, almost as heavy as the lightest standard laptops.
The third is the lack of a keyboard. Without a keyboard, many standard tasks in Windows are simply a huge hassle. You can't really do word processing at speeds most people are used to. And email is a constant frustration. Yes, the Q1 has handwriting recognition, but it's cumbersome. And there's a semicircular onscreen keyboard, but it takes work to use it well.
Most Tablet PCs include a keyboard. Even the tiny OQO computer has a keyboard, as do Treos and BlackBerrys. How come the combined brains at Microsoft, Intel and Samsung couldn't build one into the Q1? You can plug in an external keyboard, but that makes the machine ungainly.
The fourth big flaw is the screen. Its resolution is too low to see much material at a glance. Often, you can't even see the OK button at the bottom of open Windows. There is a way to increase the resolution, but it results in distorted graphics and fuzzy text.
Finally, the navigation buttons and controls on the Q1 are awful. There's a control that moves the cursor, and another that acts like a Return key. But there are no direct equivalents of the left and right mouse buttons. To emulate a mouse button, you have to hold down two of the Q1 buttons simultaneously.
My advice is to skip the Q1, and hope that the next generation of the UMPC will be better.
Redefining How People Socialize Online
"New Social Networking Technology Packs a Wallop A spinout company built around a Microsoft Research project hopes to redefine how people socialize online," by Wade Roush, MIT's Technology Review, May 4, 2006 --- http://www.technologyreview.com/read_article.aspx?id=16773&ch=infotech
Microsoft was a latecomer to the Internet in the mid-1990s -- but its Internet Explorer Web browser went on to control more than 90 percent of the browser market. Now, in the newly hot area of online social networking and profile-building, led by companies like MySpace, Friendster, and Facebook, Microsoft seems to be missing the boat once again (unless one counts its bland MSN Spaces blog service). But could Microsoft technology once again come from behind and vanquish the competition?
Possibly -- but it wouldn't be under Microsoft's own aegis. A San Francisco startup called Wallop, which emerged from stealth mode on April 25, is using technology originally developed at Microsoft's research laboratory in Redmond, WA, to build an online social space that promises to redefine the notion of social networking, by focusing it on conversations and media tidbits, such as songs and photos, rather than on members and their profiles.
"On Friendster and MySpace, collecting more profiles is really the only thing to do, and you define yourself by how many friends you have," says Karl Jacob, Wallop's CEO. "That's not a very good parallel to the real world, where what's important is our special relationships with friends and family, and where we have conversations about stuff." Part of the point of Wallop is to make it easy to share digital versions of that "stuff" -- photos, videos, songs, or text musings -- with clusters of interested friends.
Wallop's programmers are designing the system to combine elements of social networking, blogging, and media-sharing sites such as Flickr, but in a way that doesn't precisely mirror any of those services. The original Wallop team at Microsoft Research -- led by principal inventor Sean Uberoi Kelly, who is the new startup's chief technology officer -- seem to have stumbled on a truth that's eluded other builders of social networking sites: most people don't go online simply to socialize. Instead, they want to find information and build relationships that will make their offline lives richer, and to help others do the same.
That's what Wallop is tailored to facilitate. Judging from a preview provided by Jacob and Kelly last week at the company's headquarters in San Francisco's South of Market neighborhood, Wallop will attempt to bring together, in one place, the tools one needs to find groups of friends, publish and share creations and experiences with those friends, and track what one's closest friends in the network are sharing.
At first glance, Wallop resembles a fancy Windows or Macintosh desktop -- an attractive and customizable onscreen backdrop for personal photographs, blog entries, and conversational threads, all manipulated using an elegant user interface driven by Flash animation technology.
But much more is going on under the hood. For example, there's a graphical feature, which Jacob and Kelly are tentatively calling the "radar," that puts the user in the center and depicts the strength of his or her relationships with other members in terms of their distance from that center. (The strength is continuously updated according to a number of factors, including the frequency of communication and whether the other person has identified the user as a friend.) Another feature interwoven with the radar updates specified groups of friends whenever a user posts new material. Simply dragging-and-dropping a video or photo file to a cluster of contacts on the radar, for example, will automatically inform just those friends about the new file.
Continued in article
Four New Reports from The Commission on Higher Education
The commission appointed by the education secretary to study American higher education has released four new reports. The reports, like earlier studies released by the panel, are not official views of the commission. The topics of the latest reports are the health workforce, the link between education and income, shortfalls in state spending on higher education, and adult education.
Inside Higher Ed, May 1, 2006 --- http://www.insidehighered.com/news/2006/05/01/qt
How to avoid capital gains tax on estate transfers
From The Wall Street Journal Accounting Weekly Review on April 27, 2006
TITLE: A Move That Really Pays Dividends
REPORTER: David Reilly
DATE: Apr 26, 2006
TOPICS: Dividends, Taxation
SUMMARY: The article compares and contrasts dividends and returns of capital, and describes a scenario in which, based on today's estate tax laws, payment of tax on capital appreciation might be avoided entirely.
1.) How does tax law differentiate between a dividend and a return of capital?
2.) How does the fact that a return of capital is deducted from an investor's tax basis in a stock ultimately allow the tax to be deferred? Under ordinary circumstances, when is the deferred tax ultimately paid?
3.) What provisions in estate tax law allow for the possibility that deferred tax on corporate dividends may never be paid? How could that tax treatment change in the future?
4.) Is there a difference between the financial reporting, or accounting effect, of a cash dividend and a return of capital? Support your answer by providing the journal entries made by companies distributing cash dividends or returns of capital.
5.) Refer to the related article. How might the dividend distribution described in that article be similar to the recent transactions by the Great Atlantic and Pacific Tea Company and Cablevision Systems Corp.?
Reviewed By: Judy Beckman, University of Rhode Island
--- RELATED ARTICLES ---
TITLE: Burger King Pays Owners Dividend of $367 Million
REPORTER: Janet Adamy and Henny Sender
PAGE: A12 ISSUE: Apr 26, 2006
"A Move That Really Pays Dividends: Return-of-Capital Payouts, Like One From Cablevision, Yield Big Tax Benefits, Too," by David Reilly, The Wall Street Journal, April 25, 2006; Page C3 --- http://online.wsj.com/article/SB114593156681734935.html
Some dividends are better than others.
In fact, under certain conditions, they aren't considered dividends at all. Rather, the payouts to stockholders are treated as returns of capital, a distinction with important tax consequences. An investor pays tax, usually 15%, on a dividend, but gets to defer tax on a return of capital -- or even eliminate it altogether.
Here's how it works. Say an investor buys a company's stock for $50 a share and the company then decides to pay out $10 a share as a dividend. The investor is liable for $1.50 in tax on the dividend (the 15%). If the payout is deemed for tax purposes a return of capital, the investor doesn't immediately pay tax. Instead, the $10 is used to reduce the so-called base price of the stock for capital-gains tax purposes. So if the investor later sells the stock, the initial purchase price will be reset to $40.
Given that capital-gains tax on longer-held assets also is generally about 15%, the differing treatments would appear to be a wash. But the ability to defer tax has a value, just as a dollar in hand today is worth more than a dollar in the future.
This explains why companies sometimes, when they meet certain criteria for a return of capital, choose to give a lot of money back to shareholders in one go, even if the companies have been racking up big losses. The move can also help shareholders who own a big slug, or a majority stake in a company, to extract capital on tax-advantaged terms.
Supermarket operator Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Co., for example, today plans to make a special payment to shareholders of $7.25 a share, equal to about a quarter of the company's share price when the payout was announced in early April. A spokesman for A&P, which is majority-owned by a German retailer, didn't return a call seeking comment.
Yesterday, Cablevision Systems Corp. paid a special payout of $10 a share. That was equal to more than a third of the company's share price when the payment was announced a few weeks ago. The company came up with the plan after the controlling shareholder, the Dolan family, late last year shelved a plan to take the company private because of resistance from minority shareholders. A Cablevision spokeswoman declined to comment on the payout.
Regardless of what they are called, the payments by both companies are likely to qualify in part, or whole, as a return of capital, according to Robert Willens, tax and accounting analyst at Lehman Brothers. For a payout to qualify, a company has to be posting losses and to have wiped out previously generated, or retained, earnings, as defined under tax law. If, for example, Cablevision or A&P turn a profit this year, part of the special payout could be treated as a regular dividend, Mr. Willens explains.
Cash-generating companies in industries that typically rack up losses under the tax laws, often due to hefty depreciation charges, can take advantage of the return-of-capital rules. Companies also can borrow to fund a special payout, Mr. Willens says. Cablevision, for example, is using cash from a credit facility for its payout. That has the added twist of creating a further tax benefit because interest payments are tax deductible for a company.
Returns of capital may hold an added bonus for investors who receive them by eliminating, rather than just putting off, the tax liability on the payout. But there's a catch: The investor has to die first.
Call it the death trade. Use the example of the investor who bought stock at $50 and then received a capital return of $10. Recall that the investor wouldn't immediately pay tax, but the stock's value would be rebased to $40 for capital-gains tax purposes.
Say that same investor doesn't sell the stock, which rises in value to $100 before the investor passes. The investor's heirs get to base the value of the stock, for tax purposes, to its value at the time of the investor's death -- $100. In that case, the tax due on the return of capital gets buried with the investor.
Bob Jensen's taxation helpers are at http://www.trinity.edu/rjensen/Bookbob1.htm#010304Taxation
What are the accounting and tax implications of backdating employee stock options?
The stock-options backdating scandal
continued to intensify, with the announcement by a Silicon
Valley chip maker that its chairman and its chief financial
officer had abruptly resigned. That brought to eight the number
of officials at various companies to leave their posts amid
scrutiny of how companies grant stock options.
"Backdating Probe Widens as 2 Quit Silicon Valley Firm: Power Integrations Officials Leave Amid Options Scandal; 10 Companies Involved So Far," by Charles Forelle and James Bandler, The Wall Street Journal, May 6, 2006; Page A1 --- http://online.wsj.com/article/SB114684512600744974.html?mod=todays_us_nonsub_page_one
Is any CEO really entitled to over $ 6 billion in gains on
employee stock options?
"Calpers Puts Pressure on Board of UnitedHealth: Holder Demands a Meeting Over Option-Grant Timing; A Threat to Withhold Votes," by Vanessa Fuhrmans, The Wall Street Journal, April 26, 2006; Page A3 --- http://online.wsj.com/article/SB114599506269535599.html?mod=todays_us_page_one
The California Public Employees' Retirement System is demanding a conference call with the compensation committee of the board of UnitedHealth Group Inc. over its disclosure practices, and is threatening to withhold votes for board directors seeking re-election.
In a letter sent to James A. Johnson, chairman of the UnitedHealth board's compensation committee, Calpers board President Rob Feckner demanded a conference call ahead of Tuesday's UnitedHealth shareholders meeting to discuss what he called "serious threats to the credibility, governance and performance of UnitedHealth." Specifically, the letter criticized the company's failure to explain how it determined stock option grant dates for Chief Executive William McGuire and a handful of other executives in past years, and its "inconsistent" disclosure of its option-granting program.
The move by Calpers increases the scrutiny of the process by which Dr. McGuire received some of the $1.6 billion in unrealized gains he holds in company stock options. Calpers holds 6.55 million shares, or 0.5%, of UnitedHealth's outstanding stock. The pension fund, known for its strong stances on corporate governance, could spur other investors to join in its criticism. The move also increases pressure on UnitedHealth's board to more fully explain its past option-award practices soon, even though its board only launched a probe into them earlier this month.
Continued in article
After the Horse is Out of the Barn: UnitedHealth Halts Executive
The UnitedHealth Group, under fire for the timing of lucrative options grants to executives, said Monday that it had discontinued equity-based awards to its two most senior managers and that it would cease other perks like paying for personal use of corporate aircraft. UnitedHealth’s board said it had discontinued equity-based awards for the chief executive, William W. McGuire, who has some $1.6 billion in unrealized gains from earlier options grants, and for the president and chief operating officer, Stephen J. Helmsley.
"UnitedHealth Halts Executive Options," The New York Times, May 2, 2006 --- http://www.nytimes.com/2006/05/02/business/02unitedhealth.web.html
Bob Jensen's fraud updates are at https://www.trinity.edu/rjensen/FraudUpdates.htm
From The Wall Street Journal Accounting Weekly Review on May 5, 2006
TITLE: As Options Cloud Looms, Companies May Get Tax Bill
REPORTER: Charles Forelle and James Bandler
DATE: Apr 28, 2006
TOPICS: Accounting, Financial Accounting, Securities and Exchange Commission, Stock Options, Taxation
SUMMARY: Tax implications of the developing issues in stock options, covered also in a recent Weekly Review, are discussed.
1.) What is the recently-developing concern with dating of executive stock options? In your answer, comment on the Securities and Exchange Commission investigation into the issue. You may refer to the related article for your answer.
2.) Define the terms "compensatory stock options"; "incentive stock options";"option grant date"; and "option exercise price".
3.) Summarize the tax implications to both executives receiving stock options and to companies issuing stock options if option grant dates are changed to a point when the stock price is higher than on the originally reported date, but the exercise price is not changed.
4.) The author quotes Mr. Brian Foley as saying that one company under SEC and IRS scrutiny for this issue, UnitedHealth, would have a "serious and incurable problem" if options were "backdated" and they have been exercised. What could be the difference between options that were exercised and options that have not been?
5.) What are the financial reporting implications of the problems highlighted in this article? How do the tax issues exacerbate the financial reporting problems?
Reviewed By: Judy Beckman, University of Rhode Island
--- RELATED ARTICLES ---
TITLE: The Perfect Payday
REPORTER: Charles Forelle and James Bandler
PAGE: A1 ISSUE: Mar 18, 2006
"As Options Cloud Looms, Companies May Get Tax Bill," by Charles Forelle and James Bandler, April 28, 2006; Page C1 --- http://online.wsj.com/article/SB114619341731038487.html
Companies that backdated stock-option grants to top executives could face a costly reckoning with the Internal Revenue Service, with some potentially owing large sums in back taxes, legal experts say.
The tax problems, which could affect the personal tax filings of hundreds of individual employees, are the latest wrinkle in widening inquiries into stock-option awards.
A half-dozen companies, including insurance titan UnitedHealth Group Inc., have said their boards, or the Securities and Exchange Commission, are examining their past option grants amid concerns that some may have been backdated to take advantage of lower exercise prices. Backdating could have resulted in millions of dollars in extra compensation for insiders, at the expense of shareholders. Most of the probes are preliminary, and so far the SEC hasn't charged anyone.
If the investigations turn up backdated grants, the companies face a host of issues, including the prospect of earnings restatements and delistings. Such options offer the right to buy a stock at a fixed, or exercise, price, allowing the holder to profit by later selling the underlying shares at a higher price than the exercise price.
One company that has acknowledged "misdating" options, Mercury Interactive Corp., a Mountain View, Calif., software company, has had its stock delisted by the Nasdaq Stock Market and has said it will have to restate financial results. Vitesse Semiconductor Corp. last week suspended its chief executive and two other top officials, saying the move was related to the "integrity of documents" in its stock-option program. Late Wednesday, Vitesse said its board had discovered additional accounting issues and had hired a turnaround firm.
Granting an option at a price below the current market value, while not illegal in itself, could result in problems of wrongful disclosure under securities laws. Companies' shareholder-approved option plans and SEC filings often say options will carry the stock price of the day the company awards them or the day before.
Favorable tax treatment was one reason that options gained popularity in the 1990s as a way to compensate employees, particularly executives. When an option is exercised, the company typically can take any gain pocketed by the employee as a deduction on its tax return, because the IRS views the option profit as akin to extra compensation paid to the employee. The employee reports the gain on his or her personal tax return.
Tax experts say that options backdated to a day with a lower market price don't qualify for a deduction -- although the disqualification only affects options exercised by the chief executive or any of the next four most highly compensated executives. And $1 million of each of the executives' total compensation always can be deducted. As a result, they say, companies with backdated options could face the prospect of shelling out cash to revise prior years' tax returns -- and could be ineligible for the deductions they planned to take in the future on executive option gains.
A Wall Street Journal analysis, published in March, described a pattern of unusual stock-option grants to a handful of chief executives, including William McGuire, UnitedHealth's chief executive. Twelve grants to Mr. McGuire between 1994 and 2002 were each dated in advance of a substantial run-up in the company's share price, and three of them fell on yearly lows. Last week, Mr. McGuire told investors on a conference call that, "to my knowledge, every member of management in this company believes that at the time we collectively followed appropriate practices."
The potential tax issues could be big, particularly for companies whose stocks have greatly increased since the grants. UnitedHealth, Minnetonka, Minn., reported $346 million in realized option gains among its five best-paid executives from 2003 to 2005. At the end of last year, it said its five best-paid executives had another $2.4 billion in unrealized, exercisable options gains. UnitedHealth's stock has soared since the 1990s, when many of the options were granted. A board committee investigating options granting at the company hasn't completed its work, and it isn't known whether any option grants were backdated at all.
"If they had a backdating problem, and that's a big if, the tax consequences could certainly be ugly," says Brian Foley, a compensation consultant and tax lawyer in White Plains, N.Y. With respect to the already-exercised options, he added, "they would have an obvious and serious and incurable problem."
UnitedHealth had a corporate-tax rate ranging between 34.9% and 35.7% in the past three years. Although the company's actual payments likely were lower, that suggests the tax savings to UnitedHealth from exercised executive options could have been as much as $120 million from 2003 to 2005. As of end of 2005, the value of the future tax savings was as much as $800 million.
"That's a huge number," says Robert Willens, a tax and accounting expert at Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc.
UnitedHealth has reported substantial tax benefits from deducting its employees' stock option gains. Until recently, the company said in its proxy statements that it believed its executive option grants qualify for the tax deduction. Starting in a proxy filed in April 2005, it said some options might not qualify, but that the amounts involved were immaterial. Ruth Pachman, an outside spokeswoman for UnitedHealth, said in a statement that the company "continues to believe" that its proxy statements were accurate and remain accurate. She said the company "declined to speculate about hypothetical scenarios."
Executives at other companies reporting options investigations, including Vitesse and Affiliated Computer Services Inc., reported substantial options gains to top executives. ACS, which reported about $44 million in realized options gains by its top five executives in the most recent three fiscal years, didn't return calls. Vitesse officials didn't return several messages seeking comment.
S. James DiBernardo, a partner at Morgan, Lewis & Bockius LLP who specializes in tax issues, says there is no easy way to make grants comply with the terms of the tax code retroactively. A company could reprice the options, he says, but it would have to reprice them at the current share value, effectively erasing all of an executive's past gains. Another route is for the top executives to wait until after retirement to exercise the options -- when they are no longer executive officers.
Ethan Yale, an associate professor at Georgetown University Law Center who was retained by UnitedHealth to look into this matter, agreed that the issue could pose tax problems. He said this is largely uncharted territory and ambiguities in tax rules might allow a company to get back in compliance retroactively by repricing the options to the actual grant-date prices.
Continued in article
Updates from WebMD --- http://www.webmd.com/
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"Neuro Clues to the Mysteries of Acupuncture: Advanced imaging methods may reveal how this ancient healing technique affects the brain," by Emily Singer, MIT's Technology Review, April 28, 2006 --- http://www.technologyreview.com/read_article.aspx?id=16751&ch=biotech
Coffee, caviar and raisins may trigger a migraine, but white chocolate and vodka won't. See a complete list of what foods are suspected of making your head hurt.
"What's Triggering Your Migraine?" NPR, April 27, 2006 --- http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=5364970
There are a lot of prescription painkillers that relieve migraine headaches. But neurologist David Buchholz of Johns Hopkins University takes his headache patients off the drugs.
"I tell people to use the power they have in their own hands to control their headaches," says Buchholz.
Many headache doctors advise their patients to avoid certain foods and beverages. Caffeine, MSG and chocolate are usually at the top of the list. But Buchholz' list includes many more food products.
Donna Sees first made an appointment to see Buchholz three years ago. At the time, she was suffering with daily headaches. Many of them left her holed-up in her dark bedroom.
"I was in bed. I couldn't stand the light or noise. I couldn't stand to be out in the sun," says Sees. "My head was ready to blow up."
Sees' headaches began when she was 20 years old, and became more severe during her 30s. She used a drug called Imitrex to treat them. But with frequent use, it became less effective and even brought on rebound headaches between doses.
"I was well aware the way I was being treated was not going to help me. I'd given up," she says.
Sees read about Buchholz's strategy in his book, Heal Your Headache. During her first appointment, he gave her his food list. She had heard some of the advice before. For instance, she knew about the link between MSG in Chinese food. She'd also heard about sulfites in red wine. But Buchholz urged her to take a broader view.
"Suppose there are 100 things that trigger headaches. And somebody tells you to avoid two or three of them, but you eat the other 97. You're still going to get a headache," says Sees.
Sees adopted Buchholz's entire diet plan. On a recent trip to a grocery store in Lutherville, Md., Sees and Buchholz pointed out all the migraine triggers.
"The Ramen noodles. They're a total MSG bomb," says Buchholz. "Here we have all these veggie burgers, which would taste like wet straw if they didn't load them up with MSG."
Food labels rarely name monosodium glutamate (MSG). It shows up under aliases such as maltodextrin or hydrolyzed vegetable protein. Buchholz recommends avoiding all soy.
"When you process the protein in soy, you liberalize MSG," Buchholz says, "so you're basically manufacturing MSG when you make a product like tofu or miso or protein bars."
These foods normally don't cause headaches immediately. The effects can be delayed up to 72 hours. This can make it difficult for people to identify triggers on their own.
Sees has also learned to avoid all fresh produce that contains tyramine. It's a natural food-chemical linked to headaches. Buchholz recommends replacing onions with shallots and leeks.
Tyramine is found in a lot of healthy foods, including bananas, citrus, nuts and cheeses. Aged cheeses contain the most.
"At the young end, there are cheeses such as cottage or American cheese or cream cheese, which don't have much tyramine. As opposed to the other end of the spectrum, there's blue cheese or cheddar, which are loaded with tyramine," says Buchholz.
Avoiding these foods won't eliminate all headaches. There are many other triggers that people can't control. For instance, the weather. Storms, airplane rides and high altitude bring a drop in barometric pressure, which is considered a migraine trigger. Stress and hormones are major culprits as well. People become more vulnerable to headaches when a lot of these triggers stack up.
"Once your trigger level builds up above your own personal preset threshold, a headache-generating mechanism is set into motion. The end product is painful blood-vessel swelling," says Buchholz.
The Buchholz diet plan helps Donna Sees control her headaches. But the results weren't immediate, she says.
"After a few months of doing the diet, I went from having a headache every day down to three days a week," she says. "Then it was two days. I continued to clear my body of these triggers and continued to eat right, and I got better and better."
Sees still gets an occasional headache, but she says they're mild. Two Advil pills will take away the pain. She also has been able to add a little citrus and cheese back into her diet.
But some foods should remain permanently out of the diet, says Buchholz.
"Caffeine is a trigger that utterly fools people," he says. "In the short-run, it may seem as if it's warding off a headache. But in the long-run, caffeine causes rebound headaches."
Some of Buchholz's patients are able to tolerate certain types of alcohol, but he recommends avoiding dark alcohols.
"There's a spectrum of alcoholic beverages. Triggers on the low end are vodka. On the high end would be red wine," says Buchholz.
"It's all dose-related. So, if you keep consumption down and drink water, you can probably get away with it to some degree."
The diet plan is based largely on Buchholz' own observations with patients. He has refined the list through a process of trial and error spread over two decades with a few thousand patients. His theories haven't been proven by controlled studies.
Some headache specialists think he's made too much of the dietary triggers. But Buchholz is convinced that about half his patients benefit from diet alone.
He puts the other half on preventive medications. These aren't painkillers, but prescriptions such as blood-pressure drugs that seem to stop some patients' headaches from escalating.
"Antisocial Mice Give Clues to Autism: A new mouse model could shed light on the social deficits that characterize this complex disease," by Emily Singer, MIT's Technology Review, May 4, 2006 --- http://www.technologyreview.com/read_article.aspx?id=16771&ch=biotech
Autism is a devastating developmental disorder that can leave children with profound behavioral problems. One of the barriers to understanding the disease is the lack of a valid animal model to test hypotheses for the causes of the disorder or to test new treatments.
Now researchers have created mice that exhibit some of the key behavioral and neurological deficits in the disease. They hope the mouse model of the disease will help them pinpoint specific brain areas linked to the social problems that characterize autism.
People with autism show several typical behavioral problems: poor social interaction, poor communication, and repetitive behaviors, such as rocking. But creating a mouse model for autism has been a challenge. To create animal models of diseases, scientists usually start with a gene that has been implicated in a disorder, then knock out that gene and look for symptoms of the disease in the animal.
While autism has a strong genetic component, "human studies haven't come up with an obvious gene that causes autism," says Richard Paylor, a behavioral geneticist at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, TX (who was not involved in the research). "There have been lots of reasonable candidates, but no home run."
In a paper published today in the journal Neuron, researchers from the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas, TX, describe a new mouse model in which a gene involved in cell signaling, called PTEN, was knocked out in mature neurons. People with mutations in this gene sometimes have autism. And the PTEN mutant mice show profound deficits in social interactions. Normal mice, for example, are eager to investigate a new mouse in their cage, spending more time with a new visitor than with a familiar mouse or a new inanimate object. Mutant mice, however, spent less time in social interactions and were equally interested in inanimate objects and other mice.
The gene was knocked out only in a subset of neurons in the brain, which allowed researchers to examine exactly how that knockout affects the nerve cells. "We saw very aberrant neurons that resemble what is described in some instances of autism," says Luis Parada, a developmental biologist who led the study. The cells had more synapses than normal and made connections in abnormal places.
"I think this model will be useful for evaluating therapeutic interventions for some of the social problems found in autism," says Paylor.
It's not yet clear if the model will be relevant to the most common forms of autism or to a subset of unusual cases. "Whether this is a bona fide model for autism remains to be seen, but it's one of the most promising starts," says Andy Shih, director of research at the National Alliance for Autism Research in Princeton, NJ.
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What is disease-mongering by drug companies?
"Hey, You Don't Look So Good: As diagnoses of once-rare illnesses soar, doctors say drugmakers are "disease-mongering" to boost sales," Business Week, May 8, 2006 --- Click Here
If you have high blood pressure, you may be at risk for heart disease. And given that an estimated 65 million Americans have hypertension, it's not surprising that drugs to treat it are among the most prescribed medicines in the world. But why stop at prescribing drugs to people whose readings are 140/90 or higher, the standard definition of high blood pressure? In the Apr. 20 issue of The New England Journal of Medicine, a research team reported on "prehypertension," the condition of being in danger of developing hypertension.
Prehypertension was first identified in 2003, and some studies claim as many as 50 million U.S. adults have the condition, defined as blood pressure readings from 120/80 to 139/89. This risk of being at risk can be modified with diet and exercise, but the NEJM study reports that it can also be treated with Atacand, a drug from AstraZeneca Pharmaceuticals PLC (AZN ).
To a growing chorus of physicians and health-care specialists, the very idea of treating the risk of a risk is wrong. They have labeled the phenomenon "disease-mongering," defined as the corporate-sponsored creation or exaggeration of maladies for the purpose of selling more drugs. Prehypertension "is a classic case of a risk factor being turned into the disease," says Dr. Steven Woloshin of the Veterans Affairs Outcomes Group in White River Junction, Vt. "If you make a cut-off for blood pressure that's close to the normal range, then just about everyone can be diagnosed." An AstraZeneca spokesman responds that the trial was considered important enough to be published in the prestigious NEJM. "I think that speaks for itself."
DEMAND FOR A QUICK FIX According to critics, disease-mongering is on the rise. It starts when a drug is developed for some once-rare condition. Then heavily promoted disease-awareness campaigns kick into gear, leading to increasing numbers of diagnoses and prescriptions. The list of suspects includes restless legs syndrome, social anxiety disorder, premenstrual dystrophic disorder, irritable bowel syndrome, female sexual dysfunction, and more. "Of course, some people have these diseases very seriously," says Dr. Robert L. Klitzman, a psychiatrist and bioethicist at Columbia University. "The problem is that mild cases are being made to seem more serious than they are."
The other problem, say the anti-disease-mongerers, is that the vagaries of everyday life, such as sadness, shyness, forgetfulness, and the occasional upset stomach, are being turned into medical conditions. Before Pfizer Inc.'s (PFE ) Viagra was introduced, erectile dysfunction was a medical problem only when associated with an underlying biological cause, such as diabetes or prostate cancer. Now, Pfizer's Web site claims that half of all men over 40 have problems getting or maintaining an erection. Social anxiety disorder, defined as severe shyness, was rarely seen until GlaxoSmithKline PLC's (GSK ) Paxil was approved to treat it. A disease-awareness campaign by Glaxo in the late 1990s, with the tag line "imagine being allergic to people," was quickly followed by rising prevalence estimates.
Disease promotion is not just the purview of drug companies. "Doctors should set more boundaries," asserts Dr. David Henry, a pharmacology professor at the University of Newcastle in Australia and a leading critic of disease-mongering. Then there are patients seeking a quick fix for conditions that might better be treated through lifestyle changes. "Drug companies are playing off the desire we all have to get rid of things that bother us," says Klitzman. But ridding oneself of bothersome symptoms without changing the behaviors that contribute to them can mean taking a pill every day for years, a proposition that is both risky and costly.
YOUNGER AND YOUNGER Also of concern are efforts to expand the definition of serious diseases to cover more and more people. Loosened criteria for bipolar disorder, a dire psychological disease once thought to affect only 0.1% of the population, have led some experts to claim prevalence rates of anywhere from 5% to 10%. Dr. David Healy of Cardiff University in Wales says the higher estimates are based on ill-defined surveys that followed the introduction in the mid-1990s of mood stabilizer drugs, promising relief even for people with mild emotional swings. In the U.S., children as young as age 2 are being diagnosed as bipolar even though, in the classic definition of the illness, symptoms don't usually show up until the teens. "These young kids are started on two or three medicines when there isn't even any evidence that any of them work in children," says Dr. Jon McClellan at the University of Washington in Seattle.
Disease-mongering isn't new. The term was coined by Lynn Payer in her 1994 book Disease-Mongers: How Doctors, Drug Companies, and Insurers are Making You Feel Sick. But the advent of direct-to-consumer advertising in the U.S. in 1999 fanned the trend, say drug industry critics. Their complaints reached a critical mass this spring. The April issue of the journal PLoS Medicine ran 11 articles on disease-mongering to coincide with the first conference devoted to the topic, held Apr. 11-13 in Newcastle.
Drugmakers say they're only trying to educate patients who are struggling with serious illnesses. "We realize that not every medicine is for every person," says a spokeswoman for Glaxo, which makes drugs for restless legs syndrome, social anxiety disorder, and other diagnoses that are under fire. "The labels contain important information about whether it's appropriate, and we're confident that doctors consulting with patients will assess their health-care issues and the risks and rewards and make an appropriate decision."
The skeptics aren't convinced that doctors will be so discriminating, in part because many get their information about disease treatment from the drug industry. Pharmaceutical companies routinely subsidize continuing medical education courses for doctors. They fund research for diseases that then gets published in medical journals, and they underwrite patient advocate groups, which in turn promote the underwriter's drugs on their Web sites. Witness the Child & Adolescent Bipolar Foundation: It lists four pharmaceutical companies as major donors, including Eli Lilly & Co. and Janssen LP, makers of leading mood stabilizers.
All these factors come into play with restless legs syndrome, a case history detailed in PLoS Medicine. Defined as the urge to constantly move one's legs, the condition can be truly disruptive for people with severe symptoms, but such severity is considered rare. That didn't stop GlaxoSmithKline from launching a disease awareness campaign in 2003. The company kicked off the blitz with a press release stating that a "new survey reveals a common yet underrecognized disorder -- restless legs syndrome -- is keeping Americans awake at night." News articles proliferated, most stating that the condition affects up to 10% of adults in the U.S., based on the study Glaxo promoted.
In 2005, Glaxo's Requip, a treatment for Parkinson's disease, was approved for restless legs. At the same time the Restless Legs Syndrome Foundation, which receives funding from Glaxo, issued a press release about "a new national survey that shows [the] syndrome is largely underrecognized and poorly understood." A Glaxo spokeswoman says that most Requip prescriptions are written for Parkinson's.
The VA's Dr. Woloshin grants that some people are helped by Requip, Paxil, and Viagra. But he worries that overtreatment drains money from research into more serious illnesses. "None of these companies is coming up with a cure for TB," he notes. That's a disease no one is trying to monger.
Bob Jensen's fraud updates are at http://www.trinity.edu/rjensen/FraudUpdates.htm
"As Marijuana Use Rises, More People Are Seeking Treatment for Addiction," by Kevin Helliker, The Wall Street Journal, May 2, 2006; Page D1 --- http://online.wsj.com/article/health_journal.html
The doggedness of this myth may be attributable to the campaign to legalize the drug, as well as the comparatively subtle costs of marijuana addiction. But there is virtually no debate among American researchers, who have been documenting and studying marijuana addiction for more than two decades. Now, Cambridge University Press has combined the results of their federally funded studies -- most already published in peer-reviewed journals -- in a new book called "Cannabis Dependence."
The book offers substantial scientific evidence of what Marijuana Anonymous members know firsthand -- that the euphoria induced by THC, the active ingredient in marijuana, can be addictive. Studies show that between 2% and 3% of U.S. marijuana users become addicted within two years of first trying the drug, which is scientifically known as cannabis. About 10% of those who try it become addicted at some point.
Now, addiction-treatment statistics are showing dramatic growth in marijuana-related problems. A study issued last month by the University of Maryland's Center for Substance Abuse Research examined the drug of choice for Americans seeking treatment for addiction during the decade that ended in 2003. It found that the percentage of addicts who cited marijuana as their primary problem more than doubled to 16% from 7%, while alcohol fell to 41% from 57%. Among illegal drugs, only opiates ranked higher than marijuana as a problem for treatment seekers.
Marijuana's rise in the ranks of problem drugs may reflect a big spike in usage. The number of Americans age 12 and older using marijuana at least once a month jumped to 14.6 million in 2004 from 10.1 million in 1996, according to the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, which adds that some of that jump may be attributable to a change in surveying methods.
To study marijuana addiction, the contributors to "Cannabis Dependence" -- a group of researchers at universities across the U.S. -- published newspaper advertisements offering treatment to people unable to quit using the drug. Invariably, hundreds stepped forward. The typical volunteer was a white-collar man in his thirties who smoked marijuana daily and didn't much abuse alcohol or other drugs. "Their substance of choice is marijuana," says Roger A. Roffman, an editor of "Cannabis Dependence" and a University of Washington professor of social work.
Continued in article
"Black Holes Collide, and Gravity Quivers," by Kenneth Chang, The New York Times, May 2, 2006 --- http://www.nytimes.com/2006/05/02/science/space/02hole.html
In the most precise effort yet to detect gravitational waves — the quiverings of space-time predicted by Einstein's theory of general relativity — the National Science Foundation in the late 1990's carved two large V's, one in the barren landscape of central Washington State, the other among the pines outside Baton Rouge, La.
The tunnels are part of the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory, known as LIGO. If something astronomically violent, like a collision of two black holes, shakes the fabric of the universe within 300 million light-years of Earth, an expanse that encompasses several thousand galaxies, LIGO should see the resulting gravitational ripples.
The observatory is sensitive enough to detect a change of less than one ten-quadrillionth of an inch, or about a thousandth of the diameter of a proton, in the length of the 2.5-mile-long tunnels.
After several years of testing and fine-tuning — special dampers had to be installed at the Louisiana site to counteract vibrations generated when nearby loggers cut down trees, for instance — the observatory began full operation in November. The centers cost nearly $300 million to build and $30 million a year to operate.
The data so far, reported last week at a meeting of the American Physical Society in Dallas, contain nothing of interest. In fact, scientists would not be surprised if the initial run of the experiment over the next year or so found nothing at all.
"I would still sleep well about general relativity," said Peter R. Saulson, a physics professor at Syracuse and an observatory spokesman.
Jay Marx, LIGO's executive director, estimated that the chance of success was "25 percent, if nature's kind."
General relativity, formulated 90 years ago by Einstein to explain the properties of space and time, fits well with measurements of gravity in and around the solar system. But predictions about what happens around black holes and other places where gravity is extremely strong remain largely untested. One of the predictions is that in such conditions, sizable gravitational waves will be produced.
With new research, scientists have a better idea of what LIGO should look for. Researchers led by Joan M. Centrella, chief of the Gravitational Astrophysics Laboratory at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, announced last month that they had succeeded in calculating the shape of the gravitational waves that should result when two black holes, orbiting one another, merge.
"This is not something made up like in a science fiction movie," Dr. Centrella said in a news conference announcing the findings. "Rather, we have confidence that these results are the real deal, that we have the true gravitational wave fingerprint predicted by Einstein for the black hole merger."
The equations of general relativity can be easily written down but are notoriously hard to solve. Astrophysicists were able to simulate the head-on collision of two black holes three decades ago, but computing the paths of orbiting black holes and their violent merger proved much harder.
"This has been a holy grail type of quest for the last 30 years," Dr. Centrella said.
Dr. Centrella's simulations still contain some simplifications that do not reflect attributes of actual black hole pairs: the two black holes have the same mass, and neither is spinning. The calculations predicted, for example, that 4 percent of the mass of the black holes should be converted into gravitational waves.
"That's a very important number," Dr. Saulson said. "That tells us that these gravitational waves are going to be about as strong as we hoped they could be." He added, "And that's got those of us working on the detectors very excited, making it seem more likely we'll bump into something."
Einstein's theory of general relativity changed the idea of gravity from a simple force dragging apples from a tree to a puzzle of geometry. Imagine a rubber sheet pulled taut horizontally and then tossing a bowling ball and a tennis ball onto it. The heavier bowling ball sinks deeper, and the tennis ball will move toward the bowling ball not because of a direct attraction between the two, but because the tennis ball rolls into the depression around the bowling ball.
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Ballot Initiative to Ban Discrimination Michigan Collides and the
In blunt and passionate tones, officials at a major NAACP fundraiser that drew 10,000 people blasted a ballot initiative that aims to restrict affirmative action programs in Michigan. "On behalf of the city of Detroit, I say, 'Bring it on,' " Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick said at the 51st annual Fight for Freedom Fund Dinner on Sunday. "If you want a fight, there is one waiting for you right here." . . . "There will be affirmative action here today," Kilpatrick said. "There will be affirmative action here tomorrow and there will be affirmative action in our state forever."
Michigan Civil Rights Initiative --- http://www.michigancivilrights.org/
The Opinion Journal on May 2, 2006 reports the following:
This puts Kilpatrick at odds with the U.S. Supreme Court, which, although it approved some of the University of Michigan's affirmative action policies in Grutter v. Bollinger http://caselaw.lp.findlaw.com/cgi-bin/getcase.pl?court=US&navby=case&vol=000&invol=02-241#dissent1 (2003), also stated that "25 years from now, the use of racial preferences will no longer be necessary." That deadline is now only 22 years, one month and three weeks away.
More curious is Kilpatrick's choice of slogans. "Bring it on"? That's how losers http://www.cnn.com/2004/ALLPOLITICS/01/27/elec04.prez.kerry/ talk. The mayor may as well inquire as to the location of the outrage http://www.newcriterion.com/archives/24/01/wheres-the-outrage/ or opine about the riskiness http://www.post-gazette.com/headlines/20000316gore1.asp of the scheme.
If the initiative passes, it's unfortunate that Kilpatrick declares that he intends to defy the law. Firstly, he will most likely lose in court since the liberal states of California and Washington have already set precedents by passing similar bans on discrimination. Secondly, virtually every person that is denied a job because of race in Detroit will sue the financially-strapped city. Thirdly, whites are actually the minority race with only about 12% of the population of Detroit. It would seem that Kilpatrick might be able to hire more African-Americans without affirmative action for minorities. I might also note that Detroit's population declined from 1,027,974 in 1990 to 911,198 in 2004 according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
From The Washington Post on May 5, 2006
"First-Ever Virus Hits Mac OS X: There are many signs that Apple computers are finally becoming vulnerable to Internet-based viruses and other attacks," MIT's Technology Review, May 2, 2006 --- http://www.technologyreview.com/read_article.aspx?id=16758
Benjamin Daines was browsing the Web when he clicked on a series of links that promised pictures of an unreleased update to his computer's operating system.
Instead, a window opened on the screen and strange commands ran as if the machine was under the control of someone else. Daines was the victim of a computer virus.
Such headaches are hardly unusual on PCs running Microsoft Corp.'s Windows operating system. Daines, however, was using a Mac -- an Apple Computer Inc. machine often touted as being immune to such risks.
He and at least one other person who clicked on the links were infected by what security experts call the first-ever virus for Mac OS X, the operating system that has shipped with every Mac sold since 2001 and has survived virtually unscathed from the onslaught of malware unleashed on the Internet in recent years.
''It just shows people that no matter what kind of computer you use you are still open to some level of attack,'' said Daines, a 29-year-old British chemical engineer who once considered Macs invulnerable to such attacks.
Apple's iconic status, growing market share and adoption of same microprocessors used in machines running Windows are making Macs a bigger target, some experts warn.
Apple's most recent wake-up call came last week, as a Southern California researcher reported seven new vulnerabilities. Tom Ferris said malicious Web sites can exploit the holes without a user's knowledge, potentially allowing a criminal to execute code remotely and gain access to passwords and other sensitive information.
Ferris said he warned Apple of the vulnerabilities in January and February and that the company has yet to patch the holes, prompting him to compare the computer maker to Microsoft three years ago, when the world's largest software company was criticized for being slow to respond to weaknesses in its products.
''They didn't know how to deal with security, and I think Apple is in the same situation now,'' said Ferris, himself a Mac user.
Apple officials point to the company's virtually unvarnished security track record and disputed claims that Mac OS X is more susceptible to attack now than in the past.
Apple plans to patch the holes reported by Ferris in the next automatic update of Mac OS X, and there have been no reports of them being exploited, spokeswoman Natalie Kerris said. She disagreed that the vulnerabilities make it possible for a criminal to run code on a targeted machine.
In Daines' infection, a bug in the virus' code prevented it from doing much damage. Still, several of his operating system files were deleted, several new files were created and several applications, including a program for recording audio, were crippled.
Behind the scenes, the virus also managed to hijack his instant messaging program so the rogue file was blasted to 10 people on his buddy list.
''A lot of Mac users are in denial and have blinders on that say, 'Nothing is ever going to get to us,''' said Neil Fryer, a computer security consultant who works for an international financial institution in Britain. ''I can't say I agree with them.''
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May 2, 2006 reply John Howland [firstname.lastname@example.org]
I assume that you read http://www.markallan.co.uk/clamXav/index.php?page=leap (linked from a response to the above article) which gave more accurate information on this case (not a virus at all) (user had to explicitly uncompress the file, then run the program and finally enter the system's root password to allow the program to function). This incident dates back to the middle of February and is now included in most security db's. The reporting in this article is not up to the usual standards for the publication.
May 2, 2006 reply from Bob Jensen
Do you suppose that's another reason the Washington Post is on the President's shit list?
Bob Jensen's threads on computing and network security are at
Many CEOs Receive Dividends on 'Phantom' Stock
Amid the drive to tie executive pay more closely to company results, a little-known and poorly disclosed practice is allowing many executives to receive hundreds of thousands of dollars a year in dividends on performance stock -- shares that they may never earn . . . Performance, or "phantom," shares are a form of restricted stock paid to an executive only if the company meets certain performance targets. Dozens of other CEOs are paid dividends on unvested restricted stock, which typically requires the recipient only to wait several years before actually receiving the shares, regardless of performance.
Scott Thurm, "Extra Pay: Many CEOs Receive Dividends on 'Phantom' Stock," The Wall Street Journal, May 4, 2006; Page A1 --- http://online.wsj.com/article/SB114671224745343502.html?mod=todays_us_nonsub_page_one
Bob Jensen's threads on outrageous executive compensation are at http://www.trinity.edu/rjensen/FraudConclusion.htm#OutrageousCompensation
Fair Value Accounting Book Review (Meeting the New FASB Requirements)
From SmartPros on May 1, 2006
Fair Value for Financial Reporting by Alfred King highlights the accounting and auditing requirements for fair value information and offers a detailed explanation of how the FASB is going to change "fair value," from determining the fair value of intangible assets to selecting and working with an appraiser --- http://accounting.smartpros.com/x35458.xml
Fair Value for Financial Reporting: Meeting the New FASB Requirements
by Alfred M. King
Hardcover 352 pages April 2006
Bob Jensen's threads on fair value accounting are at various links:
Interest Rate Swap Valuation, Forward Rate Derivation, and Yield Curves for FAS 133 and IAS 39 on Accounting for Derivative Financial Instruments ---
"Google Debuts 3-D Drawing for the Masses," by Yuki Noguchi, The Washington Post, April 30, 2006, Page F07 --- Click Here
Google Inc. has come out with something that's a bit like Etch A Sketch gone 3-D.
The search giant's latest free software program, called Google SketchUp, allows users to use a basic mouse to drag-and-click their way to recreating their house, erecting a fantastic sculpture or sizing up a potential kitchen redesign.
"3-D is probably one of the most expressive tools to express dreams," said Brad Schell, who founded Boulder, Colo.-based SketchUp in 1999, sold the company to Google last month and still manages the product. Most existing three-dimensional drawing software is highly technical and hard to use, he said, so it limits the audience to architects, structural engineers, graphics artists and the like.
By comparison, Google SketchUp, the free version of SketchUp's software available for download at http://sketchup.google.com/ , consists of less than a dozen basic commands for drawing. Clicking and dragging a line creates a trapezoidal shape; another adjustment to the height creates a box. Using another tool, it's possible to rotate and pan around the created structure, so you can view it from any angle, including from below.
Curves, lines and texture can also be added, and the software comes with stock images of people, benches, trees and more.
SketchUp is linked with Google Earth, the satellite mapping tool that allows a user to surf and zoom into locations around the globe. Using the two tools in tandem, a user can, for example, create a rendition of major landmarks such as the leaning tower of Pisa and share that image with anyone who might be interested in checking out models other users have created for that location.
Developers could use the tool to set up a model of a development that will be completed in three years. Retailer chains might use it to show the floor plans of each store so a customer can check it out beforehand. Family members might use the ability to share images to chime in on various preferences for a home remodel. Hobbyists might try to recreate historic buildings in their original form.
"Our mission here is to empower a whole bunch of people to express themselves on 3-D," Schnell said. Google Maps will still be viewable without all the various creations, as well.
Schnell said he expected people's creations to add more truth than fiction to the mapping database. He said professional architects and the like have said that they will incorporate it into their drawings, so that clients can look at a new doorway, for example, from different angles.
"I've modeled my own house down to the doorknobs and keyholes," which are shaped and sized accurately, based on the real things, Schnell said.
SketchUp has been selling a professional version of its software for $495.
It allows users to transfer images and communicate about them so that an architect can send blueprints to builders and other vendors, for example, or print the models in large form, he said.
From Google's page at http://sketchup.google.com/
Dream. Design. Communicate
SketchUp is a simple but powerful tool for quickly and easily creating, viewing and modifying your 3D ideas.
- Click on a shape and push or pull it to create your desired 3D geometry.
- Experiment with color and texture directly on your model.
- Real-time shadow casting lets you see exactly where the sun falls as you model.
- Select from thousands of pre-drawn components to save time drawing.
A non-free professional model is also available --- http://sketchup.google.com/product_sup.html
SketchUp Pro 5
SketchUp Pro 5 is a powerful 3D modeling tool whose robust feature set empowers designers and planners to explore and communicate complex 3D concepts. It casts real-time shadows, allows customization of keyboard shortcuts, and comes with a large library of pre-made components like trees, cars, and people. Specialized suites of tools enable you to model organic shapes and simulate movie camera placements. You can import models from other applications and export SketchUp Pro models to 2D, 3D, and movie applications as well as to Google Earth. SketchUp Pro supports interactive presentations and large-format, high-resolution printing, as well as the creation of add-on programs using the ruby-script programming language.
"Ultimate Guide to Online Video," Wired News, May 1, 1006 ---
Wired magazine compiles the best resources for news and entertainment on the web.
The New Networks
YouTube may be the best, but it's not the only game in town. A channel guide for the web.
Video by Genre
Video site picks grouped by flavor, from animation to sports.
Make Your Own Vodcast
Some tips on getting your video out there and how to look good doing it.
Vlog Picks from Vloggers
Stars of the scene share what they watch when they're not being watched.
Interview with Google Video's Peter Chane
GV's caretaker spots the money in free online TV.
From NPR (audio)
Billy Connolly: Onstage Solo, But Not Lonely --- http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=5387986
Most people in the United States know Billy Connolly's face and Scots-Irish brogue from the sitcom Head Of The Class" and movies such as Mrs. Brown, The Last Samurai and Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events.
But Billy Connolly has also been a welder, an oil rigger, a folk singer and -- most famously -- a comedian.
His stage show, Billy Connolly Live! opens in New York City on May 9. When performing in front of a crowd, Connolly says, "You're alone but not lonely. There's a great aloneness about it... It's a very exciting thing to do."
Forwarded by Aaron Konstam
TEN MOST EFFECTIVE RESPONSES TO TELEPHONE SOLICITORS:
10. You sound very sexy! What kind of underwear do you have on?
09. Oh, I'm so glad you called! My niece is selling Girl Scout cookies. How many boxes would you like?
08. Who's your long distance carrier? I think I can save you money!
07. You sound gay. Did you know that through the love of Our Savior, Jesus Christ, you can give up that lifestyle?
06. Do you hear voices, like I do, telling you to buy lots of guns?
05. Are you a non-smoker, 55 or under? Let me tell you about whole life.
04. You seem pretty smart, so maybe you know: How long do you think it would take to get a whole body down a garbage disposal?
03. If Superman and the Power Rangers got into a fight, who do you think would win?
02. Do you take credit cards? I have one here that I don't think has been reported.
And my number one best response to that pesky caller is...
01. What do you think of my sex change?