February 28, 2011

Oscar Winners 2011

The Oscars provide one of the biggest personal brand stages of the year. Between the clothes, the pre-show interviews, and the speeches, there are multiple points for a celebrity to shine or wane. The Academy Awards can revive a flailing personal brand or damage a strong one. So let’s look at how 10 boldface names fared last night:

Brand Winners

Justin Timberlake

To capture the moment, he made a brilliant move in taking his mom to the Oscars. When you’re proud of something new, you show your mom and by doing it he showed us all that acting is his new focus and passion. It was resonant of the debut of two members of Hollywood royalty, Matt Damon and Ben Affleck, who brought their moms as their dates when they were first nominated in 1998.

Reese Witherspoon

Witherspoon was a stand out for dressing up like a Hollywood legend of ole in a season when many women appeared to be in a cleavage competition. She gets an A for brand consistency with her unfaltering allegiance to her style traditional, liberal and resonant of old Hollywood glamour.

Matthew McConaughey

While walking the red carpet with his partner, Camila Alves, McConaughey was interviewed by E!’s Ryan Seacrest, who asked what he has been doing recently. McConaughey responded: “Well, we took two years off to start a family.” In that moment he transformed himself into the modern family superhero and bid a final goodbye to the carefree bachelor image that preceded this chapter.

Natalie Portman

Portman handled herself with her trademark confidence and grace while she accepted the award for Best Actress for her role in Black Swan. Her speech revealed a combination of nerves, pride and poise. As always, she carried herself with the demeanor of a woman serious about her craft rather than as a sexy starlet, making her a model for her peers.

Aaron Sorkin

Sorkin took home the Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay for The Social Network and his speech could have been a blueprint for future winners. A great writer and known for understanding his audience, he confirmed what we already suspected that he has unlimited potential. He gracefully managed to stay entertaining while reciting a long list of personal thank yous. His finale, a shout-out to his daughter, gave us a sense of his softer side.

Brand Losers

Gwyneth Paltrow

On the red carpet, Paltrow nailed it by charming each of the interviewers with her confident yet appropriately humble style. She also revealed that she hadn’t slept in a week with pre-performance jitters and once she took the stage, it was evident why. She was more like a second rate karaoke singer than a rock star. The Oscar winner turned singer is resonant of Michael Jordan’s switch to baseball.

Marisa Tomei

Recently out of the spotlight, this was Tomei’s chance to shine. Instead she dimmed the lights, appearing in a matronly dress that she could wear just as easily 20 years from now. Her gown served as a reminder of just how long ago she won best supporting actress for My Cousin Vinny.

Tim Gunn

The designer turned Project Runway star was so uncomfortable in his role as interviewer for ABC’s pre-show, it was hard to believe this was the same guy that had earned his keep next to the take-no-prisoners Heidi Klum. At one point it looked like he might bow at Gwyneth’s feet after interviewing her. He should stick to his strengths and leave the leave hosting to the pros.

Melissa Leo

The Fighter co-star won the Best Supporting Actress Oscar, which was the culmination of her more than 27 year career. We sat waiting for her speech, the one we assumed she had been preparing since she first started acting in 1984. When she spoke, it was a stream of consciousness that revealed nothing of her except an inexcusable lack of preparation and a penchant for the F word. She ruined her moment.

The Co-hosts

Anne Hathaway and James Franco

Hathaway launched her appearance by saying, “This is actually happening,” followed by a wave to her mother who told her to stand up straight. While humility is useful as an Oscar winner, it has the reverse effect as a co-host. Not even her high energy could make us feel she belonged up there.


Collective Bargaining

With Republican-controlled legislatures and state houses from Wisconsin to Oklahoma attempting to strip state workers of collective bargaining rights, figures on the combined SAT and ACT college entrance test scores in states without them are proving fodder for the ongoing debate.

As republished in The Economist, a chart purporting to show that combined SAT and ACT scores in the five U.S. states without collective bargaining rights are among the worst in the country quickly became a viral hit on Twitter and Facebook. Indeed, this reporter first saw the information via Andrew Sullivan's blog, which linked to The Economist, a highly trusted source of information. The specific data showed the following combined SAT/ACT rankings for the states without collective bargaining rights for teachers:

* South Carolina -- 50th
* North Carolina -- 49th
* Georgia -- 48th
* Texas -- 47th
* Virginia -- 44th

According to the source cited by the Economist, Wisconsin ranked second.

Though the Economist did note that drawing the conclusion that students did better as a direct result of the inclusion of collective bargaining rights for their teachers was tenuous, it suggested that arguing that doing away with those rights would lift student performance was rather absurd.

The Economist wrote, "this doesn't show that collective bargaining makes school systems better. But it makes it pretty hard to argue the converse." The problem with the stats? As PolitiFact discovered, the data came from 1999, not 2010. Moreover, a variety of factors account for test score results.

While the most recent data on SAT/ACT scores shows outcomes not altogether out of line with the 1999 figures with South Carolina scoring 49th on the 2010 SAT and 46th on the 2009 ACT, while Wisconsin ranked third and 13th, respectively the point remains that judgment is better withheld on what the scores say in regard to collective bargaining. Here's how PolitiFact put it:

A review using current data finds that Wisconsin does perform better on test scores than the non-union states, but not as dramatically as suggested in the Facebook post. And there is at best limited evidence that unionization played a causal role in shaping differences in test scores.

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, argues that allowing teachers unions to retain collective bargaining rights is too expensive a prospect in light of the state's budget shortfall.

Colin Firth's Oscar Speech Video

There was no stuttering for Colin Firth during his Oscar's acceptance speech for Best Actor.

Firth, 50, won for his specific portrayal of King George VI who fighted to overcome a horrible stutter. George is eventually triumphant and delivers an inspiring speech to Britain at the dawn of WWII.

"I'm afraid I have to warn you that I'm experiencing stirrings somewhere in the upper abdominals which are threatening to form themselves into dance moves. Which, joyous as they may be for me, they'll be extremely baffling if they make it to my legs before I get off stage."

He also thanked his wife "Livia for putting up with my fleeting delusions of royalty and who I hold responsible for this and for really everything good that has happened since i met her."


Four Americans Dead in Plane Crash

Four Americans aboard a turboprop plane were killed when their aircraft crashed shortly after takeoff in the United Arab Emirates, US and Emirati officials said Monday.

Investigators were examining the wreckage to determine a possible cause for the fiery Sunday evening crash. The identities of those killed, the only people on board were not immediately disclosed. A statement by the US Embassy to local media said the plane was en route to Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, on the first leg of a trip back to the United States.

The twin engine plane apparently a vintage aircraft that had been modified went down moments after taking off at Al Ain International Airport about 60 miles (100 kilometers) east of Abu Dhabi. A statement by the UAE’s Civil Aviation Authority said it crashed the taxiway before catching fire.

The plane was reported to be a McKinnon Turbo Goose G21G, which is a version of an earlier Grumman G21 aircraft converted from piston engines to turboprops.

The plane is owned by Triple S Aviation, a Texas based aircraft service company with a branch office in Dubai. The company’s website says it offers business aircraft, helicopters, and special use aircraft to the Middle East and South Asian markets, The National reported.

Nawaz Sharif Addressing

PML-N Chief Nawaz Sharif has stated that his party was ready to hold another long march with revolutionary youth if needed.

Addressing the party workers from Sukkur, he termed the restoration of judiciary a historic achievement. The PML-N leader said he would help the government if their 10-point reforms agenda was implemented. ‘Now, we are dependent on foreign aid.’

February 27, 2011

Pakistan win crucial match against Sri Lanka

Pakistan win after a tough fight defeated Sri Lanka by 11 runs in their crucial Group A match in the ICC World Cup.

Shahid Afridi came up with another wonderful bowling performance after taking his first World Cup five-wicket gimmick in the previous match against Kenya. He captured four for 34 runs which included his 300th one day international wicket when he dismissed Sri Lanka captain Kumar Sangakkara for 49.

Sri Lanka, chasing target by Pakistan's 277-7, Sri lanka touch with 266-9. They have now lost seven times to their sub-continental neighbours in the World Cup, falling in 1975, 1983 (twice), 1987 (twice) and 1992.

Pakistani captain Shahid Afridi won the toss, Pakistan stalwarts Younus Khan (72) and Misbah-ul-Haq (83) not out) shared a century partnership to set co-hosts Sri Lanka a challenging target to chase under lights.

But Pakistan spinners strangled the Sri Lankan batsmen, capturing six of the nine wickets to fall.

Sri Lanka got off to a good start with openers Upul Tharanga (33) and Tillakaratne Dilshan (41) putting together 76, but got bogged down in the middle overs and despite a late spurt towards the target fell agonisingly short.

Chamara Silva led a late onslaught with a top score of 57 and Nuwan Kulasekara hit a quick 24 off 14 balls, but Sri Lanka had left their run chase a little too late. Openers Tillakaratne Dilshan and Upul Tharanga provided a sound start of 76 runs but Sri Lanka lost four quick wickets for 20 runs, reeling at 96 for four. Then, captain Kumar Sangakkara and Thilan Samaraweera took the score to 167 before Sangakkara departed. They added 71 runs for the fifth wicket.

Other batsmen could not resist the accurate Pakistan bowling despite fielding lapses. But Chamara Silva batted aggressively to become top scorer for Sri Lanka with 57 off 78 balls.

Pakistan stalwarts Younus Khan and Misbah-ul-Haq shared a century partnership after Afridi had won the toss and chose to bat first.

The pair came together after Pakistan were reduced to 105 for three and they provided a solid foundation for Pakistan's eventual testing target.

February 26, 2011

Swift Car Insurance

Many people refer to the internet when finding swift car insurance. They are looking to get insurance for their car in a hurry because of different reasons, but turning to the internet can really help people tremendously.

For one, the convenience of shopping for anything online is always favorable. Some people do not want to shop around with different insurance providers and they don’t want to spend the time to get on the phone with insurance provider after insurance provider. This is why the internet has become the number one place where people who are looking for swift car insurance will go for information as well as insurance quotes.

The fact that you are online right now means that you are already ahead of most people when it comes to attaining swift car insurance. You will be able to immediately go to different websites and get a number of quotes within minutes. This will allow you to look at all of the proposals and it will help you choose the best swift car insurance that is the most favorable to you.

Depending on what your driver’s license record looks like, your results may vary from others. A lot of people that want swift car insurance are unaware of how quotes are calculated; therefore you should try to understand that before you are expecting a ridiculously low quote.

For example, if you have accidents in your driving history that were due to your driving negligence, or whatever the case may be, but if it was determined by your police report and your insurance provider that you were at fault, it means that your insurance will be going up. The reason for this is because now you are considered a liability to the insurance company and in order for them to be on the safe side with your driving record, they will need to charge you a higher premium, just in case.

Another thing that affects the premium of your swift car insurance is the amount of points that you have on your driving record. The more points you have means that you received tickets and they were not settled in court. This lets them know that you are more vulnerable to get more speeding tickets or even have an accident because your history shows that you have several points on your license. If you received those points from speeding tickets, they will be able to see that because once they pull up all of your information for your swift car insurance quote it will show them why you received those points. If you are a speed demon in the streets then you are more apt to getting another ticket and even hitting someone in the street, so your insurance will reflect that.

Whether or not your driving record is clean, you should definitely check online for swift car insurance quotes and shop the best deal possible for yourself and for your family. There are so many companies online that are fighting for the next customer that they are willing to offer better deals online than they would to a regular person who would walk into their office.

February 25, 2011

Richard Roeper speaks on film

Roeper is a successful columnist for the Chicago Sun Times a job that he has had for nearly 24 years. He is most well-known for co-hosting with Roger Ebert after Gene Siskel's passing, for the TV show "At the Movies."

Roeper has his own website and blog where he critiques pop culture. He makes appearances on radio and television on a regular basis. He was prepared on the stand, with clips from various television productions that he has worked on, including a cameo in the HBO series "Entourage" where he did a lot of his own writing.

He also came equipped with an iPad, with all of his notes and Twitter postings at his convenience. "Now everyone's a writer," Roeper said, saying that anyone can blog, tweet, etc. "It's just finding someone to pay you for it."

For his Oscar picks, Roeper chose the "Facebook-film" as his choice for best picture, but believes the academy will choose "The King's Speech." Overall, he felt that "Inception" should be nominated and should win. It's his top choice.

"The King's Speech" is what the academy loves -- British actors talking about British things," Roeper said.

He said that if it were up to him, "The Social Network" would be the winner.

Dan Allen, a freelance film critic from Deland agrees with Roeper's Oscar choices.

"Him and Roger Ebert inspired me to do this," said Allen. "It's ironic that his movie of the year is also mine."

After he spoke, students were invited to ask questions and it went on for about an hour. A lot of the students asked about what moviemakers might think of what he says.

"I think that he says what he means, it's his job," said UCF alumni Josh Browne.

Roeper said during the presentation that critiquing movies is all based on opinion. To be thoroughly entertained, you don't have to think about the film trifecta -- it just happens. He says what makes him cry isn't a death scene or a funeral; it's when a character makes a gesture that changes the course of the film. He said what makes him laugh is really smart comedy -- not physical.

So how does a moviemaker avoid negative comments from the ultimate film critic?

"What makes a really good movie is the script," Roeper said. "There's no chance for a good movie without one."

He said that a film could have great actors, directors and producers, but if the script is bad, it's just bad.

Adam Wainwright

It was the Minnesota Twins' Joe Nathan whose season ended before it even got started. This year it's St. Louis Cardinals ace Adam Wainwright.

Wainwright like Nathan before him, has a torn ulnar collateral ligament in his throwing elbow and is expected to undergo reconstructive surgery, commonly referred to as Tommy John surgery, followed by a lengthy rehabilitation.

They (Cardinals and Wainwright) are no doubt devastated by this news, no one can say they were entirely surprised. Wainwright's stellar 2010 season ended in unceremonious fashion when he was shut down in September because of inflammation in his right elbow. He had a history of injuries to the elbow dating to 1998, including a partial tear of the same ligament in 2004, which caused him to miss significant time in the Cardinals' minor league system that year. Nonetheless, preseason examinations had Wainwright confident that his elbow was a non-issue coming into spring training.

To be fair, from an athlete's perspective, that is precisely how Wainwright should have approached this season. The truth is it's not uncommon for pitchers with a history of elbow or shoulder injuries, even with known tissue damage, to still be able to pitch and pitch successfully for years afterward. In Wainwright's case, there were no overt signs of instability; he even told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that his ligament was "healthy and strong." No athlete can or should enter a season afraid of what could happen, especially since these injuries can strike anytime young or old, injury history or not. Just ask 22-year-old Stephen Strasburg, who tore his UCL last year as a rookie.

Still, we're reminded just how strenuous the act of pitching is on the human body when a dramatic breakdown, such as a UCL tear, occurs. The expectation in baseball now has become not whether a pitcher will ultimately succumb to a major injury to his throwing arm, but when it will happen. And once there is an injury "event" in a thrower's history, the concern going forward only increases. Cardinals general manager John Mozeliak might have said it best Wednesday when he reflected on how well -- and how long -- Wainwright has pitched since first injuring his elbow in 2004, telling the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, "I guess at some point, it's just a matter of time." There are, however, a few silver linings in this dark cloud.

First of all, this will be the first time in years that Wainwright will have an extended break from throwing. Most pitchers have thrown extensively since their youth, and this forced rest allows the athlete's entire body to "regroup" and retrain during the recovery period. The opportunity to rehab the throwing shoulder while working on leg strength and core muscle strength, and the chance to make any necessary mechanical adjustments, might ultimately extend a starting pitchers' career.

The timing of Wainwright's injury is such that he could be pitching next season. The average recovery time for pitchers following Tommy John surgery is almost 12-15 months, although many throwers will say it takes an additional six months to really "feel" like they're back. Wainwright should be encouraged by the prospect of returning to the mound next season.

In the Last, Wainwright can take comfort in the knowledge that the success rate for returning to play following this type of injury is fairly high. At an annual baseball medicine conference this year, Dr. Lyle Cain (a partner with Dr. James Andrews at the American Sports Medicine Institute in Birmingham, Ala.) presented recent data showing a return rate of 73 percent of professional baseball pitchers to their prior level of performance following this procedure. As the procedure has become more commonplace, the knowledge as to how to best rehab an athlete has improved as well.

Wainwright need look no further for inspiration than teammate Chris Carpenter, who has traveled the same long and lonely comeback road following UCL reconstruction. After all, Carpenter is proof of not only returning to pitch following Tommy John surgery, but returning to pitch successfully. Wainwright will now look to do the same.

NASA Prepares for Discovery's Liftoff

The six astronauts who will man the final mission of Discovery, NASA's most traveled space shuttle, this afternoon have been counting down to liftoff.

The forecast improved to 90 percent "go" for a 4:50 p.m. liftoff. At the Johnson Space Center in Houston, flight director Richard Jones looks back on the shuttle's career. It is a poignant time for the space agency the shuttle program is ending after 30 years. Jones said he is proud to be a part of Discovery's last flight.

"What I will look back on is that this mission was just one of many, many accomplishments and it was part of the shuttle era," Jones said.

Discovery's 11-day voyage will take it to the International Space Station, where it will add another module for storage and experiments, an exterior experiment platform and a robot -- the first humanoid robot in space -- to work inside the space station. Two spacewalks are scheduled for maintenance work.

It is the first space flight for the $2 million Robonaut, known as R2, which is tasked with showing how dexterous robots behave in space. The robot is made of aluminum, weighs 330 pounds, and is 3 feet 4 inches tall. When Discovery docks to the space station, the combined weight of the two spacecraft will equal one million points a space first.

One astronaut, though, won't be making the historic trip: Tim Kopra was bumped from the mission a month ago after he broke his hip in a bicycle accident. Kopra, who was the lead spacewalker, will be watching closely from Mission Control. He has a six-month tour of duty on the space station. Originally scheduled for launch Nov. 1, Discovery has been repeatedly delayed because of cracks in structural ribs, or stringers, in the ship's external tank. NASA managers believe their engineering analysis has finally revealed the root cause of the cracks, and a relatively straightforward modification cleared the way for today's launch.

When Discovery lands after this final mission, it will have flown 143 million miles. Astronaut Nicole Stott said she can't help feeling sentimental about this space shuttle.

"It is kind of cool that the vehicle named Discovery has this kind of history to it, the most flights," she said. "I think it really sums up what the space program is all about.

Watch More on google news

52 hurt in Lincoln Tunnel accident

The accident in the Manhattan-bound center tube of the Lincoln Tunnel earlier this morning. The New York Fire Department, two buses collided with a motorcycle in the tunnel. The motorcyclist was riding between the two buses when the front bus stopped for traffic and the rear bus slammed into the rider from behind. The motorcyclist was severely injured and brought to Bellevue Hospital in Manhattan with a fractured femur and shoulder, an FDNY spokesperson said. The crash victim was intubated at the hospital, the spokesperson added.

A total of 52 people were injured in the incident. Some were treated at the scene, while 13 were taken to Roosevelt Hospital in New York.

Among the buses were a No. 116 bus out of Perth Amboy and a No. 139 bus out of Lakewood.

NJ Transit added seven trains from Secaucus to New York to accommodate customers off diverted buses. North Hudson Regional Fire and Rescue Co-Director Jeff Welz spoke with Port Authority officials who estimated that the center tube will remain closed for a "good part of the day" as officials investigate the accident.

The Weehawken Volunteer Ambulance Squad were first on the scene after the accident, according to Jersey City Medical Center spokesman Mark Rabson.

Rabson also said that JCMC was one of many that responded to the scene but did not take any patients since it was easier for emergency vehicles to transport those injured into Manhattan from the tunnel.

Rabson also noted that JCMC, Palisades Medical Center, Hoboken University Medical Center, Meadowlands Hospital, the recently sold Bayonne Medical Center, EMS and Port Authority held an emergency drill in November to train the crews to respond to situations in the Lincoln and Holland tunnels.

February 24, 2011

Hazardous for Health

Erlice de Oliveira juggles two kids, a full-time job, a long commute — and really resents the time it takes to tame her curly hair every morning.

She had heard of a hair smoothing treatment that worked well but used potentially dangerous chemicals. Still, all her friends were talking about it and Hollywood celebrities endorsed it. She decided to check it out.

"It looks like I just walked out of the salon," the secretary said. "My life is rushed; I can't go to the salon all the time. This is easy and practical."

Known as the Brazilian Blowout in the United States, the treatment surfaced around 2005 in Brazil, where a combination of high humidity and a largely mixed-race, curly haired population made for a nation of eager customers. It soon spread throughout North America and Europe.

Available in several brands, the process often contains varying levels of formaldehyde, which has been classified by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency as a probable carcinogen. According to complaints, it has made some stylists cough and reddened the eyes of clients.

The flap has rattled the beauty world: Canadian authorities issued a warning about possible health hazards; France pulled products with high levels of formaldehyde; the Oregon occupational health agency tested 100 samples and found many labeled "formaldehyde free" that had more than the 0.1 percent of the chemical allowed in U.S. products.

A later air sample test of salons in Oregon found levels of formaldehyde complied with safety standards, but Michael Wood, who heads the state's Occupational Safety and Health Administration, said in a statement, "It is clear that the levels are high enough to cause concern."

Repeated e-mails and phone calls to the Los Angeles office handling public relations for the Brazilian Blowout brand were not returned. In a November news release, the company underscored the air sample tests from Oregon that found "formaldehyde exposure levels safely below OSHA's Action Level."

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is still investigating whether the ingredients cause health problems. The California attorney general, meantime, has filed a lawsuit alleging the Brazilian Blowout brand has high levels of formaldehyde despite claiming otherwise on its website and other advertising.

A separate class action lawsuit filed in California makes similar allegations of false advertising, though includes no reports of illness.Erlice de Oliveira juggles two kids, a full-time job, a long commute — and really resents the time it takes to tame her curly hair every morning.

She had heard of a hair smoothing treatment that worked well but used potentially dangerous chemicals. Still, all her friends were talking about it and Hollywood celebrities endorsed it. She decided to check it out.

"It looks like I just walked out of the salon," the secretary said. "My life is rushed; I can't go to the salon all the time. This is easy and practical."

Known as the Brazilian Blowout in the United States, the treatment surfaced around 2005 in Brazil, where a combination of high humidity and a largely mixed-race, curly haired population made for a nation of eager customers. It soon spread throughout North America and Europe.

Available in several brands, the process often contains varying levels of formaldehyde, which has been classified by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency as a probable carcinogen. According to complaints, it has made some stylists cough and reddened the eyes of clients.

The flap has rattled the beauty world: Canadian authorities issued a warning about possible health hazards; France pulled products with high levels of formaldehyde; the Oregon occupational health agency tested 100 samples and found many labeled "formaldehyde free" that had more than the 0.1 percent of the chemical allowed in U.S. products.

A later air sample test of salons in Oregon found levels of formaldehyde complied with safety standards, but Michael Wood, who heads the state's Occupational Safety and Health Administration, said in a statement, "It is clear that the levels are high enough to cause concern."

Repeated e-mails and phone calls to the Los Angeles office handling public relations for the Brazilian Blowout brand were not returned. In a November news release, the company underscored the air sample tests from Oregon that found "formaldehyde exposure levels safely below OSHA's Action Level."

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is still investigating whether the ingredients cause health problems. The California attorney general, meantime, has filed a lawsuit alleging the Brazilian Blowout brand has high levels of formaldehyde despite claiming otherwise on its website and other advertising.

A separate class action lawsuit filed in California makes similar allegations of false advertising, though includes no reports of illness.

"Our client filed suit because she felt that she and other consumers were mislead by claims that the Brazilian Blowout hair treatment was all natural, and did not involve the use of formaldehyde or other harsh chemicals," said San Francisco attorney Daniel Girard. "We have been contacted by many consumers and salon workers who have expressed interest in the litigation."

After hours with her stylist applying the products, blow-drying her hair then flat-ironing it at 450 degrees — which creates clouds of acrid-smelling smoke that stings the eyes — Oliveira remains a satisfied customer with a no-fuss mop of shiny black hair.

She has been preaching the benefits of the process to friends ever since, and had another treatment since the first in July.

The treatment was nothing short of a miracle for women with curly, kinky or hard-to-tame hair. After a lifetime of fighting frizz with endless sprays and creams only to see their efforts vanish with a gust of wind, they could get a smooth, fresh-from-the-salon look that lasted for months.

Because of the health concerns, however, some salons in the U.S. have stopped offering the Brazilian Blowout. Upscale salons in Ipanema, the Rio beachside neighborhood that sets fashion trends in Brazil, have sworn off treatments that use formaldehyde.

Jussara Fernandes said she won't let anything with the chemical into her Ipanema salon, which instead offers four different types of hair smoothing or straightening treatments with prices ranging up to $250.

She remembers as a child hearing her mother and other women mention formaldehyde as a potent straightener in home-brewed mixes. In her 14 years as a stylist, she's seen horrors from overuse of the chemical — women with bald patches from negative reactions, or ulcers on their head.

"I'm adamantly against it," she said. "I have clients who've been coming here for years. I care about their health and the health of my professionals. But there are people who do it."

Many of the women who've grown addicted to their smooth locks continue to swear by the process and many salons in Brazil and the U.S. continue to offer versions of the treatment with reduced formaldehyde levels.

"The smell is still really strong you can't have children in the salon, and you have to have the fan on," said Oliveira, who works for a real estate agency.

It's a small price to pay, she said, for the ability to wake up, shower and be out of the house in 15 minutes with perfect hair.

As long as stylists and clients are well-informed and take precautions, it's worth it, said Xavier Guerin, a business partner at the Point de Vue salon in West Hollywood, Calif. The salon does Brazilian Blowout treatments, though they're careful not to book several treatments in a day, and they keep the place well-ventilated.

"Time in our modern society is such an issue, and you need to be more and more perfect. There is all this pressure," he said. "My experience is that most of our clients are ready to pay the price."

Hair dressers in Brazil are also trying to walk the line between a product that will give their clients what they want but not hurt the stylist who has to work with it every day.

"There are women who won't live without formaldehyde now," said Tania Machado, who has been a hair stylist for 13 years in Rio. "They were slaves to the salon, coming in every week for a blow-dry. For them, it was a godsend. For us, who do it every day, it's not so good."

Her salon also takes care to ventilate well and avoid doing several processes at once.

When the straightening treatment started in Brazil, hair dressers mixed their own formulas in beakers with formaldehyde, water, keratin and other ingredients.

In 2009, the government agency in charge of health and safety, Anvisa, started cracking down on salons that overuse the chemical. In January alone, they investigated 202 salons suspected of spiking their products, according to a spokesman. The sale of formaldehyde in pharmacies and supermarkets was forbidden in 2009 to stop the practice.

The new products, with limited amounts of formaldehyde, don't straighten the hair as much or last as long, which leaves many stylists and their clients longing for the days when the product was unregulated.

"These new products, they just don't work as well you have to do it two, three, four times on some people for it to really work," said Ana Paula Santana, a hair stylist in a storefront salon in Rio. "If you're going charge someone $120 for something, it had better make a difference."

In spite of the prohibition on using higher doses of the chemical, it still goes on in back yards around town, said Felipe Peres, hair dresser at Prima Qualitta, in downtown Rio. He hears of salons that close down at night and take in clients. He also sees women with brittle hair ruined by too much formaldehyde who come in desperate for a fix.

Now, a chain of 11 salons focused on women who want to wear their hair curly is finding demand hard to meet. It was started by a former housecleaner who was tired of straightening her own hair with harsh chemicals.

The salons, called Instituto Beleza Natural, don't use any products with formaldehyde.

"In the '70s and '80s, the only solution for women with wavy or kinky hair was straightening," said one of the founders, Leila Velez. "Nowadays, it's possible to wear hair with this structure and keep it healthy and beautiful, without transforming it into something else."

Kim Kardashian

Is there a new addition to the Kardashian clan?

Melissa Molinaro is turning heads in the newest Old Navy commercial, where she performs in a fake music video for the company looking eerily similar to reality star Kim Kardashian.

This is not the first time that Canadian born Melissa Smith, aka Melissa Molinaro has made her mark on television, as she participated in both “Making the Band 3” and “The Pussycat Dolls Present: Search For the Next Doll.” In both instances, she came very close to winning the shows, but, unfortunately, things didn’t work out for her in either case.

Now, with the buzz of this new Old Navy campaign, the interest in the “Kardashian look alike” is growing, and we should be seeing a lot more of her because there are twelve commercials in total slated to come out by the end of the year.

Owen Wilson Recalls

Owen Wilson has revealed the details behind his recent surfing accident.

Appearing on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, the actor recalled the incident, which took place in Hawaii.

"I took on a wave that was probably too big for me," he explained.

"I went off the back and the board kinda caught [in the] air and the board came back and hit me in the forehead and I got 24 stitches."

Wilson also admitted that he was afraid of being attacked by sharks once his injury began to bleed.

"I was thinking about the shark as I was paddling back in - with a little blood dripping - into the same cove where my brother was attacked recently!" he said.

He has since fully recovered from the accident.

February 23, 2011

Foreign Insurance

South Africa’s Discovery Holdings has reported a jump in net earnings for the six month period ending on 31st December 2010 to total ZAR 941 million (US$132 million), representing a 25 percent increase on the previous six monthly period.

Normalized operating earnings in the period increased by 28 percent to ZAR 1.33 billion (US$ 186 million), excluding the one-off cost of the take-over of UK’s Standard Life Healthcare which amounted to ZAR 6 billion rand (US$223.4 million).

There was a 15 percent growth in new business to reach ZAR 3.7 billion (US$ 519 million) with embedded value up by 15 percent to total ZAR 24 billion (US$ 3.3 billion).

Speaking on the insurer’s 6 months earnings, Adrian Gore, Discovery’s Chief Executive Officer, said: “While the period under review has been complex, impacted by both the lingering effects of the financial crisis and the considerable policy debates that affect the markets in which Discovery operates, we are satisfied with the overall performance and continue to focus on providing our customers with high quality, innovative and relevant products.”

Discovery performed well in its domestic market, South Africa, with new business growing by 10 percent helping operating profits to increase from ZAR 555 million (US$ 77 million) to ZAR 619 million (US$ 86 million), reflecting a 12 percent increase over the 6 month period.

The Discovery Health Insurance business in South Africa now has 2.5 million members enrolled in private medical schemes managed by the insurer, following a 12 percent increase in numbers between June and December 2010.

Membership of the largest scheme in South African medical insurance – the Discovery Healthy Medical Scheme – grew by 10 percent, with client renewals of health policies amounting to almost 98 percent.

The Discovery Health business is working on improving access to private healthcare in South Africa for low-income sectors of the population in a bid to increase overall membership in the country.

Also, within Discovery’s domestic market, the health insurer said it remains committed to working in unison with the National Health Insurance system in South Africa which is currently in a transition period with reform implementation expected next year. The South Africa planned National Health Insurance system is being set-up in order for the country to provide universal healthcare coverage for the core population.

The Johannesburg-based insurer’s life insurance business – Discovery Life – performed well, with an increase of 14 percent over the 6 month period to generate operating profits of ZAR 768 million (US$ 107 million) up from ZAR 675 million (US$ 94 million); the growth being due to improvements in mortality and morbidity policy rates.

Discovery’s joint venture in the UK with PruHealth was boosted in 2010 with the acquisition of Standard Life Healthcare, which helped leverage its position in the UK private health insurance market. The Discovery and PruHealth insurance business covers over 674,000 lives within the UK, and is one of the major players in the private medical insurance (PMI) market in Britain; the United Kingdom operating profit for Discovery was ZAR 35 million (US$ 4.9 million) during the last six month trading period.

“The quality of the Standard Life Healthcare business surpassed our expectations, with the loss ratio, levels of lapses and profitability levels exceeding our expectation. The combination of the management action undertaken within PruHealth, and the acquisition of Standard Life Healthcare, has created a business with strong fundamental drivers of value and one that represents significant prospects for Discovery.” Mr.Gore said on the PruHealth venture.

In China’s thriving insurance sector, Discovery’s Ping An Health business received local regulatory approval from the Chinese Insurance Regulatory Commission (CIRC) to commence operating in a market which has becoming increasingly important for global health insurers. The Ping An Health venture was initiated in 2009, with the South African based insurer buying a 20 percent stake in the Chinese business.

Speaking on the Chinese health business Mr.Gore said: “From a product perspective, significant work has taken place to tailor Discovery’s capabilities to the Chinese market. We remain excited by the potential of the Chinese private health insurance market in the long-term.”

Discovery will be seeking other opportunities to enhance its global operations in the future in order to continue its planned growth and, following the announcement of Discovery’s last 6 month results, the insurer has reported that it has entered into an agreement with American insurer Humana to offer wellness and loyalty scheme programmes to 10 million of the US insurers customers. Discovery’s link will give Humama’s members the opportunity to purchase discounted gym memberships and other health incentive benefits.

Humana is the fourth largest health insurer in the USA and has agreed to invest ZAR 107 million (US$15 million) in Discovery’s Vitality Group subsidiary – a wellness programme provider. The deal means the South African group increases its exposure in the US health insurance sector, as the US health insurer seeks new opportunities for developing client incentives and the promotion of healthier living.

The Discovery and Humana partnership will see the South African insurer offering incentives for Humana’s 10 million clients to live healthier lifestyles, and comes at a time when concerns are growing about rising medical costs and the increase of chronic diseases among Americans; these factors having caused a hike in healthcare premiums within the USA health insurance market. The South African and US venture is designed to offer US clients incentives to take-up healthy activities such as regular gym work-outs to improve their long term health.

Discovery’s core health business in South Africa has been growing in recent years, mainly due to the buoyant economy driven by the burgeoning mining and agricultural sectors. With a significant proportion of the South African population enjoying middle to upper middle class status, private health insurance has expanded rapidly. Discovery offers a series of health plans under the branding of executive, comprehensive, priority, saver, core and keycare, which have helped the Johannesburg based insurer become the leading healthcare insurer in South Africa.

NASA Shuttle Launch

NASA has given a unanimous "go" for Thursday's planned launch of space shuttle Discovery.

It will be the final flight for Discovery, the world's most traveled rocketship.

Shuttle managers met Wednesday and agreed to proceed with the flight after a four-month delay caused by fuel tank cracks. Liftoff is scheduled for 4:50 p.m. Thursday. There's an 80 percent chance of good weather.

Six astronauts will ride Discovery up to the International Space Station. They will deliver and install a closet full of space station supplies, and drop off a humanoid robot. Robonaut will become the first humanoid in space.

Discovery has already logged nearly 143 million miles, more than any other reusable spacecraft.

Thunderbolt MacBook 2011

Mac addicts rejoice. Just one day until the Macbook Pro 2011 line is revealed, or so the flock hopes.

Already the rumor mill is working overtime. What kind of heat will these laptops be packing and what is the mysteriously named "Thunderbolt?"

When the 2011 Macbooks will be reportedly revealed on Thursday, users can expect the usual list of annual tweaks. Official laptop specs are still unknown, but one notable upgrade is the use of Intel's new Sandy Bridge graphics chips, according to a report from CNET. Intel says the fastest of these new chips run at 2.7GHZ. Previously, Macbooks used two graphics cards to power their visuals, but it seems Intel has come out with a new chipset that satisfies the perfectionists over at Apple.

One of the most intriguing upgrade rumors is around "Thunderbolt."

The buzz around industry blogs is that Apple is going to include Intel's new "Light Peak" interconnect under the Thunderbolt moniker. The technology is like a USB port only much faster - like 10 gigabits per second fast, and potentially 100 gigabites per second in the future.

Intel released a statement on Tuesday saying it will "discuss a new technology that is about to appear on the market." Interesting timing, isn't it?

We can't know for sure until tomorrow, but for now it seems like where there's Thunder, there's Light Peak.

Jennifer Aniston New Haircut

Jennifer Aniston has made hair news again by cutting inches off the layered look she’s had for years.

The Just Go With It actress has debuted the new bob while in Madrid, Spain on the television program El Hormiguero to promote the new film with Adam Sandler and Brooklyn Decker.

Aniston recently made headlines saying how much she hated her once-famous “Rachel” hairstyle from her early years on Friends.

This look is decidedly blonder and is close to the shortest we’ve ever seen Aniston go with her hair. It is similar to what cut she had on the last year of the show.

Pakistan vs Kenya

Pak vs Ken highlights How many runs can Pakistan score against Kenya today. If they continue scoring at the same level, the team may end up with score of around 250-260 runs. Pakistani batsmen have shown maturity in scoring here Mahinda Rajapaksa International Cricket Stadium, Sooriyawewa, Hambantota.

Three Pakistani batsmen have already scored half centuries and I am expecting Umar Akmal too to come up with at least 50 runs. He has been impressive so far and may help in accelerating Pakistani inning.

Misbah who is playing at 64 and Akmal who is playing at 51 at the end of 44.5 overs. Pakistani cricket team has come a long way from the two early losses.

If they continue scoring in so brutal way in the next few matches, I am sure every commentator is going to review his opinion about Pakistani cricket team and its chances in the world cup.

But we need to keep in mind another aspect of this match. They are playing against Kenya and we were not expecting any miracle from them.

So though the win here may give a psychological edge to Pakistani team, they will have to prove them in the next matches against established team, many of whom have beaten them in recent months.

Meanwhile Pakistani cricketers today have created a record of sorts after 4 Pakistani batsmen hit half centuries. First was Kamran Akmal followed by Yunis Khan, Misbah and Kamran’s younger brother Umar Ahmal.

February 17, 2011

Fox News Caught

Fox News allegedly tried misrepresent Ron Paul’s 2011 CPAC straw poll win by broadcasting footage from a previous event, these reports are coming out.

During the previous CPAC straw poll, Mitt Romney supporters booed en masse. However in the 2011 CPAC straw poll, this didn’t actually happen. Congressman Paul thwarted Romney for a second successive year at the annual CPAC conference.

Fox News anchor Bill Hemmer, introduced a segment on the win, Fox played a clip of the 2010 announcement of the poll results, not the 2011 poll results. In a different clip of the victory announcement, Paul was cheered and applauded.

Natalie Munroe Blog

Natalie Munroe is a teacher at Central Bucks East High School in Bucks County, just outside Philadelphia who got so fed up with her kids, she decided to blog about it. However all that blogging may cost Ms. Monroe the job she's held, she's still blogging. It brings up the question.

"What if Oakland Teachers blogged like that?" "When will Natalie be the subject of a TV show?"

First, Natalie Munroe has taught English since 2006 and has a reported salary of $54,500. Her blog Natalie's Handbasket contains (well, contained, since she's taken some entries off public view but the one I'm about to post is still cached as of this writing), some really candid thoughts about the little ones she teaches.

Here's a sample direct from her blog post from fall 2009:

  • Kids! I don't know what's wrong with these kids today!
  • Kids! Who can understand anything they say?
  • Kids! They are disobedient, disrespectful oafs.
  • Noisy, crazy, sloppy, lazy LOAFERS,
  • Kids! You can talk and talk till your face is blue.
  • Kids! But they still do just what they want to do.
  • Why can't they be like we were?
  • What's the matter with kids today?

My students are out of control. They are rude, disengaged, lazy whiners. They curse, discuss drugs, talk back, argue for grades, complain about everything, fancy themselves entitled to whatever they desire, and are just generally aggravator.

I've written up 4 separate students one for dropping the f-bomb in class, one for repeatedly saying "shittin'," one for crafting a pencil topper made from paper clips into the shape of a man and woman having sex, and one for being disrespectful to me.

Stop tapping.

Ignores and keeps on tapping. Another student tells him to stop but he still doesn't, indicating that if he didn't stop when I told him to, he wouldn't stop for this kid either. Another student then kicked the back of the first student's chair.

"I DID tell you to stop that already!"

"Yeah, you were ignored."

Do you want me to write you up?"

"Go ahead."


These are the types of students I deal with on a day to day basis. Something must be done about their disrespect and attitude problems. We should do away with the attitudes of the students.

Better to have a pet you know where you stand with a pet.

I didn't like that at all. Does she mean that she wants to kill her students who have attitudes? Considering the number of news reports of people going off and shooting others in schools and workplaces, that was beyond the pale. But Munroe says that, even with that, she bears no ill-will toward her students.

Costing Her A Job.

That post, among others, is reportedly going to cost Ms. Munroe her teaching job. The admin folks at Central Bucks are still investigating her blog posts. And she's giving them, perhaps unknowingly, new material. Here's part of her latest blog post in what she calls "Bloggate," where she learns that her students know about her blog.

When I woke up Wednesday morning and went to work, I certainly couldn't have foreseen what my day and, in turn, the rest of my life would be like from that point.

Colleague pulled me aside to tell me that students had somehow found my blog and were all abuzz and up in arms about how I'd cursed and said negative things about students in it. The colleague wanted me to know in case it became a bigger deal.

I didn't realize, however, that it already WAS a big deal.

Within the hour, I was in a meeting with the principal who had a pile of my blogs printed out and sitting before him. Within the next 15 minutes, I was gathering my bags from my office and being escorted from the building.

Oh, and she's pregnant. Natalie blogged that the rest of the day was spent in part feeling "violated" as she put it, by reporters showing up at her house. She had to tell her poor three-year-old what was going on with people knocking at her door and deal with her new, though perhaps unwanted, fame.

What If Oakland Teachers Blogged Like That?

As I read that and other posts by Natalie Munroe, the thought of what Oakland teachers might blog kept entering my mind. I know a lot of great Oakland teachers who put up with a lot every day. One of my dear friends who I think about every day has a frustrating job at times just dealing with rude kids. Another friend told me of 12 year old students in her class doing sex acts in closets. And another friend was actually robbed at her school.

I thought of all this and concluded that a candid Oakland Teacher Blog would be great because then we could read what their working conditions were really like. In that, I don't think Natalie Munroe should be fired, but applauded. She's giving America and the World a really frank view of what's happening at the front lines of education.

Albert Pujols

Albert Pujols

The noon ET deadline has passed for Albert Pujols and the St. Louis Cardinals to reach an agreement on a new contract. Does this mean that 2011 definitely will be Pujols’ last season in St. Louis? No, but if it is, then the Cardinals will be losing the services of one of the greatest players in the history of the game.

In fact, if you look at Pujols’ numbers from his first 10 seasons, they are absolutely stunning. The case can be made that Pujols has had the best first 10 seasons of any player in MLB history.

Imagine the following:

  • One way to look at a player’s contributions is to look at his Wins Above Replacement (WAR). This measures how many more wins a team had with the player in the lineup than what they would have had if they had to replace him. Baseball Reference has numbers that go back all time; however, the numbers are more estimates than actual the further you go back because of the lack of available data. According to Baseball-Reference.com, Pujols accounted for 83.8 wins above replacement in his first 10 seasons, second to only Ted Williams among position players. Pujols’ total already is tied for the 31st-highest WAR among position players, and tied for the 47th-highest WAR if you include pitchers as well.
  • While WAR looks at a player’s “average” performance based on his accumulative numbers across the season, a more confused way to look at how a player has performed in various situations within games is to use Win Probability Added (WPA). This looks at how a player increased or decreased his team’s chance of winning a game based on his offensive contributions, so it accounts for so-called “clutch” situations. While WAR compares players to replacement level, WPA compares a player to average (which would be 0), so its numbers are lower in general.According to Baseball Reference, Pujols has added 58.7 wins above the average player with his offense during his career. That’s the highest total for a player in his first 10 seasons as far back as play-by-play data goes (1950), more than five wins ahead of the player who ranks second, Mickey Mantle.
  • There is the possibility that Pujols has come up in “higher leverage” situations more frequently than others, and perhaps that’s a reason his WPA is so high. You can account for this using a statistic called Situational Wins Added, which essentially is WPA adjusted for the leverage of the situations that the player has come up in. This number can be interpreted as wins added above the average player in the same game situations.This makes Pujols’ career look even more amazing, as he has accounted for about 62 situational wins above average over his 10-year career. Not only is that the highest total through a player’s first 10 seasons since 1950, but it already ranks as the 15th-highest career total in that span.

Pujols has hit at least .300, with 30 home runs and 100 RBI in each of his 10 seasons. That’s the longest streak of such seasons for a player at any point in his career.

Look at the names that are second and third:

Lou Gehrig (9, 1929-37) and Babe Ruth (8, 1926-33). That alone should show you the elite company that Pujols can be compared with at this point of his career.

Banks Burn You With Hidden Charges

The recent crackdown on banks initially spurred fears that free checking and free credit cards would go the way of the dinosaurs. That hasn’t happened yet but like an air pocket that, when squeezed, pops up somewhere else, banks have found other ways to slap customers with hefty fees many of them more expensive than a monthly or annual fee would’ve been in the first place.

It used to be that you had to screw up to get slapped with a bank fee spending the money before it’s in your account or being late on a payment. But now, customers can do exactly what they’ve been doing for years and still get slammed by fees if they’re not paying attention.

“It’s become more difficult to avoid fees if you’re just sitting still,” said Greg McBride, a senior financial analyst at Bankrate.com. “It’s important to be proactive, not only in monitoring your account and changes you bank may be instituting but also searching out better alternatives,” he said.

Banks behaving badly is such a hot-button issue that one environmental group used it as a marketing gimmick for Valentine’s Day. Green America encouraged customers to dump their bank for a variety of infractions from “questionable lending practices and outrageous bonuses on the taxpayer’s dime to financial support of environmentally destructive practices to abusive fees.”

The good news is that banks must notify you when they’re making changes to your account, whether it’s a checking account or credit-card account. The bad news is that most of us skim those notices if we read them at all.

“The main thing is, don’t skim!” McBride said. “If they send you out a fee schedule, it’s because things have changed. This is a list of the different charges … think of it like a menu.”

And, if you think you’re safer because you set up electronic payments — think again.

“Electronic transactions are tricky It’s not at all transparent what the practices are,” said Rebecca Borne, senior policy counsel for the Center for Responsible Lending. “There seems to be a lot of opportunities for manipulation of the account.”

Here are some of the ways banks are burning customers with hidden fees.

Subtracting Electronic Payments Early. Wachovia customers who pay their bills online were used to having their payments deducted from their accounts and paid to the creditor on the same day. When the bank was taken over by Wells Fargo however, many Wachovia customers were surprised to learn that the policy had changed, and the funds were being withdrawn from their accounts two to five days before the payment was due.

So, even those customers who are diligent, scheduling payments after their paycheck is deposited, are now at risk for an unexpected low balance fee.

The unexpected fees caused such an outcry among former Wachovia customers, that Wells Fargo recently addressed the switch in a blog post: “At Wells Fargo, funds to pay your bills will be withdrawn from your account up to five business days earlier than they were at Wachovia,” the wrote. “With Wachovia BillPay you selected and had a payment sent on a Pay Date. No longer! At Wells Fargo, you enter a Send On date. Funds are removed from your account the next business day after your Send On date.”

Ordering Transactions From High to Low. It used to be that banks posted transactions chronologically so, the order they came in is the order they are paid out. Now, many are choosing to process the transactions by size paying out the highest ones first, which increases the customer’s chance of getting snagged by a low-balance fee.

“Today, many large banks reorder transactions and post them from high to low deliberately because they can charge an overdraft fee for every transaction,” Borne said.

So, instead of maybe getting hit with one overdraft fee, the customer now runs the risk of being hit with multiple overdraft fees. The worst part, Borne said, is that bank disclosures about this are often vague. Some will just say “We can post your transactions any which way we like” without specifying how they were posting them. In fact, Wells Fargo was ordered by a California court to pay their customers $200 million for overdraft fees that resulted from reordering how they post transactions without clearly explaining to customers how they planned to do it ahead of time. When customers wrote a note to complain, that’s when Wells informed them that they were posting the transactions highest to lowest.

“We figure that overdraft fees are costing customers tens of billions of dollars a year,” Borne said. “And we think a significant number of those are the result of this reordering practice.”

Debit-Card Overdraft Fees. The whole purpose of a debit card was supposed to be that it prevented you from spending more than you have. But somewhere in the mid-2000s, Borne says, banks started routinely approving overdraft charges on a debit card and then slapping their customers with an overdraft fee. A few years ago, the Federal Reserve clamped down on this practice and told banks they can’t approve overdraft charges unless the customer consents. That’s when banks started sending out a barrage of “Sign up for overdraft protection or you won’t have a dollar to save your life when you need it” notices.

Those seemed like scare tactics for unnecessary services but Borne said they were quite effective a lot of customers signed up for overdraft protection.

Citibank never engaged in the practice of charging overdraft fees on debit cards, Borne said, and Bank of America responded very well to the Fed’s new rules, declaring they would no longer charge overdraft fees on debit cards. JPMorgan Chase and Wells Fargo continue to charge these fees, she said.

Raising the Minimum Balance Required. While everyone was watching to see if their bank started charging a monthly fee, many banks snuck up on them from behind raising the minimum required balance to avoid a monthly fee. If you keep the minimum amount in your account no fee. If your balance falls under that amount, BAM! They slap you with a fee.

The average minimum balance among banks that have a minimum balance requirement jumped 15 percent last year to $3,800 from $3,300 in 2009, according to Bankrate.com.

Returned Mail Fee. It’s important to inform your bank of an address change for your own protection but it can also cost you if you don’t.

“They could hit you for a fee if you fail to update your address and the mail is returned to them,” McBride said.

And, even when you do change your address — make sure the bank gets it right. One TCF Bank customer noted that just before his bank instituted a $3 fee for not having the right address, he found out that when he moved, they had input his address incorrectly.

Unfortunately, bank fees aren’t one of those inflationary items that rises and falls, McBride said. They’re more like the price of postage stamps: The only way to go is up.

The one saving grace for consumers, he said, is that it opens the door to competition, just like we’re seeing in the airline industry where some carriers are setting themselves apart by not charging baggage or other fees.

“Read any correspondence you get from your financial institution,” McBride advised. “Be prepared to vote with your feet and take your business elsewhere.”

The number of banks offering free checking accounts may be on the decline but it’s nowhere near extinct. A recent Bankrate.com survey found that 88 percent of accounts are still free.

Local banks, credit unions and online banks tend to be more likely to offer free checking than their big bank counterparts. Bankrate.com has a tool to help consumers choose a bank in its “Checking and Savings” section. And the Center for Responsible Lending offers a Shopper's Guide to Better Banking.

If you’d prefer to stay with your own bank, he said, ask about their policies for how to get fees waived or reduced.

The account might still be free if you can jump through a few hoops like direct deposit, using online statements or having other accounts with the same institution,” McBride said.

It’s a good idea to keep a cushion in your account and make sure it’s enough that you won’t get caught with insufficient funds no matter what trick banks pull. And, spread out transactions to avoid getting caught in any reordering web.

And, while any offer of “protection” from a bank is likely to trigger skepticism, it’s not a bad idea to sign up for overdraft protection if your bank is offering it for free, Borne said.

Bank of America, for example, offers free enrollment in overdraft protection but charges you a $10 “transfer fee” when you do overdraft the account. You might initially be inclined to say “Ah ha! You see? I knew it wasn’t free.” But do the math: Let’s say you paid three bills and the first one triggered an overdraft alarm. If you had overdraft protection, you’d pay $10 even though you overdrew the account three times; If you didn’t, at $35 a pop, that mistake would’ve cost you $105. Ten dollars doesn’t look so bad then, eh?

Now, obviously, it’s never desirable to overdraw your account. But given how many ways banks are trying to trip you up these days, $10 is a small price to pay for not reading the fine print from your bank.

On the back end, some companies are working feverishly to help banks find other ways of filling revenue gaps as an alternative to fee-ing their customers to death.

BillShrink.com recently launched StatementRewards, a program that offers targeted advertising and discounts through a customer’s bank statement. For example, if a customer shops at Safeway, they might get a coupon for 20 percent off with their bank statement. The merchant, in this case Safeway, would pay the bank a fee for that placement and the customer would get a coupon for a store they already shop at.

“Customers are motivated by rewards. They want to feel like they’re being rewarded or given something of value when they do business with you,” said BillShrink co-founder Samir Kothari. “I think banks are interested in finding other ways to offer that without having to fund it themselves.”

The most important thing for consumers is to remember that in this brave, new world of hidden bank fees no one is safe.

“It’s easy to think it won’t happen to you,” Borne said. “And then, one day, there’s an oversight and something does happen to you.”

Bed Bath and Beyond Coupon

Don’t you just love when stores are known to hand out 20% off coupons just because? It’s almost not worth buying anything in Bed Bath and Beyond without a coupon, considering they’re always available in such abundance.

If you need a new spice rack or bath mat or kitchen garbage can, you might be searching for a Bed Bath and Beyond coupon to use. Or maybe you need a new stroller or infant car seat, and you had no idea you could get 20% off with the click of a mouse.

If you want a Bed Bath and Beyond coupon, all you have to do is sign up to receive their emails. I know you just can’t possibly accept more subscriptions into your inbox, but you can simply unsubscribe anytime.

So what can you do with your found money? You’d be surprised. You can get some pretty pricey baby gear at a whopping 20% off. Might not mean much if you’re buying a paper towel dispenser, but 20% off the following must-haves is a pretty big deal:

Munchkin LOFT Dark Wood Gate, $139.99

Peg Perego Primo Viaggio SIP Car Seat, $249.99

Baby Jogger City Mini Double Stroller, $429.99

Find more Bed Bath and Beyond baby gear Click here.

Steve Madden Clearance Sale

Steve Madden is having a Biggest clearance sale right now and they're taking an additional 50% off select styles. Select styles appear to be "all" clearance styles, as far as I can tell.

Enter promo code "SALE 50%" at checkout to receive the additional 50% discount. Offer is valid through 22, February 2011. Believe me when I say I could spend my entire paycheck at this sale. There are SO many shoes and I could see all of them in my closet. Seriously who can resist a sale on top of a sale? Especially when we are talking shoe sale.

To check out the Steve Madden Clearance Sale Click here

February 16, 2011

Armed with Facebook, Twitter and YouTube

The same day Egypt's former president, stepped down, the disputeted president of the University of Puerto Rico, José Ramón de la Torre, submitted his resignation.

There was a world of difference between the two, but in their fall, one impinging similarity. The disputed administrations of Mubarak and de la Torre succumbed to grassroots movements that, however different in scale were organized by young people who used social media as a weapon.

Hours before de la Torre's resignation became official and prior to officials' denials to the contrary the news hit the Facebook fan page page of Estudiantes de la UPR Informan.

"Thank God," one of the comments read in Spanish, "a new dawn for our University!"

“You saw this with the disputed Iranian election, with Egypt,” said Wasim Ahmad online journalism professor at Stony Brook University. “It’s a way for other points of view to get out there in a more instantaneous fashion.”

UPR students, who for months have protested the university's imposition of an $800 special fee tacked on to tuition and a heavy police presence on campus, have circumvented a lack of U.S. media attention by getting the word out through Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.

Though difficult to quantify the tangible effects of social media on grassroots demonstrations, UPR students have tried to leverage social media tools to disseminate images, video and messages without filters.

Students, alumni and professors, for instance, launched the Estudiantes de la UPR Informan Facebook page in April to counter "UPR Informa," the University of Puerto Rico's official page.

The protestors' version, a page by students for students, has been a destination for news favorable to the social movement. With more than 32,000 Facebook fans, the page has easily outpaced its official counterpart – which launched first – by 8,000 fans.

On Twitter, students and a community of followers of developments on campus have used three hashtags to relay news stories, pictures of rallies and protests, and a home for the discourse to flow freely. #UPR, #HuelgaUPR and #LuchaUPR are three conversations on Twitter that are all University of Puerto Rico, all the time.

Postings have ranged from a flier for a vigil for UPR ("Bring a black shirt," it reads in part), to sharing an image of a police officer yelling in the face of a female student, to just giving opinions about the latest developments.

Enrique Oropeza, a student reached through Twitter, shared photos he took at a protest last month.

Even celebrities like "Residente," the lead singer and social activist of international band Calle 13 whose real name is René Pérez Joglar, tweeted in Spanish about the struggles of the protestors.

"Video of what happened today at the University of Puerto Rico, treating the students like they are criminals," he wrote.

Activists have also used YouTube to post some videos from demonstrations and news segments where police have appeared to use excessive force.

That wide range of social networking, which includes texting, sympathetic blogs and live streaming Internet radio like Radio Huelga, has helped mobilize demonstrators to rallies.

And those mobilizations – with their increasingly defiant clashes between student and police – directly preceded, if not were responsible for, de la Torre's resignation and the partial withdrawal of police presence on campus.

The importance of the new media tools to the student protest movement has been immeasurable, however.

"These new tools allow grassroots organizations to find each other, and makes it easier to get people to the streets or hallways," said Susannah Vila, director of content and outreach for Movements.org. "It brings people together, generates excitement, but then comes the question: what's next? It's hard to answer that question.

"In Egypt and Tunisia, it's amazing that you these two dictators have been ousted, but what's going to follow," she continued. "Technology helps to aid revolution, but it's hard to help with governance afterward. It poses new challenges."

Ahmad, too, cautioned that social media is only a tool. In large movements, he warned, traditional leadership must emerge after new communication platforms have served their purpose.

"You can’t have a Twitter hashtag running a country,” he said. "It will be interesting to see how these things plays out."

In Puerto Rico, things are beginning to play out, for better or worse. The university has named an interim president, Miguel A. Muñoz, and the online community will be watching.

The Estudiantes de la UPR Informan Facebook fan page, for one, was abuzz with a mix of optimism and wariness.

"Time will tell," one student commented. "We'll see what happens...crossing my fingers."

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