July 2010 - Posts

In order to stand out in a struggling real estate market, more builders are offering average-priced, ultra-efficient homes. And to sell houses in that same market, many homeowners are upgrading their homes to utilize green technology.

But is it worth it?

A decade ago, most people associated environmentally-sound homes with unsightly solar panels and bad water pressure. That's no longer the case. Today, the majority of houses that meet the government criteria to deem them "green" are indistinguishable from their traditionally-constructed neighbors.

But environmental consciousness comes at a premium. Green construction techniques and sustainable building materials can add anywhere from a few hundred dollars to a few hundred thousand dollars to the bottom line.

So why go green? Homeowners have all kinds of reasons.

• Green homes are much more energy efficient and save money. Traditionally-built homes lose 15 to 20 percent of their heat or cool air from duct leakage alone. Energy-conscious construction can significantly reduce that waste. Green builders and remodelers often favor energy efficient appliances and water saving fixtures. Solar panels are, however, a different story. The panels are expensive to install and take years to recoup that cost in savings.
• Indoor air can be up to five times more polluted than the air outside. The major culprits are found in paints, stains and glues, which continue to release chemicals for years, exacerbating allergies and asthma. Changing to low VOC paint, natural stains and formaldehyde-free glue will help prevent this.
• The biggest reason people go green is to reduce their carbon footprint. This means planning construction of your home in order to minimize the waste of building materials, reducing water consumption, and working with products that are sustainable or recycled.

Building green can cost 20 to 30 percent more than a traditional build. But there are some significant tax credits on the state and federal level that can help.

You will definitely want to take a look at your monthly utilities cost, along with any available tax breaks, and determine whether the combination will help pay for the improvements. You will likely recoup some of the cost in resale value. Green homes typically sell in the upper end of the range, and they sell quicker.

But be aware: there are builders who say they're green but don't know what they're doing. To make sure you are working with a builder who's truly green, contact a local or regional green building group, and ask any contractors you're considering about the criteria they follow. You should also ask to see samples of their work.

And talk to homeowners who are happy with their results. Most are eager to show off their home's earth-friendly features.

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A French nursing student was arrested in Villers-au-Tertre, France and charged with murder after she told police she had suffocated eight of her newborn babies because she didn't want any more children and didn't want to see a doctor for contraception.

Dominique Cottrez, 45, confessed to killing the babies just after their births between 1989 and 2006 or 2007. She concealed the bodies from her husband, who was questioned by police and released, under household clutter in the garage.

The father, Pierre-Marie Cottrez, said he never even suspected she was pregnant all those times. His wife's heavy build likely helped her conceal the pregnancies.

Villagers gathered outside the Cottrez current and former homes, and placed flowers and candles in remembrance of the babies.

Two sets of bones were found at a former home of the couple, and the remaining six were found at their current home. Investigators searched the current home of the couple after the owners of their previous home found two tiny bodies while digging a pool in the backyard.

Pierre-Marie Cottrez is a carpenter and has served as a village council member. He's described as locals as a respectable man, in contrast to his wife, who neighbors said is withdrawn and rarely participates in village life. The couple has two grown daughters who have children of their own. Neither have shown any signs of repeating their mother's strange and deadly behavior.

Shockingly, this isn't the first time news like this made headlines in France. Veronique Courjault was convicted in 2009 for killing three of her newborns, and last March, Celine Lesage was found guilty of murdering six of her babies.

But why are French women killing their babies? Why do women anywhere commit this horrible crime?

Experts say these cases result from pregnancy denial, an often misunderstood and minimized condition. Pregnancy denial is a quasi-schizophrenic condition in which women either don't realize or cannot accept that they are pregnant, not even enough to have their unwanted babies aborted. They can't even accept it after the child is born and they are confronted with the reality.

The condition is caused by several things, including previous trauma like beatings or rape. But the denial can kick in even if the woman has given birth to and raised other children. While the condition has been around for decades, there does seem to be a rise in incidents in recent years, and experts say this is due to changes in wider social factors that have downgraded the value of childhood, parenting and family.

In some cases, however, it is simply a matter of women failing to see themselves as mothers.
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Louisiana is lazy.

The state now lies recumbent atop Business Week's list of the laziest states. The magazine based its list on findings from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. But in this context, the word "lazy" doesn't mean lacking work ethic or engagement. Instead, it means a "measure of leisure time spent doing sedentary activities compared with activities that require more physical effort, such as exercising and even working."

But it doesn't mean lack of work ethic or engagement. Really? Come on...

Using data on each state, the magazine evaluated the average leisure time engaged in such sedentary activities as sleeping, watching television, surfing the Internet or just relaxing. Aren't those all things one does when one is not working or otherwise engaged?

The magazine found that people in Louisiana spend 8.44 hours each day sleeping, 3.5 hours watching television, and 29 minutes thinking and relaxing. The average person, ages 15 and up, spent 2.41 hours working per day.

Mississippi came in second, followed by Arkansas at third. The rest, in order, were North Carolina, Tennessee, Kentucky, West Virginia, South Carolina, Alabama and Delaware.
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We find it highly ironic that one of the summer releases this year is the comedy "Hot Tub Time Machine." Especially when you consider all of the other 80s remakes that have hit the box office in recent years. It seems Hollywood has taken a soak or two in its own time machine.

In "Hot Tub," the four main characters go hot-tubbing and then suddenly find themselves stumbling through a hotel lobby, with mullets to the left of them and leg warmers on the right. They see pink pastel tops with blazers being worn by men, giant mobile phones, cassette players and TV clips of Ronald Reagan, and they realize they've been transported back to 1986.

Hollywood has remade some of the classics that just should have been left alone. They've rebooted "A Nightmare on Elm Street," "The Karate Kid" and "Tron," and now "Footloose," "Conan the Barbarian," "Police Academy" and "Private Benjamin" are set to be remade. This summer we also experienced the re-entry of the A-Team, which stuck to the script by giving Liam Neeson cigars and the same catch phrases used in the original.

Is there an explanation for all this walking down Memory Lane in an industry that has always been focused on making things newer, bigger and badder?

It's simple, really. Most Hollywood executives are in their 40s. Movies that "rocked our worlds" happened, for most of us, when were are in our mid-teens. That means the 80s for those execs. For the average Hollywood hotshot, "Nightmare on Elm Street" is a formative part of his youth and identity. And he, being nostalgic in his 40-ness, wants to relive the highlights of his youth. Cue the remake music while you dig up Freddie's tool-glove.

Doug Belgrad, who is 44 by the way, is the president of Columbia Pictures. He's been quoted as saying there's a "fondness for that culture for those of us who came of age with it, and now we want to share it." Columbia is producing remakes of "Ghostbusters" and "21 Jump Street."

Perhaps the nostalgia and widespread appeal of the 80s means, as the Grinch once said, "a little bit more." The allure of the 1980s draws us all in because during that decade, we didn't fear imminent destruction, we didn't have a clash of civilization, and nobody worried about the environment. The world was all in one place during the 80s. Now we look at things and think, "Is it real or is it virtual?"

But how long can we keep returning to our inner 80s kids? Give it a couple of years, and the 1990s will be hot. Just don't forget to pump up your Reeboks.
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Have you heard? The end of the world is imminent. But never fear...shelter is available. If you've got the cash.

Millions of people believe the world will end December 21, 2012, according to the Mayan calendar. Some have already begun survivalist training to prepare the the expected apocalyptic events.  And that preparation, for some, involves buying into or building a doomsday shelter. The modern-day shelters have become a money making venture, with some going for $10 million.

One entrepreneur, Del Mar Calif. resident Robert Vicino, is cashing in on the craze by developing a project called Vivos, sort of a cross between a time share and a bomb shelter. Vicino calls his hybrid a "fractional villa," and is selling ownership in one of 20 underground shelters, each capable of holding up to 200 people. That works out to about $50,000 per adult and $25,000 per child, pets are free. Each owner will get an underground unit capable of withstanding massive earthquakes, flooding, radiation or biological attacks. The shelter is equipped to house its residents for a year, and comes complete with food, clothing and a medical facility.

Vicino, who says he doesn't believe in the 2012 prophecy, is building his shelters based on a spoke-and-hub model, with 10 radiating wings surrounding a two-story central dome. The shelters will be built 35 to 40 feet below the surface. Each spoke has full-size kitchens, a living room, a study area, computer desks, exercise equipment, four bedroom suites and two full bathrooms.

The central dome is set up as a community gathering place, and features dining areas, offices, a theater, kitchens, bathrooms, storage, an urgent care medical and dental facility, a security office and a detention area, along with the needed mechanical and support equipment to power the facility.

The shelters will be built within a 150-mile radius of major metropolitan areas, and the first one is planned for near Barstow, Calif., near Los Angeles. The flag-ship shelter is an existing shelter that is being retrofitted. But the shelter is only 13,000 square feet, so it will house a maximum of 132 people. Vicino says about half of the spaces have been sold to date.

But who's buying these posh doomsday pads?

Vicino says 30 percent are people in the medical field, and another 30 percent are people in law enforcement or the military. The rest come from all walks of life, but Vicino is seeking buyers with particular skill sets, like plumbers and electricians.

After purchase, buyers are allowed to tour their investment, but they're not allowed to return after that. It's not a hotel or weekend getaway spot, Vicino says, and it won't be accessible again until the big boom.

The entrepreneur has been criticized for taking money from people for something that may never be used. But he says that's not an issue.

"You don't get upset if you buy a fire extinguisher and never use it," he says. "The fact that you may never use that fire extinguisher doesn't make it a waste or bad."

He's also been criticized for profiting from people's fears. But he says he didn't create the fear.

"The fear is already out there. We're creating a solution," he said.
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Chelsea Clinton is getting married Saturday. She will wear a dress. She will walk down the aisle on the arm of her father. There will be a guy, likely fiance' Mark Mezvinsky, waiting at the end of the aisle for her. Her mother will beam.

But that's pretty much all we know for sure right now.

You see, Chelsea wants to keep things quiet. She's always been known as an extremely private person. She's never been interviewed, not even when her mother was running for president. And now that the day is all about her, she's been extra-quiet. No one in her camp has dished about the nuptial details either. The most anyone has said came from her father, who said he was going to try and not cry, and that Chelsea had told him he needed to lose 15 pounds before he walked her down the aisle.

The wedding is reportedly going to be held at an old, recently-restored Astor family palace in Rhinebeck, N.Y. But there's still speculation that the location may be a decoy, and that the ceremony will take place elsewhere. There are reports that air conditioned tents have been assembled there, however.

But does the daughter of one of the most famous couples in the world have a right to keep all the details to herself? Shouldn't she, as a former First Daughter, have to release at least a photo and a statement to the press? Former presidents and their families are, after all, the closest thing we Americans have to royalty. Shouldn't we get a peek? Besides, every bride is a public figure on her big day.

And she is famous, after all. Whether she wants to be or not, she will always be a former president's daughter, and her wedding will draw media attention. Whatever big events happen in her life, like her wedding or the birth of her first child, you can bet the world will be watching.

Maybe that's why she feels the need to remain so private. To hold a few things dear.

It's likely because being famous isn't all it's cracked up to be. Sure, there are a lot of perks. But is it really worth it? Is it really worth handing out huge chunks of yourself? What if you forget where you put them all? What if you want them back? Can you even go back?

The bottom line is this: being famous stinks sometimes. Perhaps Chelsea doesn't want to add any more pollution to her life. She didn't choose to be famous, after all. But she can choose to have a very private, very intimate wedding. Besides...isn't that what we pay the Secret Service for?
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The Utah Supreme Court reversed the conviction today of polygamous sect leader Warren Jeffs and sent the case back for a new trial.

The court ruled, in a unanimous decision, that the judge made "serious errors" in his instructions to the jury in Jeffs' 2007 trial.

Jeffs, leader of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, was convicted of two counts of being an accomplice to rape for instructing a 14-year-old girl to marry her 19-year-old cousin. Both were sect members.

Jeffs also faces charges in Texas of alleged sexual assault of a child and bigamy.

Arizona criminal charges against Jeffs were dismissed in early June, and a defense attorney said the sect leader's Utah rape conviction was "under review" because of possible false statements by the government's key witness.

In a superior court filing, Mohave County attorney Matt Smith moved at the time to drop two indictments for rape as an accomplice because victims no longer wanted to pursue the case. In addition, Jeffs has already served more time in jail pending trial than he would get if convicted.

The state of Texas is seeking extradition of Jeffs for trial in more serious rape charges.

Jeffs was considered the leader of "prophet" of the sect, which has outposts on the Colorado-Utah border and in Texas. The FLDS church, not affiliated with mainstream Mormon religion, teaches that plural marriage is a sacred obligation and a First Amendment right. The Mormon church renounced polygamy long ago.

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Unless you've been under a huge rock in recent days, you've no doubt heard of Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks. Assange has garnered both praise and criticism in recent days after his Web site published thousands of secret military documents relating to the war in Afghanistan.

Assange is a former hacker, and is a native of Australia. He and his mother reportedly moved 37 times before he was 15, making formal education impossible. Assange educated himself at libraries. He also learned how to program computers, and he later became proficient at hacking, accessing government networks and bank mainframes. He was arrested in 1991 and charged with more than 30 counts related to hacking.

The accused hacker struck up a deal and wound up only paying a fine. He somehow convinced a judge that his hacking was merely poking around out of curiosity.

Some of the leaked documents pointed to numerous incidents of American forces killing innocent Afghan citizens, the existence of a secret unit of American special forces tasked with killing or capturing Al Qaeda and Taliban leaders, and worries among U.S. officials that elements of Pakistani intelligence were aiding the Taliban.

The Pentagon has pointed the finger at Army intelligence analyst Bradley Manning as a possible suspect in leaking the 6-year history of the war in Afghanistan. Manning was arrested in May after he was turned in by a former hacker he had befriended online. He claimed to have leaked a variety of classified documents, databases and videos to WikiLeaks. But he's not the only suspect.

Members of Congress debated the topic this week, and despite the release of around 92,000 classified documents that cast a negative light on the war effort in Afghanistan, members focused on WikiLeaks, rather than the mess the leak has created. Congress men and women called the decision to leak the document irresponsible and a threat to American lives.

Still others said the documents pointed to what Americans have known all along about the war in Afghanistan – it's going badly.

"However illegally these documents came to light, they raise serious questions about the reality of America's policy toward Pakistan and Afghanistan," said Sen. John Kerry (D) of Massachusetts. "Those policies are at a critical stage and these documents may very well underscore the stakes and make the calibrations needed to get the policy right more urgent."

The White House has also been quick to condemn the release of the documents, calling it "damaging to national security." But it seems ironic that the White House is arguing that the leak puts American lives at risk, when it is highly likely that someone in the military leaked the documents.

But still others feel the whole thing is much ado about nothing.

A senior government official, whose identity was kept secret, was quoted as saying the documents amounted to "the usual rhetoric and nothing new."

"It seems to be all rubbish and maybe not worth commenting on," he said.

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Animal rights activist Amina Tareq was arrested in Jordan for demonstrating without a permit.

Dubbed the Lettuce Lady because she was dressed from the waist up in lettuce, Tareq held a sign reading, "Let Vegetarianism Grow On You." She's one of several Lettuce Ladies who demonstrate in various countries on behalf of animal rights group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.

Lettuce Ladies include some famous faces, including Pamela Anderson and Elizabeth Berkley, as well as Playmate of the Year Jayde Nicole. The women don lettuce covered bikinis and make public appearances in order to draw attention to the vegetarian lifestyle. They give away printed materials about getting started as a vegan, and sometimes vegetarian foods.

The women sometimes wear long dresses made out of vegetables. Actress and comedian Cloris Leachman famously donned a long gown made of lettuce and red cabbage.

Pamela Anderson says she urges people to "turn over a new leaf and try vegetarian." The other Lettuce Ladies, like Anderson, all count meat eaters as bad and kindness to animals as good.

The Lettuce Ladies do have a counterpart, however, in the Broccoli Boys. Same deal. Scantily-clad men touting vegetarianism.

We're not sure this would make us give up a good cheeseburger, but we do like their technique. Bikinis always get attention, and being more healthy is a good cause.
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Want your feet to look more like Cinderella's? Think your little toe needs a nip-tuck? You're not alone.

Millions of women all over the country are opting for aesthetic foot surgery, aimed at making their feet more attractive and allowing them to wear high heels much longer and more comfortably.

For women seeking this type of surgery, there are several areas of improvement available. You can get the "Cinderella" procedure, which is a preventive bunion correction that narrows the foot. You can also have your toes shortened so that they don't hang over the end of sandals or get crushed into tight shoes. You can even have fat taken from your abdomen and injected into the balls of your feet to provide extra cushioning.

Orthopedic surgeons are not all fans of these types of surgeries. Donald Bohay, an orthopedic surgeon in Michigan and co-chairman of public education for the American Orthopedic Foot and Ankle Society, said shortening a toe to get it into a tight-fitting shoe "should not be a standard of care in any physician's office."

The American Podiatric Medical Association echoed the sentiment.

But women don't hold the patent on this one. Men are coming in more frequently for aesthetic procedures as well. They're embarrassed, doctors say, because their feet don't look good.

The main point of contention between the two sides is the risk versus benefit. Opponents say surgery should only be done to alleviate pain and deformities. Proponents say making women more comfortable in their shoes can prevent pain and deformity from happening.

Costs for the procedures vary. Bunion surgery can cost at least $5,000. Toe shortening starts at $500. Slimming swollen pinky toes starts at $1,800, and adding padding to the bottoms of feet is $500 and up.

The next time you watch "Sex and the City" and you admire those Manolo Blahniks, remember this: having pretty feet will cost you. Wearing sensible shoes is much more affordable.

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When faced with making decisions regarding final wishes, most people think, burial or cremation. They don't think much beyond that. But what about making sure your final wishes are carried out in an environmentally friendly way?

The common practices of burial and cremation are certainly not environmentally friendly. With the clearing of land to make way for burial sites, greenhouse gases created by cremation, trees cut down to make caskets and embalming fluid that contains chemicals like formaldehyde, methanol, ethanol and other solvents, death is not at all a natural process. Funerals are detrimental to the land, water and air.

But the good news is that there are some green funeral options that are catching on in popularity.

• Biodegradable Urns: If cremation is your choice, the consider Journey Earthurn's biodegradable urns. These urns are engineered to float for a minute and then gracefully sink. Once the urn is on the ocean floor, the urn will naturally break down. The urns are handmade using a centuries-old paper-making technique.
• The Arka Ecopod is an ecological coffin made from compressed newspaper. It weighs about 30 pounds, and can carry a person up to 253 pounds and up to 6 feet tall. It's suitable for burial ceremonies and has passed all regulation and emission tests.
• Batesville Cremation Urns: These scattering urns from the Batesville casket company are similar to the Journey Earthurn. When you throw them into the water, the urns float for up to 5 minutes before descending into the water. They then biodegrade into the water without leaving behind any pollution.
• Compakta Coffins: These coffins are made from carton board materials produced from unbleached pulp, containing at least 60 percent recycled paper and all wood pulp from forests certified by the Forest Stewardship Council. Only natural starch-based glues are used in assembly. No bolts, screws or tapes are used to put the coffins together.
• Ecocoffin: The Ecocoffin is made from recycled paper and cardboard and is 100 percent environmentally friendly. It's strong and comes in a variety of unique colors and designs. You can have it created with family photos, war decorations or personal attributes.
• Coffin Cover: The cover is an innovative eco-coffin design that gives the high-quality appearance of an elegant coffin without contributing to deforestation. The cover can be placed over a separate internal coffin that is made of simple biodegradable material. It can be used over and over.
• OnEarth Australia: This company manufactures attractive, affordable and environmentally-friendly caskets made from 100 percent recycled cardboard. Paints and varnishes are used but are nontoxic. They are made to withstand funeral-related handling, and will not distort or collapse.
• Promessa AB Ecological Funeral: This green option is by far the most "out there" but could be the most environmentally sound. Within days after death, the body is frozen in liquid nitrogen. This makes the body very brittle. It is then vibrated, which turns the body into a powder. A vacuum chamber is used to evaporate any water so that the powder is dry. The powder is then placed in a corn or potato starch coffin and is buried, to decompose within a few months. The company claims this will reduce the environmental impact on water, air and soil, when compared to a normal burial or cremation.

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Eighty-two-year-old Jean Hill has made a big splash in her hometown of Concord, Mass. with the orchestration of a ban on the sale of bottled water.

Hill proposed the ban at a town meeting in April, and although town officials say they may not enforce the ruling, some from the bottled water industry are threatening to sue when the ban takes effect Jan. 1.

Hill's drive began when her 10-year-old grandson told her about the Pacific garbage patch, floating between California and Hawaii, which is supposedly composed of plastic water bottles and about the size of Texas. She says we're "trashing our planet and all because of greed."

Tom Lauria, a spokesman for the International Bottled Water Association, questioned why Hill, who was formerly mostly known for her blueberry jam, would target bottled water when there are so many other things packaged in plastic.

Hill said after her grandson educated her a little, she did some research and found that millions of plastic bottles are disposed of daily and most are not recycled. While others have taken a piecemeal approach, Hill said she wanted her town to take a bolder stance.

Although the ban has passed, town officials are struggling with how to enforce it, and have asked the state attorney general for some guidance.

Bottled water has become a hot seller in recent years as the general public has taken the admonition to drink eight glasses of water a day to heart. But busy lifestyles made this difficult, so "portable" water became not just the norm, but the necessity.

Many, like Hill, are concerned about the waste created by all those leftover bottles. One company in Chicago, Green Planet, has begun to produce bottled water packaged in more environmentally-friendly materials. The bottles are reusable and biodegradable.

Every 72 bottles produced by Green Planet saves 1 gallon of oil. The bottles are made of plant starch, so they will eventually break down in about 80 days.

Maybe Green Planet should give Hill a call...
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Apparently, a cane pole, a hook and a worm are passe' when it comes to fishing. Fishermen these days are casting aside their critics and throwing a line into new waters with new methods of landing the big one.

Paul Melnyk caught a striped bass during a tournament in the mid-1990s, but word got out that he was swimming off-shore in a wetsuit when he caught it. So tournament judges banned fish caught while swimming. He was disqualified from that tournament. He was later banned from surf fishing tournaments all together, as long as he's wearing a wetsuit.

But Melnyk didn't care. He committed to his new way of doing things, and his passion for what's been dubbed "skishing" – a cross between skiing and fishing – has attracted other enthusiasts as well.

"There's a new generation of fishermen out there," Melnyk says.

Skishing works like this: you hook a fish big enough to tow the angler through the water. Without the benefit of a boat or solid ground, the playing ground, so to speak, becomes even; it's a fair fight. Skishers sometimes swim hundreds of yards from shore to water well over their heads, and remain afloat until they hook a fish.

Melnyk has received a lot of criticism. He said he receives hate mail, mostly calling the sport "cheating" and criticizing him for promoting such a dangerous activity. Skishers are often blamed for scaring fish away or catching what might belong to fishermen on shore.

Melnyk knows the risks: boats and strong currents can drag skishers out to sea. This type of fishing is sometimes done at night, when bass are thought to do most of their feeding. He's even been hooked a couple of times by surf casters. Then there are the sharks.

But Melnyk calls his method a "stealthy way of fishing."

"The fish think you're just a log or something," he says.

Skishing is a unique way to fish, but it's not a novelty. Being out in the water gives a skisherman a unique advantage – he can connect with and think like a fish. He'll have better instincts about where the fish are hiding.

Being out in the water doesn't mean you'll have a bigger variety of fish to catch, nor does it give you more of an advantage – some days you catch fish, some days you don't, whether on land or in the sea.

But when you do hook that big striper and go for a ride...now that's the stuff.
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Everybody wants to be remembered for something. Some people are just willing to take it to the extreme. Some are even willing to attempt world records. Those who break records make it into Guinness World Records, the largest collection of the strange and unusual in the world.

Attempts are made to get into the Guinness book all the time...faster, better, bigger, more, less, longer, shorter... Being the best at something is the goal.

Some recent verified records include:

• Most martial arts throws in 1 minute was set in Alexandroupolis, Greece on June 26 with a record of 51 throws.
• Most people applying sunscreen simultaneously was set by a total of 251 people in The Netherlands on July 23. The group applied sunscreen for a full 2 minutes.
• Most people keeping a football (soccer ball) in the air was set by a group of 1,062 in Yanji City, China on July 22.
• Chubby Checker would have been proud. The Twist was danced by 1,692 people on July 19 in Glendale, Calif. for 5 minutes straight.
• The world's largest smoothie was created July 9. More than 1,000 liters (219.97 gallons) was the record set by the Dairy Farmers of Canada.

But the Guinness book wouldn't be complete without some strange and downright grotesque records as well. Here are a few of those as well:

• Fastest 100-meter hurdles wearing swim fins was set by Maren Zonker of Cologne, Germany, with a time of 22.35 seconds.
• Most people dressed as Smurfs was set by 1,253 people in Ireland in July 2008.
• Largest collection of hotel "Do Not Disturb" signs is owned by Jean-Francois Vernetti of Switzerland, who has collected 8,888 signs since 1985.
• The longest amount of time spent in direct, full-body contact with ice is 1 hour, 42 minutes and 22 seconds is held by Wim Hof of the Netherlands, who set the record in January 2009.
• Largest gathering of Santas was achieved by 13,000 participants in Northern Ireland  Dec. 9, 2007.
• Most eggs crushed with head in one minute was set by Ashrita Furman, who crushed 80 eggs with his head in 1 minute in New York on Dec. 10, 2008.
• The heaviest weight pulled by eye sockets is 907 pounds, pulled by Chayne Hulgren of Australia on April 25, 2009.
• Ilker Yulmaz of Turkey squirted milk from his eye a distance of 9 feet, 2 inches in Turkey on Sept. 1, 2004.
• Kim Goodman of the U.S. can pop her eyeballs to a protrusion of 0.43 inches beyond her eye sockets. She broke the record June, 13, 1998.
• Most cockroaches eaten is a record claimed by Ken Edwards of London. He downed 36 in 1 minute on March 5, 2001.

Some record holders even try to break their own records. Radhakant Bajpai, of Kanpu city, set a record in 2005 for the longest ear hair in the world. The 55-year-old had ear hair about 5 to 6 cm long at the time of the record. His hair is now 28 cm long. Bajpai considers the hair to be a symbol of luck and prosperity.

Well...strange and unusual is certainly in the eye of the beholder.

Posted by bulldog | with no comments
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Still struggling with its oil blow-out in the Gulf of Mexico, BP has posted at least three Photoshopped pictures on its Web site.
The photos were spotlighted by the Gawker Web site earlier this week. The company has responded and a spokesman said the latest photo would be removed from BP's site.

The photograph, taken from inside a helicopter, purports to show the fleet of ships around the damaged oil well. But the photographer used Photoshop to remove the portions of the ship's deck that were visible, making it look as if the helicopter was in flight. The photo was taken from inside the helicopter overlooking the spill site.

Americablog also found two other BP photos that were altered. In those photos, changes were minor but still embarrassing for an already-embattled company. The company has since placed all three photos, in both the original and doctored states, on Flickr.

The concept of altering photographs isn't a new one. The iconic photo of U.S. President Abraham Lincoln is a composite of Lincoln's head and John Calhoun's body. A famed photo of General William T. Sherman with his generals was doctored to include General Francis P. Blair, circa 1865. Stalin was known to routinely request his enemies to be brushed out of photographs. Benito Mussolini had a horse handler removed from a portrait in 1942, which showed Mussolini mounted on a horse. He believed it would make the photo look more heroic.

In more recent days, the cover of TV Guide in 1989 featured Oprah Winfrey's head on Ann-Margaret's body. In 1994, New York Newsday featured Nancy Kerrigan and Tanya Harding on their cover, and it appeared they were skating together, which was not the case. A famous Time magazine cover in 1994 featured O.J. Simpson's photo, which had been manipulated to make him appear more sinister. And in 2008, Sarah Palin's head was famously placed atop a woman wearing a red, white and blue bikini and brandishing a gun.

On a more recent note, President Barack Obama was depicted standing on a Louisiana beach, head hanging low, with an oil rig in the distance, off-shore. Reuters Photoshopped both Admiral Thad W. Allen of the Coast Guard and Louisiana parish resident Charlotte Randolph out of the photo, making it appear that Obama was alone and despondent about the Gulf oil spill. The reality was that he simply looked down at the sand at some point during the conversation.

Media outlets are doing this type of thing more and more frequently, and calling them photo illustrations, rather than photos. But is it ethical? Many journalists and photojournalists see this type of manipulation as a threat to journalism's integrity and credibility, and say such actions crosses an ethical line. The bottom line is this: you cannot change reality. Publishing even photo illustrations labeled as such, blurs standards. And in an age when people are putting down newspapers and magazines and turning to the Internet for information, the media cannot afford this type of deception.

And neither can BP.

Posted by bulldog | with no comments
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