March 7, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 6:41 PM


Treasury launches sale of $6B of AIG stock (Associated Press, 3/07/12)

Treasury also announced an agreement with AIG for it to repay the government's remaining $8.5 billion preferred-stock investment in the company.

A price for the common shares wasn't specified. AIG shares closed at $29.45 in trading Wednesday. The share price at which taxpayers would break even is about $28 or $29.

Posted by orrinj at 6:16 PM


Ringleader Reveals He Faked Many More Works (Andreas Teichmann, 3/07/12, Der Spiegel)

In October 2011, what is likely Germany's biggest-ever postwar art scandal came to an end when forger Wolfgang Beltracchi was sentenced to six years in prison. As the ringleader of the operation, he was found guilty of counterfeiting 14 paintings by six well-known artists including Heinrich Campendonk, Fernand Léger and Max Ernst, costing damages of an estimated €34 million ($45 million).

Beltracchi and three accomplices were sentenced after just nine days at the Cologne District Court, with the defendants receiving shorter sentences in exchange for full confessions. But in a SPIEGEL interview the 61-year-old has now admitted to creating phoney works by "about 50" different artists.

Speaking to the media for the first time since he was sentenced, Beltracchi refused to name the exact number of paintings he forged throughout his career, which he began in the 1970s by creating "unpainted works by old masters, and later Jugendstil and Expressionists" and selling them at flea markets. But during the interview with SPIEGEL, Beltracchi said that due to high demand, he could have easily put "1,000 or 2,000" forgeries on the art market.

Posted by orrinj at 6:12 PM


'Mary Poppins' songwriter Robert Sherman dies at 88 (Alan D. Abbey, March 7, 2012, JTA)

Sherman and his brother Richard were on staff for Disney during its glory years in the 1950s and 1960s and wrote pop confections such as "Tall Paul," for Mouseketeer Annette Funicello, which hit the pop charts in the early days of rock. Their most remembered and honored songs came from "Mary Poppins," including the novelty "Supercalifragilisticexpialadocius," a word the Shermans said they made up out of double-talk. A Wikipedia entry defines the word as meaning, "atoning for educability through delicate beauty." The pair received their only Oscar of three nominations, for the film's songs, which also won them a Grammy Award.

The Shermans also wrote songs for such childrens' films as "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang," "Bedknobs and Broomsticks," "Charlotte's Web," and "The Jungle Book." The two worked together until recently, reviving and adding songs for British stage versions of Poppins and Chitty in the last few years.

A 2009 documentary, "The Boys: The Sherman Brothers' Story," made by the Shermans' sons detailed their creative successes but also the personal issues the two brothers had. They were an inseparable musical team but bitter enemies away from the piano. 

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Posted by orrinj at 6:10 PM


Nasrallah: Lebanon Chose to Distance Itself from Regional Events to Preserve the Govt. (Naharnet Newsdesk 24 February 2012)

Hizbullah chief Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah defended on Friday Lebanon's decision to distance itself from regional developments.

He said: "Lebanon is part of the region, but its decision is aimed at preserving the government."

Memo to Iran and Assad: You're on your own.

Posted by orrinj at 3:56 PM


Hysteria and the Teenage Girl (CAITLIN FLANAGAN, 1/29/12, NY Times)

CHEERLEADERS with Tourette's syndrome. Like a fly buzzing against the window, this weird arrangement of words flitted across the edge of my consciousness last week. I kept thinking I should take a minute to track down the Onion piece from which this kooky phrase surely emanated, but finally committed some desultory Googling, and discovered that the buzzing idea correlated (more or less) to an actual event. [...]

Googling quickly led me to an almost identical episode, this one in 2002, in a high school in rural North Carolina. Once again, a cheerleader was first to manifest the strange symptoms, and once again other girls, some of them cheerleaders, were struck with the same condition.

There are famous cases that closely mimic these strange events. In 1962, in a girls' school in Tanzania, a laughing epidemic spread to 95 students and lasted for months. In 1965 there was a fainting episode at a girls' school in Blackburn, England, that landed 85 girls in the hospital. In 1983, when there was a widespread fear of chemical warfare in the West Bank, more than 900 Arab schoolgirls and a few female Israeli soldiers exhibited the symptoms of having been gassed, but doctors found no specific cause for the outbreak.

In all of these cases, the ultimate diagnosis -- unpalatable in our post-Freudian age -- was good old-fashioned hysteria. In the cheerleader cases, the first girl seems to have suffered from some kind of mental or emotional distress, which she expressed through otherwise unrelated physical symptoms. The other girls -- victims of yesteryear's mass hysteria and today's mass psychogenic illness, in which the symptoms of hysteria pass from person to person, like contagion -- believed the condition to be communicable and "caught" it.

Hysteria is the most retrograde and non-womyn-empowering condition. It's not supposed to happen anymore (we have Title IX!), but it won't seem to go away. 

Posted by orrinj at 7:01 AM


Hamas rules out military support for Iran in any war with Israel (Harriet Sherwood, 3/06/12,

"If there is a war between two powers, Hamas will not be part of such a war," Salah Bardawil, a member of the organisation's political bureau in Gaza City, told the Guardian.

He denied the group would launch rockets into Israel at Tehran's request in response to a strike on its nuclear sites. "Hamas is not part of military alliances in the region," said Bardawil. "Our strategy is to defend our rights"

The stance underscores Hamas's rift with its key financial sponsor and its realignment with the Muslim Brotherhood and popular protest movements in the Arab world.

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Posted by orrinj at 6:58 AM


Valedictorian Facing Deportation Can Stay (KAREN FRANKLIN,  03/06/2012, NBC Miami)
The lawyer for the North Miami Senior High School valedictorian facing deportation confirmed Tuesday that she is getting a two-year waiver to stay in the United States.

As a result of her stay extension, Daniela Pelaez and her family plan to fly to Washington Wednesday to meet with Senator Marco Rubio.

At the end of the day, America is too decent for nativism.

Posted by orrinj at 6:33 AM


How Romney won Ohio (Samuel J. Best, 3/06/12, CBS News)

Romney eked out a narrow victory in the Ohio Republican primary on Tuesday. The CBS News exit poll of Ohio Republican primary voters showed that Rick Santorum's coalition of crossover Democrats and socially conservative voters was not quite large enough to offset Mitt Romney's base of ideogically moderate voters. Romney's draw, once again, centered on his electability and his attractiveness to voters prioritizing economic issues.
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Posted by orrinj at 6:26 AM



On Monday 21 August, 1911, an Italian man named Vincenzo Peruggia walked out of the Louvre with the Mona Lisa hidden under his jacket. No one saw him steal the world's most famous painting; no one heard him prise it from the wall. Peruggia slipped out unnoticed and took the painting home to his apartment.

The greatest art theft of the 20th century could scarcely have been more simple. On the previous day - a Sunday - Vincenzo had visited the Louvre shortly before closing time. Once inside, he had slipped into a closet and spent the night in hiding.

In the morning - aware that the museum was closed to the public on Mondays - he put on one of the white artist's smocks worn by the Louvre's employees. He then made his way to the gallery in which Leonardo da Vinci's famous painting hung and lifted its box frame off the wall.

None of the Louvre's employees noticed that the painting was missing. Fully twelve hours after it was stolen, the duty caretaker reported to his boss that everything in the museum was in order.
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Posted by orrinj at 6:17 AM


Drunk driving study: Car interlock devices reduce repeat offenses (Jerry Hirsch, March 6, 2012, LA Times)
Drunk drivers receiving their first conviction were less likely to repeat the crime if they were forced to have alcohol interlock devices on their vehicles, according to an insurance industry study.

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety studied driver records for people with convictions related to alcohol-impaired driving in Washington. When the state expanded its interlock requirement to everyone convicted of driving under the influence eight years ago, the rate of repeat offenders fell by 12%, the study found.

Posted by orrinj at 6:15 AM


Forget fittest, it's survival of the most cultured (David Sloan Wilson, 3/05/12, New Scientist)

Evolutionary biologist Mark Pagel enters tricky terrain to argue that social structures are key to human evolution in Wired for Culture

FOR decades, proponents of the power of culture in human development have been tribal enemies of those who champion the power of evolution. The former have been vilified for portraying humans as blank slates; the latter scorned for embracing genetic determinism. The middle ground was no-man's-land.

Now, at last, the war might be over. A consensus is emerging that humans have an impressive capacity for open-ended change, much as culturalists have claimed, but that this is a result of genetic evolution - and is itself an evolutionary process. Culture can now be approached from an evolutionary perspective, while evolutionists have much to learn from the "natural historians" of cultures.

God didn't evolve us, we did!