Sunday, February 28, 2010

Alice's very weird wonderland

Alice's very weird wonderland: Why a behind-the-scenes row might see Tim Burton's most fantastical film yet disappear from cinemas as fast as the Cheshire Cat
By Alison Boshoff
20th February 2010

The word is that watching Tim Burton's Alice In Wonderland is the closest you can come to falling down the rabbit hole yourself and into Lewis Carroll's fantasy world.

Those who have seen the film, or clips of it, say that it is utterly breathtaking, a hallucinatory alternate universe completely realised in every detail, from the sun streaming in through the gills of the mushrooms to the light falling on the individual fuzzy hairs on the caterpillar's back.

It cost £158million to make and, with computer graphics mixed with live action and animation, it is more technically ambitious than anything Burton has done before. And it is in 3-D, putting it head-to-head with the sci-fi phenomenon that is Avatar.

But far more significantly, it is said to be simply Burton's most beautiful and most perfectly imagined fantasy world.

The casting also has critical expectations rising. Who else but Matt Lucas could play the twin grotesques of Tweedledum and Tweedledee? And Johnny Depp, with green fluorescent contact lenses, rouged cheeks and a frizzy orange wig, makes the most extraordinary Mad Hatter.

With typical attention to detail, Burton has enhanced Depp's eyes with camera trickery, making them 15 per cent larger; so it's still Johnny Depp, but Through The Looking-Glass.

Oscar-winning costume designer Colleen Atwood has created a look for Depp which sees his clothes change colour as his moods come and go. He is like a human mood ring, hung with ribbons and hatpins and thimbles which dangle from his fingertips.

The Cheshire Cat, who can appear and disappear at will and has what Burton calls a creepy quality, is voiced by Stephen Fry and taps into Burton's hatred of cats.

Michael Sheen voices the White Rabbit, Alan Rickman is the caterpillar and Barbara Windsor the dormouse, Christopher Lee surfaces as the monstrous Jabberwock, Timothy Spall is a lugubrious bloodhound, Frances de la Tour is Alice's Aunt Imogene, Michael Gough the Dodo and Paul Whitehouse the March Hare.

Burton's partner, Helena Bonham Carter, plays the Queen of Hearts as the acme of royal rage, with a plucked hairline, red wig, geisha-white face and uncontrollable 'Off with her head!' aggression.

On screen, her head has been enlarged to three times its size and the end result is quite grotesque. 'I can't rely on Tim to make me pretty,' sighs Helena.

Alice In Wonderland - created in the 1860s by Charles Dodgson, a mathematics lecturer at Christ Church, Oxford, under the pseudonym Lewis Carroll - is surely the literary masterpiece which Burton was born to interpret.

He has even worked in the studio once used by the English illustrator Arthur Rackham, whose illustrations for the 1907 edition ' produced the most iconic pictures of Alice that anyone has ever seen'.

'I read the Alice stories when I was eight, and I've seen the various TV and cinema versions, including the 1951 Disney cartoon. But, to be honest, I've never liked any of them,' Burton says.

'There was always a silly girl wandering around from one crazy character to another, and I never felt a real emotional connection to that, so it was an attempt to try and give it some framework and emotional grounding that I felt I hadn't seen in any version before.

'I think all of those characters serve to indicate some type of mental weirdness that everybody goes through.'
Burton says he wanted an Alice 'with gravity' rather than the usual little girl skipping through the grass in her white socks and a blue pinafore dress.

Eventually, he settled on Mia Wasikowska, a young Australian actress. 'She had that emotional toughness; standing her ground in a way which makes her kind of an older person but with a younger person's mentality,' the director says.

Having previously portrayed the equally weird and wonderful Edward Scissorhands and Willy Wonka for Burton, Johnny Depp was a shoo-in for the Mad Hatter.

'I read the Lewis Carroll stories over and over again, and I learned everything I could about Victorian times,' Depp says.

'It would have been too easy, and not very believable, to have played the Mad Hatter as just a straightforward crazy guy.

'But I knew Tim would be wanting more than that - there had to be a reason why he was like that, because something had tipped him over the edge.'

Depp's research revealed that the term 'mad as a hatter' came from a truth - that hatters in Victorian times suffered from mercury poisoning, a side-effect of the hat- manufacturing process which would affect the mind.

'So now we knew why he's mad, and after that, anything went,' Depp says.

'The mercury would have also shown through his skin and his hair, so the Hatter would have looked as mad as he behaved.'

For screenwriter Linda Woolverton (The Lion King, Beauty And The Beast), the positive early reaction has been a vindication of her vision.

'I wasn't trying to re-tell the old story; I was toying with the thought: what if Alice was older and she went back into Wonderland?

'I had this mental picture of her standing at a very crucial moment in her life and having to make an important decision, but being distracted by the White Rabbit.'

In the film, Alice's turning point comes as she receives an unexpected and unwelcome very public marriage proposal in a Victorian garden.

Seeing the White Rabbit - with his trademark waistcoat and watch, of course - she runs after him, stumbles and falls down a hole into Wonderland, which is in decline, overgrown and rather haunted.

She is taken to the hookah-smoking caterpillar, who tells her that according to ancient prophecy, she has returned to slay the Red Queen's dreaded Jabberwock and bring about the end of her reign.
'There's a lot that Lewis Carroll didn't write, but I've based other scenes on things he did', Woolverton says.

'It will infuriate the purists, but this was never meant to be a remake. This is Alice as a young woman.' \

But despite all this nurturing of Burton's vision, his movie is under threat of being smothered at birth. Quite extraordinarily, the UK's three largest cinema chains - Odeon, Vue and Cineworld - are threatening not to show it.

They account for 65 per cent of the UK's cinemas, and 90 per cent of the 3-D screens, so the threat is a serious one.

Given that the premiere is next Thursday and the movie opens on March 5, it's a disaster.

The cause of the angst is that Disney wants to release the film on DVD and Blu-ray only three months after it opens at the cinema, rather than the standard 17 weeks.
It wants to get the DVD into the shops before the midsummer doldrums, and to capitalise on the marketing of the movie while it is still fresh in people's minds.

But the cinemas are afraid that people will just wait to buy the film on DVD rather than spend money on going to the pictures. They aren't alone: four big cinema chains in Holland are boycotting the film and the Italians are rebelling, too.

Disney, which stands to lose upwards of £40million because of this row, says that 97 per cent of box office takings happen within eight weeks, and argues that it is only asking for this flexibility in the case of perhaps two movies a year.

Last week the company sent two executives from Hollywood to try to find a solution.

Burton himself transferred filming from Cornwall, where a lot of exterior scenes were shot, to Los Angeles, where the technology would be brought into play. Scenes were filmed in front of all-green backgrounds which were then overlaid digitally.

'The novelty of the green wears off very quickly,' Depp complained during filming. 'It's exhausting actually - we can't see what we are doing.'

Burton had lavender lenses fitted into his glasses to counter-balance the colour. This way of working brought the director great freedoms, particularly when it came to playing with scale.

Glover's Knave Of Hearts is half real, half digital. In the film he is 71/2ft tall, so on set Glover wore a green suit and a pair of green stilts. For the final film, his entire body, costume and cape were computer-generated - only his face was real.

Depp is lost in admiration for Burton. He says: 'He couldn't have bitten off anything bigger to chew. This is almost lunatic time. To choose to grab Alice In Wonderland, that in itself is one thing, and then to do it to the Tim Burton level is madness.'

Burton, stuck between a rock and a hard place over the distribution row, is keeping his own counsel. But there is no doubt he will be deeply disappointed if the film over which he has taken such care is available to only a fraction of its potential audience.

As he says: 'When Lewis Carroll wrote his Alice stories nearly 150 years ago, he was taking a big chance that people would understand and appreciate that he was trying to do something unusual.

'Now, it's our turn to take our own chances - and I don't think we've let him down.'

• Alice In Wonderland has its charity premiere in London next Thursday and is released on March 5.

FBI investigates allegations webcam used to monitor student

FBI investigates allegations webcam used to monitor student
February 20, 2010
Parents sue over spy computers
FBI will try to determine whether wiretap, computer intrusion laws were violated
Pennsylvania family claims assistant principal watched boy through laptop's webcam
Official: It was mistake not to tell families of feature allowing school to monitor hardware.
District only accesses laptop if it's reported lost, stolen or missing, school spokesman says

(CNN) -- The FBI has opened an investigation into allegations that a Pennsylvania school official remotely monitored a student at home, a law enforcement official with knowledge of the case told CNN on Saturday.

The official, who asked not to be identified, said the FBI became involved in the case after a family filed a lawsuit against the Lower Merion School District, located outside of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

The family accused an assistant principal at Harriton High School of watching their son through his laptop's webcam while he was at home and unaware he was being watched. The family also says the school official used a photo taken on a laptop as the basis for disciplining the student.

In a statement issued late Friday, District Superintendent Christopher McGinley rejected the allegations.

"At no time did any high school administrator have the ability or actually access the security-tracking software," he said. "We believe that the administrator at Harriton has been unfairly portrayed and unjustly attacked in connection with her attempts to be supportive of a student and his family. The district never did and never would use such tactics as a basis for disciplinary action."

A school official said it was a mistake not to make families aware of a feature allowing the school to monitor the computer hardware.

The law enforcement official with knowledge of the case told CNN that the FBI will try to determine whether federal wiretap or computer intrusion laws were violated.

But FBI spokesman J.J. Klaver said he could not disclose the existence of an investigation.

In a lawsuit seeking class-action status filed Wednesday in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, Michael and Holly Robbins of Penn Valley are suing the school district, its board of directors, and the superintendent. They claim that the district unlawfully used its ability to remotely access a webcam on their son's laptop computer, which was issued by the district.

The lawsuit says that on November 11, 2009, the plaintiff's son was told by the assistant principal at Harriton High School that he was caught engaging in "improper behavior" in his home which was captured in an image via the webcam. According to the Robbins' complaint, neither they nor their son were informed of the school's ability to remotely access the webcam. It is unclear what the boy was doing in his room or if any punishment was given out.

Doug Young, spokesman for the Lower Merion School District, told CNN that the district would only remotely access a laptop if it was reported lost, stolen or missing.

If that happened, the district would first have to request access from its technology and security department and receive authorization, he said. Then it would use the built-in security feature to take over the laptop and see whatever was in the webcam's field of vision, potentially allowing them to track down the missing computer.

During the 2009-2010 school year, 42 laptops were reported lost, stolen or missing, and the tracking software was activated by the technology department in each instance, according to McGinley's statement. A total of 18 laptops were found or recovered.

McGinley said the parents and students were not explicitly told about this built-in security feature.

"Despite some reports to the contrary, be assured that the security-tracking software has been completely disabled," McGinley said in the statement.

"This feature was limited to taking a still image of the computer user and an image of the desktop in order to help locate the reported missing, lost, or stolen computer (this includes tracking down a loaner computer that, against regulations, might be taken off campus)."

In order to receive the laptop, the family had to sign an "acceptable-use" agreement. In order to take the laptop home, the family would also have to buy insurance for the computer.

In the "acceptable-use" agreement, the families are made aware of the school's ability to "monitor" the hardware, Young said, but it stops short of explicitly explaining the security feature. He said that was a mistake.

Young told CNN that the district is very proud of the laptop program and its ability to close the technology gap between students who have computers at home and those who don't. He acknowledged that the schools have to take a step back to re-evaluate the policies and procedures surrounding the program.

Multiple requests for further comment from the lawyer for the Robbins', Mark Haltzman of Lamm Rubenstone LLC, went unanswered.

CNN's Susan Candiotti and Nicole Bliman contributed to this report.

Lots of Air, No Drama as Shaun White Takes Gold

FEBRUARY 19, 2010
Lots of Air, No Drama as Shaun White Takes Gold

Shaun White literally soared above his competition in the men's halfpipe event at Cypress Mountain, British Columbia Wednesday, delivering the U.S. its fifth gold medal in 2010, and sealing the snowboarder's legacy as one of the most dominant Olympians in history.

Mr. White, who became the first person to win back-to-back gold medals in the halfpipe, performed his much-hyped, signature move called the "Double McTwist 1260," which involves two off-axis backflips while doing 3.5 full rotations, all in one jump. The trick is so advanced (no other competitor in the event even attempted it) that merely landing it was enough to ensure Mr. White victory. Turns out, however, he never even needed to do it, only performing it on his last run, because it would have been a waste not to.

But it was not Mr. White's McTwist that awed the crowd Wednesday night. It was the sheer distance he traveled into the air. He jumped so high on his first jump during the finals that the crowd let out a sudden gasp. Everyone went silent for a moment before Mr. White exploded into an blur of acrobatics. His first run, even without his most awe-inspiring stunt, was so devastating that the race from then on was for second place. Asked why he performed the death-defying trick for seemingly no reason, Mr. White responded, "I just felt like I didn't come all the way to Vancouver not to pull out the big guns. I put down the tricks I've worked so hard on."

While rainy, mushy snow created some sub-par practices leading up to the competition, Wednesday's halfpipe final went down in ideal conditions. It was the clearest, sunniest day of the Olympics so far, and in the afternoon, Cypress Mountain offered spectators unobstructed views of the surrounding mountains and the bay.

The competition was not as crisp as the weather, with many riders missing landings during qualifying rounds and the semifinals. Some favorites didn't even make it to the semifinals. The Americans once again dominated the event, with Mr. White's gold and teammate Scott Lago snatching the bronze. Finnish rider Piiroinen Peetu took silver, but was still more than three points off Mr. White's score of 48.4. American Louie Vito (of Dancing with the Stars fame) took fifth place, with a conservative run that failed to wow judges.

American supremacy over this event looked like it might be waning in the semifinals. Although Mr. White dominated on his first qualifying run with a score of 45.8, in what looked like an effortless display of his dominance, three of the top five spots in the final were taken by Japan and Finland. Japanese boarders Ryo Aono and Kazuhiro Kokubo faltered, however, allowing Mr. Lago to sneak into bronze with a surprisingly solid first run.

There was no question the level of competition had jumped by leaps and bounds since Torino four years ago. As more countries, like Japan, have focused their efforts on snowboarding, increased competition has pushed the sport's growth curve ever steeper, toward more dangerous tricks.

Though Mr. White's Double McTwist 1260 sounds similar to something that might come in a Happy Meal, it is anything but happy. Mr. White has admitted to being "scared" practicing for it and last month, at the X Games, he hit his head so hard attempting it that his helmet flew off and into the air. He returned to win the gold medal in that competition, but it was a reminder of exactly how much bigger and higher snowboarders are going these days. Olympic hopeful Kevin Pearce is still recovering from severe brain injury after a December crash that left him impaired.

"With these type of corks you need to realize you're putting your life on the line," said Ben Mates of Australia, who did not make the final run. Mr. Mates decided to play it safe, rather than try one of the sideways back flips that the top riders were completing. "It definitely crossed mind whether to do that trick, and I just decided to land on my feet," he said after his final run.

All the high-flying daredevil tricks are somewhat lost on the broader sports watching public. Most people in the stands Wednesday had trouble describing the tricks they had come to see. Noel Castellanos, a jewelry designer from Saratoga, Calif., tried to describe Mr. White's signature McTwist this way: "A couple of twists, spin around, some somersaults. I'm not actually sure. All I know is it looks pretty impressive."

John Murray, a translations engineer from Atlanta, Georgia, said he loves to watch Mr. White and has seen him compete five times, but still doesn't actually know what he's watching. "My guess is that a Double McTwist is when he gets to his apex, he's going to do like a 720 around and then also twisting and tumbling at the same time. Well, I can guess at it. There's a lot going on."

Mr. White's competitors say they are falling farther behind the world's best halfpipe rider because they lack the facilities to train at his level. "We try to do the same tricks, but every year he advances more compared to us," said Gary Zebrowski of France. "Especially to the French guys because we don't have special halfpipes to try the tricks. That's why we are less better."

"We don't have pipes like this," said Markus Malin of Finland. "We have only the small pipes and they are not in really good shape." Mr. Malin hopes that by earning a silver and getting three riders into the final round Wednesday, Finland might embrace snowboarding. "Maybe it's like they woke up and will build some kind of pipe there," he said.

When asked how Mr. White gets so much higher than everyone else, Justin Lamoureux of Canada responded "A half a million dollar pipe all to yourself. That would be a good start," referring to Mr. White's personal halfpipe built with the help of sponsor Red Bull.

Jake Burton, credited with creating modern snowboarding and whose company designed the red, white and blue plaid outfits worn by the American team, said Mr. White has paid his dues. "He started at the bottom" said Mr. Burton. "He's taken his spoils and is using them to make him better." Mr. Burton says Mr. White's ability to get so much higher than his competitors comes from his skateboarding practice, which helps develop the skill of propelling the board into the air.

After ending up in ninth place Wednesday, Japan's Mr. Aono said he has finally figured out what it will take to beat Mr. White. "Big Air," he said. With a smirk and a thumbs up sign, he said "I need speed."

Write to Reed Albergotti at

Kool Website of the Week
Floyd Anderson Radio

Top DOJer Overruled Finding Of Misconduct For Torture Memo Authors
Top DOJer Overruled Finding Of Misconduct For Torture Memo Authors
Justin Elliott
February 19, 2010

The Justice Department has released the long-awaited report on the torture memos and the conduct of Bush Administration lawyers including John Yoo.

While the final report by the department's internal watchdog, the Office of Professional Responsibility, found that attorneys John Yoo and Jay Bybee engaged in professional misconduct, top DOJ official David Margolis overruled that finding in a memo to Attorney General Eric Holder.

Margolis, associate deputy attorney general, says in the 69-page memo that he did not find OPR's definition of misconduct persuasive. And he blocks the agency from referring the matter to state bar disciplinary authorities where Yoo and Bybee are now licensed. Yoo is a Berkeley law professor and Bybee is a federal judge in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.

Margolis, the most senior nonpolitical official in the Justice Department, has served for many years, including during the Bush Administration.

US states slash Medicaid
US states slash Medicaid
By Tom Eley
20 February 2010

US states are imposing major cuts to Medicaid, the health insurance program for low income Americans jointly funded with the federal government. The cuts are being enacted in response to huge budget deficits in states throughout the country and a sharp increase in enrollment fuelled by the unemployment crisis.

Cuts in Medicaid services are a critical component of the attempts by the US corporate and financial elite, led by the Obama administration, to slash government health care costs and reduce care. On Thursday, Obama established a bipartisan panel whose central purpose will be to find ways to decrease spending on government health care and pension programs, including Medicaid.
Some versions of the Democrats’ health care overhaul proposals include an expansion of Medicaid eligibility, but without full support for state governments. This will translate into further cuts to services and ensure that larger numbers of Americans have access only to the most limited and inadequate health care coverage, while the wealthy continue to enjoy the best care money can buy.

Enrollment in Medicaid increased by 3.3 million between June 2008 and June 2009 to nearly 47 million cases, according to a study released Thursday by the Kaiser Family Foundation. Caseloads increased in every US state. In thirteen states, enrollment shot up by more than 10 percent. According to a new study by Families USA, for every 1 percentage point rise in the US unemployment rate, 1 million people become eligible for Medicaid and related programs.

With Medicaid already consuming about a fifth of most state budgets—the same as the average outlay for education—both Democrat and Republican governors and lawmakers throughout the country are insisting on deep cuts in the services provided to Medicaid recipients.

Medicaid typically provides insurance to those who fall below the official poverty level, but only within certain categories: children, pregnant women, parents of young children, the disabled, and the elderly who require nursing home care. The program’s reach varies among the states, but the majority of Americans living in poverty—three out of five according to one estimate—are not covered by Medicaid.

Because emergency federal stimulus funding for Medicaid bars states from narrowing eligibility requirements, states have instead targeted medical services and payments to doctors for cuts. In recent years the federal government paid between 50 percent and 75 percent of a state’s Medicaid costs—the poorer the state, the higher the federal proportion—but the stimulus package increased this share to between 61 percent and 85 percent, at a cost of $87 billion. These funds are set to expire at the end of December unless Congress approves a $25 billion extension.

The additional federal funds have been grossly inadequate, and every state faced Medicaid funding shortfalls in the current fiscal year, according to the Kaiser Foundation study. In response, a number of states are curtailing currently covered “non-essential” services.

Nevada’s Republican governor, Jim Gibbons, has proposed cutting all Medicaid funding for adult coverage of eyeglasses, dentures, and hearing aids. In order to save about $830,000, the state will also “reduce the number of diapers provided monthly to incontinent adults (to 186 from 300),” the New York Times reports.

Massachusetts will eliminate coverage for restorative dental service. Last year a similar revocation of dental coverage in Michigan led to the death of a 76-year-old woman, Blanche D. LaVire, who had been diagnosed with abscesses and advanced periodontitis that required surgery. She died while waiting for state bureaucracies to approve an exception due to a mental health condition. (See, “Michigan woman dies after Medicaid dental care is cut”).

Michigan, which eliminated not only dental but vision benefits for adult Medicaid recipients in fiscal year 2010, is considering a bevy of new cuts for 2011, including mental health services, prescription drug coverage, treatment for deformities, and artificial limbs.

Similarly, New Mexico’s Democratic governor, Bill Richardson, is proposing cuts to Medicaid that could include prescription drug coverage, vision and dental care, hospice care for near-death patients, and physical therapy.

Maine is moving to limit outpatient mental health visits for adult Medicaid recipients to 18 per year and to cap outpatient hospital visits at 15 per year.

Many more states have reduced the amount that they pay to doctors, clinics, hospitals, and nursing homes who treat Medicaid recipients. Already Medicaid is rejected by many health care providers because it tends to pay at a level far below private insurance and Medicare. These reimbursement cuts ensure that fewer Medicaid patients will be able to find treatment, and those clinics and hospitals that do so will be further driven to reduce costs and quality.

Among the states likely to enact major cuts for Medicaid reimbursement are New York, Texas, Pennsylvania, Maine, Louisiana, Maryland, Missouri, Virginia, and Vermont. Maine is contemplating a 10 percent across-the-board cut, and New York Governor David Paterson is proposing to slash $400 million from Medicaid reimbursement.

After Kansas’s Democratic governor, Mark Parkinson, imposed a 10 percent cut in provider payments beginning January 1, Dr. C. Joseph Beck, a Wichita ophthalmologist, ended treatment for his Medicaid patients. “I’m out, I’m done,” Dr. Beck told the New York Times. “I didn’t want to. I want to take care of people. But I also have three children and many employees to take care of.”

Some states are cutting essential services that, by triggering the removal of federal matching funds, will effectively double the funding cut. Tennessee’s Democratic governor, Phil Bredesen, is proposing cuts that would set up a $10,000 limit on inpatient hospital care, a sum easily surpassed by serious car accidents, heart attacks, and treatment for serious illnesses. Bredesen would also impose limits on specific hospital services, including X-rays, laboratory services and doctor’s office visits, the Times reports.

Arizona’s Republican governor, Jan Brewer, has proposed kicking 310,000 adults without dependent children off Medicaid rolls and scrapping the state’s Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), a program that secures federal matching funds for states that subsidize health insurance for children from low-income households that earn more than the income cutoff for Medicaid. The state has already frozen enrollment in CHIP.

California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger has proposed reducing adult eligibility for the state’s Medicaid program, Medi-Cal, from 133 percent to approximately 72 percent of the official poverty threshold, and to reduce eligibility for children and pregnant women from 200 percent to 133 percent of the poverty level. If enacted, these restrictions would cost an estimated 250,000 people their health insurance within six months.

Schwarzenegger has also threatened to end the state’s CHIP program, Healthy Families. The cut would affect nearly 900,000 children now enrolled in the program. California lawmakers are already moving to cut eligibility in CHIP from 250 percent to 200 percent of the federal poverty level and to impose increased premiums of $14 per child, even as private insurance costs in the state skyrocket. The legislature will also likely eliminate CHIP vision coverage.

The cuts enacted against Medicaid and CHIPS will disproportionately affect the most vulnerable sections of the population, especially children.

Yet America’s children are in desperate need of high-quality health care. According to a recent study whose results were published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, over half of all US children will suffer from a chronic illness during their childhoods, a two-thirds increase since the 1980s. Much of the increase is associated with obesity, asthma, and diabetes, conditions strongly linked to poverty and other environmental factors. (See, “Majority of US children suffer chronic health conditions, study says”)

The reductions to Medicaid services and providers, even as the program’s rolls swell, demonstrates the basic incompatibility of the right to decent health care with the profit drive of America’s financial aristocracy. Having enriched themselves before, during, and after the financial crisis of their own making, the financial elite—acting through their two parties—are now demanding “tough choices” and “discipline” by cutting what remains of the nation’s limited social safety net.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Vermont Yankee Nuclear Power Plant

February 14th, 2010
Dear Readers,

Vermont Yankee Nuclear Power Plant is leaking copious quantities of tritium, a relatively rare (in nature) and extremely hazardous radioactive isotope of hydrogen. Tritium can be absorbed through the skin, as well as ingested or inhaled.

Water from test wells around the Vermont Yankee reactor has over 2 million picoCuries of tritium per liter -- more than 100 times the legal limit set by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for tritium in drinking water, which is 20,000 picoCuries of tritium per liter (20,000 picoCuries equals about 740 radioactive decays per second (740 Becquerel ("Bq")).

Two million picoCuries per liter is nearly as poisonous as the 2.7 million picoCuries per liter that occurs in the chemical brew of a nuclear reactor's primary coolant loop.

Nuclear reactor operators are allowed to release a small fraction of a teaspoon of tritium offsite per year. But even that tiny amount must be diluted in billions of gallons of water to meet the legal standards for drinking water. If the water in your body was polluted with tritium at the legal limit, it would contain about 400 times the average concentration of tritium in the human body.

Tritium has a half-life of about 12.3 years, meaning half of any given quantity of tritium will decay in that time and in the next 12.3 years, half of what is left will spontaneously decay, and so on. It takes about 20 half-lifes (about 250 years) for any spilled tritium to be eliminated from the environment.

By definition all hydrogen has one proton, but the tritium isotope also has two neutrons in its core and is unstable -- radioactive. The most common isotope of hydrogen is stable and has no neutrons. Hydrogen with one neutron in its core, called deuterium, is also stable.

The body cannot detect the difference between radioactive tritium and stable isotopes of hydrogen (nor can it distinguish radioactive isotopes of any other elements from stable isotopes of the same (or chemically similar) elements).

When a tritium atom decays, it releases a beta particle. Beta particles are normal electrons, except they are traveling at very high speed (within a few percent of the speed of light). The beta particle immediately starts to slow down as it passes things with electrical charges -- other negatively-charged electrons and positively-charged protons.

Beta particles only exist for a fraction of a second. Tritium's beta particle typically travels less than a millimeter through human tissue before it is slowed to normal electron speeds and is captured by something needing an extra electron.

The nuclear industry likes to point out that tritium's beta decay particle is a "low energy beta particle." That's true, as beta particles go. But here's what the nuclear industry doesn't like to tell you about "low energy beta particles": They are essentially just as dangerous as high-energy beta particles because nearly all the damage from a beta particle comes at the end of its travel, when it's slowed down so much that it stays near the last few thousand atoms it passes long enough to have a significant effect on each of them in turn as it passes.

Since radiation damage is often measured in total energy dumped into a given quantity of tissue, by that measure, low-energy beta particles are actually proportionately MORE damaging! Just the opposite of what the industry claims!

When the beta particle is released, one of the neutrons in the core of the tritium atom converts to a proton. With two protons and one neutron in the nucleus of the atom, the element is now a stable isotope of helium, not hydrogen. Chemically, helium won't combine with much of anything. Certainly not with a molecule comprising one hydrogen and one oxygen atom, which is what's left of the water molecule the tritium atom probably was originally a part of. The remaining "OH" molecule is a potent "free radical" which can damage your body until it is absorbed by something: Vitamin C or some other anti-oxidant, for instance.

Tritium is called an "activation product." Vermont Yankee is not only leaking tritium: Within the millions of gallons of chemically-treated and highly irradiated primary coolant loop water that has been spewing out of Vermont Yankee -- probably for years, maybe even for decades -- are undoubtedly a whole rainbow of radioactive elements, including long-lived isotopes of elements such as iodine and technetium and many others.

Fuel assemblies in nuclear reactors commonly fail by cracking slightly. The zirconium shielding deteriorates and the radioactive uranium gets out, and so does anything else inside. What's inside, besides the unfissioned uranium, are "fission products." Fission is what they are trying to do inside the reactor, enough to boil water but not enough to melt down the reactor. For every uranium atom that is fissioned, there are usually two fission products that result, each of which is radioactive and each of which weighs, on average, about half as much as the original uranium atom. All fission products are radioactive because they invariably have too many neutrons to be stable.

When setting standards, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) generally does not aggregate radioactive components in your drinking water. Just because you have one contaminant in your water doesn't mean you don't have many others there as well. In the case of Vermont Yankee, the pollutants presumably include strontium, cesium, and many other radioactive elements. But as long as each one has been diluted to Below Regulatory Concern (BRC), the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) doesn't care, and EPA doesn't care, and the nuclear industry certainly doesn't care. Just dilute it, and, as far as they're concerned, it disappears. Such thinking is self-serving, insulting, dangerous, and archaic. It flies in the face of the standard, accepted scientific theory that radiation damage follows an "LNT" ("Linear, No Threshold") pattern. (In fact, some experts believe low levels of radiation cause proportionately more damage. And admittedly, there will probably always be a few "experts" (usually well-paid by the nuclear industry) who "honestly" believe that low doses of radiation are actually beneficial, regardless of how randomly those doses are administered.)

The only way to clean up the radiation at Vermont Yankee is to close the plant, build a big pit somewhere where it doesn't rain much, line it with a lining that will last practically forever (good luck finding these things) and move all of the waste (including the dirt and concrete) there. But instead, right now, Vermont Yankee's tritium, strontium, iodine, technetium, and everything else WILL get into the drinking water in Vermont and into the Connecticut River. It WILL kill children and other living things in the communities downwind and downstream of the reactor, which potentially includes anywhere on Earth. Radiation from Vermont Yankee has undoubtedly been killing people for years, and it will continue to kill for many years to come even if the reactor is shut down permanently, as it should be.

Vermont Yankee is one of the oldest reactors in America. So what's happening there -- namely, it is falling apart and it's owners don't want to spend any more than they have to to keep it going -- is a precursor of what's to come at other reactors. The owner (Entergy, which is trying to sell it) claimed in sworn testimony to the people and elected officials of Vermont that Vermont Yankee was NOT leaking tritium, but they knew it was. Then they said it wasn't leaking MUCH tritium, but they knew it was. Now they say the tritium is harmless, but any sane person knows that's a lie, too.

In addition to the leaks, Vermont Yankee also is piling up enormous quantities of used reactor cores at the site. One third of the reactor core assemblies are removed every eighteen months to two years. These irradiated "hot" fuel assemblies are extremely hazardous -- ten million times more hazardous than when they were placed inside the reactor (approximately).

By now there is about a thousand tons of "spent fuel" (what an innocuous-sounding name!) located at Vermont Yankee. A fraction of a milligram is a lethal dose, if inhaled or ingested. You could not stand near the fuel for 2 seconds if it were unshielded. If it catches fire, the local fire department will not be able to extinguish the flames, and cancer clusters will appear later, as much as 500 miles (or more) downwind. A single gram of "spent fuel" would have a significant impact on Vermont and its neighboring states, were it to be released by accident or by terrorism or acts of God.

Vermont Yankee is a relatively small reactor, about half the size of more modern reactors in terms of electrical output, and it could easily be replaced by renewable options. Nuclear reactors are terrible "baseline" power sources anyway, since they are prone to sudden and prolonged shutdowns. They create, and then leak, horrifically dangerous poisons which deform our babies, give our children cancer, and can cause heart attacks, dementia, and a thousand other illnesses -- and they make other illnesses worse. Their owners lie and obfuscate, and their nuclear waste is a growing nightmare.

It's time to shut Vermont Yankee down -- and the rest of our reactors, too.


Ace Hoffman
Carlsbad, CA

The author, born and raised in Connecticut (now living in California), is a computer programmer. He has interviewed hundreds of nuclear experts, and has based this article on the information gleaned from his research. Any errors are his own. For more information on tritium, please see:

The Code Killers (book) / free download (2008):

It's All About the DNA (2007):

Tritium Explained (why "Low Level Radiation" can be disproportionately harmful) (2006):

Tritium -- A response to a San Onofre employee's comments (also included) published in the North County Times (2004):
Ace Hoffman
Author, The Code Killers:
An Expose of the Nuclear Industry
Free download:
phone: (800) 551-2726; (760) 720-7261
address: PO Box 1936, Carlsbad, CA 92018
Subscribe to my free newsletter today!

Tea Partyers Are White Nationalists, Pure and Simple
Tea Partyers Are White Nationalists, Pure and Simple
The Tea Party crowd is as old as notions of American Manifest Destiny. They are White Nationalists, who yearn for “a time when the United States was a self-proclaimed White Man's Country.” Tea Partiers are most threatening to the cohesion and identity of the Republican Party. But they appear to have panicked some Blacks and progressives, who want “circle the wagons around the Obama administration” in the face of racist attacks.
Tea Partyers Are White Nationalists, Pure and Simple
Glen Ford

“The GOP is, at its core, a Rich Man's Party that relies for its mass support on people who want to vote for a White Man's Party.”

Corporate media go through all manner of contortions of logic and historical gymnastics to sanitize the Tea Party phenomenon – anything to avoid calling the people grouped under the Tea Party umbrella by their proper name: White nationalists. White nationalism is a taboo subject in most corporate circles – and even among some on the Left. The continued appeal of a loud and boisterous White Nationalism threatens the prevailing American mythology, shared by the likes of corporate Democrat Barack Obama and corporate Republican John McCain: the myth that racism is not endemic to American life and history.

Obama made that claim in his famous – and completely fatuous – Philadelphia campaign speech on race. Obama denounced former friend and mentor Rev. Jeremiah Wright for expressing, in the candidate's words, “ a profoundly distorted view of this country — a view that sees white racism as endemic.” But there it is, for all to see, alive and kicking in the 21st century in the form of a Tea Party “movement” in whose mouths the phrase “take back America” means return to a time when the United States was a self-proclaimed White Man's Country. The Tea Partiers need go back no farther in time than Ronald Reagan, who completed Richard Nixon's “Southern Strategy” by kicking off his 1980 presidential campaign with a speech in Philadelphia, Mississippi, a place made infamous by the murder of three civil rights workers. White Nationalist support for the Republican Party is the reason the center of GOP power lies in the states of the Old Confederacy. And it is the Republican Party that is most threatened by the White Nationalist Tea Partiers.

“The spectacle of raging White Nationalists on the march makes corporate-minded Democrats look positively leftish by comparison.”

The GOP is, at its core, a Rich Man's Party that relies for its mass support on people who want to vote for a White Man's Party. The two are not necessarily the same thing, as the White Nationalists of the GOP discovered with the bi-partisan Wall Street bailouts of 2008 and 2009. Anti-Wall Street sentiment runs deep in White Nationalist ranks, much of it rooted in anti-Semitism: the association of bankers and Jews. Republican Party leaders have good reason to fear that the Rich Man's Party is losing control of some of its most fervent White Nationalist troops.

Progressives have very different reasons to worry about the Tea Partiers. The spectacle of raging White Nationalists on the march makes corporate-minded Democrats look positively leftish by comparison. But that's an illusion. African Americans are especially susceptible to calls to “circle the wagons around the Obama administration” in the face of racist attack. Black activist Dr. Ron Daniels made just such an appeal, this week. It is a foolish, knee-jerk reaction, one that plays into the hands of the banking class and its servants in the Obama administration. Just because some neo-Confederates call President Obama racist names, does not mean Black folks should abandon demands on their own government for jobs, peace and neighborhood stability. Dr. Daniels wants Blacks and progressives to hold a march to support Obama. What we need to do is organize and agitate and march in support of our people's social and economic interests. There's a big difference between the two.

BAR executive editor Glen Ford can be contacted at

Stars and Gripes: Tea Party Protests Captain America Comic

February 10, 2010
Stars and Gripes: Tea Party Protests Captain America Comic

A detail from a recent issue of Captain America comics that upset members of the Tea Party movement.Over his 70-year history, Captain America has often vowed that his duty is to the American dream — and not to any political party. It’s a lesson that has hit home for Marvel Comics, Captain America’s longtime publisher, which said it would amend a recent issue of his comic-book series after it upset members of the Tea Party movement.

In issue No. 602 of Captain America, the hero and his ally the Falcon find themselves at a rally where protesters hold signs that read “Tea Bag the Libs Before They Tea Bag You!” and “Stop the Socialists!” Captain America remarks that the assembly appears to be an “anti-tax thing,” and the Falcon, who is black, says he probably would not fit in with “a bunch of angry white folks.”

The sequence incited complaints from Tea Party officials who say it is an unfair criticism of their movement. In an interview with, Michael Johns, a board member of the Nationwide Tea Party Coalition, called the characters’ apparent jabs “juvenile,” adding: “The Tea Party movement has been very reflective of broad concerns of all Americans. Membership is across ethnic, religious and even political lines.”

Representatives for Marvel Comics did not immediately reply to requests for comment. But in an interview at the Web site, Joe Quesada, the editor in chief of Marvel Comics, apologized for depicting the protesters as members of the Tea Party and said it was “just one of those stupid mistakes.”

In the interview, Mr. Quesada said that the language on the protest signs was added at the last minute by a letterer who “started pulling slogans from actual signs.” He added that Marvel Comics “caught the mistake two weeks ago,” after the issue was printed, and has since “removed the sign from the art files so that it no longer appears in future reprints of the title or collections.”

Tea Party movement takes aim at Ron Paul
Tea Party movement takes aim at Ron Paul
By David Edwards and Daniel Tencer
Tuesday, February 9th, 2010

There is more than a little irony in the fact that congressman Ron Paul is facing three primary challengers this year, all of them linked in some way to the Tea Party movement.

Many observers give the libertarian from Texas credit for having sparked the Tea Party movement in 2007 when he held a "money bomb" fundraiser on the anniversary of the Boston Tea Party, raking in some $6 million for his presidential run in one day.

But, as the Dallas Morning News reported earlier this week, Paul is facing three primary challengers -- more than he has faced in the past six primaries combined. And every one of the challengers is linked to the Tea Party movement.

Washington Independent contributor David Weigel told MSNBC's Rachel Maddow Monday night that the Tea Party movement of today has little in common with that fundraiser in 2007.

"Those libertarian ideas [may be] popular at the Cato Institute, [but] they're not really popular with Tea Party activists," Weigel said.

As the Morning News put it, Tea Partiers say Paul is "too focused on his national ambitions; that his views are too extreme; that he doesn't support the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan; that he votes 'no' on everything, including federal aid for his district after Hurricane Ike."

By comparison, "the Sarah Palin version of Tea Party conservatism is a little bit less specific," Weigel said. "It's more slogany. You can write the talking points on your hand if you want to."

That the Tea Party movement has become a threat to Paul is not lost on the congressman.

The Morning News reports that, in December, Paul sent out a letter to supporters saying that his opponents "turned their attack dogs loose on me," and warned that the anti-incumbent mood among voters could affect him as well.

"There is one thing Paul does that might backfire," Weigel wrote at the Washington Independent. "While Paul votes against basically all spending bills, he notoriously gets earmark requests into those bills, so that local projects survive when other members vote those bills through. That barely dinged Paul in 2008, but it may become an issue now."

Ron Paul Warns Of Neo-Con Takeover Of Tea Party Movement

Ron Paul Warns Of Neo-Con Takeover Of Tea Party Movement
Grass roots groups founded by Congressman’s supporters have been infiltrated by Republican party operatives
Paul Joseph Watson
Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Congressman Ron Paul warns that the movement his supporters founded nearly three years ago has been infiltrated and overtaken by neo-cons, following the de facto election of Sarah Palin as the leader of the nationwide tea party movement.

Speaking with MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow, Paul said his message was “somewhat different” to what the tea party groups are now espousing and that his core ideals had been “diluted” since the tea party movement began to grow.

“The Republican party wants to make sure there’s a neo-con type of influence,” said Paul, adding that Palin’s endorsement of his son’s Senate campaign and platform gave him pause.

Paul said that the neo-con influence on foreign policy was still very much alive within the White House as well as the tea parties, proving that a movement originally founded on a strong populist stance is beginning to mimic exactly what the establishment wants.

“More troops in Afghanistan, bombing Yemen and bombing Pakistan and thinking about going into Iran, so that’s the infiltration philosophically of different positions,” said Paul.

As Alex Jones warned yesterday, if there was ever any doubt as to the true intentions behind Sarah Palin being forwarded as the de facto leader of the tea party movement, everything was made clear following her speech at the Republican-funded “Tea Party Nation” event in Nashville this past weekend.

During her keynote address and in subsequent television appearances, Palin aggressively beat the drums for war with Iran while failing to mention any of the issues that formed the bedrock of the original tea party movement – namely ending an unconstitutional foreign policy that is bankrupting America and auditing the private Federal Reserve.

Since it was hijacked by neo-cons, the tea party movement has slowly turned on Congressman Ron Paul.

As the Dallas Morning News reported on Sunday, Paul has three opponents in the March Republican primary attempting to unseat him, all of whom have ties to the new incarnation of the tea party movement run by neo-cons.

NeoCon Palin’s Tea Party Takeover Will Facilitate Obama Re-election

Warning: NeoCon Palin’s Tea Party Takeover Will Facilitate Obama Re-election
Aaron Dykes & Alex Jones
Tuesday, February 9, 2010

In an urgent message on the systematic betrayal of the tea party, Alex Jones warns against the turncoats and deceivers flocking from the weakened GOP and FOX News wings to harness the populist uprising that briefly found life outside of the traditional two-party system.

Sarah Palin made more than headlines this past week– attempting a takeover of the tea party movement, backing GOP hack Rick Perry over a real & viable candidate, pitching for war on Iran and assessing Obama’s weaknesses in 2012.

Her presence as the keynote speaker at the ‘Tea Party Nation’ event this past weekend signaled a realignment of the once pro-Constitution tea party with the empty ideals of the Republican party, urging upset Americans to let go of their anger towards the two-party system and support a GOP platform once again.

Further, in traveling to Texas to stump for incumbent Governor Rick Perry after speaking under the Tea Party Nation banner, Palin is slighting the one real tea party candidate running in Texas– a rising Debra Medina who is insistent on shaking up the status quo and triumphing over party stooges Perry & Hutchinson. As of today, Medina is reportedly only 4 points behind challenger Kay Bailey Hutchinson. If no candidate gets 50%, a run-off is forced between the top two candidates.

What’s more, phony Palin fundamentally betrayed the sentiments of millions of Americans– whether at the tea parties or not– who have articulated their desire to scale down the Federal government and bring back troops from an unsustainable global U.S. empire. In a stunning statement on FOX News, Palin suggested that ‘if’ Obama played ‘the War Card’ by starting a war with Iran, only then would he have a viable chance at reelection in 2012. With the obvious implication that she too is eyed for 2012, Palin reinforced unconditional support for Israel’s agenda and urged Obama towards the same end.

Palin proves to be yet another front for NeoCon aggression in the middle east. Her senseless and deranged drumbeat for an Iranian War, like her support for torture and opposition to detainee rights, follows a recent column from Daniel Pipes lauding such a war as the only way to save Obama’s presidency.

Palin’s perceived ditziness is no excuse. At the very best, Palin’s confused-coloration between FOX-esque turncoats like Glenn Beck, Mike Huckabee and Rick Perry and ‘grassroots’ constitutionalists within the tea party movement demonstrates her flippant viewpoint and her naïveté.

However, like Glenn Beck, Sarah Palin is not clueless or wrong. She too is a wolf in sheep’s clothing– not a Libertarian, Constitutionalist, freedom-lover or populist. Instead, both Beck and Palin are duplicitous and deceiving whores of the global establishment, practiced at fooling well-meaning followers into betraying their own interests.

Palin’s presence at the forefront of GOP presidential hopefuls for 2012 gives insight into a dismal political field cynically weeded of any independent or level-minded candidates. Instead, the system, which tricks the people again and again, favors a selection of potential successors guaranteed to be worse than the president before. Who but Obama could follow the abuses of George W. Bush? Who could be worse than Sarah Palin after Obama? Who but Palin could allow a president as unpopular as Obama to think of digging in for another term? Are we destined to lose all we have as we are trapped between the Devil and the deep-blue sea, headed towards WWIII and an apocalyptic economic atmosphere?

Hopefully not. But as Alex notes, we don’t have time to be fooled yet again by a political sideshow– a bait & switch– meant to volley between fundamentally-rotten Democrats and fundamentally-rotten Republicans. Americans must rise above that tightly-controlled paradigm, take a deep breath, and root out the evil and corruption deep within the system before all is lost.

For America's Cup winner Ellison, competition is personal

For America's Cup winner Ellison, whether it's software or sailing, competition is personal
By Brandon Bailey

Billionaire software mogul Larry Ellison won the America's Cup on Sunday by following the same aggressive rules he has perfected in business: Push the envelope on technology. Don't be afraid to spend money. And make the competition personal.

The pugnacious Oracle CEO and the crew of his 114-foot, high-tech trimaran became the first U.S.-sponsored team in 18 years to win the world's oldest sailing trophy, after trouncing the Swiss Team Alinghi in successive races — the first was Friday — making a third event unnecessary in the best-of-three competition off the coast of Spain.

"It's an absolutely awesome feeling. I couldn't be more proud to be a part of this team," Ellison, who was on board for the race, told a TV crew on the scene moments after the BMW Oracle boat, dubbed USA-17, finished the second race 5 minutes and 26 seconds ahead of its rival.

But the quick victory came after a years-long quest, into which Ellison, the world's fourth-richest man, poured hundreds of millions of dollars from a personal fortune estimated at $27 billion. In addition, he waged an extended legal battle against his bitter rival, billionaire Swiss yachtsman Ernesto Bertarelli, to make sure the race was staged on what Ellison considered fair terms.

During those years, Ellison also was spending billions of shareholder dollars to gobble up smaller companies and major competitors, including PeopleSoft, Siebel Systems and, most recently, Sun. Ellison, who cofounded Oracle as an upstart database vendor in 1977, has built the Redwood City business into one of the biggest commercial software companies on Earth — with $23 billion in annual sales and $117 billion in total stock value.

"He is perhaps the most aggressive CEO in the tech industry today," said Jon Fisher, a former Oracle vice president who now teaches business at the University of San Francisco. Fisher added that Oracle, a company that vies with such giants as Microsoft and IBM, is both highly competitive and ruthlessly "engineering-centric," even compared with other tech firms.

The 65-year-old Ellison has long cultivated a swashbuckling reputation — driving fast cars, piloting jet planes and even breaking a few bones while body surfing in Hawaii. In 1998, he won a 700-mile yacht race off the coast of Australia after sailing through a storm that killed six crewmen on other boats.

And he has not been shy about exploiting that image. In recent years, Ellison's keynote speeches at Oracle's Open World — a convention that draws 40,000 programmers, customers and industry executives to San Francisco each year — have been introduced with thundering music and dramatic video of Ellison and the BMW Oracle boat racing on the high seas.

Ellison also is known for publicly deriding his rivals, both in the tech industry and the sailing world. Last fall, he assured a dinner audience in San Jose: "We have the fastest boat, we have the best crew, and if it's a fair race, we'll win."

USA-17 was built with bleeding-edge technical features that helped it skim the ocean at speeds up to 40 knots (46 mph). It has an unusual three-hulled design, made from carbon fiber and topped with a towering 223-foot "wing sail," a rigid structure like an oversized airplane wing that is controlled by nine adjustable flaps.

Winning the America's Cup also took money. Ellison and Bertarelli each spent millions on boat design, construction and wages for a small navy of crew members and onshore support staff. While the exact numbers are undisclosed, Ellison has said he spent $200 million to enter the last America's Cup in 2007, when he failed to reach the finals.

And in keeping with Ellison's approach to competition, he told those attending a Silicon Valley Churchill Club dinner in September that his feud with Bertarelli had become "very personal."

To an interviewer in Spain last week, Ellison, a college dropout raised by adoptive parents, said of Bertarelli, the heir to a Swiss pharmaceutical fortune: "I don't like him."

During their two-year legal battle, Ellison frequently complained that Bertarelli, as the winner of the last America's

Cup, was trying to dictate terms for this year's race that would make it impossible for anyone else to win. But their rivalry dates back to 2003, when Bertarelli's Team Alinghi defeated Ellison in that year's finals.

Ellison later retaliated by hiring away Bertarelli's skipper, Russell Coutts.

Making things personal is how Ellison achieves his goals, according to Mike Wilson, author of a 1997 biography whose title, "The Difference Between God and Larry Ellison," plays off a joke that made the rounds in Silicon Valley. The punch line: "God doesn't think he's Larry Ellison."

Ellison made business personal in Oracle's early days by declaring war on rival database company Ingres, Wilson said. Later in the 1990s, Ellison took on Microsoft's Bill Gates by publicly calling PCs of that era "ridiculous" and arguing that they should be replaced with less expensive devices that would access software over the Internet. The concept is similar to cloud computing, a leading industry trend today, but Ellison was early in talking about the technology.

Wilson said Ellison believes "if he creates an enemy, he can vanquish it."

Now, with the recent $7.4 billion acquisition of Sun Microsystems, Oracle is expanding into the hardware business. Ellison has loudly proclaimed his intention to beat industry leader IBM in the market for high-end corporate computer systems.

"I enjoy competition. I think life is a series of acts of discovery," Ellison told his Churchill Club audience.

But when asked if he would rather win the America's Cup or lure a customer away from SAP, a German software company that has been one of Oracle's major rivals, Ellison said he'd much rather beat the Swiss sailing team.

Explained Ellison: "We beat SAP all the time."

Contact Brandon Bailey at 408-920-5022.

Biggest of the big waves

Biggest of the big waves
Bruce Jenkins, Chronicle Staff Writer
Saturday, February 13, 2010

The sport of surfing reached new heights at Mavericks on Saturday. In the end, it wasn't so much a contest as an elevated state of mind, a heady swirl of fear, respect and bravado among some of the best big-wave riders in the world. In the end, most everyone agreed, some history was made.

From the locals to the Hawaiians to seasoned men on the judges' stand, the talk of the after-party centered around a powerful statement: These were the biggest waves ever for a paddle-surfing contest. South Africa's Chris Bertish took home the $50,000 first-prize check, but as Bertish said, "It took all of us to make this happen. I cannot believe what we saw out there today, and how well it was surfed by everybody."

It was one of those magical days in which everything came together. There were fears of a morning south wind, but the day dawned calm with finely groomed seas. The swell was even bigger than expected, reaching a formidable 22 feet at 17 seconds (the period between waves) on the Half Moon Bay buoy, translating into wave faces of 50 feet and beyond. The weather was sunny and warm, and only late in the day, with the arrival of a northwest wind, did the ocean take on a slightly unfavorable texture.

Not a soul complained. What happened Saturday was the convergence of spectacular conditions, some money at stake, giant surf and 24 men who really wanted it. The wipeouts were brutal and frequent; at least a half-dozen surfers were either injured, dazed or rendered temporarily lifeless by interminable hold-downs. Rescue missions, via personal watercraft, were commonplace. Somehow, on one of the most challenging surf days ever seen anywhere, everyone escaped serious consequence.

"But I don't know if I want to surf for a while," fifth-place finisher Carlos Burle said with a smile. "I took three heavy wipeouts today. I hurt everywhere. My body's all twisted."

Rivaling Hawaii

Over the 40-odd years in which big-wave surf contests have been held, the benchmarks were always set at Hawaii's Waimea Bay: the 1974 Smirnoff contest, the 1990 Eddie Aikau Invitational, and this winter's Aikau, held in December. In all cases, the surf was 25 to 30 feet on the so-called Hawaiian scale, similar to what arrived at Mavericks on Saturday.

In all of those cases, though, virtually every massive, scary-looking wave was ridden. For every wave tackled successfully on Saturday, another half-dozen saw surfers getting caught inside, sucked over the falls, taking a horrible mid-face wipeout, finding themselves out of position, or backing off because they wanted no part of the drop. In that sense, Mavericks truly set itself apart. Its vast and ominous playing field was truly awesome to behold.

Gary Linden, the contest's head judge and long known as one of the most respected men in the sport, thinks he may have seen some 60-foot faces on occasion. "I'll have to look at the images," he said, "but what happened today took surfing to another level. I used to think I'd surfed some pretty big waves in my life. But if this is big-wave surfing, what I did is something else."

Fourth-place finisher Dave Wassel, proud of his Hawaiian upbringing and the North Shore spots he's ridden for years, said Saturday's event "erased 50 years of surfing history in one day. We have some decent waves in Hawaii, but you guys have such a good wave here."

It was a humbling day for some very big names. Grant (Twiggy) Baker distinguished himself, as always, but after getting a perfect-10 ride in the first semifinal, he couldn't get another wave and wasn't able to advance. Defending champion Greg Long got just one wave in his heat, got buried by an avalanche of whitewater and hit the bottom - extremely rare on Mavericks wipeouts - before getting back to the surface.

Lost boards

For the 35-year-old Bertish, who comes from a surfing family in Cape Town, South Africa, the experience was almost overwhelming. Upon learning Thursday that the contest would happen, he boarded the first flight to Amsterdam, then on to Detroit and finally San Francisco. He arrived Saturday morning, a bit after midnight, and learned that both of his surfboards had been lost en route.

That's when Jeff Clark's name came back into the picture. Deposed as contest director, and having recently filed a lawsuit against Mavericks Surf Ventures, Clark had become a forgotten man in the days leading up to the event. But he has known Bertish for years, and put his travel-weary friend up for the night.

Unable to resist the spectacle of his cherished break, Clark watched the contest from the channel - and Bertish's choice of a replacement board seemed entirely fitting: a Jeff Clark special. The legend lives on.

Mavericks results

(Top 3 advance)

1: Dave Wassel, Grant Baker, Flea Virostko, Tyler Smith, Evan Slater, Ion Banner

2: Peter Mel, Shane Desmond, Anthony Tashnick, Nathan Fletcher, Zach Wormhoudt, Matt Ambrose

3: Alex Martins, Carlos Burle, Kenny Collins, Josh Loya, Tim West, Greg Long

4: Ryan Seelbach, Grant Washburn, Chris Bertish, Jamie Sterling, Shawn Rhodes, Ben Andrews


1: Anthony Tashnick, Dave Wassel, Shane Desmond, Grant Baker, Flea Virostko, Peter Mel

2: Carlos Burle, Kenny Collins, Chris Bertish, Alex Martins, Ryan Seelbach, Grant Washburn


Chris Bertish, Shane Desmond, Anthony Tashnick, Dave Wassel, Carlos Burle, Kenny Collins

Jay Moriarity Award (to the surfer who best exemplifies the spirit of the late Mavericks surfer): Dave Wassel.

Gnarliest Drop Award: Anthony Tashnick

E-mail Bruce Jenkins at

Best Football Helmet Logo of All Time

Frankfurt Galaxy, of the World League of American Football and NFL Europe...

Officials try to dodge blame in luge death

Officials try to dodge blame in luge death
By Dan Wetzel, Yahoo! Sports
Feb 14, 2010
Follow Dan Wetzel on Twitter at @DanWetzel

WHISTLER, British Columbia – Olympic officials continued to claim Saturday that the Whistler Sliding Centre always was a safe, appropriate track. They said this even though they moved the start line and reworked the ice surface to slow speeds, and they also put up a new safety wall at the end of the turn where Nodar Kumaritashvili died Friday after flying off the track and slamming into a metal pole.

The words don’t match the actions. If there was nothing to worry about, then why change a thing? At this point, it hardly matters. At least there were actions, even if they didn’t accompany admissions.

American Tony Benshoof was first down the track after the death of Nodar Kumaritashvili.

Some of the thrill-seeking competitors complained about slower speeds, which was to be expected. Sometimes athletes need to be protected from themselves. Until forced, hockey goalies refused to wear masks, and NASCAR drivers balked at restrictor plates that kept their cars from hitting impossible-to-control speeds.

“The changes that they made were positive,” American Tony Benshoof said on the first day of the men’s singles event here. “It’s significantly slower, significantly easier and significantly safer. Personally, I’d rather go from up top because that’s kind of my personality and my driving style. But I think, generally speaking, it was a good decision.”

This illustrates why there needs to be rules and why there needs to be responsible officials. Luge lacked those in the run-up to Friday’s fatal crash and showed a pathetic bent when officials blamed Kumaritashvili’s death wholly on Kumaritashvili just hours after the tragedy.

The Whistler track was built too fast and no one admitted that better than International Luge Federation president Josef Fendt. Back in 2008, he watched the track open and was stunned at the escalating speeds – up to 92.47 mph.

“This is not in the interest of our International Luge Federation, and it makes me worry,” Fendt said then. He declared that future tracks shouldn’t exceed 87 mph.

The horror here is that Fendt didn’t act as Olympians began hitting speeds of up to 96 mph in training sessions here. Kumaritashvili was clocked at just under 90 when a small mistake exiting Turn 15 turned wound up killing him. The promising 21-year-old didn’t stand much of a chance.

“It’s a serious business,” Canadian coach Wolfgang Staudinger said. “It’s not like sliding on the kids’ hill on crazy carpet.”

Par for their behavior, Olympic officials had trashed Kumaritashvili’s experience level in the wake of the crash, piling on a guy who was unable to defend himself or his reputation. Once that got out on international broadcasts, it became the defining reason for the crash – the Olympic and luge officials winning the most ugly of public relations narrative wars.

Even if it were the case, Kumaritashvili deserved better, deserved a day to rest in peace without being picked apart.

And who knows if inexperience really was the problem? The people that knew Kumaritashvili best, his Georgian coaches, have defended him. They noted he was ranked 44th in the world and came from a family of sliders.

“Insinuation and speculation about his experience is unfair,” said Nikolos Rurua, minister of the Georgian team. “[Kumaritashvili] was well qualified, [a] very hard worker in training.”

But that’s how the Olympics work; it’s never the fault of the IOC or its sub-groups. These guys make the NCAA look magnanimous and becoming.

In this case, it always goes back to the track. If it was a joke by Fendt’s own previous calculations, what changed? At an awkward press conference Saturday morning, he tried to backtrack and shift his words, saying he was placing speed limits only on future tracks, such as the Sochi, Russia, course for the 2014 Winter Games. Why then but not now? Well, he wouldn’t say. It was a lot of circular talk.

“We are not saying that [the track] is too fast, but the track is fast,” Fendt said, before ordering it be slowed.

Look, no one wanted this young man to die. No one set out to build a track that would be so fast and so challenging that simply mistakes can prove fatal. It just happened.

And the reason is the course. It was the speed, the slope, the row of metal poles looming outside a turn exit without proper walling.

Luge officials knew they had pushed the envelope. They said as much. Then the athletes showed up and began sounding alarms. No one wanted Friday’s nightmare scenario, yet no one displayed the courage to step up and prevent it, to say enough was enough too soon rather than too late. In some ways, that’s understandable; it’s a human facility we all have faced.

That no one was man enough to acknowledge they were wrong, to publicly declare they made a mistake, to even second guess their decisions garners less sympathy.

In the end, no one admitted a thing. They just put up a board, slowed the track down and moved on.

It’s the best and only apology Nodar Kumaritashvili’s family is going to get.

Dan Wetzel is Yahoo! Sports' national columnist.

Christopher Hitchens: Sporting Fool

Dave Zirin
Nuance is the mortal enemy of essayist Christopher Hitchens. Whether it’s his rapturous support for Bush’s Iraq invasion or his best-selling dismissal (God is NOT Good) of religion, Hitchens will always eschew a surgical analysis for the rhetorical amputation. Beneath the Oxford education, he has become Thomas Friedman in an ascot, with all the subtlety of a blowtorch.

Now Hitchens has turned his attention to sports and the ensuing essay in Newsweek, called Fool’s Gold: How the Olympics and other international competitions breed conflict and bring out the worst in human nature, is everything you might fear. I’m no fan of the politics that surround the Olympic games but when Hitchens takes out his dull saw, nothing connected to sports is spared.

As he writes, “Whether it's the exacerbation of national rivalries that you want or the exhibition of the most depressing traits of the human personality (guns in locker rooms, golf clubs wielded in the home, dogs maimed and tortured at stars' homes to make them fight, dope and steroids everywhere), you need only look to the wide world of sports for the most rank and vivid examples. As George Orwell wrote in his 1945 essay ‘The Sporting Spirit’ after yet another outbreak of combined mayhem and chauvinism on the international soccer field, ‘sport is an unfailing cause of ill-will.’"

It’s interesting that Hitchens doesn’t quote Orwell’s more known critique that sports is “war minus the shooting”, possibly because Hitchens has been such a cheerleader for the “humanitarian” virtues of empire over the last decade.

This also isn’t the first time Hitchens has sought shelter in Orwell’s genius to cloak his own doggerel. But the Orwell who wrote Homage to Catalonia never detested ordinary working people the way Hitchens does. Orwell's sympathy for workers came from living, writing and even fighting fascists among them. For Hitchens, they are the people who serve him drinks in Georgetown. And he finds them odious.

As Hitchens writes,

“[Have you ever] seen the pathetic faces of men, and even some women, trying to keep up with the pack by professing devoted loyalty to some other pack on the screen? If you want a decent sports metaphor that applies as well to the herd of fans as it does to the players, try picking one from the most recent scandal. All those concerned look—and talk—as if they were suffering from a concussion.”

Please spare us your disdain. Yes there is much to detest in the world of sports. But why then is it also such a source of solace, joy, and - heaven forefend – fun? Hitchens doesn’t care to explore this question. His contempt for the “rabble” triumphs any effort at reason. Just as with his ham-fisted analysis of religion, our love of sport is also proof-positive of our irredeemable idiocy.

Hitchens also shows no interest in the fact that sports also have a progressive political power. When racism, sexism, and homophobia have been challenged through struggle in the streets, it has ricocheted with electric results in the world of athletics. This is why we associate Jackie Robinson with the Civil Rights movement or Billie Jean King with the women’s liberation struggles of the 1970s. And lest we forget, the most famous draft resister in world history is a boxer, Muhammad Ali. On a far more grass roots level, sports are where many people - particularly young people - find confidence, friendship, and a sense of self. For many it's where the deeply segregated dynamics of our society are broken down. This is not true in every case of course. For every story of sports-as-savior, there are 100 gym class horror stories. Yes, it is absolute truth that sports can bring out the worst in athletes, fans, parents, and coaches. But it can also bring out the best. In this case however, it has brought out the worst in the Artist Formally Known as Hitchens.

To use one of his despised sports analogies, Christopher Hitchens is like an aging pitcher whose fastball abandoned him years ago. But in sports, once the skills are gone, you are kicked to the curb. Writers clearly get to just keep on going.

Dave Zirin is the author of the forthcoming “Bad Sports: How Owners are Ruining the Games we Love” (Scribner) Receive his column every week by emailing Contact him at

Palin’s Cunning Sleight of Hand

February 14, 2010
Op-Ed Columnist
Palin’s Cunning Sleight of Hand
New York Times

Liberals had a blast mocking Sarah Palin last weekend when she was caught addressing the Tea Party Convention with a cheat sheet scrawled on her hand. Even the president’s press secretary, Robert Gibbs, couldn’t resist getting into the act and treated a White House briefing to a Palin hand gag of his own.

Yet the laughter rang hollow. You had to wonder if Palin, who is nothing if not cunning, had sprung a trap. She knows all too well that the more the so-called elites lampoon her, the more she cements her cred with the third of the country that is her base. Her hand hieroglyphics may not have been speaking aids but bait.

If so, mission accomplished. Her sleight of hand gave the anti-Palin chorus another prod to deride her as an empty-headed, subliterate clown, and her fans another cue to rally. The only problem is that the serious import of Palin’s overriding political message got lost in this distracting sideshow. That message has the power to upend the Obama presidency — even if Palin, with her record-low approval ratings, never gets anywhere near the White House.

The Palin shtick has now become the Republican catechism, parroted by every party leader in Washington. Their constant refrain, delivered with cynicism but not irony, is this: Republicans are the anti-big-government, anti-stimulus, anti-Wall Street, pro-Tea Party tribunes of the common folk. “This is about the people,” as Palin repeatedly put it last weekend while pocketing $100,000 of the Tea Partiers’ money.

Incredibly enough, this message is gaining traction. Though Obama remains more personally popular than the G.O.P., Republicans pulled ahead of the Democrats in the latest ABC News/Washington Post poll, among others, in a matchup for the 2010 midterms.

This G.O.P. populism is all bunk, of course. Republicans in office now, as well as Palin during her furtive public service in Alaska, have feasted on federal pork, catered to special interests, and pursued policies indifferent to recession-battered Americans. And yet they’re getting away with their populist masquerade — not just with a considerable swath of voters but even with certain elements in the “liberal media.” The Dean of the Beltway press corps, the columnist David Broder, cited Palin’s “pitch-perfect populism” in hailing her as “a public figure at the top of her game” in Thursday’s Washington Post.

That Republican leaders can pass off deceptive faux-populism as “pitch-perfect populism” is in part a testament to the blinding intensity of the economic anger and anxiety roiling the country. It also shows the power of an incessant bumper-sticker fiction to take root when ineffectually challenged — and, most crucially, the inability of Democrats to make a persuasive case that they offer anything better.

The Obama White House remains its own worst enemy. No sooner did Palin’s Tea Party speech end than we learned of the president’s tone-deaf interview expressing admiration for “very savvy businessmen” like Lloyd Blankfein of Goldman Sachs. With that single remark, Obama ingeniously identified himself with the most despised aspects of both Washington and Wall Street — the bailout and the bonuses. He still doesn’t understand that to most Americans, Blankfein is a savvy businessman only in the outrageous sense that he managed to grab his bonus some 17 months after the taxpayers had the good grace to save him from going out of business altogether.

Instead of praising bailed-out bankers, the president might have more profitably instructed his press secretary to drop the lame Palin jokes and dismantle the disinformation campaign her speech delivered to a national audience. Palin, unlike Obama, put herself on the side of the angels, railing against Wall Street’s bonuses and bailout, even though she and John McCain had supported TARP during the campaign. Palin also bragged that she had “joined with other conservative governors” in “rejecting some” stimulus dollars when in reality she rejected only a symbolic 3 percent of those dollars — soon to be overruled by the Alaskan Legislature, which took every last buck.

This disingenuousness is old hat for Palin, who hired lobbyists to pursue $27 million in earmarks while serving as mayor of the town of Wasilla (pop. 6,700) and loudly defended her state’s “bridge to nowhere” until her politically opportunistic flip-flop. What’s new is the extent to which her test-marketed dishonesty has now become the template for her peers in the G.O.P. “populist” putsch. Adopting her example — while unencumbered by her political baggage — the party is exploiting the Tea Party movement to rebrand itself as un-Washington while quietly conducting business as usual in the capital.

There’s “no difference” between G.O.P. and Tea Party beliefs, claims the House Republican leader, John Boehner. Not exactly. The three senators named “porkers of the month” for December by the nonpartisan Citizens Against Government Waste were all Republicans: Richard Shelby of Alabama, Susan Collins of Maine and Thad Cochran of Mississippi. Shelby is so unashamedly addicted to earmarks that he used a senatorial “hold” to halt confirmation votes on 70 Obama administration appointees until his costly shopping list of Alabama pork projects was granted. Or so he did until his over-the-top theatrics earned him unwelcome attention and threatened to derail his party’s pious antispending posturing.

While more brazen than his peers, Shelby is otherwise typical of them. Jonathan Karl of ABC News last week unearthed photographs of various G.O.P. congressmen posing in their districts with stimulus checks that they had publicly opposed. The Washington Times uncovered more than a dozen other Republican lawmakers who privately solicited stimulus money from the Department of Agriculture while denouncing the stimulus to their constituents and the news media, often angrily.

Even the G.O.P./Tea Party heartthrob of the hour, Scott Brown, is not the barn-coat-wearing populist he purports to be. In her speech, Palin saluted him as “just a guy with a truck” who was doing “his part to put our government back on the side of the people.” In reality Brown’s Massachusetts Senate campaign benefited from a last-minute flood of contributions from financial industry donors — with 80 percent of the haul coming from outside the state. It says all you need to know about our politics that his Democratic opponent, Martha Coakley, matched him by holding a fund-raiser largely sponsored by lobbyists for the health care and pharmaceutical industries.

Now that he’s in the Senate, Brown is likely to junk the truck and side full time with Wall Street against Main Street. To do otherwise would be to buck his party’s entire establishment. Shelby, the ranking Republican on the Senate Banking Committee, has already signaled that he’ll fight the Obama administration’s push for a “Volcker rule” to rein in too-big-to-fail financial behemoths. The conservative message guru Frank Luntz has drafted a memo instructing G.O.P. legislators on how to defeat a new Consumer Financial Protection Agency while camouflaging themselves as populist foes of the very banks and credit card companies that that agency would regulate. That’s a neat trick — Luntz’s nonpolitical clients include Merrill Lynch and American Express — and it helps explain why Wall Street is now tilting its contributions to Congressional Republicans for 2010.

Yet it’s the Democrats who are now most linked to corporate interests, thanks to all the backroom deals over health care. More Americans have heard of the Medicaid money shoveled to the Democratic senators Ben Nelson (the January “porker of the month”) and Mary Landrieu in exchange for their health care votes than of Thad Cochran’s $8.75 million earmark for the “Exchange With Historic Whaling and Trading Partners Program” (a proposed cut in the Obama budget). The Republicans are so disciplined at claiming the fiscal-hawk high road that even Jenny Sanford, the wronged first lady of South Carolina, is still defending her husband, Mark, as an uncompromising defender of “hard-earned tax dollars” in her new tell-all memoir, “Staying True.” Though she gives us the skinny on her husband’s philandering, she never mentions the subsequent revelations that expenses for his trysts and other personal travel were billed to taxpayers.

Before he was done in by his Argentine firecracker — and before the emergence of Palin — Sanford was floated by The Wall Street Journal editorial page and others on the right as an ideal ticket mate for John McCain in 2008. As a congressman he had slept on a futon in his office and voted against a breast cancer postage stamp as wasteful “feel-good legislation.” As governor, he refused to take stimulus money despite the fact that South Carolina had the nation’s fastest-growing unemployment rate. When an unemployed man from Charleston caring for a seriously ill mother and sister called in to C-Span last February begging Sanford for help, he didn’t budge. But he did volunteer to pray for the caller and his family.

So it went with Palin last weekend. Her only concrete program for dealing with America’s pressing problems came in the question-and-answer session. “It would be wise of us to start seeking some divine intervention again in this country,” she said, “so that we can be safe and secure and prosperous again.” That pretty much sums up her party’s economic program, at least: divine intervention will achieve what government intervention cannot. That the G.O.P. may actually be winning this argument is less an indictment of Palin than of Washington Democrats too busy reading the writing on her hand to see or respond to the ominous political writing on the wall.