Saturday, September 24, 2011

Cross-country Quest on Foot Leads Traveler Through Bucks

Before she even opens her mouth, Catherine Li’s story begins to reveal itself.

The tale, in short, describes the seven-month, 3,000-mile journey of a young woman walking alone across the country for no particular reason other than to welcome the unknown.
Her story is written all over her feet. The cuts, scrapes and mosquito bites say more than any cluster of words ever could.

It can be seen within the tattered 52-page direction guide printed off Google Maps, hand-bound with string.

But mostly, it can be seen in her eyes, which still seem to be trying to process everything she’s witnessed during her trek.

And her relentless smile indicates that most of the memories are good ones.

Li, 24, began her epic excursion in Daly City, just outside San Francisco. She’s survived on her humble savings account and the kindness of strangers as she makes her way toward New York City.
She was taken in Tuesday night by James “Mac” MacDade of Langhorne, after one of his neighbors suggested Li knock on his door to ask permission to set up her tent in his yard.

Mac said he was taken aback by her polite nature and amazing tale and offered her a couch in his house. Li left the area Thursday morning, eager to embark on the last leg of the walk.

“Mac has been extremely kind in letting me stay here,” Li said Wednesday. She came to America from China 10 years ago and speaks with a slight accent.

Aside from the sheer magnitude of the trip, what makes her story so hard to believe is that she has, for the most part, chosen to stay under the radar.

There is no blog or Facebook page chronicling her moves. She isn’t tweeting. She has no official sponsor.

So, while she gets asked a million questions by most people she encounters — many of whom are concerned for her safety — the one she hears most is simply, “Why?”

“People always ask me that,” she said with a laugh. “At first, I was so urgent (to respond) so I just started to tell them all the feelings I was having but I realized that was tough to do. So I just boil it down to the short version: I just felt like walking. I just decided to click over to living in the actual moment instead of inventing all these fantastic fantasies for the future.”

Though she tries her best to avoid attention, the sight of a young woman walking along a desolate road with a shopping cart — filled with a tent, a sleeping bag and other essentials — is not one often seen.

She said she’s been stopped countless times by police officers who are curious about her intentions and worried about her well-being. One still insists she check in on her cell phone to let him know she’s safe.

“A homeless person with a cell phone; that’s a new one, right?” Li said jokingly from Mac’s front porch.

And yes, Li said she hears it all. Some call her a bum, others label her as crazy and some just flat-out don’t believe her story.

“It’s all right,” she added. “People are different and sometimes, it’s hard to comprehend when you first encounter something out of the norm.”

According to Li, most people are surprisingly giving.

“People have given me a lot of support,” she said. “They give me McDonald’s gift cards and insist I take them. One time I went into a store and found $20 just sitting in my cart outside. I have no idea who left it.”

Li said she began with just a wheeled suitcase, but soon found that pushing a shopping cart was the way to go. The one she uses now came from a Sears department store in Flagstaff, Ariz.

“Just for the record, I did not steal it,” she said. “I actually went to the mall security guard and asked him for it. I left him my phone number and said if Sears had any problems, I would be willing to pay.”

Li said she plans to return the cart on her way home which, she added, will be done by more conventional modes of travel.

But on the way to NYC, she’s strictly walking.

“To be honest, I did take a few rides,” she admitted. “One time, a policeman escorted me out of a certain area at night, but the next day I asked him to take me back to the same spot. I don’t want to cheat.”

Li estimates she walks 15 miles a day; at sunset, she begins to look for shelter or a place to pitch her tent.

“I always make sure to ask permission before I set up my tent on someone’s property. It’s only right,” she added.

Along the way, she said, the little things have given her the most pleasure.

“The clouds in Ohio, were just so perfectly shaped,” she said, “like the most innocent drawings from a child.”

She said she realizes the dangers of such an undertaking and that she’s been fortunate so far.
“When you’re on a trip like this, you get so much closer to the truth about yourself,” Li added.

And while she understands that walking across the country might not be for everyone, she said that even the tiniest of adventures can lead to that same inner truth.

“A quest is different for everyone,” she said, “but the courage is the same.”

[Via MSN]

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Arkansas Town Searching for Toe-sucking Assailant

LITTLE ROCK, Arkansas (Reuters) - There's nothing illegal about a foot fetish but police in Conway, Arkansas, are looking for a toe-sucking man they said has crossed the line into assault.
Police have received two complaints in the past week about a man who seems desperate to suck women's toes -- whether they want him to or not.
"We want him off the streets," said Conway police spokeswoman LaTresha Woodruff.
Last Saturday, Ruth Harris, 83, told police she was sitting in a chair in front of her apartment when a man approached and said he liked her feet. According to a police report, the man took off one of her shoes and began sucking on her toe.
"The man then asked if he could kiss her and she had told him no and told him he was crazy," the report stated.
The man left quickly after people walked into the apartment complex's courtyard.
On Tuesday, police received another call from a woman who said that on Saturday she was shopping when she noticed a man staring at her.
The man then told the woman that he had a foot fetish and that "her toes are so long and succulent" and he wanted to suck them. When the woman's cell phone rang, the man retreated.
She told police the man had "messed up toes."
It is not the first time that Conway has dealt with this sort of complaint. In the 1990s, a man who was known as the "Toe Suck Fairy" kept Arkansans captivated with his foot fondling antics in Conway and Little Rock.
That assailant, Michael Robert Wyatt, pretended to be a podiatrist in order to fondle and suck a Conway woman's toes at a clothing store. He received probation, a fine and court-ordered therapy but his probation was revoked after he was arrested in another town on similar charges.
In 1991, he was convicted of making threats for telling a convenience store clerk that he wanted to cut off her feet and suck her toes while she bled to death.
Wyatt was sentenced to four years in state prison. He served just more than one year in prison, according to Conway police.
Some two decades later, police have not ruled out the possibility that the current toe-sucker could be the same man.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

US to Slash Marcellus Shale Gas Estimate 80%

The US will slash its estimate of undiscovered Marcellus Shale natural gas by as much as 80 percent after a updated assessment by government geologists.

The formation, which stretches from New York to Tennessee, contains about 84 trillion cubic feet of gas, the US Geological Survey said in its first update in nine years. That supersedes an Energy Department projection of 410 trillion cubic feet, said Philip Budzik, an operations research analyst with the Energy Information Administration.

“We consider the USGS to be the experts in this matter,” Budzik said in an interview. “They’re geologists, we’re not. We’re going to be taking this number and using it in our model.”

The revised estimates, posted on the agency’s website, are likely to spur a debate over industry projections of the potential value of shale gas.

Range Resources Corp. (RRC), Cabot Oil & Gas Corp. (COG) and Goodrich Petroleum Corp. (GDP) were subpoenaed by New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman over whether they accurately represented the profitability of their natural-gas wells in the region, according to a person familiar with the matter. The subpoenas, sent Aug. 8, requested documents on formulas used to project how long the wells can produce gas without additional drilling using hydraulic fracturing, or fracking.

The previous Geological Survey estimate in 2002 said the Marcellus Shale contained about 2 trillion cubic feet of gas. The 42-fold increase is the result of “new geologic information and engineering data,” the agency said. The Marcellus formation may hold from 43 to 144.1 trillion cubic feet, the agency said.

Technology Advances

Advances in the technology used to recover shale gas led the Energy Department to more than double its estimate of recoverable shale resources, to 827 trillion cubic feet, in an April report and to project that the nation has enough natural gas to heat homes and run power stations for 110 years. Shale gas is recovered by fracturing, a technique in which millions of gallons of chemically treated water are forced underground to break up rock and allow gas to flow.

“One fifth of a big number is still a big number,” Kevin Book, managing director at ClearView Energy Partners LLC, a Washington-based policy analysis firm, said today in an interview. “It shouldn’t tell you anything about your conclusions. It should tell you what you need to know about estimates. They get revised.”

Budzik said much remains unknown about the Marcellus. Most drilling by companies such as Chesapeake Energy Corp. (CHK) and Range Resources Corp. has occurred in the northeast corner of Pennsylvania, Budzik said. New York has banned drilling until the state completes environmental regulations.

‘Sense Of Proportion’

“There hasn’t been a lot of drilling elsewhere yet,” Budzik said. “Layer on that the fact that over the next 30 years, the technology is going to evolve. It will have an impact on our projections. We all need to keep a sense of proportion here.”

The Energy Information Administration, the data-gathering arm of the Energy Department, will incorporate the USGS estimates in its annual energy outlook, which should be issued by the end of the year, Budzik said.

The Marcellus Shale assessment covered areas in Kentucky, Maryland, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Virginia, and West Virginia.

[Via Bloomberg]

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Median Male Worker Makes Less Now Than 43 Years Ago

While the fact that a record number of Americans are living in poverty should not surprise anyone at this point, what should surprise many is that according to the Census report of Income, the median male is now worse on a gross, inflation adjusted basis, than he was in 1968.

While back then, the median income of male workers was $32,844, it has since declined to $32,137 as of 2010. And there is your lesson in inflation 101 (which we assume is driven by the CPI, which likely means that the actual inflation adjusted income decline is far worse than what is even reported). The only winner: women, whose median inflation adjusted income over the same period has increased by 188%. That said, it is still at 65% of what the median male makes. So injustice all around. And now, it is time to be patriotic again and buy a Pontiac Aztek.

[Via Zero Hedge]

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Ikea's US Factory Churns Out Unhappy Workers

A union-organizing battle hangs over the Ikea plant in Virginia. Workers complain of eliminated raises, a frenzied pace, mandatory overtime and racial discrimination.

When home furnishing giant Ikea selected this fraying blue-collar city to build its first U.S. factory, residents couldn't believe their good fortune.

Beloved by consumers worldwide for its stylish and affordable furniture, the Swedish firm had also constructed a reputation as a good employer and solid corporate citizen. State and local officials offered $12 million in incentives. Residents thrilled at the prospect of a respected foreign company bringing jobs to this former textile region after watching so many flee overseas.

But three years after the massive facility opened here, excitement has waned. Ikea is the target of racial discrimination complaints, a heated union-organizing battle and turnover from disgruntled employees.

Workers complain of eliminated raises, a frenzied pace and mandatory overtime. Several said it's common to find out on Friday evening that they'll have to pull a weekend shift, with disciplinary action for those who can't or don't show up.

Kylette Duncan, among the plant's first hires, quit after six months to take a lower-paying retail job. "I need money as bad as anybody, but I also need a life," said Duncan, 52. She recalled having to cancel medical appointments for her ailing husband because she had to work overtime at the last minute.

Some of the Virginia plant's 335 workers are trying to form a union. The International Assn. of Machinists and Aerospace Workers said a majority of eligible employees had signed cards expressing interest.

In response, the factory — part of Ikea's manufacturing subsidiary, Swedwood — hired the law firm Jackson Lewis, which has made its reputation keeping unions out of companies. Workers said Swedwood officials required employees to attend meetings at which management discouraged union membership.

Plant officials didn't return calls and declined to meet with a Times reporter who visited the Virginia facility. Swedwood spokeswoman Ingrid Steen in Sweden called the situation in Danville "sad" but said she could not discuss the complaints of specific employees. She said she had heard "rumors" about anti-union meetings at the plant but added that "this wouldn't be anything that would be approved by the group management in Sweden."

The dust-up has garnered little attention in the U.S. But it's front-page news in Sweden, where much of the labor force is unionized and Ikea is a cherished institution. Per-Olaf Sjoo, the head of the Swedish union in Swedwood factories, said he was baffled by the friction in Danville. Ikea's code of conduct, known as IWAY, guarantees workers the right to organize and stipulates that all overtime be voluntary.

"Ikea is a very strong brand and they lean on some kind of good Swedishness in their business profile. That becomes a complication when they act like they do in the United States," said Sjoo. "For us, it's a huge problem."

Laborers in Swedwood plants in Sweden produce bookcases and tables similar to those manufactured in Danville. The big difference is that the Europeans enjoy a minimum wage of about $19 an hour and a government-mandated five weeks of paid vacation. Full-time employees in Danville start at $8 an hour with 12 vacation days — eight of them on dates determined by the company.

What's more, as many as one-third of the workers at the Danville plant have been drawn from local temporary-staffing agencies. These workers receive even lower wages and no benefits, employees said.

Swedwood's Steen said the company is reducing the number of temps, but she acknowledged the pay gap between factories in Europe and the U.S. "That is related to the standard of living and general conditions in the different countries," Steen said.

Bill Street, who has tried to organize the Danville workers for the machinists union, said Ikea was taking advantage of the weaker protections afforded to U.S. workers.

"It's ironic that Ikea looks on the U.S. and Danville the way that most people in the U.S. look at Mexico," Street said.

The Swedwood factory is situated on the outskirts of Danville, in the midst of rolling tobacco country, just north of the North Carolina border.

For most of the last century the town of 45,000 relied on textiles and tobacco for jobs. Today the riverfront is lined with empty red brick warehouses and crumbling mills. With the unemployment rate high — currently at 10.1% — the city has put muscle behind attracting new companies, including Ikea.

"They've definitely given jobs to people that desperately needed them here," city manager Joe King said.

Swedwood says it chose Danville to cut shipping costs to its U.S. stores. The plant has been run mostly by American managers, along with some from Sweden.

The facility looks like a series of interlocking, windowless white boxes — as neat as an Ikea store — with a blue-and-yellow Swedish flag flying out front. Employees inside produce Expedit bookshelves, which start at $69.99 in Ikea stores, and Lack coffee tables, which retail for as little as $19.99.

Low prices have helped Ikea weather the economic downturn. The company made 2.7 billion euros in profit last year, up 6.1% from 2009, according to its most recent financial statements.

Still, last fall, Swedwood eliminated regularly scheduled raises and made cuts to some pay packages in Danville. Starting pay in the packing department, for example, was reduced to $8 an hour from $9.75. Steen said the changes were made to free up more money to pay incentive bonuses to top performers.

The median hourly wage in the Danville area is $15.48, according to the Virginia Employment Commission.

Current and former plant employees said they resented the unpredictable work hours and high-pressure atmosphere. The plant assesses penalty points for violations of work rules; workers who accumulate nine of them can be fired.

"It's the most strict place I have ever worked," said Janis Wilborne, 63, who worked at the plant for two years and quit last year.

Six African American employees have filed discrimination complaints with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, claiming that black workers at Swedwood's U.S. factory are assigned to the lowest-paying departments and to the least desirable third shift, from 11 p.m. to 7 a.m.

"If we put in for a better job, we wouldn't get it — it would always go to a white person," said Jackie Maubin, who worked the night shift in the packing department until last year, when she was fired on her birthday.

Swedwood has been trying to settle four of the discrimination complaints through mediation. The company initially offered Maubin $1,000. She settled for $2,000. She said she needed the money to keep her car from being repossessed.

Global competition has motivated all manner of companies to seek out low-cost sources of production, said Ellen Ruppel Shell, the author of the book "Cheap: The High Cost of Discount Culture." Ikea is no exception. What's different, she said, is that the company has done such a good job of burnishing its own corporate image.

"There's a mythology around the company," Shell said. "That's why these kinds of revelations surprise a lot of folks."

[Via LA Times]

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Why Adolf Hitler Hated Jews

Let's first start by saying that anti-semitism existed in Western Europe prior to the birth of Hitler, with pogroms against Jews occurring long before Kristallnacht. Jews, as well as other minorities, had long been the established scapegoats. Since the Middle Ages, Jews were forced by European Christians to work & reside in ghettos, preventing assimilation. Only certain occupations were open to Jews, such as banking & moneylending; trades which made some Jews, like the Rothschilds, wealthy but also the targets of envy and hate.

The scapegoating of European Jews was often politically and religiously expedient to those in power, such as the Catholic Church, and those seeking power. Martin Luther, the German founder of Protestantism, was a vehement anti-semite who wrote vicious rhetoric about the Jews and worked toward their expulsion from many German towns as early as 1536.

Adolf Stoecker had formed the Christian Social Workers' party in 1879 and by 1883 riots, as well as the burning of a synagogue in Neustettin, were stoked by Stoecker's call for a "final victory" against the Jews. He was followed by Professor Eugen Euhring, speaking at Berlin University, of the "obligation to drive an inferior race from public honor", and Gottingen University's Paul de Legarde's (aka Boetticher) suggestion of a three-fold program: the Germanizing of Austria, the conquest of Russia, and the expulsion of Jews to Palestine.

This would have been the zeitgeist in which Hitler was born.

During his youth, Hitler found himself in Vienna struggling to become an artist and attempted to pass the entrance examinations at the Academy of Fine Arts. He failed. At this point, Hitler became a drifter and struggled to survive from time to time as a day laborer. In Vienna, Hitler would have encountered a thriving Jewish community, where Jews held distinguished positions in universities, such as the one that just rejected him, and private financial institutions. He also would've encountered open anti-semitism in print and on the street. It is speculated that Hitler blamed all of his personal failures on the Jews, despite the fact that it was a Hungarian Jew by the name of Josef Neumann who once saved him from starvation.

Hitler's personal anti-semitism grew as his public political power and megalomania grew. One of his greatest political enemies were the Communists. Although Jews made up the ranks of every political group, Jewish participation in contemporary left wing politics of the early 20th century was established and formidable, going back to Karl Marx. Hitler's sad theories of a "master race" conveniently tied into the annihilation of his political opponents as well.

And yet, Hitler wasn't unaware of the absurdity of his "master race theory". He admits as much when he was quoted as saying "I know perfectly well that in the scientific sense there is no such thing as race. But you, as a farmer, cannot get your breeding right without a conception of race. And I, as a politician, need a conception which permits the order than has formerly existed on a historic footing to be abolished."

Again, these are just speculations about why - or how - it was possible that Hitler hated the Jews. It's also likely that he was a certifiable sociopath, in which case no explanation is necessary.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

6 Questions Start-up CEO Should Ask of Angel Investor

1. Are you a check-writer?

2. Did you bring your checkbook with you?

3. Would you like to use my pen?

4. Do you know how to spell $250,000?

5. Do you know today's date?

6. Do you mind signing your name on that line?

What Percent of Women Who Get Married Take Their Husband's Last Name?

Sometime while Hillary Clinton was switching her name from Hillary Rodham to Hillary Clinton and back again and back back again, an important threshold was crossed — people stopped caring. When Hillary initially kept her surname after marrying Bill, it was a blow against the patriarchy and for women’s liberation, but today such surname-keeping has lost its cachet.

In the 1990s the number of women keeping their maiden name upon marriage began to dip, according to a fascinating study published in The Journal of Economic Perspectives. This snapback to taking a husband’s surname is mostly an elite phenomenon, since among most people it never went out of style. Roughly 90 percent of women take their husband’s surname. It is among college-educated women that surname-keeping flowed and is now ebbing.

Surname-keeping took hold in the 1970s. Legal restrictions that forced women to take their husbands’ surnames began to be overturned or ignored. Women began to marry later and get more professional degrees, both of which made them more attached to their surnames. Ms. became popularized as a way to avoid the repression of Mrs. Keeping a surname was considered a way for a woman to keep her identity.

The number of women in The New York Times’ wedding announcements keeping their surnames was 2 percent in 1975 and had reached 20 percent by the mid-1980s, according to the Journal study. Then the trend stalled. Among women in the Harvard class of 1980, 44 percent retained their surname, but in the class of 1990, only 32 percent did. According to Massachusetts records, the percentage of surname-keepers among college graduates in that state was 23 percent in 1990, 20 percent in 1995 and 17 percent in 2000.

Why? The study’s authors write: “Perhaps some women who ‘kept’ their surnames in the 1980s, during the rapid increase in ‘keeping,’ did so because of peer pressure, and their counterparts today are freer to make their own choices. Perhaps surname-keeping seems less salient as a way of publicly supporting equality for women than it did in the late 1970s and 1980s. Perhaps a general drift to more conservative social values has made surname-keeping less attractive.”

Indeed, the decline in sur- name-keeping might mean that marriage is being taken slightly more seriously. “I think it will strengthen marriage,” says University of Virginia professor Steven Rhoads, author of “Taking Sex Differences Seriously.” “It’s a sign that someone intends it to be a unit, that this is a marriage, and it is for the duration.”

It certainly shows that, for whatever reason, younger women are moving beyond old feminist obsessions. Writing in the online magazine Slate, Katie Roiphe argues that “the maiden name is no longer a fraught political issue. These days, no one is shocked when an independent-minded woman takes her husband’s name, any more than one is shocked when she announces that she is staying at home with her kids.”

In the waning of a certain kind of self-conscious feminism, women are freer to make their own choices — including traditional ones.

Finally, there is simply the hassle factor. It can be difficult for a mother who doesn’t share her child’s last name to pick him up from school or travel with him. Hyphenation has its own perils. Writer Frederica Mathewes-Green reports receiving mail for people named Mathwas-Green, Mathers-Crein, Vatherwes-Green and Mebhews-Creen, among others. Her hyphenation won’t be carried on by any of her children, and she doesn’t regret it.

In an essay on the decline of feminism in the City Journal, Kay Hymowitz notes that feminist pioneer Patricia Ireland wrote that a woman taking her husband’s name “signifies the loss of her very existence as a person under the law.” Women who want to get on with their lives and with their marriages greet that kind of old-school feminist call-to-arms with a decidedly 21st century “ho-hum.”