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Monday, August 31, 2009

Kennedy's dogs will be missed on Hill

Democratic lion Edward Kennedy was reunited with his slain brothers as he was laid to rest in a Virginia cemetery while a lone bugle played bringing the curtain down on a political dynasty.
(AFP/Pool/Richard A. Lipski)

Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.) was years ahead of the curve when it came to Take Your Dog to Work Day. The constant presence of his three Portuguese water dogs in his Russell building office helped humanize their owner and brought a sense of fun to a workplace known for rules and formalities.

Now, lobbyists, staffers and other Hill dwellers say they mourn not only the passing of Kennedy but also he end of a unique chapter in Capitol Hill’s canine history. With their black curly hair, floppy ears and bouncy gait, Kennedy’s dogs became a part of the lawmaker’s nearly 47-year Hill tenure.

Kennedy’s Senate office always had water bowls and tennis balls on hand. Major legislation was hammered out as White House officials patted fuzzy heads and threw balls during meetings. The dogs were known to snooze under committee room tables.

“It’s like the end of an era,” said Kennedy’s former judiciary committee general council David Sutphen. “I find it hard to believe you’ll have another senator with a dog who comes to meetings all over the Capitol. It’s kind of the closing of a chapter.”

With the exception of the Senate floor, there were few places Splash, Sunny and Cappy didn’t have access to, including committee hearings and, once, even the Oval Office. It was a rare day when the Massachusetts lawmaker wasn’t shadowed by at least one of the pooches, whether Kennedy’s schedule brought him an office full of visitors or a committee bill markup.

A powerful man with a booming voice and a formidable family legacy, Kennedy often used his dogs to break the ice with Republican lawmakers, to relax nervous visitors and to put political personalities to the sniff test.

“They were part of the landscape,” said former Bush senior education adviser Sandy Kress, who partnered with Kennedy’s office to develop the mammoth education bill No Child Left Behind.

“I had no problem patting the dog while talking about Section 10.32. ... It just created a pleasant environment,” said Kress, who often watched the senator toss tennis balls to the dogs in the office. “At one point, we got it into our heads that the dogs reacted poorly to committee members who weren’t No Child supporters. We always joked that the dogs knew best.”

Studies have shown that pets in the workplace can boost productivity and raise employee morale and Kennedy was walking proof, animal experts say.

“Our pets humanize us. Immediately, there’s something to talk about,” said ASPCA executive vice president Stephen Zawistowski. “A dog provides easy common contact. It’s a neutral contact.”

Kennedy is far from the only lawmaker known for bringing furry friends to the Hill — a hobby he used to make friends on both sides of the aisle.

The Senator bonded with House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer over their canine affinity, according to the Congressman. Hoyer’s English Springer Spaniel had her own bed in Hoyer’s office before she passed away in 2007.

“God invented dogs for us, to give us the kind of uncompromising love that human beings need, and we in turn give them the same kind of love,” Hoyer noted at the Congressional Canine Champions awards ceremony earlier this year.

President George W. Bush’s National Institutes of Health appointee Elias Zerhouni reportedly earned Kennedy’s support after one of the dogs stayed by Zerhouni’s side during a meeting about the Senate confirmation process.

But Kennedy's dogs weren’t saints either. Like a parent of spoiled children, the senator was loving but a poor disciplinarian.

Splash has been known to bark impatiently during long meetings. The dog once sent White House staffers into a frenzy when the pooch began barking in the Oval Office. Kennedy and his pets were at the White House waiting for the start of a religious freedom bill signing ceremony with President Clinton.

“Kennedy was working the room, and Splash starts barking incessantly. The president was off in a side room having a meeting and the White House staffers start freaking out,” said Sutphen, a former staffer who attended the ceremony with Kennedy.

After Splash was excused, Clinton walked in, asking why he’d heard barking.

“No one fessed up,” said Sutphen. “But it showed the light-hearted, jovial, jokester side of [Kennedy].”
The dogs’ antics could turn Capitol Hill into a dysfunctional family scene.

While interning on Capitol Hill, then-Maryland University student Scott Shewfelt met Kennedy as he stumbled upon the Porties, unleashed and fresh from a haircut, digging in the shrubs outside the Russell Senate federal building where Kennedy kept his office.

“Teddy was yelling at them, but they weren’t listening at all,” Shewfelt said. “It was absolute chaos.”
Whether the dogs were a distraction or not, Capitol Hill regulars say rarely was a complaint heard.

Boston Globe political reporter Susan Milligan, who covered Kennedy for almost a decade, was once dragged away from an interview with another Senator as Kennedy insisted she come visit the dogs.

“I was interviewing Sen. [Olympia] Snowe when Kennedy came around the corner and asked if I would come ‘say hi to the dogs,'” Mulligan recalled. “At that point, what was I going to say? He had me come in the car and greet the dogs. He really wanted me to say hello.”

Today, the Kennedy offices are quiet and the dogs are residing with the late senator’s wife, Vicki, at the family compound on Cape Cod.

Wayne Pacelle, chief executive officer of the Humane Society of the United States, hopes the tradition of dog in Hill offices continues.

“He showed that animals are intimately involved in our lives, and there is an implicit reminder of our responsibility to them,” said Pacelle. “So many more people are treating their dogs like members of the family. You may see other members handle their dogs in a similar way.”

Sunday, August 30, 2009

How to open clamshell packaging
By Lori Bongiorno

Photo: Aprille Clarke / Flickr

Dealing with "clamshell" or "oyster" packaging (the rigid, sealed plastic that lots of electronics come in) can be a real nightmare. In fact, the term "wrap rage" was coined to describe the anger and frustration that inevitably arises when trying to pry the ubiquitous packaging open.

Thousands of people end up in emergency rooms each year with lacerations and puncture wounds from battling with the nearly impossible-to-open packaging. Many more get minor wounds from using sharp objects to open packages, according to American Medical News.

It's not the best choice for the planet either. Clamshell packaging is typically made from polyvinyl chloride (PVC), which is considered the most environmentally damaging plastic around. Its production releases toxic chemicals that make their way into our food supply and it's difficult to recycle.

Companies use the universally despised packaging because it secures items during shipping and helps prevent shoplifting. It's also easy to display in stores and allows consumers to see what they are buying.

Some businesses are finally getting the message that consumers have had enough. Amazon launched its Frustration-Free Packaging initiative to help reduce packing waste and wrap rage. An added bonus is that is saves consumers time as this video demonstrates. Sony, Microsoft, and Best Buy are also making efforts to phase out the aggravating packaging.

In the meantime, there's a surprisingly simple tool that can tackle clamshell packaging quickly, efficiently, and without injury -- a rotary can opener. The best part is you probably already have one sitting in a kitchen drawer. The video below shows how it's done.

Here are a few other tips you might want to keep in mind:

  • Buy products without clamshell or any excessive packaging when you have a choice.
  • Before you break out your can opener, check to see if the packaging has any tiny tabs or perforations (an addition some companies have made in response to consumer complaints).
  • Finally, if you like gadgets and you're not up for the can opener idea, there are a whole bunch of products on the market that are designed specifically to open clamshell packaging. Here's Consumer Reports' round-up of "Tools you can use to crack the case."

The 7 Most Overrated Businesses
By Kelly K. Spors and Kevin Salwen

With roughly 6.7 million jobs lost since the start of the recession, it's tempting - and often a great idea - to launch your own business. That way, of course, you can take matters into your own hands. No more rolling your eyes at the boss; it's your show.

But many people do a lousy job of picking businesses they can realistically turn into a profitable operation.

"There's this very sad pattern about how people start businesses," says Scott Shane, an entrepreneurship professor at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio. "People are most likely to start businesses in industries where start-ups are most likely to fail."

The problem: Many would-be entrepreneurs are drawn to businesses they like to patronize or the ones that are cheapest and easiest to start. Instead, experts argue, aspiring entrepreneurs should create firms in which they have professional experience so they have a competitive advantage in the market.

So, what are most overrated businesses out there? We spoke with small business experts to find out. Here are seven you might want to think twice about - and then maybe twice more.

1. Restaurants. Dining out and cooking are among Americans' favorite pastimes. But "restaurants are among the toughest businesses to run," says Donna Ettenson, vice president of the Association of Small Business Development Centers in Burke, Va.

Far too many people assume their culinary abilities will lead to success in the restaurant business. Instead, about 60% of restaurants close in the first three years, according to a 2003 study at Ohio State University. That's quite a bit higher than the roughly half of all start-ups that close in the first five years.

The reason: Restaurants typically have low profit margins and need strong managers who can run an ultra-tight ship through seasonal fluctuations and other struggles. Most people don't have that kind of intense managerial ability to pull it off. By the way, the pitfalls are quite similar for restaurants' cousin – the catering business. In other words, Chef Emptor.

2. Direct Sales. It's a tempting pitch: Work from home and earn commissions by selling cosmetics, kitchen knives or cleaning products. But companies that recruit independent sales reps tend to attract new team members by pointing to the success of their highest earners.

A harder look shows that those high earners are making big money in large part by recruiting new reps into the organization and getting bonuses or a cut of their recruits' commissions, says Ken Yancey, chief executive of SCORE, a Herndon, Va., organization of current and retired business executives who volunteer time counseling entrepreneurs. The new reps then have a much harder job because they need to recruit more people on top of selling product even though the number of reps out there is increasing.

The result, Yancey says: "Most of them wind up with a bunch of jewelry or kitchen equipment sitting in their basement that they can't sell."

3. Online Retail. By far, one of the easiest businesses to start is selling items through online marketplaces such as eBay or Amazon. But as online commerce ages and these sites fill up with more established retailers, it's much harder for new, small sellers to compete for attention and generate a viable income.

"A lot of people are thinking it's the Web of five or 10 years ago and you stand out simply because you're on the Web," says Rieva Lesonsky, chief executive of GrowBiz Media, a content and consulting company for small businesses based in Irvine, Calif.

Instead, successful online retailers today must have a handle on sourcing their products at a low enough price, then layering on clever online marketing and fine-tuned logistics. These businesses won't generate much income if they can't be easily found in searches, maintain a good reputation among buyers or add enough value so that sellers can build profit margins high enough to take on bigger players and physical stores.

4. High-End Retail. Many people dream of opening a day spa, luxury jewelry store or designer clothing boutique – businesses they feel good patronizing. But specialty retail businesses close at higher rates than non-specialty stores, according to the Small Business Administration's Office of Advocacy, and are even riskier now that consumer discretionary spending has dried up and people are no longer spending money on little luxuries.

"It's going to be a long time before we return to the days of conspicuous consumption," says Ms. Lesonsky of GrowBiz Media. High-end retailers often suffer from poor locations and lack of understanding of how to source and market their products in an effective way. In today's economy and in coming years, she says, retail entrepreneurs should be looking to sell non-discretionary consumer goods or offer items at a value rather than high-end products.

5. Independent Consulting. Common advice for aspiring entrepreneurs is to stick with industries they know. So, for many looking to escape the corporate treadmill that means turning their professional expertise into a one-person consulting firm.

It seems practical – more companies are indeed relying on independent contractors and freelancers these days – but it's not as easy to pull off as many imagine, says Dennis Ceru, an entrepreneurship professor at Babson College in Babson Park, Mass. Many consultants struggle with time management problems, spending so much time scouting work that it's very difficult to earn steady income. "The difficulty many face is they go through peaks and valleys of having work," says Prof. Ceru. "When the engagement ends, they are frantically looking for work," which may take weeks or months.

A possible solution: "A successful consulting firm needs people to find the work, grind out the work and mind the work. Unless you know you can do all three yourself, you potentially expose your business to great risk."

6. Franchise Ownership. The idea of being handed a proven business plan without the uncertainties and headaches that come with building a business from scratch is understandably alluring. But too many people don't understand the risks associated with franchising and sign restrictive franchise agreements without thoroughly researching their franchisor and their contractual obligations, says SCORE's Yancey.

Some franchisors, for instance, allow franchisees to open stores too close together, oversaturating the market. Or they simply require their franchisees pay so much in royalties and fees or other operational costs that it's very difficult to be profitable. Beyond that, when a franchisee fails, a franchisor may make it extremely difficult and costly to get out of its contract.

It's a myth that franchises are far more successful than independent businesses. A 1995 study by a researcher at Wayne State University found that 62% of franchises were open for business after four years, compared with 68% of independent businesses. And franchises were also found to be less profitable in those early years.

7. Traffic-Driven Web Sites. Everybody has witnessed the success of social-networking sites like Facebook and popular blogs that generate all their revenue off advertising. But as the Internet ages, that's much harder to accomplish, says Martin Zwilling, a start-up consultant in Fountain Hills, Ariz., who specializes in helping entrepreneurs find angel investors.

Zwilling says he hears pitches for new social-networking sites about once a week, but actively deters people from starting them. "I say, skip it," he says. "You need to invest $50 million to get any presence" in the social-networking space right now and it's very difficult to get people to leave established sites. What's more, he says, the amount of traffic needed to build a lucrative traffic-driven Web site is far more than most new Web entrepreneurs realize: "Until you get to the point where you have a million page views a day, you're nowhere."

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

What's really in your shampoo
Sure, a couple ingredients clean your hair. But the rest are a veritable toxic dump on your head
By Bill Bunn


Aug. 13, 2009 | There are two types of ingredients in shampoo. One type cleans your hair. The other type strokes your emotions. I'm holding a bottle of Pantene Pro V, one of the world's most popular shampoos. Of the 22 ingredients in this bottle of shampoo, three clean hair. The rest are in the bottle not for the hair, but for the psychology of the person using the shampoo. At least two-thirds of this bottle, by volume, was put there just to make me feel good.

The world spends around $230 billion on beauty products every year. Of this figure, $40 billion go to shampoo purchases. North Americans blow almost $11 billion on shampoo and conditioner each year. So most soap manufacturers aren't willing to rely on a product that merely works. The bigger job is convincing the consumer that their soap is adding value to the consumer's life. So shampoo bottles include an extra concoctions aimed at convincing the man or woman in the shower that the soap is more "luxurious" or "effective." Because beautiful hair doesn't just happen.

Have you got the greasies? One shampoo ingredient is all you need: detergent. Detergents are chemicals designed to bond to both water and grease. When the shampooer massages shampoo into the scalp, the detergent adheres to the grease. The detergent attaches to the rinse water and leaves, taking the grease (sebum) with it.

The most common shampoo detergents are ammonium lauryl sulphate and one of its molecular sidekicks, ammonium laureth sulphate. These viscous, yellow liquids, with the water of a shower, are enough to make your hair clean. They help stop the greasies.

Shampoo tends to use five factors to help the user feel good about it: shine, thickeners, lather, color, smell, coatings and exotic ingredients. Those ingredients, though they have nothing to do with cleansing, are part of the sell to convince you that something beautiful happens to your hair.

Consumers value shininess in nearly everything, including hair. For hair to shine, the cuticles of the hair must lie flat. Imagine a strand of hair as a stack of flimsy paper cups. When all the lips of the cup, called imbrications, lie flat, hair shines. Dull hair has the cups' lips sticking up. To get imbrications to lie flat, hair needs to be exposed to mildly acidic substances, so substances like citric acid are added to make the imbrications lie down and give hair that shiny look and to let yourself glow.

Consumers believe that thick is better. Which may explain why George Bush was a two-termer. Shampooers trust the velvet heft of the shampoo in the palms of their hands. So five of the 20 ingredients on the list are there because they help thicken the soap. Thickness also guarantees that people use more shampoo than necessary. There's salt, glycol distearate, cetyl alcohol, ammonium xylene sulfonate and others: body on tap.

And where would we be without suds? Cleaning agents do tend to foam a little when they're used, but the bubbles don't affect the cleansing much. However, the extra lather helps convince the shampooer that the soap is working. Lathering agents are added to boost the suds, chemicals like cocamide MEA. This little devil, besides being toxic in a few ways, also helps the lather to stay once it's been raised, a sudsy Viagra, with the help of known associates like the plastic PEG-7M. Great lather for great-looking hair.

Consumers tend to believe that good things must also be pretty. So shampoo manufacturers add colors, like purple and green, with reflective particulates to form blossoming clouds. Colors are often a problem either for humans or for the environment, like good old red dye no. 3, banned in 1990, eight years after a number of reliable studies revealed its cancer-causing tendency. Don't hate it for being beautiful.

Smell is important, because after the bathers have washed their hair, smell reminds them that the soap has done its job. Gee, some hair smells terrific. Smell is often associated with a brand, and smell helps to form the most intimate psychological connection a soap can make with its user. But the more "natural" the smell, the less natural the machinations behind it. That lovely apple smell has about as much to do with apples as Dick Cheney with world peace. And fragrance can be particularly dangerous because it's not specifically labeled. It's a combination of ingredients that could be harmless, on one hand or, on the other, noxious.

Once the natural oils have been removed from scalp and hair, shampoo often replaces them with conditioners derived from animals or plants. These conditioners coat the air and smooth its surface. The bottle of shampoo I'm holding uses dimethicone to coat the hair (it also helps to thicken the shampoo). It's a silicone-based chemical that coats hair and skin. You'll also find it in caulking, Silly Putty, and herbicides. No more tears. No more tangles.

Some shampoo sounds more like chicken marinade than shampoo, boasting of vitamins, minerals, protein and herbs. But, the vitamins and minerals and exotic extras play a useless role. So whether the shampoo brags that it is "infused" with real beer, exotic proteins, vitamins, antioxidants, or extracts from some fabulously endangered species, the additive saturates the users' minds, not their hair.

All these ingredients would go bad were it not for preservatives, a chemical equivalent of the right to bear arms. Sodium benzoate, for example, is handy because it kills nearly every living thing that might start to grow in a shampoo bottle. Ironically, in most cases the detergents won't go bad. It's the psychological ingredients that need preservation.

And these chemicals are tough to track down because tracking chemical names, it turns out, is a little like tracking criminals. Most have several aliases and fake IDs, play a role in many different products, and are shifty when caught and questioned. Some have long toxicity records; others are suspects in a range of problems. Of the 22 shampoo ingredients in my hand, all except three have proved to contribute, or are suspected of contributing, to health or environmental problems. Most of these ingredients, though known toxins, are permitted for use, because the small quantities limit human and environmental exposure.

Most of the ingredients in shampoo "may" cause health concerns. The word "may" is used because most chemicals have never been tested. Of the more than 80,000 chemicals registered and used in the U.S. since World War II, fewer than 500 have ever been properly studied for their effects on humans and the environment. So it's hard to say exactly how dangerous it is to use shampoo every day.

In May, 2008, Jane Houlihan, director of research for the Environmental Working Group, reported on the dangers of cosmetics and personal care products to a House subcommittee. She believes that these products, including shampoo, are the biggest source of human exposure to dangerous chemicals. According to Houlihan, "companies are free to use almost any ingredient they choose in personal care products, with no proof of safety required." Consumers are not properly warned of possible dangers because of a "lack of standards and labeling loopholes." Let's just say that the less you hang out with any of these chemicals, the better off you are, we all are.

Mount Sinai Hospital reports that 2.5 billion pounds of toxic chemicals are released in the U.S. each year, the equivalent of 37,100 tanker trucks of noxious chemicals. A lot of these chemicals are released from homes every day. Daily, 45 billion gallons of wastewater go down the drain to be treated at one of the 16,000 water treatment plants in the U.S. But wastewater plants are designed to handle only the major pollutants. They can't remove the diversity of chemicals that humans flush every day.

This is the big problem with the shampoo ingredients: When a man rinses his hair, all the ingredients wash down the drain, carrying the grease to boot. And as one man's shampoo travels down the pipe, it meets up with a woman's, and so on, and so on, and so on. At least 350 million gallons of shampoo and its unregulated ingredients flow down U.S. drains every year. And many of these chemicals flow straight into our freshwater systems.

Shampoo, for example, contributes to high levels of estrogen and estrogen-like substances (endocrine disrupters) in freshwater downstream of sewage treatment plants that damage fish populations and cause male fish to grow ovaries, a sort of liquid feminism. My hometown of Calgary, Canada, studied the fish downstream of where we add our treated sewage to the river and discovered that female fish outnumber male fish 9 to 1. Estrogen runs through it. One study identifies more than 200 chemicals that are still present in wastewater after treatment. But the problem is likely much larger: environmental damage is difficult to estimate because we're dumping chemicals into the environment that have never been studied.

As we get to know some of these chemicals better, we discover that they should not be trusted. Health Canada banned two common shampoo ingredients a while ago, siloxanes D4 and D5, aka octamethylcyclotetrasiloxane and decamethylcyclopentasiloxane, respectively. D4 and D5 did make hair silky soft, easier to dry and easier to work with. They're also handy in making plastics and paint. Sometimes you need a little D4 or D5. Sometimes you need a lot. But Health Canada strongly suspects that D4 and D5 are significantly affecting fish and aquatic organisms. But, oh, how hair shines.

So I can live without the bottled psychology. My new shampoo, Sunlight Dish Detergent, has just four ingredients. It's runny and slightly acidic, smells vaguely lemony, doesn't foam excessively and looks anemic. It’s not perfect, just better. I need to apply it only once when I shampoo. With each shampoo, I use a 10th of the volume that regular shampoo requires. The bottle will last at least a year, as my last one did. And though its ingredients aren't worth celebrity endorsement, my hair gets clean and I expose my body and the environment to less risk.

The Uses of Outrage
By Jessica Zafra

We are appalled that Carlo J. Caparas has been declared a National Artist. We write furious essays denouncing the way Malacanang made a mockery of the selection process. We attend events to proclaim our outrage at the palace’s bizarre choice. Well we forgot something.

Who will explain to the average Filipinos—to whom ‘arts and culture’ is an alien concept that has no bearing on their daily lives, but to whom the name Carlo J. Caparas is familiar because they follow telenovelas based on his comic book characters—why he is not worthy of the National Artist award?

If we do not do this, then all our protests serve only to proclaim our intellectual superiority to Mr. Caparas—surely a sign of massive insecurity. Once again, we will be talking amongst ourselves.

Our better selves
By Jessica Zafra
The Philippine Star

Heart of light: President Cory C. Aquino, our Tita Cory, was the symbol of the world we wanted: a world where leaders were honest, just, selfless, intelligent and dignified. Photo By Val Rodriguez

Most of you are probably too young to understand why Filipinos aged 35 and above are disconsolate at losing Tita Cory. To you, the EDSA Revolution is a distant historical event, an item on an exam. To old people like me who were in college at the time, it was the greatest thing that had ever happened, and the best part was that we were in it.

To you, Cory Aquino was Kris Aquino’s mom, the nice old lady who kept trying to stage People Power with smaller and smaller crowds. To us she was the symbol of the world we wanted: a world where people could speak their minds without disappearing, where public servants actually served, where leaders were honest, just, selfless, intelligent and dignified.

You don’t have to be 35 and up to know that that was not the world we got. These days when we speak of politics at all it is with indifference, anger, or “Please, could we talk about something that doesn’t make us nauseous?” But there was a time when we could discuss government with hope, pride and trust in our leaders, and that was when Corazon Aquino was president.

It did not last. We were cruelly disillusioned: “Pare-pareho lang naman pala kayong lahat.” The revolution had failed us, if it was a revolution at all. Later, whenever Tita Cory urged us to join mass protests against official corruption we still went, but many of us wondered what for. Massing on the streets would cause traffic jams, disrupt business, generate bad press for the country. We should be mature, let the democratic process take its course.

In other words we had resolved to suck it up. Grownups do it all the time.

So we did what was deemed pragmatic. We made compromises and dug in.

We didn’t want any trouble. We got by; some would argue that we did pretty well under the circumstances. But something rankled. If we were doing the right thing, why were we beginning to loathe ourselves?

We heard ourselves speaking with fond nostalgia about how orderly the city was during the Marcos years, how at least there was support for the arts. More and more we found ourselves throwing our hands up and saying, “Whatever.” Is that what being an adult is like, saying “There’s nothing I can do”? No more applying your imagination, just sheep-like acceptance? Because if that’s maturity, it is not a good thing.

When I heard the news of President Cory Aquino’s death I was surprised at how upset I was. I found myself getting teary-eyed when talking about her. Most times I will gouge your eyes out before I let you see me cry, but in this instance it’s all right — my friends are getting soppy, too. On TV, hardcore former coup plotters are weeping because Tita Cory is dead.

Thousands of people with nothing to gain lined up for hours at La Salle and at Manila Cathedral to pay their last respects to our president. They had nothing to gain but their self-respect and the feeling that they had a country. Politicians promise us everything, but sometimes all we really want is to feel that we are part of something bigger than ourselves.

On Monday morning on EDSA I thought it was 1986 all over again. Why this massive outpouring of grief and affection for a symbol we thought we had outgrown?

I think Tita Cory reminds us of our other, better selves — the ones who were prepared to make sacrifices for a noble cause. Politicians and governments have sorely disappointed us, but we never lost faith in Tita Cory the human being. She never mocked our aspirations or knowingly insulted our intelligence. She defended the Constitution from those who would bend it to their own ends; she rejected the idea of perpetuating herself in power. Say what you will about the missed opportunities and lost chances, Cory Aquino was decent to us.

She was a good person.

And after all our “growing up,” “learning to face harsh reality” and losing our illusions, it turns out that character does matter. Being good does make a difference. You will not receive praise or payment for it, and other people will mistake your goodness for weakness, but it resonates among people you won’t even meet.

We have no control over fate and history, but we can control how we conduct ourselves in this life. That’s what we learned from Tita Cory.

Even in death, she reminds us of what we could be.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Shisha 'as harmful as cigarettes'
By Perminder Khatkar
BBC Asian Network

Young women smoking shisha
Shisha is an Arabic water-pipe in which fruit-scented tobacco is burnt

Smoking a shisha pipe is as bad for people as smoking tobacco, the Department of Health and the Centre for Tobacco Control Research has found.

People who smoke shisha, or herbal tobacco, can suffer from high carbon monoxide levels, its research revealed.

It found one session of smoking shisha resulted in carbon monoxide levels at least four to five times higher than the amount produced by a cigarette.

High levels of carbon monoxide can lead to brain damage and unconsciousness.

Shisha is an Arabic water-pipe in which fruit-scented tobacco is burnt using coal, passed through an ornate water vessel and inhaled through a hose.

Dr Hilary Wareing, director of the Centre for Tobacco Control Research, told the BBC's Asian Network she was shocked by the results of the research.

"Our mouths opened at the level of harm - none of the tests we did showed anything other than shisha is hazardous to health."

Paul Hooper, regional manager at the Department of Health, said the findings made the dangers of shisha a "major issue".

He said many people regard shisha "as not even smoking".


Shisha bars, which are typically decked out with low stools and soft cushions to create an inviting atmosphere, have become popular in cities across the UK, particularly London, Manchester and Birmingham.

At the worst, shisha was 400 to 450 times more dangerous than having a cigarette
Dr Hilary Wareing
Centre for Tobacco Control Research

An activity largely associated with Middle Eastern customers and a young crowd, there is a growing trend of themed shisha parties.

Many people who go to "shisha evenings" think it is a safer alternative to smoking cigarettes.

"You never see it in the news - 'that is terrible, don't do it' - there's no shock tactics like (there is with) cigarettes," said one young woman.

"If my mum sees me smoking shisha, she isn't going to take it as seriously as if I was smoking cigarettes," said a British Pakistani man.

It was this misconception - and finding dangerous levels of carbon monoxide in a pregnant woman who had stopped smoking tobacco, but continued to smoke shisha - which prompted the research.

"We found one session of smoking shisha - that's 10 milligrams for 30 minutes - gave carbon monoxide levels that were at the lowest four and five times as high as having a cigarette," said Dr Wareing.

"But at the worst, shisha was 400 to 450 times more dangerous than having a cigarette," she added.

Informed choice

Edgware Road is home to a large number of shisha cafes or hookah bars

Shisha smokers in a cafe in Edgware Road, London, said the findings would make them think twice about smoking.

"You know you can die from cigarettes, but you don't know you can die from shisha," said one.

"I'm now going home to research it," said another.

But not everyone is convinced.

Akram, a 27-year-old who runs a restaurant and shisha bar in Birmingham, has his own views.

"There is a health risk but it's all down to consumption and all the evidence I've seen is that smoking shisha is nothing like smoking even one cigarette," he said.

He said he did not actually inhale shisha smoke.

It is not just the level of carbon monoxide that is causing concern.

Qasim Choudhory, a youth worker at the NHS Stop Smoking Service in Leicester, said sharing a shisha pipe could pass around infections.

"There's a heightened risk of getting TB, herpes and infections like that," she said.

"Now you know swine flu is on the top of the agenda right now - there's no kind of direct correlation, but at time when we're up on our hygiene, it's not the best type of activity to be taking part in."

Dr Wareing said more research on exactly how dangerous shisha was needed to be conducted to enable people to make an informed choice.

Paul Hooper said the department was working hard at "how best to get the message - that it is dangerous - across to the consumer".

"But how do you label the tobacco and the shisha pipe? It's not as simple as labelling a packet of cigarettes," he added.

Mourning the Death of Handwriting
By Claire Suddath

Laurence Mouton / Corbis

I can't remember how to write a capital Z in cursive. The rest of my letters are shaky and stiff, my words slanted in all directions. It's not for lack of trying. In grade school I was one of those insufferable girls who used pink pencils and dotted their i's with little circles. I experimented with different scripts, and for a brief period I even took the time to make two-story a's, with the fancy overhang used in most fonts (including this magazine's). But everything I wrote, I wrote in print. I am a member of Gen Y, the generation that shunned cursive. And now there is a group coming after me, a boom of tech-savvy children who don't remember life before the Internet and who text-message nearly as much as they talk. They have even less need for good penmanship. We are witnessing the death of handwriting.

People born after 1980 tend to have a distinctive style of handwriting: a little bit sloppy, a little bit childish and almost never in cursive. The knee-jerk explanation is that computers are responsible for our increasingly illegible scrawl, but Steve Graham, a special-education and literacy professor at Vanderbilt University, says that's not the case. The simple fact is that kids haven't learned to write neatly because no one has forced them to. "Writing is just not part of the national agenda anymore," he says. (See pictures of the college dorm's evolution.)

Cursive started to lose its clout back in the 1920s, when educators theorized that because children learned to read by looking at books printed in manuscript rather than cursive, they should learn to write the same way. By World War II, manuscript, or print writing, was in standard use across the U.S. Today schoolchildren typically learn print in kindergarten, cursive in third grade. But they don't master either one. Over the decades, daily handwriting lessons have decreased from an average of 30 minutes to 15.

Zaner-Bloser, the nation's largest supplier of handwriting manuals, offers coursework through the eighth grade but admits that these days, schools rarely purchase materials beyond the third grade. The company, which is named for two men who ran a penmanship school back when most business documents were handwritten, occasionally modifies its alphabet according to cultural tastes and needs. (See pictures of a public boarding school.)

Handwriting has never been a static art. The Puritans simplified what they considered hedonistically elaborate letters. Nineteenth century America fell in love with loopy, rhythmic Spencerian script (think Coca-Cola: the soft-drink behemoth's logo is nothing more than a company bookkeeper's handiwork), but the early 20th century favored the stripped-down, practical style touted in 1894's Palmer Guide to Business Writing.

The most recent shift occurred in 1990, when Zaner-Bloser eliminated all superfluous adornments from the so-called Zanerian alphabet. "They were nice and pretty and cosmetic," says Kathleen Wright, the company's national product manager, "but that isn't the purpose of handwriting anymore. The purpose is to get a thought across as quickly as possible." One of the most radical overhauls was to Q, after the U.S. Postal Service complained that people's sloppy handwriting frequently caused its employees to misread the capital letter as the number 2.

I entered third grade in 1990, the year of the great alphabet change. My teacher, Linda Garcia at Central Elementary in Wilmette, Ill., says my class was one of the last to learn the loops and squiggles. "For a while I'd show my kids both ways," she says. "But the new alphabet is easier for them, so now I just use that one."

Garcia, who has been teaching for 32 years, says her children consider cursive a "rite of passage" and are just as excited to learn it as ever. But once they leave her classroom, it's a different story. She doesn't know any teachers in the upper grades who address the issue of handwriting, and she frequently sees her former students reverting to old habits. "They go back to sloppy letters and squished words," she says. "Handwriting is becoming a lost art."

Why? Technology is only part of the reason. A study published in the February issue of the Journal of Educational Psychology found that just 9% of American high school students use an in-class computer more than once a week. The cause of the decline in handwriting may lie not so much in computers as in standardized testing. The Federal Government's landmark 1983 report A Nation at Risk, on the dismal state of public education, ushered in a new era of standardized assessment that has intensified since the passage in 2002 of the No Child Left Behind Act. "In schools today, they're teaching to the tests," says Tamara Thornton, a University of Buffalo professor and the author of a history of American handwriting. "If something isn't on a test, it's viewed as a luxury." Garcia agrees. "It's getting harder and harder to balance what's on the test with the rest of what children need to know," she says. "Reading is on there, but handwriting isn't, so it's not as important." In other words, schools don't care how a child holds her pencil as long as she can read. (Read "No More Pencils, No More Bics.")

Is that such a bad thing? Except for physicians — whose illegible handwriting on charts and prescription pads causes thousands of deaths a year — penmanship has almost no bearing on job performance. And aside from the occasional grocery list or Post-it note, most adults write very little by hand. The Emily Post Institute recommends sending a handwritten thank-you but says it doesn't matter whether the note is in cursive or print, as long as it looks tidy. But with the declining emphasis in schools, neatness is becoming a rarity.

"I worry that cursive will go the way of Latin and that eventually we won't be able to read it," says Garcia. "What if 50 years from now, kids can't read the Declaration of Independence?"

I am not bothered by the fact that I will never have beautiful handwriting. My printing will always be fat and round and look as if it came from a 12-year-old. And let's be honest: the Declaration of Independence is already hard to read. We are living in the age of social networks and frenzied conversation, composing more e-mails, texting more messages and keeping in touch with more people than ever before. Maybe this is the trade-off. We've given up beauty for speed, artistry for efficiency. And yes, maybe we are a little bit lazy.

Cursive's demise is due in part to the kind of circular logic espoused by Alex McCarter, a 15-year-old in New York City. He has such bad handwriting that he is allowed to use a computer on standardized tests. The U.S. Department of Education estimates that only 0.3% of high school students receive this particular accommodation. McCarter's mother tried everything to help him improve his penmanship, including therapy, but the teenager likes his special status. "I kind of want to stay bad at it," he says. These days, that shouldn't be a problem.

* Read TIME's 1942 article "Handwriting As Character."
See TIME's education covers.
Read TIME's 1970 article "Pen-and-Pencil Therapy."
Read "Cause of Death: Sloppy Doctors."

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Albino crow in Japan
By James

Some footage of a rare albino crow that was spotted last month in Yamaguchi Prefecture:

Botanists discover new rat-eating plant

Nepenthes northiana - the carnivorous pitcher plant prepares to tuck into a rat.

LONDON, England (CNN) -- Botanists believe they have discovered one of the world's largest carnivorous plants in Southeast Asia.

The giant pitcher plants were located on Mount Victoria in Palawan, central Philippines by a team led by UK botanist Stewart McPherson.

The second largest species, now called Nepenthes attenboroughii, has been named in honor of the UK's world-renowned natural history presenter Sir David Attenborough.

The new discovery measures up to 30 centimeters in diameter and is formed by a tendril which inflates into a large cup-shaped trap.

McPherson told CNN: "Around the mouth of the pitcher are secretions of nectar which attracts insects and small animals. The rim has lots of waxy downward-pointing ridges which help prey fall directly into the pitcher.

"The pitchers are half full of a liquid consisting of acids and enzymes which help break down its prey."

The insectivorous, sometimes carnivorous diet is crucial for the plants' survival says McPherson.

"These plants grow in really harsh areas where soil quality is very poor -- often pure gravel or sand. Catching insects allows the plant to augment nutrients that it otherwise wouldn't have access to."

McPherson along with his colleagues Alastair Robinson and Volker Heinrich have discovered more than 20 new varieties of pitcher plant in recent expeditions and have also made two rediscoveries.

One of those rediscoveries, Nepenthes deaniana, was first recorded in 1907 but was subsequently lost when the Philippine National Herbarium in Manila was bombed towards the end of World War II.

McPherson and his team believe they are the first explorers to observe the plant in the wild in over a century.

The Nepenthes deaniana produces a spectacular, football-sized, red pitchers that are large enough to catch insects and small animals.

In many of the traps, McPherson's team found giant centipedes and 10 centimeter-long spiders.

The Botanical Society of America says that there are around 600 species of pitcher plants.

Most familiar, perhaps, is the Venus Flytrap. But bigger species like the Nepenthes attenboroughii, Nepenthes northaina and the world's largest known pitcher plant, Nepenthes rajah are able to capture animals as large as rats, as can be clearly seen in the picture above.

"These plants have evolved to catch insects. But on rare occasions they do catch rats and mice. The first reports of these plants catching rats was made in the 19th century by a British explorer called Spenser St John," McPherson said.

Monday, August 17, 2009

The Science of Fairy Tales
By Chris Gorski,
American Institute of Physics

Kids of any age love to read fairy tales because the storyline never limits the possibility that anything could happen. Curses, spells, and handsome princes reign in worlds beyond the reader’s imagination.

But are the most magical moments from some of our favorite stories actually possible? Basic physical principles and recent scientific research suggest that what readers might mistake for fantasies and exaggeration could be rooted in reality.

So suspend your imagination for a moment, and look at the following fairy tales as a hard-core scientist might.


In the Brothers Grimm story of Rapunzel, a witch holds a beautiful young woman captive in a tower. Rapunzel is blessed with a lovely singing voice and long, long blond hair. One day, her voice enchants a prince passing through a nearby forest. They fall in love, and Rapunzel lets down her hair so that the prince may use it to climb the tower to meet her. This chain of events begs readers to ask a question. Can human hair support the weight of another person?

On average one strand of hair can support about three and one-half ounces, or about the weight of two candy bars. Each strand of dark hair is generally thicker, and therefore stronger, than blond hair.

But, alas, Rapunzel must make do with blond locks. Given that blondes generally have about 140,000 hairs on their heads, her hair should easily support the weight of many, many princes. However, there is more to this story.

If Rapunzel simply let down her hair and the prince started climbing immediately, her hair would not break, but it might rip out. Also, the rest of her body might not be able to support the weight. Thankfully, there are strategies that she can use to help reduce the strain on her head and body.

Nathan Harshman, Assistant Professor of Physics at American University in Washington, DC, suggests Rapunzel would be safer and more secure if she tied her hair around something before lowering it. “The whole idea is that you can use the friction of the hair against itself in the knot, and whatever it is tied around will support the weight of the prince.” That is a much better idea than making Rapunzel’s scalp the anchor point.

The Little Mermaid

In the Disney version of Hans Christian Andersen’s The Little Mermaid, Ariel (the mermaid) asks a witch to make her human because she has fallen in love with a human prince. The witch bargains with Ariel and takes her voice in exchange for performing the transformation. For a considerable part of the story Ariel cannot speak, which is a problem because the prince can only recognize her by her incredibly beautiful singing voice. Later, she recovers her voice and wins the love of the prince (sorry to spoil the ending).

In the story, Ariel loses her voice because of a curse. However, a less skilled sorceress could use a different method to silence a singing mermaid. Scientists have figured out a way to bend sound waves around an object and, can even prevent the escape of all sounds created inside a given area (important for keeping a transformed, singing mermaid from being heard).

Recently, Steve Cummer, Associate Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Duke University announced that it is theoretically possible to create such a sound shield. Building on research demonstrating how light waves can be bent around an object to make it appear invisible, Cummer and his collaborators used mathematical analysis to show how to do the same thing with sound. They established that it is possible to create a material that bends sound waves around walls, pillars, or any enclosed area, where the sound waves emerge as if nothing had been in their way. It would be like someone in the bedroom being able to hear what someone in the living room said, but as if there were no wall between them.

A side effect of this discovery is that sound waves generated inside the enclosed area would never escape. If the witch had been extremely clever, she could have built this material, and there would have been no need for a curse. Or maybe she did, and a transparent sound shield based on these principles was what enveloped Ariel until her love for the Prince melted it away, finally releasing her melodious voice for the Prince to hear.

1,001 Arabian Nights

One of the most exciting objects found in fairy tales is the flying carpet. In tales from a wide variety of cultures, including 1,001 Arabian Nights, these tangled tapestries take flight to carry people vast distances. Flying carpets are clearly impossible, right?

Three scientists recently published a paper in the journal Physical Review Letters showing that there are conditions under which a carpet could fly. They used the basic laws of physics to show that a small, thin carpet could fly if the air were vibrating at the right frequency, much like how a piece of tissue paper floats softly to the ground when it is dropped. Their calculations showed that small waves of air in repeated fast pulses could steer a carpet at a speed of around one foot per second.

Don’t expect to see Aladdin flying by anytime soon, but the scientists write that all of their conditions “are within the realm of possibilities in nature and in technology. Making a heavy carpet fly would, of course, require a much more powerful engine, and our
[calculations] suggest it will remain in the magical, mystical, and virtual realm as it has existed for millennia.”

Perhaps some fairy tales are more grounded in reality than others. Or maybe these precious stories are exactly what we thought they were. An idea is fertilized by the imagination and expanded beyond what seems possible. Or maybe science has come so far over the years that scientists are looking beyond the problems of the physical world and into the imaginations of children for their inspiration.

What could be next? Perhaps a scientific debate over the temperature at which porridge is considered “just right.”

Method To Madness
The uncrowning of the ‘Komiks King’
By Patricia Evangelista
Philippine Daily Inquirer

ON JULY 30, Malacanang announced that it had chosen to award seven individuals with the 2009 Order of National Artists. The conferment, signed on July 6, included four names that were not in the original set submitted by the National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA) and the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP). Three nominees survived the whim of the presidential pen – musicologist Ramon Santos was not so fortunate. Four others took his place: Cecile Guidote-Alvarez, presidential adviser on culture and NCCA’s executive director, comic book novelist Carlo J. Caparas, architect Bobby Mañosa, and fashion designer Pitoy Moreno.

Caparas, awarded for Visual Arts and Film, blithely accepted his award. His appeared to be the more heinous appointment to many critics. Although the box-office pull of his films is undeniable, none of his movies have been recipients of any sort of critical acclaim, his appointment as a National Artist for Film a cause for many filmmakers of several generations to recoil in disgust. It is his legacy in the comics industry that has earned him the deserved respect of so many – a respect that has been tarnished by an award that was obviously crafted less by art and more by politicking. Caparas, after all, was awarded for visual arts in graphic novels, irrelevant of the fact that it was not his hand that drew his characters. Although he was nominated in the literary category, his name was dropped from the list. The same is true for the selection panel of the visual arts.

Caparas’ story is one that comes straight from one of his hundreds of comic book dramas: the young man, poor but talented, dressed in a security guard’s uniform outside a building after night, scratching away at comic-strip dialogue in an old notebook. It would be safe to say that the conferment of the National Artist Award on this underdog may seem the very pinnacle of his life’s achievement, but what Dr. Jose Dalisay Jr. calls “the corruption of culture” may very well have destroyed decades of achievement for this man whose characters lived to fuel the imagination of a people.

Caparas has lashed out, calling all his critics elitists. He is thankful for this experience, because he has seen the height of society’s hypocrisy. He says that the elite are angry because a man from the masses broke into their territory. And so this is what Caparas is reduced to: an angry man, announcing his achievements, claiming his worth, carting photos of old drawings to prove to the English-speaking elitist that he is in fact an artiste of the highest degree – “other painters can’t do this!” –damning all other National Artists for writing their poems and English novels instead of producing films capable of filling movie theaters and comic books that fly off the shelves. It may be patent that he has no place in film or the visual arts –
no matter how many caricatures of Manoling Morato he produces at press conferences “to prove” that he can draw – but what is perhaps more ironic is that Caparas has turned himself into a raving elitist, only this time, his discrimination is against all things scholarly and academic.

“National Artist” means being known nationwide, says Caparas’ wife Donna Villa. It is a ridiculous presumption, and would exclude even the artists Caparas defends. It is not as if Muslim teenagers have occasion to admire Moreno’s evening gowns, and I would hesitate to ask the man on the street if he knows what Alvarez’s Peta means. And yet the award is not the white tower that Caparas styles himself as the challenger. The works of Nick Joaquin, Lino Brocka and many others have proved themselves both nationally significant and nationally recognized during their time. And yet to use the standards of Caparas is to protest that Willie Revillame and the Viva Hot Babes have not yet been considered National Artists.

Literature may have denied Caparas, the visual arts rejected him, but so were many others. There are many, many more giants of literature and film and the visual arts living today whose work demand recognition, and if someday Caparas’ name is nominated through the official process, as a luminary of literature, or of a new category altogether, it is certain that the public will accept his much-deserved achievement. Caparas, unlike his other equally controversial colleague, at least has the claim of having been legitimately nominated by the selection committee.

Alvarez, whose unlucky champion Eduardo Ermita damns her with faint praise – “she’s very good” – continues to wax indignant at the outcry over her nomination, one far more shameful than Caparas’, whose only mistake is a misguided sense of oppression. It is Alvarez who was never nominated in any of the categories for National Artist.

Critics have challenged her right to the award, arguing that her position as cultural adviser to President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo now making the selections, as well as the executive director of the body screening the nominations, is fundamentally unethical.

The NCCA guidelines are clear in that NCCA and CCP board members, consultants, officers and staff are automatically disqualified from being nominated. I suspect the executive director of the NCCA falls under the category of NCCA and CCP officers and staff.

Alvarez’s one angry response ignores the guidelines completely, and only repeats, in shriller and shriller tones, that she had nothing to do with the actual selection, this in spite of National Artist Bienvenido Lumbera’s statement that it was Alvarez herself, as executive director of the NCCA, who had insisted on the President’s right to add names not discussed in the committee.

Alvarez laments the tempest her award has created. “It is unfortunate that our country is divided by politics. It is through arts that our people can be united. I pray that culture as the nourishing womb will eventually bond together our nation toward the betterment of our citizens.”

Beautiful words from one of the guardians of the country’s culture, ironic in the face of the events establishing just how little Ms Alvarez cares about the state of the arts – certainly not enough to put the reputation of the institution over her personal ambition. It is an attitude very much like that of the President she serves. And Caparas – the directorial hand behind such classics as “The Myrna Diones Story (Lord, Have Mercy!),” “Humanda Ka Mayor! (Bahala na ang Diyos),” “The Cecilia Masagca Story: Antipolo Massacre (Jesus Save Us!),” “The Vizconde Massacre Story (God Help Us!),” “The Untold Story: Vizconde Massacre 2 (God Have Mercy on Us!),” “Lipa Arandia Massacre (Lord Deliver Us from Evil/God Save the Babies!),” “The Maggie dela Riva Story (God ... Why Me?),” “Victim No. 1: Delia Maga (Jesus, Pray for Us!)” and “The Marita Gonzaga Rape-Slay (In God We Trust!)” – may have discovered that to have President Arroyo in your corner ensures an ending far happier than having the ear of God. The Carlo J. Caparas story, if it ever gets produced, may very well have a different deity for its subheading.

Give me a Caparas to hang beside my Picasso
By Jerry E. Esplanada
Philippine Daily Inquirer

MANILA, Philippines—Former censors chief Manuel Morato would rather own a Carlo J. Caparas artwork than a Cesar Legaspi painting.

“Carlo is a damn good painter and artist. I have quite a few of his works. His is an inborn talent, unlike [Cesar Legaspi] who studied it all,” said Morato, reacting to singer Celeste Legaspi who said that naming Caparas National Artist for Visual Arts was “an insult to the memory” of her late father Cesar Legaspi, who was bestowed the same title in 1990.

“I don’t even have any of [Cesar] Legaspi’s works in my collection. I got rid of them. Same with the works of Bencab and Arturo Luz. I won’t hang their works in my collection and desecrate the works of Goya, Van Gogh, Toulouse Lautrec, Picasso and other old masters that I own,” Morato said.

Legaspi also got the ire of 63-year-old nutritionist Paciencia “Paz” Caparas-Aguilar, when the singer told reporters that Caparas did not deserve the award, as he does not even know how to draw or paint.

Aguilar is the sister of Caparas, komiks king and film director, recently named National Artist for Visual Arts and Film by President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.

“That is not only a lie, that is an insult to our family,” Aguilar said in Filipino. “As a young boy, Carlo was already helping the family with his drawings.”

Pasig native

Caparas, a glass factory worker and later, a security guard before becoming a komiks novelist, is the seventh of nine children of the late Salvador and Florentina Caparas, both Pasig natives.

For their “below-the-belt” tirades, Legaspi and other critics like actor Leo Martinez and singer Jim Paredes, are “not welcome” in Barangay Ugong, Pasig.

“As far as we are concerned, they are persona non grata,” Aguilar said in Filipino.

Top achiever

Other Barangay Ugong folk have rallied behind Caparas, the community’s “top achiever.”

Barangay chair Engracio Santiago recalled: “During our primary school days (in the 1960s) at Ugong Elementary School (now Francisco Legaspi Memorial School), many students ran to Carlo for their drawings, as well as the teachers who needed help in drawing their instructional materials.”

Eufrocinia Cruz, 79, a retired Ugong Elementary School teacher, confirmed this. “Carlo draws well. That’s common knowledge not only at Ugong Elementary School but in the entire community,” she said.

A Caparas family friend, Virginia Macapuro, said the komiks writer “apparently got his artistic talent from his father, an optician who’s also good in drawing. I should know. Our families stayed in the same house during the Japanese occupation.”

‘Lumbera watches porno films’

Morato, now a director of the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office (PCSO), also lambasted other critics of his friend Caparas, like Imee Marcos and National Artists F. Sionil Jose, Virgilio Almario and Bienvenido Lumbera.

Almario “tried to promote the national language, which in truth and in fact, Carlo Caparas succeeded more in spreading in his komiks 10 times over … Lumbera loves watching porno films at UP Film Center,” said Morato in a text message to the Inquirer.

Almario and Lumbera have vowed not to wear their National Artist medallions until President Arroyo recalls the title she conferred on Caparas and Cecile Alvarez, executive director of the National Commission on Culture and the Arts (NCCA), which oversees the grant of the award together with the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP).

Morato, a staunch ally of Ms Arroyo, said the controversy over National Artists named by Malacañang showed that “so much falsehood, insincerity and hypocrisy have infected our culture.”

“They think too much of themselves. They should stop outsmarting each other, much less act like jurors to judge those coming after them. While they destroy others, they destroy themselves in the process. Detractors of duly selected awardees this year only managed to cheapen themselves and brought themselves to public scrutiny as well that they, too, are not deserving of the honors they received from the Palace,” he said.

Other supporters

Dante Jimenez, head of the nongovernment Volunteers Against Crime and Corruption (VACC), also took up the cudgels for Caparas.

“It’s sad some people are belittling his contributions to the justice system in the country, particularly his so-called ‘massacre films’ in the 1980s which helped a lot in making the public aware about the prevalence of heinous crimes,” Jimenez said.

He added, “What Carlo’s critics are doing is so unfair and unjust to us victims of crimes. Where were they when we needed them most?”

Caparas also got expressions of support from boxing hero Manny Pacquiao, Senators Ramon Revilla Jr. and Jinggoy Estrada, Komisyon ng Wikang Filipino chair Joe Lad Santos, and Polytechnic University of the Philippines president Dante Guevarra.

Why not Dolphy?

Contacted by phone, Leo Martinez, who heads the Film Academy of the Philippines (FAP), insisted that comedian Dolphy and director Celso Ad. Castillo deserved to be named National Artists, not Caparas.

“The issue here is the quality of a person’s body of works, not his highest grossing films,” Martinez said.

Last week, he and Paredes, along with some National Artists, went to Congress to seek its help in blocking the naming of Caparas and three others as National Artists in Proclamation Nos. 1823 and 1829. Ms Arroyo signed the proclamations on July 6.

‘Last say’

NCCA Chair Vilma Labrador asserted in a TV interview that the President had the “last say” in naming the awardees.

The names forwarded by NCCA and CCP to the Palace were “only recommendatory, not mandatory,” said Labrador, who is also Department of Education undersecretary.

5 Massive Hit Songs That Almost Didn't Get Released
By Ralf Bakr

We like to think we all know a hit song when we hear one. If we don't, we like to at least think that guys like Quincy Jones and Keith Richards know a hit song when they hear one (it's sort of their job).

Apparently, it's not as easy as we thought, as a lot of classic songs almost never made it out of the studio.

5. "I Can't Get No Satisfaction" - Rolling Stones

Like most awesome things, this song originated in the middle of the night. Unlike most awesome things, this song originated in Florida. During the Rolling Stones 1965 US tour, Keith Richards woke up suddenly for reasons that shockingly had nothing to do with heroin. He had a riff in his head that was harder to shake than his heroin habit. Keith Richards. Heroin. Get it? Anybody?

Anyway, the story goes that Richards got up and recorded the riff and the phrase "I Can't Get No Satisfaction" before dozing off. The next day, Keith and Mick fleshed out the track, and immediately Keith began to hate the shit out of his late night inspiration. At first his complaint was that the song was too "folksy." And we all know that the last thing the music buying public of 1965 wanted was "folksy" sounding rock music.

It didn't stop there. Keith later admitted that he considered the title "...just a working title. It could have been 'Aunt Millie's Caught Her Left Tit In The Mangle.' I thought of it as just a little riff, an album filler. I never thought it was commercial enough to be a single." He expressed concerns that the riff sounded too similar to Martha And The Vandella's "Dancing In The Street," and would've been happier if the riff was just quietly tucked away somewhere, never to be talked about again.

Eventually the rest of the band had to drag Richards into the studio and force him to record the song that he wrote and showed them in the first place. Even then, he considered his guitar part a scratch track and the recording an unfinished demo. Keith just wasn't satisfied.

Fortunately, all the other band members, their manager, the sound engineer and we assume several wandering passersby all outvoted Richards by a landslide to release the single. The song spent two weeks at #1, and Richards's throwaway scratch track become one of the Rolling Stone's most recognizable anthems, and boosted sales of the Gibson fuzzbox he used on the recording to the point where supplies ran out by the end of the year.

As a sidebar, in light of the fact that Richards never went back to claim it, some of us in the Cracked writers pool have decided to use the song title "Aunt Millie's Caught Her Left Tit In The Mangle" for our in-house garage metal band DIKCHOKE. Expect an exclusive release on our Myspace page later this year.

4. "Kiss" - Prince

Love him or hate him, we can't deny that Prince conquered pop music in the mid-80s, slapped its ass, pulled its hair and convinced it to do more than a few things it would regret later.

In 1986, Prince was at the top of his game and had started taking other bands under his dainty, bedazzled wing, like Morris Day's band The Time and the "chick who's humping Prince" project Appolynia 6. Also this band Mazarati but, as you'll soon see, no one really gives a damn about Mazarati.

Prince was diverse and talented enough to realize when he was writing a song that wasn't a Prince song. Such was the case, at the time, with "Kiss" which, believe it or not, was composed as a folksy/country song. Unable to finish it, he brought the demo track to his pet project du jour, Mazarati.

Who were obviously waiting for that perfect country/folk track to make it big time.

Unimpressed and kinda pissed, the band spent an entire day in the Paisley Park studio with engineer David Z completely rebuilding the track from the ground up. They retired for the night not believing the track was good enough. Or so they thought.

David Z returned the next morning to find Prince in the studio, tightening up his own freshly-recorded guitar and vocal tracks to the song. Reacting to Z's stunned confusion, Prince retorted that "This song is too good for you guys. I'm taking it back." This decision is likely the reason you had probably never heard of Mazarati before today.

Prince started cutting. He dropped the bass guitar off the track, along with all instruments but voice, guitar, drum machine and backing vocals. The result was shockingly sparse; only nine tracks were included in the mix down (most modern pop songs include roughly that many tracks for the vocals alone).

Prince is crazy!

When the people at Warner heard it, they kind of wondered where, you know, all the instruments and stuff were (they said it sounded like a demo). So if you're keeping score, the song was rejected by Prince, rejected by a shitty almost-Prince funk band and then reimagined as a sparse, bass-less song which was then almost rejected by the label.

Prince, probably after crossing his arms and whimpering in falsetto, told them that was the track they were getting and they better just deal with it. After a massive fight, the label reluctantly released it.

"Kiss" hit #1, and proved a triumph for a musician who was given more artistic freedom than pretty much any since. As for Mazarati, well, Prince later provided them with an outtake song by The Time called "Jerk Out" that made it nowhere until The Time took it back and made another # 1 hit off of it.

Seriously, after doing the research for this, we here at Cracked have been sending Mazarati friend requests on their official Myspace page, possibly one of the saddest official Myspace band pages ever. In-house Cracked band DIKCHOKE has only been around as long as this article, and we've already accumulated twice as many friends.

3. "Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)" - Eurythmics

Believe it or not, there was a point when no one had ever heard of Annie Lennox and Dave Stewart--better known as Eurythmics, even better known as the scary chick in the tuxedo and the guy playing the cello in the cow pasture and even better known as "that 80s band that wrote that Marilyn Manson song." That "song," "Sweet Dreams (Are Made Of This)," almost didn't exist because the band, dropped from their label after a lackluster and hitless first album, almost completely dissolved before composing it.

In 1982, the band, which had started in 1980, had yet to make a single that even approached the minor success of their previous band. Their first album was plagued by management troubles, and by the time they were recording "Sweet Dreams," they were reduced to recording in an improvised "home studio" (read: attic of a warehouse) and were in-between labels.

Also, they were really weird.

Their arguments became more severe--which tends to happen when you combine artists with poverty--to the point where Lennox could not take it anymore and threatened to leave. Then, with a cold suaveness more easily expected from James Bond than a pasty synth-pop composer, Stewart replied "Okay, fine, you don't mind if I go ahead and program the drum computer then, do you?" (he's British, so we don't know if "drum computer" is a euphemism for something filthy, but we'd guess that, no, it is not). And there, with Dave Stewart fucking around on a drum machine, and Annie Lennox curled up on the floor sobbing, commenced what is likely the most awkward, creepy and uncomfortable recording session since Phil Spector held a gun to Leonard Cohen's head.

While screwing around, Stewart accidentally reversed a synthesized bass line, and holy shit did it sound badass. Badass enough that Lennox "could not resist" getting on her keyboard and laying down a synth line. The words just came to her and she improvised the lyrics and vocals right there in one take. From the looks of it, they probably made up the "plot" of the music video on the spot right then too.

Pretty much all you need to know about the music video.

Of course, this incident just followed the standard behavioral instinct of "if you're in the middle of an argument that angry sex can't solve, just get on the computer" that most guys possess. Except instead of playing World Of Warcraft until four in the morning, Dave Stewart put together an international hit song, and married one of the chicks from Bananarama. Kind of puts your life in perspective, doesn't it?

2. "What's Going On" - Marvin Gaye

Marvin Gaye is responsible for more unstoppable sex than prison. We owe so much to "Let's Get it On," and the fact that at one time Marvin Gaye wasn't given his way is downright terrifying, but it's true. About a decade into his career, Gaye had already established himself as an extraordinarily singular Motown talent, despite frequently bristling against the regimented structure of the Detroit label. But in 1970, after a crumbling marriage and the death of close friend/duet partner Tammi Terrell, Gaye became suddenly reflective and nearly ready to quit music altogether, even going so far as to try out for that year's draft of the Detroit Lions.

We like to think that this is how he showed up at tryouts.

The main thing Marvin had resented about the Motown system was its separation of songwriter, performer and producer as individual cogs of a hit-making machine whose responsibilities and talents were not to be mixed. With some production credit under his belt--with Motown session-band The Originals--and new songwriting partners Al Cleveland and Renaldo Benson of Four Tops fame, Marvin Gaye was ready to break out of his previous station in the machine and take control of all aspects of his destiny; his decision to buck the system influenced countless other talented artists--from peers like Stevie Wonder to later artists like Michael Jackson and Prince--to also take production and songwriting control of their product. He was about to completely shake up the music industry, but first he had to get released.

"What's Going On" pleads for understanding. In the background of the master track, you can hear a party going on from which Gaye's voice is markedly detached; a lonely, but passionate, voice in the crowd. The result of Gaye's complex songwriting, mixed with his abilities as a producer and an arranger was startlingly different from anything previously released by Motown. When the final master 45 was presented for release, The CEO of Motown called it "the worst record he had ever heard." Oh, did we mention that the CEO of Motown, Barry Gordy Jr., was Marvin Gaye's brother-in-law?

Gordy apparently believed that the music-buying public at the time would not be able to identify with a heartfelt cry of confusion and despair over social unrest and injustice. We here at Cracked are guessing he hadn't picked up a newspaper since early November of 1963.

Marvin stood his ground, however, threatening to walk away from music forever and, after a short stand-off, "What's Going On" was released, and critical and commercial response was almost instant. It became Motown's fastest selling single, the biggest hit of 1971, became Gaye's signature song--even topping out all the other massive hit songs he was already known for--and paved the way for the even more massive hit album "Let's Get It On."

1. "Billie Jean" - Michael Jackson

Off The Wall was Michael Jackson's first album outside of the Jackson 5 franchise and his initial departure from Motown. He regarded it as his finest work, and it actually did well both critically and commercially, but it wasn't enough. He felt cheated that Off The Wall didn't win Album Of The Year, and he wasn't going to be happy until he was at the helm of something too big to ignore. In his first step, he did something every 21-year-old has dreamed of doing and fired the shit out of his dad.

With producer Quincy Jones, the two collaborated on a monolithic pop masterpiece. It's estimated that 300 original songs were penned for the project and condensed down to nine.

"I'm gonna burn this record and I don't even know why. Fuck it, you know?"

While composing "Billie Jean," Jackson knew he had a hit. He frequently relates a story about leaving the studio so focused on the song that he didn't even notice that the car he was in was on fire. Strangely enough, a few years later during the recording of a Pepsi commercial featuring a revamped version of the track, he caught the fuck on fire again. Once is a weird coincidence, twice is just damn spooky.

Jacko may have thought he had a hit, but Quincy Jones sure as hell didn't think so. Quincy thought the track, inspired by a homicidal-suicidal stalker and that apparently made its singer burst into flames, was "too weak" for the album. He hated the demo, especially the bass-line, and he wanted to change the title. Eventually he relented, insisting amongst his studio musicians that this track needed to have a "unique sonic personality" to be worthwhile. Vocal overdubs were sung through giant cardboard tubes and the drum pattern was overlayed with sounds of cinder blocks and chunks of wood. They even brought in a guy to play something called a lyricon, an instrument that looks like it should have been played by a member of the Mos Eisley pub band.

So the track made the album, but its problems didn't end there: MTV refused to air the video. MTV's policy at the time was that black performers were not "rock" enough; a view that's shocking not only because it's racist as all hell, but also laughably ignorant of music history. It took Walter Yetnikoff, president of CBS, the record label Jackson was on, threatening to both pull all CBS artist's videos off of MTV and publicly exposing them as the racist fucksticks they were to get the "Billie Jean" video on rotation. Rotation that quickly became heavy rotation as the song rocketed up the charts.

"Billie Jean," as you know, became a massive hit, Jackson got his Album Of The Year, and Thriller went on to become, by all accounts, the best-selling album of all time. Having achieved everything he had set out to do and significantly more, Michael Jackson moved to his dream home at Neverland Ranch and lived happily ever after... oh wait.