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Monday, September 28, 2009

Hollywood stars seek help for Ondoy victims

MANILA –Hollywood stars called on their fellow Americans to help the victims of tropical storm Ondoy (international codename Ketsana) in the Philippines as they expressed their sympathies to the thousands of affected Filipinos.

Demi Moore wrote in her Twitter account that the Filipino victims are in dire need of assistance. To help, she urged them to call the American Red Cross.

“Typhoon victims in Philippines in dire need of food/clothing. Call the American Red Cross to help. 18004357669,” the “Ghost” star wrote.

Alyssa Milano tweeted the same message and posted an Associated Press article reporting the devastation caused by Ondoy.

International singer Josh Groban , meanwhile, tweeted: “My heart goes out to my friends in the Philippines.”

The death toll from the onslaught of tropical storm Ondoy (international code name Ketsana) rose to 52 as of Sunday noon, the National Disaster Coordinating Council (NDCC) said.

The number of affected people rose to nearly 300,000.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

How to Deal With Distracted Drivers
A few tips for handling a more common phenomenon: distracted drivers.
By Ann Job
of MSN Autos

The state of New York and a few local jurisdictions around the U.S. have outlawed the use of handheld cell phones in moving vehicles.

Sickened by the thought of what her car interior must look like and fearing she could lose control of her car at any time, I pressed pedal to the metal and got as far from this distracted driver as I could.

But I was curious whether my urge to flee was a safe and correct one. Really, what should a motorist do when a distracted driver is nearby?

Not a Simple Situation
Police, safety advocates and an official at a motorists' rights group don't provide any one rule. It all depends on the situation, they said.

"It's not dissimilar to when you encounter someone who is intoxicated, but in this case, with a distracted person, it's not—per se—illegal (as is drunken driving)," said Lt. Ray Samuels of the Newark, N.J., Police Department.

To be sure, the state of New York and a few local jurisdictions around the U.S. have passed laws that ban the use of handheld cell phones—one kind of distraction—in moving vehicles. But more widespread restrictions on cell phone use and other in-vehicle distractions—such as eating—aren't coming any time soon.

So, it's pretty much every driver for himself and herself.

Give Them Wide Berth
If there's a simple message, it is to "drive defensively," said Kathy Lusby-Treber, executive director of the Network of Employers for Traffic Safety (NETS), a Washington D.C. group.

NETS, which promotes the theme that "safe driving is a full-time job," found that nearly all drivers—94 percent—admitted to having engaged in some kind of activity that was potentially distracting, including tuning the radio, eating and tending to a child. A NETS phone survey, conducted in late summer 2001, also found that 39 percent of these activities went on while drivers were on the clock for work. The organization reports between 25 percent and 50 percent of all crashes are due to driver inattention or distraction.

"I would be aware and I'd steer clear of [the distracted driver], whatever it means," Lusby-Treber advised, adding, "I don't really encourage motorists to confront a distracted driver."

Besides, she said, "Lots of times, these people are doing more than one distracting thing."

Samuels called it "making a safety cushion around them" so if the distracted driver loses control or does something abrupt, you have an opportunity—and room—to react.

Allan Williams, chief scientist at the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety in Arlington, Va., recommended "staying alert," even for cell-phone users and other distracted drivers at intersections.

Steering clear, though, can involve different strategies, said Eric Skrum, communications director for the Waunakee, Wis.-based National Motorists Association.

"Take a look at the particular driver and the environment," he said. "If it's a single lane road and you can't get around them, slow down [and give them space]. If you're in front, definitely, get out of the way. If they're weaving through traffic and causing a dangerous situation, you must use your own judgment [to stay out of harm's way]."

And, he noted, "If someone is driving like that, you can call the police. That can be reckless driving."

Where Is the Driver's Mind?
Sgt. Al Della Fave of the New Jersey State Police has seen a lot of distracted drivers. And he says it's simplistic to blame it all on cell phones.

"Most of the time, it's not the cell phone that's the problem," Della Fave said. "It's when they start getting emotional about things and the conversation on the phone gets heated [that driving irregularities occur]."

He also noted drivers can be distracted for other reasons. "When I was on patrol in the early '80s, I found drivers reading novels, even having full-course meals spread out on the front seat," he said. "They had the special sauces right there, too. It amazed me, and it went on every other day."

More Distractions Coming
While you're trying to stay safe on the roads, lawmakers and regulators continue to study driver distraction.

Road conditions are expected to get worse, since automakers are adding more information and entertainment devices inside their newest models. Everything from navigation systems to MP3 players to movie players are potential distractions.

Yes, automaker officials tout "hands free" cell phones as one solution because they allow drivers to keep their hands on the steering wheels. But Della Fave and Samuels still urge caution. "It doesn't matter if it's hands free or a headset," Samuels said. "Drivers are still distracted."

Della Fave added: "For some reason, people don't like to dedicate time to just drive."

10 worst foods to eat while driving
At best, you'll be steering with 1 hand and not focused exclusively on the road. Here are the menu items you're most likely to regret gobbling when you're behind the wheel.

It's tempting if you're in a hurry. It's something most people have done at one time or another. But eating is a dangerous distraction while you're driving.

The term "distracted driving" refers to anything that takes your eyes, hands or mind away from driving. Eating while driving is one of the most distracting things you can do, according to several surveys by insurance companies and data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

According to a 2006 study released by the NHTSA and the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute, 80% of crashes and 65% of near-crashes involve some form of driver distraction within three seconds before the crash.

"Most car accidents are caused by drivers not paying attention," says Eric Bolton, an NHTSA spokesman.

In addition to food and beverages, other common distractions include outside accidents, adjusting the radio, children, pets, objects moving in the vehicle, talking or texting on a cell phone, smoking, putting on makeup, shaving and reading.

"Distraction was most likely to be involved in rear-end collisions in which the lead vehicle was stopped, and in single-vehicle crashes," reports the NHTSA.

A restraining order against food

Hagerty Classic Insurance, a provider of classic-car insurance, began looking more closely at the problem of eating behind the wheel after a DMV check on an insurance applicant turned up a "restraining order" against anything edible within his reach while driving.

Hagerty President McKeel Hagerty says his company also often receives claims for damage to the interiors of classic cars caused by food. "It's tough to replace original wool carpets or particular colors of leather seats," he says.

In looking at the company's claims history, Hagerty found that drivers had the most problems during morning commutes, when spills were likely to mar their work attire. Many of those motorists ran into trouble when trying to clean up spills while still driving.

"It really seems it's more the spill than the eating," says Hagerty. "Anything that drips is probably not a good idea."

Hagerty and his staff did a study of their own to see which foods are the worst offenders. They rated foods commonly consumed in vehicles according to each item's popularity, as well as the degree of distraction and the difficulty of eating it with only one hand on the wheel.

Coffee tops the list because of its tendency to spill. Even in cups with travel lids, somehow the liquid finds its way out when you drive over a bump, says Hagerty. "I've certainly spilled my share of coffee while I'm driving, and it's not when I'm trying to drink, it's when I hit bumps in the road."

As if the stains aren't bad enough, hot coffee can also burn, further distracting drivers.

The top 10 food offenders in a car are:

1. Coffee: It always finds a way out of the cup.

2. Hot soup: Many people drink it like coffee and run the same risks.

3. Tacos: "A food that can disassemble itself without much help, leaving your car looking like a salad bar," says Hagerty.

4. Chili: The potential for drips and slops down the front of clothing is significant.

5. Hamburgers: From the grease of the burger to the ketchup and mustard on top, plenty of goop can end up on your hands, clothes and steering wheel.

6. Barbecued food: Similar issue arises for barbecued foods as for hamburgers. The sauce may be great, but it will end up on whatever you touch.

7. Fried chicken: Another food that leaves you with greasy hands, which means constantly wiping them on something, even if it's your shirt. It also makes the steering wheel greasy.

8. Jelly- or cream-filled doughnuts: Has anyone ever eaten a jelly doughnut without some of the center oozing out? And jelly can be difficult to remove from material.

9. Soft drinks: Not only are they subject to spills, but they also can fizz as you're drinking them if you make sudden movements. Most of us have childhood memories of soda fizz in the nose; the sensation isn't any more pleasant now.

10. Chocolate: Like greasy foods, chocolate can coat your fingers as it melts against the warmth of your skin, leaving its mark anywhere you touch. Try to clean it off the steering wheel and you could end up unintentionally swerving.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

GQ Hair Primer

oC’mon, who among us doesn’t suffer through a bad-hair day now and then, or obsess about what kind of product to use, or stress about going gray? We grabbed six very different real guys, threw in a heap of expert advice, and figured out how to make the most of the head we’ve been dealt.

Paola Kudacki

Six Things You Need to Know Now

• Do go to a hair salon if you’ve got a longer, more elaborate coif.

• Don’t go to a salon if you want something standard, like a side part or a pompadour. An inexpensive barber will do.

• Do shampoo and condition your hair.

• Don’t wash it every time you shower—a couple of times a week is enough. (Your hair’s natural grease is healthy.)

• Do get a fresh cut in preparation for a big event, like a wedding.

• Don’t get it done the day before. Unless you’re Kid Cudi (see slide 4), your hair needs a week after a cut to look its best.

Scott Ewald, 36
Visual merchandising coordinator, Hickey Freeman

The Throwback

Want to look like Cary Grant? First, determine which direction your hair naturally falls. Then notice how Scott combs his hair to the side and back at an angle, not directly across. He also reaches for Queen Helene hard-to-hold style gel to get that shellacked look. A choice side part, however, starts with the right cut. Find a barber you like, get him to follow these steps, and return every two or three weeks.

1. On Top: Trim and layer with scissors so hair lies back on top and fades into the sides.

2. On Sides: Electric clippers with a No. 2 guard.

3. In Back: No hard lines—fade the hair naturally down the back of the neck.

4. On Top: Every third time Scott sees his barber, he has him thin his hair by shearing it with toothed scissors.

The Essentials for the Perfect Old-School Side Part

Tom Schierlitz

• You want serious sheen (and hold)? You need product. Go with an affordable gel or pomade, like Murray’s, a drugstore staple.

• A set of electric clippers is essential to the close-cropped fade on the sides and back of Scott’s hair.

• The teeth of a comb give Scott’s hair its grooves.

How to Go Gray With Style

Paola Kudacki
Eric Ripert, 44
Chef, Co-owner Le Bernadin, N.Y.C.

L.A.-based hairstylist Chris McMillan (our go-to expert on all things hair) explains:
1. “Obviously, gray hair will make you look older. So stick with a smart, trim cut. Think: more Anderson Cooper than David Gregory or Newt Gingrich.”

2. “The same goes for your wardrobe. You need to keep it modern but sophisticated.”

3. “You don’t want yellow-gray hair. Steer clear of yellow shampoos—seriously. Pick a pearly white one instead.”

The Neo-Fro (And How To Manage It)

Paola Kudacki
Kid Cudi, 25
Musician (new album: The Man on the Moon: End of the Day)

1. The look Cudi calls “grungy” is actually very tidy. His barber uses electric clippers to create clean edges that frame his face.
2. He does let his curls go a bit, however. But who doesn’t right now? Just check out Kanye and Jay-Z.
3. Bigger hair, though, doesn’t mean a bigger beard. (He ain’t Rick Ross.) Cudi keeps it trim, fading seamlessly from his sideburns.

Kid Cudi on his ever-evolving do: “When I lived in Cleveland, I had a barber who was by appointment only. We’d just kick it in his shop—I’d play him some of my music, and we’d crack jokes and watch movies. In high school, I kept a Caesar for a while, I had a Mohawk, and I used to apply these texturizer kits so I could have the bomb S-curl. I used to think I was [singer] Carl Thomas. Now I’m letting my hair grow out a bit, and I have this guy called Lyte who cuts my hair twice a week. Since I’m letting it go longer, I just get a trim and a lineup. I don’t really get the full cut anymore. I’m embracing my grungy look.”

Get a Grip on Pomade

Paola Kudacki
Kurt Schroeder, 42
sales, Ever Clothing

The thinner—or more receding—your hair, the shorter you should keep it.

Kurt Schroeder has sported the same rockabilly-inspired haircut for twenty years. The key to its success is pomade.
• If you’re hard-core about your pomade, you can’t go wrong with Murray’s. It’s heavy-duty grease that essentially doesn’t wash out. (Just be careful: When Kurt got married, his wife got tired of throwing out pillowcases and made him switch brands.) Here’s how to apply it: Open the can and run hot water in it. When it’s nice and lubed up, dip your fingers in and scoop out a little bit. Rub it between your fingers, then run your fingers through your wet hair. Comb, like Kurt, or style with your hands.
• If you want a pomade that doesn’t rub off on your wife’s linens, consider water-soluble pomades, like 360 Style (which Kurt digs) or Cool Grease (a popular Japanese brand).
• If you’ve got thick hair, consider clay-based pomades by brands like Baxter of California, American Crew, and Fekkai.

The Effortless Look
(which takes some effort)

Paola Kudacki
Randi Lee, 34
General Manager, The Spotted Pig, N.Y.C.

To achieve his chop-top, controlled-chaos style, Randi does two things: (1) Most importantly, he gets it cut with a straight razor (see next slide). And (2) he always showers at night. Sometimes he uses shampoo, sometimes he just rinses. Then he goes to bed. When he wakes up in the morning, he’s already got the bedhead thing going. He might mat it down a little on top, tuft it up in the back, and pull it out a bit on the sides. If it’s being finicky, he’ll use Bumble and bumble wax, but never any wet product.

A Good Barber’s Secret Weapon

Tom Schierlitz

Randi’s haircutter, Shorty Maniace (from F.S.C. Barber in N.Y.C.), explains:
“The straight blade is the key to giving Randi that messy look. I get his hair superwet so it doesn’t shred, and taper it from root to top. I also twist the hair up and attack it with the tip for texture, and cut against the way it wants to grow.”

Let It Go Long…

Paola Kudacki
Rob McKinley, 33
Co-owner, GoldBar NYC and the Surf Lodge (Montauk, New York)

(While staying in control) Chris McMillan explains:
“This is like the modern version of Warren Beatty’s hairstyle in Shampoo. The thing is, you need to go to a high-end salon, not a barbershop, for this kind of hair. Look for a stylist who has hair like yours—he’ll understand. Or if you meet someone who has what you’re after, ask him who cuts his hair. What you’re essentially looking for is the non-haircut haircut. Ask the stylist to take off about a half inch all over your head, and go every six weeks.”

Or Take It All Off


Shaving your head isn’t as simple as running a pair of electric clippers over it. Here’s what to remember:

•Contour the cut.
See Channing Tatum on the cover this month. Go shorter on the sides and longer on top.

•Do the math.
Electric clippers are fitted with guards dictating how close they cut. A No. 1 is 1/8 of an inch, a No. 4 is 4/8 of an inch, etc. Go with, say, a No. 3 on top, a No. 1 around the ears, and a No. 2 in between.

•Balance a supertight cut with some stubble on your face.

5 Great Hairstyles for Guys
By Amy Leigh Morgan

There are a million reasons to freshen up your coif. Maybe you’re looking for a job. Maybe you’re back on the dating scene for the first time in a few years. Maybe you just feel like updating your look. Whatever your reason, picking a new hairstyle can be a little overwhelming. Don’t fret, though. We’ve put together a guide to five of the easiest, sexiest and most stylish ’dos out there. From young and hip to high-end handsome, all you have to do is point at the picture and let your stylist do the rest.

The Sexy Mess

Getty Images

Teen heartthrob Rob Pattinson (of "Twilight" fame) may not have invented the Sexy Mess, but it wouldn’t be one of this year’s favorite hairstyles without him. You’ve heard the phrase "bedroom eyes," right? This is bedroom hair. Longer layers on sides and top go every-which-way in a stylish tangle that says, "I had more important things to do in the boudoir than comb my hair." This is a great style for guys with long, thin faces, adding much-needed volume to the silhouette.

Warning: This ’do works best for the artsy, under-30 crowd. Older fellows tend to look more mad scientist than madly desirable. Fortunately, all it takes is a comb to turn the Sexy Mess into the dashing Side Part.

The Side Part

Getty Images

This debonair ’do screams old Hollywood glamour. Think Clark Gable in "The Misfits" or William Powell in "The Thin Man." In addition to being classy, it’s also forgiving—men of all face shapes look good with this haircut. For example, George Clooney and Leonardo DiCaprio look nothing alike, but they both rock the Side Part like they were born to it. Its versatility makes it a favorite of stylists for the Armani ad campaign. This style is great for men with rounder faces; the line of the part and the volume of the hair work together to make faces look less moony and more manly.

One of the best things about the Side Part is that it’s easy: All you need is a dab of pomade and a comb. Voilà—you’re ready for the red carpet.

The Faux Hawk

Getty Images

If future generations remember David Beckham for one thing, it will probably be his legendary free kicks. But true fashionistas will remember his foxy Faux Hawk. Short and sweet, this ’do is a great choice for guys who want maximum style with minimum effort. Just slick back the sides, comb the top into a rebellious ridge, and you’re done. Beckham can get away with styling his hair with his own sweat, but the rest of us mortals should use gel or pomade. If you’re lucky enough to have a square face, this is a great style for you. The Faux Hawk will emphasize the line of your jaw, helping you look more like an action hero.

Note to the balding: The slicked-back sides also make this a great style for guys whose hairlines are receding at the temples.

The Textured Crop

Getty Images

Thinning on top but not ready to shave it all off? This classic, sophisticated cut may be just what the doctor ordered. Short, uneven layers create the illusion of thicker, fuller hair and draw attention away from receding hairlines. Hollywood hunks Jude Law and Matthew McConaughey turned to the Textured Crop when the time came, and the ladies love them more than ever. This coif isn’t just for those who have follicle challenges, however. It’s a dashing ’do for dapper dudes with full heads of hair, too. It works especially well for men with softer jaw lines and rectangular faces.

Nicest thing about the Textured Crop: The messier, the better—messy layers de-emphasize the hairline. Kiss your comb goodbye!

The Buzz

Getty Images

If the Combover is hell for balding men, the Buzz surely must be heaven. In addition to being the easiest hairstyle ever (So long, comb and styling products!), the Buzz tells the world you are decisive, strong and sexy. Don’t believe it? Consider Jason Statham. Statham just starred in a movie which required him to use jumper cables on his own tongue over and over again. The point is not that the jumper cables weren’t really shocking him. The point is that he was the first choice for the lead. Between his six-pack abs, his beautiful girlfriends and his testosterone-drenched career, Statham is the strongest argument alive for the power of the Buzz.

Second-strongest argument: Bruce Willis. Enough said.

Round-faced men need to stay away from the Buzz, but almost every other face shape will benefit.

Disabled Rider Held On Bus For Not Saying 'Please'
Bus Driver Disciplined; MARTA Officials Apologize
By Rebekka Schramm
CBS Atlanta Reporter

CLARKSTON, Ga. -- A MARTA bus driver has been disciplined for forcing a disabled passenger to remain on a bus for as long as 30 minutes. The passenger told CBS Atlanta it happened because the driver didn't appreciate his lack of manners.

David Davis has bad knees, he said, and can't climb stairs. "I'm handicapped. I can't fight," Davis said.

Davis said on Aug. 23, he was waiting at a bus stop on Montreal Drive in Clarkston when bus 125 pulled up. As usual, Davis asked the driver to lower the mechanical ramp so he could board the bus. "And so he said something about, you know, 'You're not in a wheel chair.' I said 'Under federal law I don't have to be in anything to ask you to lower that ramp,'" Davis said. The driver lowered it, and Davis got on the bus.

Davis said when they got to Avondale Station, the driver let everyone off the bus except Davis. The driver then got off, too, Davis said. "And I said, 'Hey, man, what about me? You ain't letting me off the bus?'" Davis recalled. "And so he came back, 'Who are you talking to like that?'" Davis said the driver told him he should have said, 'Please.'

"I said, "Man, let me off this bus. You can't hold me.' And he left me on the bus," Davis said. He said he called 911 and waited on the bus for 30 minutes before someone helped him off.

CBS Atlanta asked MARTA's Deputy General Manager Dwight Ferrell whether passengers should be required to ask nicely before being allowed on or off a MARTA bus. "Absolutely not," Ferrell said. "We tell our operators that when a customer asks to kneel the bus and deploy the lift, you do so," he said

MARTA spokeswoman Cara Hodgson identified the driver as Alonzo Duckworth. She said he was suspended without pay for one day and given a written warning and a written reprimand.

"Well, certainly, we apologize to Mr. Davis for any inconvenience associated with any of it," Ferrell said.

But for Davis, it's not over. He plans to press criminal charges against the driver. "Any time you hold me against my will, that's kidnapping."

CBS Atlanta spoke with former DeKalb County District Attorney J. Tom Morgan about the case. Morgan said a kidnapping charge would not apply in this case. He said a false imprisonment charge might apply, but that it would be tough to prosecute.

Davis said he's mad enough to press charges anyway.

Cops: Boy fakes kidnapping to hide bad grades
Allegedly tells parents that man with pistol forced him into 'beat-up car'
The Associated Press

HUNTSVILLE, Ala. - An 11-year-old boy gets high marks in storytelling after staging a hoax to cover up his bad grades.

Police said the boy faked his kidnapping Friday to avoid bringing home a bad report card, saying that a man with a pistol snatched him after he left Ed White Middle School. The boy said the man forced him into a "beat-up car" and threatened to kill him.

"I'm going to take you somewhere and kill you," the boy claimed the man said, according to the Huntsville Times.

The student said he escaped by jumping out of the car but wasn't able to grab his bookbag, which contained the report card.

He ran to his grandparents' house and later confessed to lying. His grandfather called police to apologize.

Sgt. Mark Roberts said police were suspicious that the boy was able to "escape" with his band instrument, but not his bookbag.

Roberts said the boy faces no charges at this time.

The whereabouts of the bookbag and report card are unknown, the local paper reported.

Little girl's foul toss makes dad a celebrity
Associated Press

PHILADELPHIA (AP) - Dad could not believe his good luck.

Steve Monforto made a great grab, catching his first foul ball after years of going to Phillies games. He fist-bumped his buddies, high-fived his 3-year-old daughter and then handed her the prize.

Big mistake.

Little Emily threw the ball over the railing.

Stunned by his toddler's toss Tuesday night, all Pop could do was hug her.

"I didn't want her to think she did anything wrong," Monforto said on WIP-AM radio Wednesday.

Philly crowds are known for being a tough bunch, but everyone at Citizens Bank Park cheered - first his catch, then his cuddle.

"This was the true reflection of what Philly fans are like," said Bonnie Clark, the team's vice president of communications.

Cameras captured the scene of Monforto reaching over the railing and snagging Jayson Werth's foul in the fifth inning against Washington.

The video made the NBC national news. The entire family is scheduled to appear on the "Today" show Thursday.

Monforto and his daughter still went home with a baseball. A few of them, actually.

Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. and three team employees saw what happened and each grabbed a ball and went up to the stands.

"He was very appreciative," Phillies executive Mike Stiles said.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

The Case for Killing Granny
Rethinking end-of-life care.
By Evan Thomas
Published Sep 12, 2009
From the magazine issue dated Sep 21, 2009

My mother wanted to die, but the doctors wouldn't let her. At least that's the way it seemed to me as I stood by her bed in an intensive-care unit at a hospital in Hilton Head, S.C., five years ago. My mother was 79, a longtime smoker who was dying of emphysema. She knew that her quality of life was increasingly tethered to an oxygen tank, that she was losing her ability to get about, and that she was slowly drowning. The doctors at her bedside were recommending various tests and procedures to keep her alive, but my mother, with a certain firmness I recognized, said no. She seemed puzzled and a bit frustrated that she had to be so insistent on her own demise.

The hospital at my mother's assisted-living facility was sustained by Medicare, which pays by the procedure. I don't think the doctors were trying to be greedy by pushing more treatments on my mother. That's just the way the system works. The doctors were responding to the expectations of almost all patients. As a doctor friend of mine puts it, "Americans want the best, they want the latest, and they want it now." We expect doctors to make heroic efforts—especially to save our lives and the lives of our loved ones.

The idea that we might ration health care to seniors (or anyone else) is political anathema. Politicians do not dare breathe the R word, lest they be accused—however wrongly—of trying to pull the plug on Grandma. But the need to spend less money on the elderly at the end of life is the elephant in the room in the health-reform debate. Everyone sees it but no one wants to talk about it. At a more basic level, Americans are afraid not just of dying, but of talking and thinking about death. Until Americans learn to contemplate death as more than a scientific challenge to be overcome, our health-care system will remain unfixable.

Compared with other Western countries, the United States has more health care—but, generally speaking, not better health care. There is no way we can get control of costs, which have grown by nearly 50 percent in the past decade, without finding a way to stop overtreating patients. In his address to Congress, President Obama spoke airily about reducing inefficiency, but he slid past the hard choices that will have to be made to stop health care from devouring ever-larger slices of the economy and tax dollar. A significant portion of the savings will have to come from the money we spend on seniors at the end of life because, as Willie Sutton explained about why he robbed banks, that's where the money is.

As President Obama said, most of the uncontrolled growth in federal spending and the deficit comes from Medicare; nothing else comes close. Almost a third of the money spent by Medicare—about $66.8 billion a year—goes to chronically ill patients in the last two years of life. This might seem obvious—of course the costs come at the end, when patients are the sickest. But that can't explain what researchers at Dartmouth have discovered: Medicare spends twice as much on similar patients in some parts of the country as in others. The average cost of a Medicare patient in Miami is $16,351; the average in Honolulu is $5,311. In the Bronx, N.Y., it's $12,543. In Fargo, N.D., $5,738. The average Medicare patient undergoing end-of-life treatment spends 21.9 days in a Manhattan hospital. In Mason City, Iowa, he or she spends only 6.1 days.

Maybe it's unsurprising that treatment in rural towns costs less than in big cities, with all their high prices, varied populations, and urban woes. But there are also significant disparities in towns that are otherwise very similar. How do you explain the fact, for instance, that in Boulder, Colo., the average cost of Medicare treatment is $9,103, whereas an hour away in Fort Collins, Colo., the cost is $6,448?

The answer, the Dartmouth researchers found, is that in some places doctors are just more likely to order more tests and procedures. More specialists are involved. There is very little reason for them not to order more tests and treatments. By training and inclination, doctors want to do all they can to cure ailments. And since Medicare pays by procedure, test, and hospital stay—though less and less each year as the cost squeeze tightens—there is an incentive to do more and more. To make a good living, doctors must see more patients, and order more tests.

All this treatment does not necessarily buy better care. In fact, the Dartmouth studies have found worse outcomes in many states and cities where there is more health care. Why? Because just going into the hospital has risks—of infection, or error, or other unforeseen complications. Some studies estimate that Americans are overtreated by roughly 30 percent. "It's not about rationing care—that's always the bogeyman people use to block reform," says Dr. Elliott Fisher, a professor at Dartmouth Medical School. "The real problem is unnecessary and unwanted care."

But how do you decide which treatments to cut out? How do you choose between the necessary and the unnecessary? There has been talk among experts and lawmakers of giving more power to a panel of government experts to decide—Britain has one, called the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (known by the somewhat ironic acronym NICE). But no one wants the horror stories of denied care and long waits that are said to plague state-run national health-care systems. (The criticism is unfair: patients wait longer to see primary-care physicians in the United States than in Britain.) After the summer of angry town halls, no politician is going to get anywhere near something that could be called a "death panel."

There's no question that reining in the lawyers would help cut costs. Fearing medical-malpractice suits, doctors engage in defensive medicine, ordering procedures that may not be strictly necessary—but why take the risk? According to various studies, defensive medicine adds perhaps 2 percent to the overall bill—a not-insignificant number when more than $2 trillion is at stake. A number of states have managed to institute some kind of so-called tort reform, limiting the size of damage awards by juries in medical-malpractice cases. But the trial lawyers—big donors to the Democratic Party—have stopped Congress from even considering reforms. That's why it was significant that President Obama even raised the subject in his speech last week, even if he was vague about just what he'd do. (Best idea: create medical courts run by experts to rule on malpractice claims, with no punitive damages.)

But the biggest cost booster is the way doctors are paid under most insurance systems, including Medicare. It's called fee-for-service, and it means just that. So why not just put doctors on salary? Some medical groups that do, like the Mayo Clinic, have reduced costs while producing better results. Unfortunately, putting doctors on salary requires that they work for someone, and most American physicians are self-employed or work in small group practices. The alternative—paying them a flat rate for each patient they care for—turned out to be at least a partial bust. HMOs that paid doctors a flat fee in the 1990s faced a backlash as patients bridled at long waits and denied service.

Ever-rising health-care spending now consumes about 17 percent of the economy (versus about 10 percent in Europe). At the current rate of increase, it will devour a fifth of GDP by 2018. We cannot afford to sustain a productive economy with so much money going to health care. Over time, economic reality may force us to adopt a national health-care system like Britain's or Canada's. But before that day arrives, there are steps we can take to reduce costs without totally turning the system inside out.

One place to start is to consider the psychological aspect of health care. Most people are at least minor hypochondriacs (I know I am). They use doctors to make themselves feel better, even if the doctor is not doing much to physically heal what ails them. (In ancient times, doctors often made people sicker with quack cures like bleeding.) The desire to see a physician is often pronounced in assisted-living facilities. Old people, far from their families in our mobile, atomized society, depend on their doctors for care and reassurance. I noticed that in my mother's retirement home, the talk in the dining room was often about illness; people built their day around doctor's visits, partly, it seemed to me, to combat loneliness.

Physicians at Massachusetts General Hospital are experimenting with innovative approaches to care for their most ill patients without necessarily sending them to the doctor. Three years ago, Massachusetts enacted universal care—just as Congress and the Obama administration are attempting to do now. The state quickly found it could not afford to meet everyone's health-care demands, so it's scrambling for solutions. The Mass General program assigned nurses to the hospital's 2,600 sickest—and costliest—Medicare patients. These nurses provide basic care, making sure the patients take their medications and so forth, and act as gatekeepers—they decide if a visit to the doctor is really necessary. It's not a perfect system—people will still demand to see their doctors when it's unnecessary—but the Mass General program cut costs by 5 percent while providing the elderly what they want and need most: caring human contact.

Other initiatives ensure that the elderly get counseling about end-of-life issues. Although demagogued as a "death panel," a program in Wisconsin to get patients to talk to their doctors about how they want to deal with death was actually a resounding success. A study by the Archives of Internal Medicine shows that such conversations between doctors and patients can decrease costs by about 35 percent—while improving the quality of life at the end. Patients should be encouraged to draft living wills to make their end-of-life desires known. Unfortunately, such paper can be useless if there is a family member at the bedside demanding heroic measures. "A lot of the time guilt is playing a role," says Dr. David Torchiana, a surgeon and CEO of the Massachusetts General Physicians Organization. Doctors can feel guilty, too—about overtreating patients. Torchiana recalls his unease over operating to treat a severe heart infection in a woman with two forms of metastatic cancer who was already comatose. The family insisted.

Studies show that about 70 percent of people want to die at home—but that about half die in hospitals. There has been an important increase in hospice or palliative care—keeping patients with incurable diseases as comfortable as possible while they live out the remainder of their lives. Hospice services are generally intended for the terminally ill in the last six months of life, but as a practical matter, many people receive hospice care for only a few weeks.

Our medical system does everything it can to encourage hope. And American health care has been near miraculous—the envy of the world—in its capacity to develop new lifesaving and life-enhancing treatments. But death can be delayed only so long, and sometimes the wait is grim and degrading. The hospice ideal recognized that for many people, quiet and dignity—and loving care and good painkillers—are really what's called for.

That's what my mother wanted. After convincing the doctors that she meant it—that she really was ready to die—she was transferred from the ICU to a hospice, where, five days later, she passed away. In the ICU, as they removed all the monitors and pulled out all the tubes and wires, she made a fluttery motion with her hands. She seemed to be signaling goodbye to all that—I'm free to go in peace.

Facebook survival guide for awkward adults
What you need to know to avoid embarrassing your kids (and yourself)
By Daniel Harrison,


Thirty-five percent of adults would like to know 25 stupid things about you. Actually, that's an overstatement, but 35 percent of your peers are actually using the sort of sites where that nonsense occurs.

That's right, Pew Internet Research tells us 35 percent of grown-ups (defined as anyone between the ages of 18 and dead) are now using social networking sites. Of course that doesn't mean they're necessarily on Facebook. They might be on LinkedIn (a business social networking site) or MySpace (for musicians and goth tweens), or maybe they're on Friendster. (Just kidding; no one's on Friendster.)

Still, the fastest growing group on Facebook is infamously the 35-54-year-old segment. And since grown-ups have quadrupled their likelihood of using these sites in the last four years, you might find this orientation guide to Facebook useful.

So, uh, what is it?

Hey, my ads are up here Lady!

Facebook is what we're calling a "social networking site," which means they don't have to create content, just post what your friends write. That, however, is not actually as bad as it sounds.

What it really means is they let you create a profile, invite some "friends" to view it, and post countless precious updates so people know you're alive and doing junk. You can also use it to send e-mail-like messages or to raise your blood pressure while trying to use their simply awful IM.

Mark Zuckerberg created Facebook to let college students find each other after parties. Then he saw a bazillion monetizable eyeballs outside and decided to throw the doors open. Now with all those eyeballs, a cadre of advertisers using his system to reach them, and a percentage off the top, all he has to do is tart it up to look like Twitter (apparently).

Anyway, it's fun! The two tricks to getting along well on Facebook are, don't trust anything, and if you want to remain hip, don't try so hard. Preserve that hard-won dignity you earned by surviving puberty, the prom, and possibly parenthood.

Getting started: Your picture

Here's what no one on Facebook looks like.

When you set up a profile, Facebook suggests you choose a picture to represent yourself. As with anything, your choices here can reveal some truths you would have preferred stayed hidden.

For instance, if you're not an actor or model, use a glamour shot at your own peril. You don't look reflective, brooding or perky. You look like a narcissistic jerk. Sincerity is (always) hipper than hair gel, you smug peacock.

Second, college is over and no one's buying it! You got fatter; hair migrated; and drinking caught up. What do you think happened to us for crying out loud? Let it go. Time forces what we might euphemistically call "the mantle of wisdom" upon us all; How gracefully you accept it is up to you. In short, don't lead with a picture of yourself that's older than Facebook.

Your picture, again

Now we're talking!

Since you've probably already screwed this up - there being so many ways to do so - your best bet is just to get a snapshot Simpsonized or Obama-ated and go with that.

Listen, your kids are adorable, and while we're at it, let's extend the fiction to say we're glad you finally got someone to marry you.

Nevertheless, those crowning achievements do not belong in your profile picture. Nor, by the way, does a picture of a dog (unless, that is, you really are a dog, in which case, congrats on getting online. That's impressive! Good dog!)

Here are the rules: Kiddie pics go in your gallery (we love to see them) and spouse pics go in the gallery or on their own Facebook accounts. If your spouse isn't on Facebook, maybe he or she just isn't that into you and your annoying friends. Just saying.

Accepting 'friends'

I really like you ... but not in a LinkedIn kind of way. Certainly not in a Friendster kind of way

Welcome to the firing line! People who have been on Facebook for over a month inevitably find themselves asking, "who are all these 'friends,' and, what on Earth was I thinking?"

The moment you sign up, people will find you and ask you to be "friends." They want to pester you with fake flowers for a garden you don't actually have. Scientists will puzzle over this for decades to come. If these potential "friends" aren't, you know, actual friends you might want to talk to on the phone, you should probably pass.

Simply put, the more "friends" you have, the more nonsense will scud up your inbox. If you don't care about the jerky details of Jerkwad's summer "vacay," don't make Jerkwad a friend. Besides, you don't have to accept or reject "friend requests" as soon as you get them. Wait until the requester does something useful like hit the lotto.

Nothing stays in Vegas - nothing!

"Dood, Jim, remember when we got loaded on Jaeger and you insisted on dressing pretty? Here's that pic I promised I'd never tell anyone about! Awright!"

You'll probably end up being Facebook friends with real friends, people you dislike, workmates who can't take a hint, and God only knows who else. As this dude dressed as a fairy found out, the hard way, some of your "friends" are "friends" with people you are hiding stuff from.

If your jackass freshman roommate somehow got to be buds with your boss and put up a picture of you at a party when you were supposed to be home sick, you're hosed.

Worse yet, if said ex-roomie goes ahead and uploads that picture of you and the mule from spring break '98, and then tags you in it (for the love of Pete), all your friends get a look. Why did you make that dude a friend anyway? We talked about this.

It's theoretically possible to set your privacy settings up so none of this happens, but honestly, you're probably not smart enough.

Updates: Stay classy, San Diego

"Hey, Freddy's cooking Johnsonville brats! Also I'm transsexual!"

You don't have to simply suffer other people's inane updates. (Bob loves pie? Thanks for the breaking news, Bob. I'm going to write that down for future reference.) No, you can also tell your friends all the dull stuff in your own life.

Some might find your updates offensive. The cautionary tale here is one about a guy who stabbed his wife to death when she changed her status to "single." Facebook takes unfair blame for this, though. It's like blaming Nokia after calling your boss between the third and fourth rounds of shooters to tell him where he can shove his snooty attitude. Still, if your friends are crackerjack insane, don't provoke them. P.S., that's true offline as well.

Meanwhile, some announcements aren't really fit for a broadcast medium. Are you getting divorced? Should some of your acquaintances visit a public clinic soonish? If so, that's news you take door-to-door before putting it on Facebook. Your sainted Grandma never threw wide the shutters and bellowed, "What up haters? I'm pregnant!" to the assembled townfolk, now did she? Use some judgment -- it's the Internet, not a barnyard.


You don't ask a roomful of lunatics,"What's up?" unless you really want to know, now do you?

Mostly comments are fun. You or a friend posts a status update and people crack wise or express sympathy or whatever. Community ensues and everybody avoids doing any work for another couple of minutes.

However, be aware that some people have way too many friends. Commenting on their status, means you'll be alerted whenever their friends comment after you.

While that would be okay if your friends have chosen their friends on the basis of wit and insight, they most likely have not. In a sufficiently large population, 50 percent of everyone is below average. And now you have to listen to them sound off.


Like O'Doul's -- but good for no one!

There is nothing funny to say about Facebook applications.

Applications are part and parcel of the platform that Mark Zuckerberg put at the disposal of his ad-men friends. Anyone can build a tiny program that operates on the Facebook platform, and so they have.

Some allow you to do soundly important stuff like play a fakey stock market, or challenge friends to games of Scrabble. Others let you tend pretend gardens, take endless quizzes about the 80s, or give each other fake beers. Now you've got a fake beer with a real craving chaser. Yay! Nobody wins!

Most importantly though, applications provide value to their creators in direct proportion to how many people use them. Consequently, they'll do their best to trick you into inviting all your friends to install them. And when you install them, there's a good chance they'll steal your saleable data, so that's nice.

To recap: Applications are irritating; you get them from your friends. And they're easy to spread inadvertently. This is how venereal diseases roll, too. So there's that.


You've never met so many people exercised over something so trivial.

Groups are some advanced Facebooking material and you should probably just forget about using them. Like anything, they can be useful if used well. In practice though, they generally suck. If you are fanatical about stuff like chalupas or Marilyn Manson's inexcusable absence from "Guitar Hero," or if the strength of your conviction that cancer is bad is enough to make you click a button, then groups may be for you.

However, unless you POSITIVELY KNOW that your friends feel the same way, leave us out of it.

Don't presume just because a digital Teddy bear was enough to get you interested in curing malaria that we're equally shallow. Or maybe a unicorn already cajoled us into raising awareness of Type 1 Diabetes and we've got scant time left for your fluffy bear and its impositions concerning our favorite diseases.

Six YouTube videos gone seriously viral
Organic mashups don’t sell products — their only goal is to crack you up
By Helen A.S. Popkin


Marketers. Media. We need to talk. We’re like - what? Ten years into Web 2.0 and y’all still haven’t figured out that: 1. CGI-manipulated babies performing unnatural skill sets are creepy and B. Calling a commercially produced video “viral” doesn’t make it so.

Just so we’re clear, a pack of freaky tots roller boogying to Sugar Hill Gang’s “Rapper’s Delight” is an Evian bottled water marketing campaign – a successful one that premiered on the video sharing site YouTube, but a commercial all the same. Unlike advertisements, viral videos destined for YouTube perpetuity don’t exist to sell something or avoid insulting an audience. Their only mission is to be awesome. Questionable parenting behavior, chronic diseases and even satirizing a genocidal madman are all fair game for infinite remixes and mashups.

Many examples of mashup memes are so complex, you might feel inspired to declare, “Dang, somebody has a lot of time on their hands.” But while you’re watching “Dancing with the Stars,” these video collagists are creating work that’ll make you blow milk out your nose. So put down the glass and click on the "Next" button above to check out six memes in YouTube’s unofficial viral mashup hall of fame.

"David After Dentist"

Millions were amused in March by the high-as-a-kite ramblings of 8-year-old David DeVore , strapped in a car seat following oral surgery.

“Is this real life?” and “Is this going to be forever?” and “AAAHHHHHHHH!!!!!!” are just a few of the quotes destined for infinite dubs and remixes, including a scratch take and an “eclectic method remix.”

Even YouTube star Chad Vader posted a line-for-line remake. (Talk about getting your money’s worth out of a Darth Vader costume!) Dad, who told the hand-wringing media he brought the camera to help calm the kid’s nerves pre and post operation, continues his peace mission by selling “David After Dentist” T-shirts on the Internet.

Vince with Slap Chop

Though many abound, the Rap Chop (Auto-tune) Remix by pro DJ Steve Porter is hands down the best infomercial remix in the “Sham Wow Guy,” milieu, and perhaps the finest mashup in all YouTube history.

Effortlessly bending pitchman Vince Shlomi’s unblinking double entendres via auto tuner, Porter includes some well-timed clips from the 1984 street dancing debacle, “Breakin.”

As it happens, the emergence of mocking mixes worked out pretty well for the shifty shammy salesman. “We’re going to make America skinny again, one slap at a time” and other memorable quotes ceased to amuse following Shlomi’s February arrest for felony battery on a prostitute. He emerged infinitely more palatable when chopped up on YouTube via video editing tools.

"This is Sparta!"

Many attempt but few achieve a final product as bizarre and random as the “This is Sparta!” techno remix by Internet mash master Keaton.

Every random pop culture reference that fits seems to be Keaton’s theme as he riffs on the uber-butch declaration delivered by Gerard Butler in the 2007 battle fetish flick "300."

Butler’s angry, bearded head is placed atop a dude break dancing in a bear suit, Saturday Night Live’s “Night at the Roxy” jerks, and “Scarface,” machine-gunning the fat kid from the “Goonies,” as he repeatedly shouts, “This is Sparta!” to a seizure-inducing techno beat.

It’s an inspiration to many as well as a delightful display of disrespect unbefitting the proud (and completely humorless) Sparta King Leonidas.

Hitler’s “Downfall”

Got a contentious issue? Why not make Hitler mad about it? Der Furher’s bunker meltdown from the 2004 German film “Der Untergang” (“The Downfall”) is the canvas upon which creative types express social satire via English subtitles that pervert original scenes' context, thus hilariously emasculating one of history’s worst demons. Or whatever.

In a recent effort, Hitler is seriously cheesed over Sarah Palin leaving the gubernatorial office prematurely. In another, Hitler plans to attend “Burning Man,” infuriated to learn only five of the regular crew want to go too. In possibly the best entry, the leader of the Third Reich is positively apoplectic upon learning the release of “Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince” is postponed. When his military leaders attempt to comfort him with the news that “Twilight” is in theaters soon, Hitler is so incensed to be considered a fan of the girly vampire series, he screams “Twilight?!? Do I look like a Twihard to you?!?”

Wilford Brimley's “Diabeetus”

Look. We could stand here and argue all day about the insensitivity of putting words in Hitler’s mouth or for that matter, remixing Wilford Brimley’s commercials for Liberty Medical, a medical company which provides supplies for diabetes.

But the facts are these: That’s not actually Hitler in “The Downfall,” its actor Bruno Ganz. And well, Brimley’s repeated old timey pronunciation of the word “diabetes” combined with his perpetual cranky-but-lovable grandpa-ness is found by many to be - um - hilarious.

Especially when you can dance to it! The video playlist includes “Wilford Brimley's Diabetes Dance Mix,” “Rock me Diabeetus,” and “Wilford Brimley Diabeetus: The Insane Edition.”

"Play him off, Keyboard Cat"

Hey look! It’s Keyboard Cat! That musical feline in the blue onesie who makes everyone smile, softening every blow and putting an entertaining twist on all the world’s FAIL moments.

While the majority of YouTube virals are destined for cult-status obscurity, this nationally-recognized mashable “get off the stage” meme made the ultimate crossover. Keyboard Cat was referenced by both Bill O’Reilly and Stephen Colbert, on whose show Green Day performed a cover. Keyboard Cat even made an appearance at the “MTV Movie Awards” as a warning to winners whose acceptance speeches went on too long.

The original YouTube posting of orange tabby, Fatso (now deceased) by performance artist Charlie Schmidt in 2007 was later borrowed by mash master Brad O’Farrell to punctuate a video of his own humiliation in “Play him off, Keyboard Cat.” Soon all the kids were adding Keyboard Cat as a punch line to their FAIL mashup videos. The kitty video also went on to collaborate with other popular YouTube entities, including Chad Vader and Hitler. Triple Meme Score!

OMG Perez Hilton! Won’t you please shut up?
Who died and made this gossip blogger official spokesperson of everything?
By Helen A.S. Popkin

EPA file
Oh no he din't?! Unfortunately, yes. He did.

So wait … how is it Perez Hilton, the gossip blogger who built a career by drawing male genitalia and cartoon cocaine on celebrity photos, is now the media’s official spokesperson on one of the most important civil rights issues in America?

Oh, yeah! The Internet … the same series of tubes that gave us LOL Cats, Chocolate Rain, Susan Boyle and easily accessible pornography. God love you, Internet. You sure do keep our world interesting.

Whether or not you follow Donald Trump’s Miss USA pageant, it’s hard to escape the fallout following Sunday’s nationally televised event. During the Q&A portion of the pageant, “celebrity judge” Hilton asked Miss California, Carrie Prejean, whether she supported gay marriage.

Prejean delivered her no-not-really response in the fumbling manner commonly heard at beauty pageants when a contestant is asked to deliver a succinct answer to a politically loaded question.

At any rate, Miss North Carolina took home the crown. Unfortunately for the rest of the country, we continue to be bludgeoned by updates on the “blogging queen versus the beauty queen.” Are we actually expecting a pair of inarticulate exhibitionists to fight this thing to a nationwide accepted finish?

Whatever, 24-hour news cycle — do what you gotta do. But you know, you wouldn’t invite LOL Cats to speak on animal cruelty. So please, stop presenting Perez Hilton (real name Mario Lavandeira) as an accredited, universally accepted spokesperson of a generation, rather than the Internet meme that refuses to die.

In the scope of gossip blogs, Perez Hilton’s Web site isn’t particularly witty or insightful — mostly it’s a regurgitation of the news. Certainly in the pre-blog era, a fame-hungry obsessive of negligible talent had slim to no chance wedging his foot in celebrity’s door.

In the age of cyberspace however, pop culture moves faster than the speed of light. Now, only the biggest freak show holds our increasingly limited attention span. And well, we’ve always been obsessed with celebrity. To his credit, Hilton figured this out early on, long before gossip Web sites were a dime a dozen.

Hilton pulled viewers to his growing Web enterprise with outrageous “Oh no he din't!” comments on celebrity doings, accented with his aforementioned naughty use of Microsoft Paint. ( is a joint venture of Microsoft and NBC Universal.)

As his infamy grew, Hilton made the scene in increasingly garish wardrobe malfunctions — shiny sequined jumpsuits, a fur coat paired with a Hello Kitty shower cap … you get the picture. It’s the kind from which you can’t turn away. Well, good for him. Who gets hurt?

Funny you should ask. It’s good you did because nobody seems to be mentioning that way back a long, long time ago (around 2005), gay rights advocates were not enamored with the openly gay Perez Hilton, who used his increasingly popular Internet platform to “out” celebrities he believed to be gay and in the closet.

"In my own way, subserviently, I am trying to make the world a better place," Hilton told the Los Angeles Times — a quote Japhy Grant referenced in the 2006 Salon story, “Perez Hilton's gay witch hunt.”

“This raises the question: How does drawing c** stains on Clay Aiken's mouth, crudely scrawling the word ‘bottom’ across a photo of Lance Bass or putting a call out to anyone who has ‘slept with Neil Patrick Harris’ make the world a better place for gay or straight people? And what does it say about the mainstream press that it has adopted him?”

To be sure, Perez Hilton — both the Web site and the personality — have changed since that article first came out. The man appears to have benefited from the services of a personal trainer and stylist as he more visibly occupies the celebrity atmosphere he’s long aspired to. (Didn’t you know? Perez and Paris Hilton are total BFFs!) Plus, he totally got to be one of Donald Trump’s Miss USA celebrity judges.

The gossip content on his Web site has toned down considerably as Hilton surmounts the boundaries of Internet fame. Perhaps he, or the blog hands he’s reportedly hired, cut back on the nasty comments to further ease Hilton’s transition into mainstream.

Or maybe Hilton doesn’t want to hurt the feelings of his new celebrity BFFs. Whatever the reason, you may have to scroll three screens before happening upon a flying penis … but sure enough, cartoon genitalia can still be found (most recently accenting a pageant shot of Miss California).

“Dumb bitch,” is how Hilton counters Miss California's ineloquent pageant response in a video post on his Web site. And if you missed it, you can catch both of his recent appearances on “Larry King Live” where, in lieu of well-reasoned statements, he over-annunciates his argument for gay marriage and why, apparently, Miss California is not qualified to represent these United States in first contact with an alien race … or whatever Hilton seems to believe Donald Trump's Miss USA’s very important duties to be.

Within a day of the Donald Trump’s Miss USA incident, Hilton has now been hosted by most all major networks. Ambitiously clawing his way out of the Internet, Hilton was not invited to speak solely on the Donald Trump's Miss USA incident for which he is at least somewhat qualified. Instead, the gossip blogger accepted the media’s unspoken invitation to represent not just the entire gay community, but all of America.

Each interview unfolds pretty much vapidly the same; Hilton is presented as a “celebrity columnist” and never once with the full disclosure that the only party this master of obscene Web doodles poorly represents is himself.

Hey Flickr ... why so censorious?
Photo site isn’t talking about 'Jokerized Obama,' and you better not either

By Helen A.S. Popkin

A couple thousand users viewed the Obama Time magazine cover superimposed with the iconic “Joker” look from “The Dark Knight" posted on Flickr.

The “Jokerized” image of President Barack Obama sat unmolested on Flickr for about two months before it was removed by the staff at the photo-sharing Web site. A couple thousand users viewed the image — Obama’s Time magazine cover superimposed with the iconic “Joker” look from “The Dark Knight" — and many of them commented on it. Sometimes it got heated.

Then the co-opted image was co-opted again; the Time cover replaced with the single word, “SOCIALISM” on anti-Obama posters that started popping up in Los Angeles. Suddenly, the original “Jokerized” Time cover was gone from Flickr. And so were the comments. People noticed. Media noticed too.

Flickr cited copyright concerns over the Time magazine image. It also stated that it couldn’t discuss specifics due to its policy on customer privacy and blah, blah, blah.

The company, it seems, didn’t want its customers talking about it either. Flickr not only deleted the comments that accompanied the image, it shut down threads discussing the removal of both. Why? ‘Cause that’s how Flickr rolls.

Now comes the part where we all start cryin’ “free speech” and “censorship” and la, la, la …but guess what, kids? It’s Flickr’s ball and the law says Flickr gets to make the rules. Matt Zimmerman, senior staff attorney for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, digital civil rights advocates, confirms the law favors Flickr. “It actually implicates the First Amendment rights of who's running the forum,” he said.

Jarring, huh? Once again we are reminded that online entities that advertise themselves as “communities” are nothing of the sort. Flickr, Facebook, LinkedIn, whatever, are private companies. We’re not citizens, we don’t have an invested share in the sites so commonly mistaken for town squares. We all clicked and agreed to a contract that governs our behavior on these sites, and signed away a lot of our rights and ownership as well.

That said, Flickr sure is starting to feel creepier than most.

Indeed, there are a lot of sexy political entry points to the “Jokerized” Obama tornado. Given the inflammatory nature of the image, not to mention the inflammatory nature of the Internet, it’s easy to lose focus on whichever one you choose.

We could debate the fine lines between copyright infringement and transcendent political commentary. We could be like famous Obama ‘Hope” artist Shepard Fairey, who questioned the intelligence of the artist behind the “Socialism” version of the poster. (“It's not grammatically correct. It would be ‘socialist.’ ”)

We can circle back to that “censorship” argument even though, again, it’s not applicable. Still, we could throw in the thing about how there's plenty of unflattering George W. Bush caricatures on Flickr.

There’s even something for the conspiracy theorists who can point to the choice government contract Flickr has with the Obama administration and juxtapose that with the fact that the CEO of its parent company, Yahoo, has donated generously to the Republican Party.

But let’s not lose sight of this equally valid chestnut: “Crappy customer service … now with more crapitude!” Take Flickr’s handling of the “Jokerized” Obama fallout. It removed the image. Fine.

Users made a stink. Flickr “declined to comment” to an inquiry by the Los Angeles Times, “due to a company policy that bars discussing inquiries about individual users.” Whatever.

More public stink.

Flickr’s director of community Heather Champ addressed the issue in a forum discussion on the topic: “In this instance, the Yahoo! Copyright Team here in the US received a complete Notice of Infringement as outlined by the DMCA (Digital Millennium Copyright Act). Under the DMCA, an individual may choose to file a counterclaim.”

The discussion thread was shut down.

Photo District News, wondering who might have issued the take-down notice, contacted all invested parties: Time Inc., D.C. Comics, and the photographer of Time’s Obama cover. The consensus: “Wasn’t us.”

If the takedown notice was sent by a party with no legal investment to make such a request, it seems Flickr did not do its due diligence before removing the image. If this is the case, how many other images have been removed due to bogus requests?

An inquiry into more specifics on this matter was then greeted by a pointedly generic statement on copyright issues, stating in part, “Flickr respects the copyright laws in the 21 countries in which we operate.”

OK. So don’t answer the question. People are still going to talk.

Oh wait, that’s covered in Champ’s comment about what might very well be a false Notice of Infringement Flickr allegedly received. She added, “There appears to be a whole lot of makey uppey going in the news and blogosphere about this event.”

What specifically that “makey uppey” is and how it deviates from the facts has yet to be delineated by Flickr, or its parent company, Yahoo. Which brings us to Amazon.

We’ve dished plenty on the online bookseller in the last couple of months regarding their hesitancy to address its customer service FAILS — most recently the clandestine removal of George Orwell books from Kindles … but props are due. Amazon will, eventually, admit “our bad,” explain what went wrong, and let its customers know how it intends to make amends. And then it does just that … sans baby talk.

Flickr, not so much.

Obama intrigue aside, it seems Flickr has a habit of not particularly catering to its clientele. A cursory Internet blog search will reveal myriad complaints about accounts deleted without notice (and photos forever lost) for reasons the user may never be told. Then there’s the “help” forum, where customer service representatives shut down help discussion threads like they’re running out of Internet.

Thomas Hawk, a photography blogger and CEO and "Chief Evangelist" for photo-sharing startup Zooomer, has been active on Flickr since its early days. He's recorded many instances where comments were removed and discussions closed not because of abusive language, flame wars or other ugly behavior so typical of the Internet, but rather commentary critical of the site.

Hawk himself was recently banned indefinitely from the help forum after posting to a link to a blog titled “Flickr is Fascist.” Here’s the note Hawk received from Champ:

“TH, It appears to us that you’re on some sort of personal crusade to save Flickr from itself and that would be fine — we think that our history of open feedback has made Flickr the wonderful thing it is today.

But, your increasingly abusive behavior towards other members and the team won’t be tolerated any longer. While Stewart might have entertained your shenanigans, those of us who continue to work here are done. We are blocking you from the Help Forum for the time being.”

Hawk, who considers himself both a fan and a supporter of Flickr as well as a patron, is fairly well-known in the Flickr community (and he's quoted pretty much everywhere on this topic). He behaves in forums as a well-mannered, invested guy who does not traffic in abusive language or personal attacks. In other words, he’s the kind of guy any reasonable business would be delighted — and surprised — to have in its forum.

What’s more, Champ’s condescending tone is standard practice. I’ve read screen after screen of her rude, disrespectful posts, and am still unclear whether the director of community is attempting to be cute n’ conversational, but here’s the thing. Flickr is a business, not Champ’s personal Jonas Brothers chat room.

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Alas, Technotica’s attempt to confirm whether staff are directed to infantilize users, or one-up them in snaps before closing a thread, received this e-mailed response from Flickr:

“We at Flickr are all for healthy debate and our Help Forum hosts a wide variety of conversations — we’ve never shied away from those that others might deem difficult. You’ll see in the topic in question that there was a fair amount of back and forth between our members before the topic was closed. However, we do reserve the right to close any discussion in our Help Forum when it devolves into behavior that is abusive.”

How Flickr decides when its users have had enough discourse and it’s time to go to bed, we may never know. Like we talked about, it’s Flickr’s right to quash its customers via its "help" forum. It has every right to drown its words with actions, all the while alleging that “We very much value freedom of speech and creativity.”

Though, as Zimmerman at the EFF points out, “Whether that’s a good idea or not, that’s a separate issue.”