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Monday, October 29, 2007

Airbus A380 - the complete guide and review

For Stephen Bleach, being a part of the inaugural A380 flight on Thursday was revolutionary... but not for all the right reasons

The monstrous A380 prepares for takeoff

I’ve always been pretty middle of the road, politically speaking. But whenever Gordon Brown deigns to call the next election, I’m voting Socialist Worker’s Party. Eight hours on a plane has turned me into a Marxist.

Not just any plane. I’ve just stepped off the first commercial flight of the A380 superjumbo, the largest passenger aircraft ever built. Yes, it’s impressive: taller than five double-decker buses, wider than a football pitch, 37 times the length of Peter Crouch in his socks, that sort of thing. And yes, it’s an amazing piece of engineering, a staggering technical achievement: but it’s also the best advert for Bolshevism since the tsar said, “Stuff that Lenin chap, let’s build another palace.”

Never has the gap between the haves and the have-nots of the air been more evident. At the front of the plane (business is on the top level, the “super-first” Suites at the front of main deck, economy at the back on both levels), the elite have unparalleled luxury and space. Further back, the proletariat have to... well, let’s not get ahead of ourselves. I’ve just spent eight hours in the cheap seats: here’s a blow-by-blow account.

Takeoff: it just shouldn’t. It doesn’t seem credible that something this size should get into the air at all. Our takeoff weight today was 468 tonnes, which is the equivalent of 12 very surprised sperm whales. And when it finally comes, 50 minutes after we started boarding today’s 455 passengers (they’ll need to speed that up a touch), takeoff is a revelation.

Where other planes crank up the engines to a mighty howl and go for a death-or-glory charge to get airborne, the A380 feels more like an inter-city train leaving a station: silent, gentle, almost imperceptible. There’s a moment of anxiety when the lack of any roar, or bumping, makes you think something is terribly wrong. Then finally, after 40 seconds of smooth, quiet acceleration, this unlikely behemoth leaves the ground with a whisper and drifts quietly into the skies as if it were the most natural thing in the world. After a moment’s collective sigh, everyone breaks into applause. Taking to the air with the A380 does, genuinely, feel like a miracle.

One hour in: as well as kind, civilised folk who’ve bid in a charity auction to be on the first A380 flight, the plane is full of rude, selfish, jostling journalists like me, and the moment the seat-belt sign is turned off, it’s the cue for all of us to leap to our feet and interview mercilessly anyone within notebook distance. We do tend to make a bit of noise, but I didn’t realise we’d actually drown out the engines. That’s how quiet this plane is. In the momentary lulls between hacks barking questions, you can hear the gentle conversations of real people four rows back.

Two hours in: journalistic frenzy over, time for lunch. It’s terrific, produced by a couple of celebrity chefs I’ve never heard of, but will look out for in future. Sam Leong’s fillet of bass with fungi is the best economy-class food I’ve ever had on an airline.

Three hours in: distractions done with, there’s time to take in the surroundings. And when I do, a question occurs. If this is really the most luxurious plane ever built, why am I still shoehorned into a 32in seat?

Here, I have a confession to make. Last week, when the press were first allowed to see the inside of this plane at the Airbus factory, I – along with every journalist there – got a bit overexcited about the double beds in first and the huge business-class seats; all newer, bigger and swisher than anything we’d seen before. As a result, we didn’t spend too much time in the ominously familiar-looking economy area. A sin of omission, for which the hour of judgment has just come. Or rather hours: I’ve got five more to go.

Some passengers say the economy area is much lighter and airier than we’re used to. I don’t see it – though the large windows do provide a better view. The seat is pretty comfortable... for cattle class. My knees don’t touch the seat in front, and it’s an inch or so wider than a standard 747 equivalent. But it’s still not the ideal place to spend eight hours or more of your life, especially when you know that the real high rollers are just a few feet away, in the Suites. Time to see how the other half live...

Four hours in: the airline people are standing close guard on the curtain that separates economy from first, but for an instant they take their eyes off it, and bingo: an advance party of journalists plunges through the gap.

It’s another world. Hushed, spacious, all the seats are in cabins a little like those you’d find on a cruise ship, although the partitions only reach to about eye level. The champagne flows incessantly, and there are normally unobtainable bottles of Château Cos d’Estournel 1982 being poured. In a few of the 12 elite suites, the inhabitants have had their flat beds made up, and sprawl languorously under Givenchy duvets in front of their 23in TVs. Nobody sleeps, though. Having paid up to £25,000 at auction for a ticket, they want to savour every minute.

Upstairs, the improvement in business class, with its colossal 34in-wide seats, is arguably even greater. With just four abreast as opposed to economy’s 10, it feels both communal and spacious. The lucky ones try hard not to look smug. I try hard not to be jealous. We all fail. Five hours in: back in the cheap seats, I ruminate on what might have been. When we were shown the first A380 back in 2003, we were promised the following: boutiques, self-service restaurants, duty-free shops, children’s play areas, casinos, pubs, libraries, gyms (with treadmills to prevent DVT), showers, 18-hole golf courses. (Okay, I made the last one up, but it was going that way.) So why am I sitting here, unexercised, unshowered and unshopped, with the nearest pub in the outback five miles down? Why do we only have a slightly better version of what every long-haul holidaymaker knows and loathes – rank upon rank of sardine-tin seats, with no room to circulate or socialise? Only one conclusion: they were having us on.

Aviation enthusiasts make up the bulk of the clientele today, and they’re determined to enjoy themselves, so I’m in a disgruntled minority (see below). And, to be fair to Singapore Airlines, they never made any of those extravagant claims anyway. But right now I don’t want to be fair. This feels like a missed opportunity.

Six hours in: the real test of a long-haul seat is: Can you sleep in it? I try for 40 winks. Not a chance. The buzz all around means it’s not a fair trial, but I suspect that even on a calmer flight, it wouldn’t be easy. One bonus point: that dried-out, sinusy feeling is noticeably absent. Higher pressurisation is apparently the reason. Seven hours in: time to test the much-vaunted entertainment system. In a stab at egalitarianism, everybody gets the same stuff (economy has a smaller screen, but it’s still a healthy 10+ inches). It’s cracking: 100 on-demand films, 150 TV programmes, 700 CDs. New films, too. There are USB ports and laptop power to every seat. No internet access, though it might come.

Eight hours in: we’re preparing to land, so I’ll sum up. If you’re planning a trip down under when the plane starts flying from London next spring, should you choose an A380? Yes. It’s fabulous in first and business, a touch more comfy than we’re used to at the back. Revolutionary? No – not for the huddled masses, anyway. Vive la révolution. Business class

Business class

Andy Odgers, 39, and Hazel Watt, 43, bagged seats together in business class. Here they are sitting in just one of them. “It’s fantastic, far better than any business class I’ve seen in a 747,” said Andy, “right down to the picture quality on the big TV screen.” The couple, from Richmond in Surrey, paid US$14,200 (£6,922) for the trip, but reckoned it was worth it. “My parents are in Sydney,” said Andy, “and they don’t know anything about us being on this flight. We’re just going to walk into their hotel and surprise them. They’ll be so jealous.” “It’s better than a lot of first-class seats,” said Hazel. “You could argue it’s a bit hot, but it’s the best flight I’ve ever had.”

First class

Julian Hayward, 38, paid top dollar for two seats on the inaugural A380 flight – literally: the one-way trip in the first-class Singapore Suites for himself and a friend set Julian back US$100,380 (£48,936). The entrepreneur invited The Sunday Times in for a cosy chat in his bijou suite. Was it worth it? “Absolutely – all the money goes to charity, so it’s ending up in the right place. And this flight really is a piece of history, the first outing for the biggest plane ever built.” Would he do it again? “Perhaps not for quite so much money! But yes, the standard is something you won’t find elsewhere. I’m very impressed by their wine list. Would you care for a glass?”

Economy class

Richard Killip, 45, bought three tickets for the economy cabin of the A380, and brought along his daughters, Sophie, 12, and Ellie, 10. All three – who hail from Liverpool, but now live in Singapore – loved the flight. “The most impressive thing was the takeoff,” said Richard. “It was so quiet, it was almost spooky.” “I’ve already shown off a little to my schoolfriends,” admits Sophie. “They’re all dead jealous that I’m on the first flight!” Who else will fly the A380?

- PLENTY MORE airlines are queuing up to get the biggest passenger plane on earth. But will they go where you want to fly? When will they start? And – crucially – what will the experience be like on board? Anxious to keep a commercial advantage, most are being cagey with the details. But here’s what we know so far...


Start date: August 2008

Routes: “The US and the UK,” says the airline – which is expected to mean Sydney to London (via Singapore or Hong Kong), plus direct flights from Australia to Los Angeles.

What’s on board?Suites in first class, though not as enclosed as Singapore’s cabins, and no double beds as yet. Lounge with sofas in business. Four self-service bars in economy, and seats by Recaro (which makes seats for Aston Martin). Plus internet access for all.


Start date:August 2008

Routes:Dubai-London looks certain. Dubai to New York, Australia and India also likely.

What’s on board?Top secret, but there are clues. The airline is installing first-class suites with doors on its fleet of 777s, with styling based on the Orient-Express train, and is expected to go even more luxurious with its A380s – president Tim Clark said: “You ain’t seen nothing yet.” But on flights to India, Emirates will cram in 644 passengers.


Start date:spring 2009

Routes:Paris to New York and Japan.

What’s on board?Questions bring nothing more than a Gallic shrug.


Start date:summer 2009

Routes:20 being considered, from Frankfurt to Asia and North America.

What’s on board?A complete redesign for all three areas, but no details as yet.


Start date:2012

Routes:Los Angeles, Singapore, Hong Kong and Johannesburg are likely to be first. New York “would be considered if customer demand were strong enough”.

What’s on board?BA only ordered the planes a month ago, so they haven’t decided yet. Don’t expect many gimmicks, though – for that, look to...


Start date:2013

Routes:Los Angeles, Dubai.

What’s on board?More double beds for sure, plus a casino – chairman Richard Branson says: “There’ll be two ways to get lucky on our A380s.”

Showers and gyms have been mentioned too.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Top 11 signs your ISP doesn't support Net Neutrality

Signs Your ISP Doesn't Support Net Neutrality

11. Every URL you enter manually resolves to
10. Your ISP lets you know when your Amazon packages have arrived.
9. There's a loud whirring noise at the switching box outside every time you access the Internet.
8. You only see every other pixel in online images.
7. There's a "pr0n downloading" surcharge on your bill.
6. The delay in your Skype conversations make them sound like they're being beamed through the Mars rovers.
5. YouTube videos only play at half speed.
3. You can't access web pages that contain your ISP's name, and the word "sucks."
2. Every site you visit is labeled as "Comcastic!"
1. Your Netflix DVDs arrive faster than your Bittorrent downloads.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

The Globalization of Hunger

Hunger becomes a global issue

At first, the numbers don't seem to add up. The world produces more food than ever—enough to feed twice the global population. Yet, more people than ever suffer from hunger; and their numbers are rising. Today, 854 million people, most of them women and girls, are chronically hungry, up from 800 million in 1996. Another paradox: the majority of the world's hungry people live in rural areas, where nearly all food is grown.

World Food Day on October 16 is a good time to try and understand the conundrum of world hunger. The root of the problem is the inequitable distribution of the resources needed to either grow or buy food (also known as poverty). World Food Day is an equally good time to call out one of the main culprits of the crisis: industrial agriculture, the very type enshrined in the Farm Bill that's currently before the US Senate.

The Farm Bill has far-reaching implications for farmers and food systems the world over. It is set to perpetuate a process whereby heavily subsidized US factory farms overproduce grains that are dumped in poor countries, bankrupting local farmers, who can't compete with subsidized prices. We've begun to hear a bit about the plight of these farmers, but few people know that most of them are women. In fact, women produce most of the world's food. They do so on small plots of land, working hard to feed their families and generate enough income for things like school fees and children's shoes.

US Agribusiness: Swallowing Up Lands and Livelihoods

Visit the websites of corporations like Cargill and Archer Daniels Midland, who together control 65 percent of the global grain trade, and you will read that their mission is to "feed a growing world." The reality is starkly different. Big Farming is part of a larger corporate economic model that prioritizes profit-making over all else, even the basic right to food. Around the world, agribusiness bankrupts and displaces small farmers, and directs farmers to grow export crops instead of staple foods.

Not long ago, most farm inputs came from farmers themselves. Seeds were saved from the last harvest and fertilizer was recycled from animal and plant wastes. Farmers found innovative ways to control pests by harnessing local biodiversity, such as cultivating insect-repelling plants alongside food crops. While these techniques can produce enough food to feed the world and sustain its ecosystems, they don't turn a profit for agribusiness. That's why corporations developed genetically modified seeds, chemical fertilizers, and synthetic pesticides.

These inputs are both expensive for farmers and highly damaging to the natural systems on which sustainable farming and, ultimately, all life depends. As the cost of farming has gone up, farmers' incomes have gone down due to trade rules that favor large-scale agribusiness over small farmers. For example, the World Trade Organization's Agreement on Agriculture forbids governments in the Global South from providing farmers with low-cost seeds and other farm inputs, turning farmers into a "market" for international agribusiness.

Over the past 50 years, as much of the world's farmland has been consolidated in fewer and fewer hands, millions of people have been forced to abandon their rural homes. In fact, this year, for the first time ever, the number of people living in cities around the world exceeded the number living in rural areas. Most of this urban population boom is due to rural migration.

Cash Crops and Climate Change

The same practices that have devastated women farmers and their communities worldwide have contributed to environmental destruction that impacts us all.

Export agriculture is a major contributor to global warming because it requires huge inputs of petroleum: it takes 100 gallons of oil to grow just one acre of US corn. It also requires a massive global transportation infrastructure, including ports, railways, fuel pipelines, and superhighways, often built at the expense of local people and ecosystems. In many places, 40 percent of truck traffic is from hauling food over long distances. Today, food that could be grown locally is shipped, trucked, or flown half way around the planet.

Trade rules have so distorted agricultural markets that almost anywhere you go, food from the other side of the world costs less than food grown locally. So people in Kenya buy Dutch butter, while those in the Big Apple buy apples from Chile. In the US, the average bite of food travels 1,300 miles from farm to fork. The system is so wasteful that many countries import the very same foods that they export. For example, last year the US exported—and imported—900,000 tons of beef.

Asserting the Right to Food

The good news is that our global food systems may be on the verge of a great transition. Although agribusiness has unprecedented control over the world's farmers and food supply, the realities of climate change, resource depletion, and the human suffering caused by industrialized farming have led more people to start thinking about the links between food, the environment, and social justice. Around the world, demands for food sovereignty—peoples' right to control their own food systems—is at an all-time high. Even in the US, where much of the population thinks of farming as a quaint and remote activity, more and more people are realizing that if you eat, you're involved in agriculture.

The theme of this year's World Food Day is the right to food. Securing this basic human right for all people, including future generations, will require fundamental changes in the way we use the Earth's natural resources to grow and distribute food. As we face rising temperatures and declining supplies of cheap energy, change will come of necessity. It's up to us—working in partnership with small-scale farmers around the world—to demand a change for the better.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Heavy Leopard Pre-orders Caused by Vista

Some solution providers have reported that the pre-orders for Apple's Leopard are more than double for the same time prior to Tiger's release. They cite Leopard's new features and customer dissatisfaction with Vista as key drivers, according to ChannelWeb on Thursday.

"We've probably doubled the backorders of Leopard, compared to what we did with Tiger," said Patrick Brown, CEO of Brown Computer Solutions, in Brattleboro, Vermont, a solution provider and Apple specialist. "With the Intel Macs, Apple has significantly increased the installed base. We do expect a very successful launch."

Chris gear, the marketing director for Macforce in Portland, Oregon concurred that poor reviews of Vista have created a strong sales environment. "More than anything, it has to do with the biggest growth coming from 'switchers' -- people switching from the Windows platform," Mr. Gear said. He also pointed out that since Apple's switch to Intel, many of his customers don't even have to worry about choosing between Mac OS X or Windows. However, the pent up demand for a new Mac OS has driven the market as well, he noted.

While some solution providers were having trouble ordering Leopard, an almost festive atmosphere has surrounded the launch. Mr. Gear is planning a launch party and will give away stuffed leopards.

Yukio Tezuka, an Apple specialist at MacSensei in Drexel Hill, Pennsylvania, said he would give away leopard-skin computer mice. "Many people are calling us," he said and reported strong interest by customers. However, he was also cautious. "When Tiger came out, there was a lot of code being re-written (afterward.)," Mr. Tezuka said. "Those are the kinds of things we're afraid of."

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Why Women Live Longer than Men

In humans and many other animals, males age faster and die earlier than females.

New research suggests this might happen because of intense competition over sex.

Scientists compared monogamous species with polygynous species, in which each male mates with many females. Males in monogamous species, such as the barnacle goose or the dwarf mongoose, naturally compete less over females than ones in polygynous species, such as the red-winged blackbird or the savannah baboon.

After investigating about 20 different vertebrate species, researchers Tim Clutton-Brock and Kavita Isvaran at the University of Cambridge in England found the more polygynous a species was, the more likely their males were to age faster and die earlier than females.

The researchers explained that as competition among males for sex grows more intense, each male on average has less time to breed. As such, there is no strong incentive to evolve longevity among males in such species.

Since men age faster and die earlier than women, these findings suggest that "at the time when current human physiology evolved, perhaps around the late Stone Age, polygynous breeding was the norm," Clutton-Brock told LiveScience. "Of course, this doesn't provide any justification for polygyny or promiscuity now for males."

Clutton-Brock and Isvaran detailed their findings online Oct. 17 in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Top 13 Reasons your Facebook account will be disabled

Here's what we're hearing from people all over the world: Facebook is shutting down accounts of users who are exhibiting any behavior it finds remotely suspicious. As paradoxical as it sounds, "suspicious" often means just using the site too much! Sometimes they warn people and give them the chance to change their behavior, and sometimes the account termination is sudden and permanent. Most of the time the disabled accounts will be turned back on, whether automatically after a cool-down period, or after prostrating yourself to the FB authorities. But sometimes they'll lock it up and throw away the key.

Facebook remains intentionally vague about what "bad behavior" looks like, and so it's no wonder that people get confused, angry or despondent when they get the ACCOUNT DISABLED message. To help people avoid having their accounts disabled, I've listed the most common reasons why people report having their accounts abruptly turned off. Keep in mind, that this list is almost surely incomplete, and until Facebook changes their policy to embrace more transparency and two-way communication we'll have to live with a bit of uncertainty when using Facebook.

Here are the things that (supposedly) will get you kicked off Facebook:

1. You didn't use your real name
Don't try to use a nickname (or initials)in lieu of the name on your birth certificate, because Facebook will find you and spit you out.

2. You joined too many groups
Remember that the maximum limit is 200 groups per user. More than that just looks desperate, don't you think?

3. You posted too many messages on a wall or in a group
Even Guy Kawasaki had his account disabled--in his case for "excessive evangelism."

4. You posted in too many groups, too many user's walls
You may be axed for being too verbose in too many places. That's what spammers do, silly. On Facebook it is better--or at least safer--to be seen than heard.

5. You friended too many people
Not so long ago this was a prime cause of disabled accounts, but Facebook has instituted a maximum of 5000 friends that should protect you from yourself.

6. Your school/organization affiliation is doubtful
The overlords are sometimes not very trusting, and they may accuse you of not graduating from Harvard (or Plum Senior High School). The impertinence! Better have your diploma ready.

7. You're poking too many people
We've heard this from multiple sources, and it's easy enough to avoid. Save the pokes for people you *really* like, as mum always said. But beware the odd FB app that pokes on your behalf.

8. For advertising your app on wall posts
The line between spam and self-promotion is a thin one, but let it be known that pimping your shiny new Facebook app is definitely considered SPAM.

9. Using duplicate text in multiple messages
Some people paste a generic welcome message into friend requests to save time. DON'T DO THIS! It makes you look like a spammer. (Ironically, pro spammers are probably randomizing their messages to avoid this trap)

10. You are a cow, dog, or library
Being a real person is not enough, you must be a homo sapien. Accounts have been deleted for cows, dogs and libraries.

11. You are under eighteen years old
According to one report a user's account was suspended when they suspected her of being under 18. She was required to enter a work email address to prove her maturity, at which point her account was reinstated. [note: other users have pointed out that being under 18 is fine if you're part of a High School group, though underage home schoolers have been told to bugger off]

12. You wrote offensive content
Reports of "sudden death" on accounts have been reported by users who were told they had posted offensive content, but were not provided details of the offense.

13. You scraped information off Facebook
They have a zero tolerance policy for page scraping (i.e. pulling content off their web pages via a script). Unfortunately, they don't have a reliable way of proving it's you who's doing the scraping (IP matching is probably as good as they can get), so you may find this a difficult charge to defend yourself against.

Finally, you may be disabled for no clear reason at all. One Australian member reported this staggering experience:

"I was blocked for a little while because I was 'misusing certain features of the site' Naturally I closely examined their conditions of use etc for some insight as to what I must have done wrong. I couldn't for the life of me find anything...

"Upon request for clarification I was told that they were not at liberty to divulge which features or of course any thresholds of use. Then they warned me not to do it again or I would be banned permanently without recourse to reinstatement."

You have been warned. Remember that the hand of justice is swift and merciless.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Income inequality worst since 1920s, according to IRS data

Half of US senators are millionaires

The superrich are gobbling up an ever larger piece of the economic pie, and the poor are seeing their share of earnings shrink: new IRS data shows the top 1 percent of Americans are claiming a larger share of national income than at any time since before the Great Depression.

The top percentile of wealthy Americans earned 21.2 percent of all income in 2005, up from 19 percent in 2004, according to new Internal Revenue Service data published in the Wall Street Journal Friday.

Americans in the bottom 50 percent of wage earners saw their share of income shrink to 12.8 percent in 2005, down from 13.4 percent.

"Scholars attribute rising inequality to several factors," the Journal reports, "including technological change that favors those with more skills, and globalization and advances in communications that enlarge the rewards available to 'superstar' performers whether in business, sports or entertainment."

The data could cause problems to President Bush and Republican presidential candidates, who have played up low unemployment and a strong economy since 2003, crediting Bush's tax cuts for contributing to both. In an interview with the Journal, Bush downplayed the significance of the income gap, saying more education is the answer to narrowing it.

"First of all, our society has had income inequality for a long time. Secondly, skills gaps yield income gaps," Bush told the Journal. "And what needs to be done about the inequality of income is to make sure people have got good education, starting with young kids. That's why No Child Left Behind is such an important component of making sure that America is competitive in the 21st century."

The Journal notes that many Americans fear the economy is entering a recession, and the IRS data show income for the median earner fell 2 percent between 2000 and 2005 to $30,881. Earnings for the top 1 percent grew to $364,657 -- a 3 percent uptick.

Scholarly research suggests that top earners did not have such a large share of total income since the 1920s, the Journal reported.

The Journal reports that a recent stock boom likely contributed to higher earnings among those in the top income bracket, with hedge fund managers and Wall Street attorneys seeing their incomes skyrocket in recent years.

Another prominent pool or wealthy Americans gathers regularly on Capitol Hill to write the nation's laws. The Center for Responsive Politics, which tracks campaign spending and politicians' wealth, says more than a third of Congress members are millionaires, with at least half the Senate falling into the millionaires club.

Forbes reported that last year's incoming class of new Senators did "little to shake the Senate's image as a millionaires club," with half of the newly elected members having seven- eight- or nine-figure personal fortunes.

Freshman Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN) is worth between $64 million and $236 million, and newly elected Sen. Claire McCaskill's (D-MO) fortune is between $13 million and $29 million. R

Roll Call estimates Sen. John Kerry (D-MA) is the chamber's richest member with an estimated net worth of $750 million; another Democrat, Wisconsin Sen. Herb Kohl, is among the chamber's richest with between $220 million and $234 million in personal assets.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Robot masseuse rubs out yet another human job category

Yet another job for humans has been co-opted by our soon-to-be robot masters — massages. Tokyo's Waseda University Takanishi Laboratory and Asahi University have developed the WAO-1 robot (Waseda Asahi Oral Rehabilitation Robot 1) for humans in need of facial massages or therapy. One of the robot's creators, Ken Nishimura, even said he hopes to see the robot take over the work in many beauty salons some day soon. Clinical trials needed to deploy the robot throughout Japan's hospitals are set to begin next month.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

America Went Shopping While our Constitution Slowly Burned…

What will be said about Americans in the future when history looks back at our time? What will I tell my grandchildren and my great grandchildren when they ask what happened to America? It is not just this President and his administration that will be judged by them and by time. It will also be the American people.

Nero fiddled while Rome burned. Sound familiar? Okay, so Nero probably didn’t really play a fiddle while Rome was burning, but it is a great analogy for the behavior of the American public at large right now.

Right after the horrific tragedy of 9/11, Americans were glued to their television sets. We couldn’t believe we had been attacked on our own soil and we were outraged. We mourned and we cried. We learned that it was terrorists who attacked us, specifically, al Qaeda. Shortly thereafter, the President declared war on al Qaeda.

Good American citizens across the country wanted to know what they could do to help. Go shopping, the President told us. Travel, and do the things you have always done. Don’t change your lives. Don’t let the terrorists win.

So, we went shopping in droves. We bought up gas guzzling SUV’s and RV’s, went to Wal-Mart en masse to buy up cheap goods from China, and we traveled the country. We continued to take our kids to soccer and baseball practice, went to movies and football games and did what we in America do best. We spent money. We bought homes and got mortgages we couldn’t really afford and the housing industry went through the roof.

We shopped until we dropped. We did this for years. We ran up our credit card debt and spent every penny we had to pay our bills. Savings went down and spending went up. But, we were being good little patriotic citizens to win our war on terror. We couldn’t let the terrorists change our lives. And we didn’t.

The average American citizen did not go to war and did not see it. There was no draft. Our military men and women, America’s sons and daughters, were called upon time and time again to go to Iraq for longer and longer periods of time. And the government would not give them equal time at home with their families. Veteran’s benefits were cut and those who returned home with PTSD and other disabilities were not helped and cared for as they should have been. Our military was broken.

We were to mind-numbed and shopping happy to see that our Constitution was being disassembled piece by piece. The enemy of freedom and democracy was not a foreign terrorist – although they do exist and are a threat. The enemy was our own government.

Behind the scenes, in the name of the Great War on Terror, people were being quietly picked up around the world and flown to secret bases and tortured for information – policies that are strictly forbidden in the Geneva Convention. This is called Rendition. We put hundreds of men and young boys into Guantanimo Bay and held them without charge for years on end, away from their country and their family and all they hold dear.

American citizens were spied on, had their phone calls listened to and emails read without the benefit of warrants and the FISA court.

In the name of the Great War on Terror and all Americans, prisoners at Abu Ghraib were tortured in the most hideous of ways and further humiliated by having their pictures taken by their torturers.

The mainstream media was bought by the government and did not report the facts, the truth. We did not question their reporting when, after we attacked and moved into Afghanistan, the build up for war in Iraq began. The leaders of this country used fear and terror to sell this war, with threats of mushroom clouds, biochemical attacks and the great evil one, Saddam Hussein. Never mind that the UN Weapons Inspectors told the leaders of this country and the world that Iraq had no weapons of mass destruction and hadn’t had them for years. We were flat out lied to by President and his administration.

A private mercenary Army was created by Blackwater that moved into Iraq and did the jobs our soldiers used to do with more money – from a no-bid contrast. Halliburton and KBR also won no-bid contracts in Iraq and in the United States. New Orleans was destroyed when the levees failed, and the poor neighborhoods were not rebuilt. FEMA trailers meant to help those who were left homeless were left standing empty in fields full of useless metal that is rusted and useless.

Huge detention centers were quietly built (by Halliburton and paid for with no-bid contracts) beyond the sight of the public eye meant to hold hundreds of thousands of people “in the event of a national emergency”. Many dissenters fear they were built to hold us.

The leaders of this government have tried to quell of freedom of speech, dissent and democracy in general. The right of Habeas Corpus was taken away by the President, who declared himself the Decider. He gave himself the power to decide who was an enemy combatant and who was not. He declared that anyone who opposed the war could be called an enemy combatant.

Our jobs were sent overseas to China and India. Immigrants from Mexico poured over our borders freely.

Our national debt leaped in just a few years to several trillion, yes TRILLION dollars, much of it borrowed from China.

Children’s healthcare was denied but money was approved to continue a war that most Americans eventually came to disagree with. Citizens marched in the hundreds of thousands on Washington to demonstrate the public outcry against the war, but the media did not report it. We lobbied Congress day after day after day for years, yet they paid little more than lip service to us.

The Republicans ignored us. The Democrats told us, get us elected and we will help you. We got them elected and they turned their backs on the American People.

Our President wanted to be a War President. He believed the Constitution was nothing more than “a goddamn piece of paper” and the Vice President ran a shadow government. They believed themselves, and apparently rightly so, above the law. The President claimed that God talked to him personally.

Good Christian people went to church and listened to their preachers tell them to support the President. Some were told that it was a sin if they voted for anyone other than the President when it came time for re-election, so the college frat boy who failed at just about everything he touched in his life once again was elected President – some believe via a stolen election for the second time.

All of this while we Americans consumed goods in mass quantities and woke in the morning with the hang over of debt and worry. Our jobs were going and we started losing our homes.

And then they told us about Global Warming, Darfur and mass refugee camps. We began to hear the same rhetoric that was spewed about Iraq used to build the case for war with Iran. This, when our military was broken.

But we shopped. We did our duty to our country to keep our economy going and strong. The rich grew richer, the poor grew poorer, the middle class began to disappear, and We the People, will be paying for our blindness and stupidity for generations to come.

I ask you, who is the real enemy of Freedom and Democracy? Is it not the responsibility of every American citizen to see to it that our elected Representatives and Officials keep their oath of office to uphold and protect the Constitution of our country? This is their sacred duty.

Amy Branham

Saturday, October 06, 2007

How to answer 23 of the most common interview questions

Let’s face it; no one likes the interview process. Well, certainly not the people being interviewed anyway. You have to be on your best behavior, you only get one chance to get it right, and it’s like taking your driving test all over again. Over the years I’ve been to countless interviews. To get my first job out of college I attended some 15-20 interviews a week. Whether it was in Britain or over here in the States, the questions never really seemed to change from job to job. Not only that, but the answers to them are usually the same, with your own personal interpretation of course. Here I present 23 questions you’re likely to be asked, and how I have learned to answer them. Why 23? Because I had more than 20 and less than 25. Remember, being interviewed is a skill, and if you do the preparation you should ace it every time.

1. So, tell me a little about yourself.
I’d be very surprised if you haven’t been asked this one at every interview. It’s probably the most asked question because it sets the stage for the interview and it gets you talking. Be careful not to give the interviewer your life story here. You don’t need to explain everything from birth to present day. Relevant facts about education, your career and your current life situation are fine.

2. Why are you looking (or why did you leave you last job)?
This should be a straightforward question to answer, but it can trip you up. Presumably you are looking for a new job (or any job) because you want to advance your career and get a position that allows you to grow as a person and an employee. It’s not a good idea to mention money here, it can make you sound mercenary. And if you are in the unfortunate situation of having been downsized, stay positive and be as brief as possible about it. If you were fired, you’ll need a good explanation. But once again, stay positive.

3. Tell me what you know about this company.
Do your homework before you go to any interview. Whether it’s being the VP of marketing or the mailroom clerk, you should know about the company or business you’re going to work for. Has this company been in the news lately? Who are the people in the company you should know about? Do the background work, it will make you stand out as someone who comes prepared, and is genuinely interested in the company and the job.

4. Why do you want to work at X Company?
This should be directly related to the last question. Any research you’ve done on the company should have led you to the conclusion that you’d want to work there. After all, you’re at the interview, right? Put some thought into this answer before you have your interview, mention your career goals and highlight forward-thinking goals and career plans.

5. What relevant experience do you have?
Hopefully if you’re applying for this position you have bags of related experience, and if that’s the case you should mention it all. But if you’re switching careers or trying something a little different, your experience may initially not look like it’s matching up. That’s when you need a little honest creativity to match the experiences required with the ones you have. People skills are people skills after all, you just need to show how customer service skills can apply to internal management positions, and so on.

6. If your previous co-workers were here, what would they say about you?
Ok, this is not the time for full disclosure. If some people from your past are going to say you’re a boring A-hole, you don’t need to bring that up. Stay positive, always, and maybe have a few specific quotes in mind. “They’d say I was a hard worker” or even better “John Doe has always said I was the most reliable, creative problem-solver he’d ever met.”

7. Have you done anything to further your experience?
This could include anything from night classes to hobbies and sports. If it’s related, it’s worth mentioning. Obviously anything to do with further education is great, but maybe you’re spending time on a home improvement project to work on skills such as self-sufficiency, time management and motivation.

8. Where else have you applied?
This is a good way to hint that you’re in demand, without sounding like you’re whoring yourself all over town. So, be honest and mention a few other companies but don’t go into detail. The fact that you’re seriously looking and keeping your options open is what the interviewer is driving at.

9. How are you when you’re working under pressure?
Once again, there are a few ways to answer this but they should all be positive. You may work well under pressure, you may thrive under pressure, and you may actually PREFER working under pressure. If you say you crumble like aged blue cheese, this is not going to help you get your foot in the door.

10. What motivates you to do a good job?
The answer to this one is not money, even if it is. You should be motivated by life’s noble pursuits. You want recognition for a job well done. You want to become better at your job. You want to help others or be a leader in your field.

11. What’s your greatest strength?
This is your chance to shine. You’re being asked to explain why you are a great employee, so don’t hold back and stay do stay positive. You could be someone who thrives under pressure, a great motivator, an amazing problem solver or someone with extraordinary attention to detail. If your greatest strength, however, is to drink anyone under the table or get a top score on Mario Kart, keep it to yourself. The interviewer is looking for work-related strengths.

12. What’s your biggest weakness?
If you’re completely honest, you may be kicking yourself in the butt. If you say you don’t have one, you’re obviously lying. This is a horrible question and one that politicians have become masters at answering. They say things like “I’m perhaps too committed to my work and don’t spend enough time with my family.” Oh, there’s a fireable offense. I’ve even heard “I think I’m too good at my job, it can often make people jealous.” Please, let’s keep our feet on the ground. If you’re asked this question, give a small, work-related flaw that you’re working hard to improve. Example: “I’ve been told I occasionally focus on details and miss the bigger picture, so I’ve been spending time laying out the complete project every day to see my overall progress.”

13. Let’s talk about salary. What are you looking for?
Run for cover! This is one tricky game to play in an interview. Even if you know the salary range for the job, if you answer first you’re already showing all your cards. You want as much as possible, the employer wants you for as little as you’re willing to take. Before you apply, take a look at for a good idea of what someone with your specific experience should be paid. You may want to say, “well, that’s something I’ve thought long and hard about and I think someone with my experience should get between X & Y.” Or, you could be sly and say, “right now, I’m more interested in talking more about what the position can offer my career.” That could at least buy you a little time to scope out the situation. But if you do have a specific figure in mind and you are confident that you can get it, I’d say go for it. I have on many occasions, and every time I got very close to that figure (both below and sometimes above).

14. Are you good at working in a team?
Unless you have the I.Q. of a houseplant, you’ll always answer YES to this one. It’s the only answer. How can anyone function inside an organization if they are a loner? You may want to mention what part you like to play in a team though; it’s a great chance to explain that you’re a natural leader.

15. Tell me a suggestion you have made that was implemented.
It’s important here to focus on the word “implemented.” There’s nothing wrong with having a thousand great ideas, but if the only place they live is on your notepad what’s the point? Better still, you need a good ending. If your previous company took your advice and ended up going bankrupt, that’s not such a great example either. Be prepared with a story about an idea of yours that was taken from idea to implementation, and considered successful.

16. Has anything ever irritated you about people you've worked with?
Of course, you have a list as long as your arm. But you can’t say that, it shows you as being negative and difficult to work with. The best way to answer this one is to think for a while and then say something like “I’ve always got on just fine with my co-workers actually.”

17. Is there anyone you just could not work with?
No. Well, unless you’re talking about murderers, racists, rapists, thieves or other dastardly characters, you can work with anyone. Otherwise you could be flagged as someone who’s picky and difficult if you say, “I can’t work with anyone who’s a Bronco’s fan. Sorry.”

18. Tell me about any issues you’ve had with a previous boss.
Arrgh! If you fall for this one you shouldn’t be hired anyway. The interviewer is testing you to see if you’ll speak badly about your previous supervisor. Simply answer this question with exteme tact, diplomacy and if necessary, a big fat loss of memory. In short, you've never had any issues.

19. Would you rather work for money or job satisfaction?
It’s not a very fair question is it? We’d all love to get paid a Trump-like salary doing a job we love but that’s rare indeed. It’s fine to say money is important, but remember that NOTHING is more important to you than the job. Otherwise, you’re just someone looking for a bigger paycheck.

20. Would you rather be liked or feared?
I have been asked this a lot, in various incarnations. The first time I just drew a blank and said, “I don’t know.” That went over badly, but it was right at the start of my career when I had little to no experience. Since then I’ve realized that my genuine answer is “Neither, I’d rather be respected.” You don’t want to be feared because fear is no way to motivate a team. You may got the job done but at what cost? Similarly, if you’re everyone’s best friend you’ll find it difficult to make tough decisions or hit deadlines. But when you’re respected, you don’t have to be a complete bastard or a lame duck to get the job done.

21. Are you willing to put the interests of X Company ahead of your own?
Again, another nasty question. If you say yes, you’re a corporate whore who doesn’t care about family. If you say no, you’re disloyal to the company. I’m afraid that you’ll probably have to say yes to this one though, because you’re trying to be the perfect employee at this point, and perfect employees don’t cut out early for Jimmy’s baseball game.

22. So, explain why I should hire you.
As I’m sure you know, “because I’m great” or “I really need a job” are not good answers here. This is a time to give the employer a laundry list of your greatest talents that just so happen to match the job description. It’s also good to avoid taking potshots at other potential candidates here. Focus on yourself and your talents, not other people’s flaws.

23. Finally, do you have any questions to ask me?
I’ll finish the way I started, with one of the most common questions asked in interviews. This directly relates to the research you’ve done on the company and also gives you a chance to show how eager and prepared you are. You’ll probably want to ask about benefits if they haven’t been covered already. A good generic one is “how soon could I start, if I were offered the job of course.” You may also ask what you’d be working on. Specifically, in the role you’re applying for and how that affects the rest of the company. Always have questions ready, greeting this one with a blank stare is a rotten way to finish your interview. Good luck and happy job hunting.