Sunday, January 24, 2010

Some of my latest

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

US banks braced for bonus backlash

SHOOT: I hope they get badly burned.

Andy Stern, head of the Service Employees International Union, was in broad agreement: “They backed the truck up to Fort Knox in broad daylight. They emptied it out, we rescued them and they get $150bn in bonuses.”

His words were echoed by Dan Pedrotty, director of the office of investments at the AFL-CIO, the trade union federation, who said executives were using their banks “like ATMs”.
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Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan Chase and other big banks are bracing for a renewed public and political backlash against their compensation plans as they prepare to unveil multi-billion dollar bonus packages.

Under pressure from government, banks are already saying they will devote the smallest percentage of annual revenues in years to their employees. But the raw numbers will still be big enough to provoke public anger, while also prompting internal dissent from traders and bankers who will see a larger share of their bonuses deferred.

A taste of the political furore likely to accompany the bonus season came on Sunday from Christina Romer, who heads President Barack Obama’s Council of Economic Advisers.

She called the prospect of big new Wall Street bonuses “outrageous” and cited the pay-outs as a further reason to pursue the administration’s financial reform package, which is before Congress.

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Catastrophic food shortages are possible in 2010, not just in the U.S. but all around the world

For the past several decades, most Americans went to college to get a non-productive job on Wall Street and nobody went to school to become a farmer. There is currently a major lack of farmers in the U.S. and to make matters worse, the Real Estate bubble destroyed immeasurable amounts of farmland to build houses we didn't need and couldn't afford.

Inventories of agricultural products are the lowest they have been in decades yet the prices of many agricultural commodities are down 70% to 80% from their all time highs adjusted for real inflation. Catastrophic food shortages are possible in 2010, not just in the U.S. but all around the world.

SHOOT: I also think we'll see some uncomfortably large changes this year.
1) We will learn the 2009 holiday shopping season was a bust.
2) We will see a major decline in the Dow/Gold ratio.

The Dow/Gold ratio is currently 9.3, having bounced from the low of 7 it saw in early 2009. We are likely to see a decline in the Dow/Gold ratio to below 7 in 2010.

3) We will see a sharp decline in the Gold/Silver ratio.
4) The U.S. Dollar Index will see short-term bounce, then huge crash.
5) Oil will rise back above $100 per barrel.

We expect oil's next rise above $100 per barrel to be fueled almost entirely by inflation. This time around, it won't matter if there's another substantial decline in oil demand from the U.S. We expect oil prices to rise regardless of if Americans can afford it or not.

6) There will be a move towards a Libertarian third-party.
7) Peter Schiff and Rand Paul will both win Republican primaries and be elected to U.S. Senate.
8) Large 'End the Fed' Protests.
9) Major Food Shortages.

10) Paul Volcker Resigns.

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"We need to remind consumers that economists failed to predict the global economic crisis and they may be too hasty in predicting a recovery now."

"There is a range of problems - in some instances, people expected bonuses that did not materialise or were far smaller than in previous years, or they did not anticipate the big slice the taxman would take of the bonus," she said.

SHOOT: Yes it seems some South Africans, a bunch, are starting 2010 on a very unsteady financial footing. Despite all the cheery 'Happy New year' stuff, 2010 is probably going to be even more difficult than 2009. Be warned.
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Tjaart Kruger, financial director of Consumer Assist, said it was worrying that a full year after the global economic crisis began, people had still not learnt that they needed to budget and that they had to cut spending and be more sensible with their income.

"We are concerned that some are taking economists' predictions that the economy is starting to recover as an excuse to start overspending.

"We have situations where people do this and after the 60 days renege on payments, or say they don't wish to be under debt review any longer.

"This not only threatens their credit record - it is almost certain to see creditors come after them with the full weight of the law."

Snyman said debt grew in 2009 and that trend was likely to continue through 2010.

"This means that in the best-case scenario South African consumers need to watch their rands and cents well into 2011 and relief will probably not come before the end of that year."

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Monday, January 11, 2010

How unfair life can be

SHOOT: Some idiot makes a U-turn on the busiest national highway, causing another vehicle to crash into it, costing a teenager her life, and causing serious injuries to four others. Of course the idiot driver making the u-turn was uninjured.
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Johannesburg - A teenage girl was killed in a collision on the N1 South outside Polokwane in Limpopo on Sunday evening, Netcare 911 said.
A Jeep Cherokee was trying to make a U-turn on the freeway when an Isuzu 4x4 ploughed into its side, Netcare 911 spokesperson Chris Botha said.
A girl in her teens died on impact, while paramedics treated four other people for serious injuries. The girl and all the injured were travelling in the Isuzu. One of the injured was a 4 year-old boy. They were taken to a private hospital in Polokwane.
The driver of the Jeep was uninjured.
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Hundreds strip in NYC for no-pants subway ride

SHOOT: Wish I had been there with my camera.
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People gather in a subway station during the 9th annual

NEW YORK – Hundreds of New Yorkers have been riding the city's subway trains in their underwear.

They stripped down to their undies on Sunday for the ninth annual No Pants Subway Ride.

The idea is to act like nothing unusual is going on.

Participants met up at six locations throughout the city. They formed groups and dispersed to subway stations to catch trains. Once inside the subway cars, they began calmly removing their pants and folding them up.

The event started in 2002 with just seven people. It has spread to other cities.

The stunt is organized by Improv Everywhere, a group that says its mission is to cause "scenes of chaos and joy in public places."

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Kingdom of Israel existed in the 10th century BCE - meaning creationists can no longer claim the world to be 6000 -10 000 year old

The deciphered text: 1 you shall not do [it], but worship the [Lord].

2 Judge the sla[ve] and the wid[ow] / Judge the orph[an]

3 [and] the stranger. [Pl]ead for the infant / plead for the po[or and]

4 the widow. Rehabilitate [the poor] at the hands of the king.

5 Protect the po[or and] the slave / [supp]ort the stranger.

Once this deciphering is confirmed, Prof. Galil added, the inscription will become the earliest Hebrew inscription to be found, testifying to Hebrew writing abilities as early as the 10th century BCE.

SHOOT: Wow some very profound insights there. I find it quite funny.
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A breakthrough in the research of the Bible has shed new light on the period in which the Bible could have been written, testifying to Hebrew writing abilities as early as the 10th century BCE, the University of Haifa announced on Thursday.

The trapezoid pottery shard...

Prof. Gershon Galil of the Department of Biblical Studies at the University of Haifa recently deciphered an inscription dating from the 10th century BCE, and showed that it was a Hebrew inscription, making it the earliest known Hebrew writing.

This breakthrough indicates that at least some of the scriptures were composed hundreds of years before the dates previously believed, and that the Kingdom of Israel already existed at that time. The 10th century BCE was the period of King David's reign.

Though it was dated to the 10th century BCE, it was not immediately clear whether it was written in Hebrew or another local language.

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Sunday, January 10, 2010

World's Most Amazing Views

Why It’s Amazing: The Tiger’s Nest (or Paro Taktsang Monastery) clings like lichen to rocky cliffs in Bhutan’s Paro Valley and creates an awed silence among visitors, broken only by the sound of rustling prayer flags and chanting monks.

SHOOT: I've seen Paris, now for the next - The Great Barrier Reef, which I'll be seeing this February.
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Cliffs of Moher

Great Wall of China

Paris Skyline

Why It’s Amazing: Napoleon is credited for transforming the City of Light during the Second Empire, but it was engineer Gustave Eiffel who helped define the cityscape with a colossal iron lattice tower, which has become a symbol of romance that can be seen sparkling from even the remotest corners of Paris’s 20th Arrondissement.

The Matterhorn

Secret Viewing Spot: Ascend Gornergrat by railway and exit at quiet Rotenboden station. Walk down the 3-kilometer path to Lake Riffelsee, which on clear days offers majestic reflections of the mountain.

Grand Canyon

Machu Picchu

To witness dawn spilling over the lush Peruvian Urubamba Valley is an unforgettable experience.

Tiger’s Nest

Great Barrier Reef

Secret Viewing Spot: Try off-beach diving and snorkeling from tranquil Lady Elliot Island, home to a population of manta rays and renowned for its crystal-clear waters.

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The View from my Bicycle [COLUMN]

It's a miracle - by Nick van der Leek

Some weeks ago whilst cycling I witnessed a horrific bicycle crash, and probably one of the most disturbing scenes I've seen in my life - period. It was a freak accident on a random Tuesday morning. The guy - someone I know from the Free State - stood on his bike, pedal slipped out and he hit the tar face first at 50km/h. The result was a bloody pulpy mess. He remained absolutely motionless for about 3 minutes after which his breathing was very laborious.

When the ambulance took him away I privately didn't give him much chance of living. But he did survive, despite a broken nose, broken jaw, splintering to various parts of the skull [including his eye socket] and some bruising to his brain. He was in an induced coma for several days. Doctors, I later heard, did not want to inform his wife that he had probably suffered permanent brain damage.

Two or three days ago I received a phone call. From him - the rider who had crashed. He spoke with a very slight slur - possibly due to pain in the mouth, possibly due to injuries around the brain. When he called and I saw who it was calling, I half expected it to be his wife. It was amazing to be speaking to him, and him describing the accident, and talking about cycling again, when we had all but written off his chances. One rider who had seen his injuries up close and personal had told us afterwards: "He's fucked."

Of course, he isn't fucked. After a few weeks on a ventilator, after time for injuries to stabilise, his body had slowly begun to heal. As I say, the body lying on the highway, with a mass of blood below his face, struggling to breathe [a sort of snorting noise] - it was hard to believe he'd have remained alive for much longer. But give a person a chance and amazing things can happen.

What I think this anecdote suggests is the remarkable capacity for recovery, for rejuvenation, for resurrection. Life is fragile, but every living creature today is around, and alive, because it has learned how to fight to survive, and won that fight. The journey this rider took, from the brink of death, not being able to breathe on his own, to being able to call me - that is some turnaround. It is, in my opinion, a metaphor for evolution.

Christians will stridently argue with this, and the rider too - saying it was through prayer and thanks to God that he has healed. I don't doubt that prayer helps. Or that a Christian community can help establish and nurture personal well being. I know Ryk Neething's sister Elsje certainly can't conceive that her survival - despite tumors on her brain - wasn't due to some supernatural intervention [aka from God]. Her healing may be supernatural, but it's doubtful God took a personal interest in her. In any event, despite her good fortune, Elsje smokes. This is hardly the sort of activity you associate with a cancer survivor, or a tumor survivor, or with a believer. My point is that these beliefs are often convenient - because if God has saved you, then you're released on your own recognisance and are effectively free to do whatever you want to do again - behaviours that might cause these effects to start off with.

I don't decry believing in something, and I believe that a spiritual quality is very important. I worry though about the extreme. Even in AVATAR the religiousness of the Na'Vi has them describe the Skypeople as demons. Sometimes the label is a restrictive concept that evokes more fear than it should. Perhaps it is useful because it is effective and doesn't require explanation. When we forgo our need for explanation - I fear - we invoke plenty of troubles for ourselves. For we live in a subtle universe, where things may be more complex than the labels we give them.

We human beings think that we know something if we know its name - if we give it a name. Really? Even our definition of God is an arrogant one - because it really cannot be defined, and it certainly cannot be defined in a way that everyone can agree upon. And yet since there is a label, that appears sufficient - to Christians - that there is a God. Definitions of God run the spectrum, don't they - from the most vague, to the most specific - whatever works. Definition be damned.

I've been reading Richard Dawkins book on evolution, which is really to help pantheists like myself, and agnostics, to counter the strident but ridiculous arguments - if they can be called arguments - that Christians make. One argument is that, they say, the world is 6000 - 10000 years old. This is simply as incorrect as saying the world is flat. Yes, it may appear flat to the naked eye, but not enough research has been done. A wider context must be sought, a broader view.

I have discovered that Christians are obstinately ignorant when it comes to these debates. They will not respond to certain points, they simply ignore them. They will repeat denials or questions with the same gusto as someone repeating quotes from the bible - in other words, they're responding to their own programming, there isn't any real thinking involved.

Evolution is a fact, and the science - the fossil records - are fascinating, and quite vast. Some areas of interest are the migration of ocean creatures to land, and back to the sea, and in some cases, back again. The tortoise is an example of such a creature. Sea-based, then land-based, then sea/water-based again and finally both land and sea creatures.

Dawkins expresses it very coherently - he has obviously taken time to think about it - that one species cannot evolve into another species, but two species can share a common ancestor. He says, for example that:

Trout and tuna are closer cousins to humans than they are to sharks...and lungfish and coelacanths are closer cousins to humans than they are to trout and tuna...vertebrates whose ancestors never ventured on to land all look like 'fish', they all swim like fish [unlike dolphins, which swim with an up-and-down bending of the spine instead of side to side like the fish.]

When you consider a human being in fish form you do think more of a dolphin, and dolphin like movements [such as kicking]. Creationists get stuck because they expect to see intermediaries everywhere, as in a whole library of intermediaries between dolphins and man. Er...they expect all these intermediaries to be alive, with us, right now. Because apparently with creationists seeing is believing. Fossils are discounted for that very reason. All the intermediaries, and more than many care to reference - are right there, in the fossil record. The dog to horse intermediaries, the intermediaries of man, and fish to tortoise.

When you fall off your bicycle and nearly die, you can credit your recovery to God. It shows a sense of gratitude and humility which is, I think, necessary and important. And a sense of the spiritual, the underlying nature of thing. However, since God doesn't exist, we need to credit something else. Something in our genes, something we have inherited - the potent survival mechanisms. In a sense calling all of that God may make some sort of sense. If you like labels. Everyone can read and understand labels, but most labels come with bar codes or fine print. So does the God label. It comes with Jesus or Islam and then a lot of subtext which is arguably not helpful, not scientific and certainly not very intelligent.

Some intelligent people believe the world is less than 10 000 years old. They do because they try to fit reality into what they want to believe.

Prof. Gershon Galil of the Department of Biblical Studies at the University of Haifa recently deciphered an inscription dating from the 10th century BCE, and showed that it was a Hebrew inscription, making it the earliest known Hebrew writing.

This breakthrough indicates that at least some of the scriptures were composed hundreds of years before the dates previously believed, and that the Kingdom of Israel already existed at that time. The 10th century BCE was the period of King David's reign.

In the world today that schizophrenia is very evident. We try to fit the real world, reality, into what we want to believe. The number of ultra-heinous crimes, from rape to murder to the worst serial killings, have been perpetrated, licensed really, in the name of some sort of religious doctrine. This applies to Christianity and Islam.

Trying to fit reality into your modus operandi, that is, your own belief system - and let's face it, religion is really a license to take those beliefs to a literal extreme - that game is up. In 2010 we'll see some of these beliefs wash like ships onto beaches, to be wrecked along rocky shorelines as reality closes in. And reality is closing in. The time has come to change, to adapt, to progress to something higher and harder than what we've been used to. Time to wake up.

In Africa, how do you win the Africa Cup of Nations? Kill the opposing side - literally

"We were machine-gunned like dogs," Togo player Thomas Dossevi, who plays for French club Nantes, told Radio Monte Carlo. "They were armed to the teeth ... We spent 20 minutes underneath the seats of the bus."
Angola has been struggling to climb back from decades of violence, and its government was clearly banking on the tournament as a chance to show the world it was on the way to recovery. A building boom fueled by oil wealth has included new stadiums in Cabinda and three other cities for the tournament.
The violence also comes five months before the World Cup in South Africa, the first to be held on the continent. The biggest concern leading to that 32-nation tournament has been the security situation in South Africa, a country with one of the world's highest crime rates.

SHOOT: This attack is likely to cast a shadow - and justifiably - over whether or not an African country ought to be allowed to host a World Cup when it can't protect ordinary citizens within its borders, and apparently does care to.
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Togo's footballers who were targeted in a deadly attack have voted to stay in the African Nations Cup despite an appeal from their nation's government.

The ambush on the team's bus by machine-gun armed rebels, in competition host nation Angola, left three dead and eight wounded.

The surprise announcement revoked their earlier intention to fly home in the wake of the attack in Cabinda, a troubled province of Angola.

He said his team is "a bit bitter, we are a little disappointed with the Confederation of African Football... which couldn't arrange for a postponement of our first match so we could bury our dead".

A Togolese football federation spokesman had said assistant coach Amalete Abalo and press officer Stanislaud Ocloo died in the ambush, along with the bus driver.

Injured goalkeeper Kodjovi Obilale was in a stable condition at a South African hospital where he was expected to undergo surgery for gunshot wounds to the lower back and abdomen.

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AVATAR and you, and me

At the fifth viewing of AVATAR to a packed audience more than 3 weeks after the initial release, the effect had not dimmed - and this audience [certainly not early adopters] applauded. My companions had seen the flick twice and three times respectively. Well, perhaps there were early adopters. I was one of the first to see it, since I'd gone to a press screening and the advanced 15 minute clip months earlier.

I've wondered what the power of this flick is? I mean, surely having seen it 5 times means it's had a particular impact on me? I went into the cinema thinking that, but during the show I suspected that it has a more generic appeal. The engineering, the detail, the music, the ethos, it's all visionary.

I've heard some criticism. It may be valid. I've heard of the odd person walking out. I'd really like to put some of those people on a stage and try to understand them. They're probably the sort of people who find flaws with anything, and perhaps their resistance to AVATAR is a juvenile - even subconscious effort - to attract attention. Maybe they have a valid reason - a brother obsessed with computer games, an abusive father with blue tattoos?

Some reviewers - few though - fall into this pattern. Check this out:

Bad enough are the eco-cliches, the platitudes about the grandeur of nature, the stereotypically evil corporation, the awful dialogue, the gaping plot holes. Worse is that the film's premise actually makes no sense.

From the outset, the Na'vi know that Sully is an avatar remotely controlled by a human. So why trust him? Teach him their ways? Tell him their secrets? Initiate him? Even have sex with him?

And if the company owns and operates the avatar program - an explicit story point made early in the film - how is it possible for Sully to turn traitor and lead the Na'vi against them in battle? Why don't they just hit the off switch?

I assume this reviewer thinks he is very astute? The flick has some imperfections, for example aliens kissing in a very human way. Let's not forget, it's a story made by humans, about aliens, for humans. If you want to stick to an entirely scientific realism, then you're making a wildlife documentary about alien life on far off worlds. So I have an idea these remarks about a weak story line are off the mark by a long way. Story is important, so is the emotional tension. Cameron excels at both. Think of Aliens, Terminator, The Abyss. Cameron's no slouch when it comes to story. And that AVATAR can stand up to 5 viewings proves this.

What did AVATAR mean to me?

In the beginning, Jake Sully [Worthington] admits that a hole as been blown through his life. He has lost a brother, and his legs. He is dreaming about flying, about being free, about having something may more than ordinary mobility restored, he's dreaming really of a sort of resurrection.

In AVATAR one of the themes is awakening, and resurrection - put simply - waking up. On two occasions at least, Sully voiceovers: that sooner or later you have to wake up. Waking up is often a revolutionary act. Waking up is all about dealing with a personal and objective reality - if these are congruent it can be particularly painful.

I believe on a certain level, particularly in 2009, I share Jake's sense of immobility. Sitting behind a computer for hours on end - how is that different to being paralysed in a wheelchair. To take the metaphor further, a friend and I have trained hard recently for the half Ironman, an event that comprises a 21km run at the end. Both of us have suffered from what is called Plantar Fasciitis. It's kind've a pain on the outer rim of the foot. Both of us also have calf pain. Neither of us are particularly unfit or overweight. But cycling sit perpetuates the whole theme of sitting down. Running is a load bearing activity - and both of us have realised that our muscles - for running - have atrophied significantly, and that cycling muscles are much weaker than running muscles.

So I feel a sense of shared frustration - being physically constrained, being unable to move in a way that I once could, and yes, this probably presents itself as echoes of youth. I know that I feel that sense of lost youth very strongly, which I think underlies AVATAR very powerfully. Youth being a metaphor for the abundance - in general - of life. This - we know - is not only true on a personal individual level, but as a species, we also know that we have ruined our own hopes and prospects despite being given a beautiful planet and plentiful opportunities, and resources, once upon a time. I believe the knowledge has sunk in that we have blown, abused that opportunity, and that we are now moving beyond a point of no return, or at the very least, a point of radical departure from the world we once knew. The future may be a world with vastly different weather, and we may move about the landscape differently. It's likely to include more hardship, inconvenience and difficulty than we're used to.

In AVATAR there is also a theme of trust and betrayal. In parallel. Sully is entrusted with a task, he betrays Grace, then tries to save her. He serves the military and the company, then tries to betray/destroy them. And of course, the core of all this is his relationship with Neytiri. This is the heart of the film, and if you think there is no story - well perhaps look under your own dashboard and check your heart. Is it beating?

The music, the motifs, brilliantly elicit a companionship not only within a community, but how this connects with nature. There is a progression - a process involved. Both in reaching the point where Unobtaniun can be mined, in Jake's training as an AVATAR and let's not forget, his ultimate resurrection as a warrior - something he once was. But he becomes more than a warrior, he becomes a lover, a leader, if not a scientist someone who now understands science. In short, his humanity is resurrected. This I feel is the core that resonates with individuals and generic audiences. I think as consumers, this message is sorely needed, and keenly felt.

I know many people who shed tears in AVATAR, and let's face it, it's not an obvious tearjerker like Titanic. The reason AVATAR is so effective, is that it calls to our common humanity. It's a call we all need to hear now, and now more than ever.

Saturday, January 09, 2010

WICKED GAME [HD] Chris Isaak

Vehicle sales at their lowest in 5 years

SHOOT: I have a theory - in order to combat climate change the factors in play are all that are needed. Bad weather in the Northern hemisphere is curbing driving [although not gas consumption for electricity], while all over the world fewer cars are being bought [with the exception of China] due to the credit crunch. Concomitantly we should see demand - and thus consumption - continue to contract, as it must. Thus our actions will change as a matter of nature, not by choice, but by force.
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Turning to 2009 as a whole, Naamsa said new vehicle sales had
declined sharply in every sector.

Industry aggregate sales had declined by 138 157 units or 25.9% to 395 230 vehicles, compared to the 533 387 units sold
during 2008.

"This represents the lowest industry annual sales level since
2003 and underlines the disproportionately severe impact of the
three-and-a-half-year recession on the domestic market, compounded
by the shock to the South African economy of the global financial
and economic crisis," Naamsa said.

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Much of the recovery stems from temporary factors, such as government stimulus efforts and businesses rebuilding inventories

SHOOT: The real driver of unemployment and the financial crisis is energy that is no longer cheap. This underlies everything else.
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WASHINGTON – Lack of confidence in the economic recovery led employers to shed a more-than-expected 85,000 jobs in December even as the unemployment rate held at 10 percent. The rate would have been higher if more people had been looking for work instead of leaving the labor force because they can't find jobs.

The sharp drop in the work force — 661,000 fewer people — showed that more of the jobless are giving up on their search for work. Once people stop looking for jobs, they are no longer counted among the unemployed.

People attend seminars seeking jobs in San Francisco

Most economists worry that 2010 won't be much better. Federal Reserve officials, in a meeting last month, anticipated that unemployment will decline "only gradually," according to minutes of the meeting released earlier this week. The Fed and most private economists expect the unemployment rate will remain above 9 percent through the end of this year.

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Deep freeze settled into the Deep South

SHOOT: Wonder what next year will be like?
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Busses are encrusted in ice and snow at the back lot of a bowling alley in the

The edge of the storm reached the Philadelphia area overnight. The National Weather Service said 5 to 7 inches of snow was expected across western Pennsylvania. In Pittsburgh and the surrounding areas, it has snowed every day since New Year's, a stretch that meteorologists say is unusual.

"It's so cold that sparrows that have crawled under the plastic on our heated deck don't want to leave," said Scooter Montgomery, manager of Peg Leg Pete's Oyster Bar on Pensacola Beach.

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Friday, January 08, 2010

Frigid weather exposes longstanding vulnerability in Britain's energy system

SHOOT: Might be a good thing for the Brits; that both energy and the climate be taken more seriously in future.
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Ninety-five industrial users in north-west England, East Midlands and East Anglia on "interruptible contracts" were earlier told to stop using gas because of high demand from other customers - the first time this has happened in four years.

Map showing snow across UK

Roger Salomone, of the Engineering Employers' Federation, said the move had exposed the "longstanding vulnerability in our energy system", showing the nation had to "take security of our energy supply more seriously", including increasing gas storage facilities.

Up to 25,000 homes across Britain have been similarly affected since Wednesday.

Budget airline Easyjet has cancelled more than 100 flights on Thursday, mostly at Gatwick, where a total of 136 inbound and outbound flights were scrapped. British Airways has also cancelled some flights.

Map showing areas of deepest snow

Rail services have been severely disrupted by the weather, with train cancellations by several operators.

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