Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Do you like your Christmas presents?

Last week my family gathered at my brother's house for Christmas dinner. I'd guess there were maybe 20 of us in his home, talking, eating, catching up and enjoying the kids. As usual, it was non-stop with activity from the moment we hit the door around 2 p.m.

Even though the kids have already opened presents at home, their focus is on getting even MORE presents from the family. We make them wait until after dinner, of course

This year, we made them wait just a bit longer as we needed time to rest after all the hustle and bustle... and we wanted to let the food digest a bit... truthfully, it's fun torturing the kids just a bit .

Finally, my youngest niece, Alysha, had had enough. She came into the den where we were all sitting and announced it was time to open the presents.

She's six going on sixteen.

She flounced in and said, "People, listen up. I have something to tell you

Putting her hands on her hips, swiveling her head to make sure she made eye contact with everyone in the room as she spoke, she continued, "It's time to open presents NOW. I want you ALL to remember this first. Even if you don't like what you get, you HAVE to tell the person who got it for you 'Thank you, I like my present.' THEN you can open the next one

I caught the look on my brother-in-laws face --- it was great! Open mouth, eyes wide and then he put his forehead down on the back of the chair he was kneeling behind.

I looked at Alysha and asked her what we were supposed to say if we really did like it. She hesitated for a slit second and said, "Then you say you REALLY, REALLY, REALLY like my present

While we were all laughing, I heard Steve quietly tell her that his instructions to her on the drive over weren't meant for everyone, just for her.

Needless to say, we were all curious to see whether our gift to her was something she "really liked" or something she "really, really, really liked."
Photo: Alysha with her new moon-shoes, new Sponge-Bob pajamas and new bracelets.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Moms Get Techie in 2009 With New Media and Technology

/PRNewswire/ -- Today's time-starved, multi-tasking mothers are using more than band-aids and paper-based calendars to manage their hectic lifestyles and growing families. Mothers, now more than ever, are using technology such as video, blogs and wireless devices to multi-task through their busy days, using more than 5 separate technologies daily. 2009 stands to produce a record number of tech-savvy mothers bridging devices together to create everyday solutions.

According to research released by industry expert Maria Bailey in her new book, Mom 3.0: Marketing with Today's Mothers by Leveraging New Media & Technology, a mom's primary objective in using technology is to stay in touch with her busy family and manage their schedules effectively. In 2009, Moms will delve even deeper into the world of technology as they discover new functionalities of the tools they are already using.

Five technology trends to watch for in 2009 in the mom market cited by Bailey include:

1. The Emergence of Mom 3.0

They may be living in a 2.0 world but today's moms are creating their own systems of solutions to operate on a 3.0 level. According to research by Bailey's marketing to moms firm, BSM Media, www.bsmmedia.com, the majority of moms (65%) utilize 5 or more forms of technology every day. These moms are turning to devices such as computers, cell phones and mp3 players, as well as communication forums like blogs and instant messaging, to stay connected with their families, deliver useful content to their peers and manage their fast-paced worlds.

"Mom 3.0 is a powerful consumer who not only purchases products, but influences the decision making process of her peers through the use of new media, technology and content that is relevant and intuitive," said Bailey. "She is the living, breathing personification of what Internet trend analysts foresee in the emergence of Web 3.0."

2. Vlogs Become the New Blogs

Bailey predicts that Mom vloggers will outnumber Mommy bloggers by the end of 2009, as moms begin to see the ease of distributing and consuming information through video. Research conducted by BSM Media points to online video as the next preferred media among Moms. In fact, 82% of moms have watched 2 or more videos in the last week, versus 35% who have read blogs in the last week.

According to 64% of moms, video is an appealing format because it's adaptable to their lifestyles. Vlogs allow Moms to learn and share with other Moms -- all while stirring macaroni and cheese and answering homework questions. And the emergence of convenient, handheld camcorders, such as the Flip Video, makes shooting and uploading home videos easy and accessible. Currently Newbaby.com, www.newbaby.com , has built the largest network of Mommy Vloggers who review products and chronicle their journeys through parenthood.

3. The Return of Podcasts

In 2009, a decade after the buzzword was coined, podcasts will make a comeback. Back in 1999, when podcasts first emerged on the technology landscape, only 20% of moms owned some form of mp3 player. However, today, over 80% of moms have a means to listen to a podcast, whether through computer downloads or popular mp3 players like the iPod and Zune. Whatever listening device Moms choose, podcasts are a perfect fit for an on-the-go lifestyle. Moms can download specialized talk radio, shows and music and take entertainment and relevant content with them throughout their day, whether they are driving carpool in a minivan or jogging behind a double stroller.

With 80% of the market having the right tools in hand, it's time for this medium to experience the growth it deserves.

4. Twitter, Micro blogging, Instant Messaging Expands In Functionality For Moms

Moms have contributed to the growth of the social media phenomenon because interacting virtually with their peers allows them to nurture relationships in a simpler way. Joining social networking sites allows Moms to share product recommendations and parenting advice with like-minded Moms across the country. Recent statistics show that more than 40% of American mothers have Facebook profiles.

And now that these multi-tasking Moms have grown comfortable using these platforms to share with their peers, they are starting to use them to fulfill another core motivator -- staying in touch with their families. Just as many mothers have found texting to be an effective form of communication with their kids in 2008, in 2009 Moms will be tweeting, instant messaging and creating profiles on sites such as Facebook and MySpace to keep up with their adolescents and tweens.

5. Digital Photography and Video Sharing Leaves the Laptop

With the popularity of the Nintendo Wii among moms, Bailey hypothesizes that they will soon discover the functionalities of sharing photos over the game system and move their memory sharing from online to their living room. By inserting her camera's memory card into her Wii, a mom can create an interactive photo slideshow that can be shown in her home, as the perfect backdrop to a party, or shared virtually with other moms or family members that have access to the game system.

Since many moms will be resolving to actually get their photos off of their cameras this New Year, digital photo frames will grow in popularity. Most of these widely available and easy-to-use devices allow Moms to store and display over 4,000 images in an attractive setting that fits in with any decor.

The above research was conducted by BSM Media in conjunction with the release of Mom 3.0. Over 3,000 Moms across the United States were surveyed in June 2008 and these statistics are just a small sample of the plethora of Mom Market research that can be found in Mom 3.0. Filled with ideas, insights and creative programs to help you update your current strategies, as well as input from real-world Moms, Mom 3.0 will help prepare any brand for the future of Mom Marketing. To learn more or to purchase a copy of Mom 3.0, visit www.marketingtomoms.com .

Maria T. Bailey is the foremost authority on marketing to moms. Her company, BSM Media, specializes solely in marketing to mothers. In addition to Mom 3.0, she is the author of "Marketing to Moms: Getting Your Share of the Trillion Dollar Market" and "Trillion Dollar Moms: Marketing to a New Generation of Mothers."

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Monday, December 29, 2008

Mars Rovers Near Five Years of Science and Discovery

/PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- NASA rovers Spirit and Opportunity may still have big achievements ahead as they approach the fifth anniversaries of their memorable landings on Mars.

Of the hundreds of engineers and scientists who cheered at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), in Pasadena, Calif., on Jan. 3, 2004, when Spirit landed safely, and 21 days later when Opportunity followed suit, none predicted the team would still be operating both rovers in 2009.

"The American taxpayer was told three months for each rover was the prime mission plan," said Ed Weiler, associate administrator for NASA's Science Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters in Washington. "The twins have worked almost 20 times that long. That's an extraordinary return of investment in these challenging budgetary times."

The rovers have made important discoveries about wet and violent environments on ancient Mars. They also have returned a quarter-million images, driven more than 13 miles, climbed a mountain, descended into craters, struggled with sand traps and aging hardware, survived dust storms, and relayed more than 36 gigabytes of data via NASA's Mars Odyssey orbiter. To date, the rovers remain operational for new campaigns the team has planned for them.

"These rovers are incredibly resilient considering the extreme environment the hardware experiences every day," said John Callas, JPL project manager for Spirit and Opportunity. "We realize that a major rover component on either vehicle could fail at any time and end a mission with no advance notice, but on the other hand, we could accomplish the equivalent duration of four more prime missions on each rover in the year ahead."

Occasional cleaning of dust from the rovers' solar panels by Martian wind has provided unanticipated aid to the vehicles' longevity. However, it is unreliable aid. Spirit has not had a good cleaning for more than 18 months. Dust-coated solar panels barely provided enough power for Spirit to survive its third southern-hemisphere winter, which ended in December.

"This last winter was a squeaker for Spirit," Callas said. "We just made it through."

With Spirit's energy rising for spring and summer, the team plans to drive the rover to a pair of destinations about 200 yards south of the site where Spirit spent most of 2008. One is a mound that might yield support for an interpretation that a plateau Spirit has studied since 2006, called Home Plate, is a remnant of a once more-extensive sheet of explosive volcanic material. The other destination is a house-size pit called Goddard.

"Goddard doesn't look like an impact crater," said Steve Squyres of Cornell University, in Ithaca, N.Y. Squyres is principal investigator for the rover science instruments. "We suspect it might be a volcanic explosion crater, and that's something we haven't seen before."

A light-toned ring around the inside of the pit might add information about a nearby patch of bright, silica-rich soil that Squyres counts as Spirit's most important discovery so far. Spirit churned up the silica in mid-2007 with an immobile wheel that the rover has dragged like an anchor since it quit working in 2006. The silica was likely produced in an environment of hot springs or steam vents.

For Opportunity, the next major destination is Endeavour Crater. It is approximately 14 miles in diameter, more than 20 times larger than another impact crater, Victoria, where Opportunity spent most of the past two years. Although Endeavour is 7 miles from Victoria, it is considerably farther as the rover drives on a route evading major obstacles.

Since climbing out of Victoria four months ago, Opportunity has driven more than a mile of its route toward Endeavour and stopped to inspect the first of several loose rocks the team plans to examine along the way. High-resolution images from NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, which reached Mars in 2006, are helping the team plot routes around potential sand traps that were not previously discernable from orbit.

"The journeys have been motivated by science, but have led to something else important," said Squyres. "This has turned into humanity's first overland expedition on another planet. When people look back on this period of Mars exploration decades from now, Spirit and Opportunity may be considered most significant not for the science they accomplished, but for the first time we truly went exploring across the surface of Mars."

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Saturday, December 27, 2008

Iraqi Forces Discover Priceless Smuggled Treasure

At the Fayette Front Page and Georgia Front Page we receive a lot of really good stories that we'd love to include but just can't find the right place. The following story is one that I thought was really interesting but it doesn't quite "fit" anywhere on the main sites. I wish we could include every good story that comes our way, especially those about our military. Despite all the lip service about loving our troops, the press sure doesn't like to include any stories that paint them in a good light... It drives me nuts to hear the words coming out of SOME people's mouths about supporting out troops. Words have absolutely no meaning unless they're backed up by action. OK, before I get too far afield and really start going down the trash-the-media-path, I'll just post the story and let you read.

Iraqi Security Forces recently uncovered hundreds of historical artifacts during two raids in northern Basra.

The 228 ancient artifacts included Sumerian and Babylonian sculpture, gold jewelry and other items from ancient Mesopotamia.

"This is my favorite item," said Iraqi Col. Ali Sabah, commander of the Basra Emergency Battalion that led the operation, holding a piece of gold jewelry. "It's gold from the Babylon ages and about 6,000 years old. It doesn't have a price."

"I'm very happy because this is my civilization's heritage," he said.

The Basra Emergency Battalion led raid operated from tips that smugglers intended to remove the treasure from the country.

"We got information that there were important Iraqi monuments that were going to be smuggled outside of Iraq," Sabah said.

After verifying a tip, the operation kicked off with a house raid that recovered 160 pieces of Iraqi monuments that were found in the yard. "We arrested five of the guys and they admitted to the crime," he said.

These arrests led to a second raid on in al-Ayaqub in northern Basra.

The monuments were found in a box in a corner of the yard covered with blocks. "We knew what we were looking for because we had pictures," Sabah said

"We will send it back to Baghdad via the Ministry of Defense to action moving it to the Iraqi Museum," he said.

Sabah said he hopes Iraqi authorities will get more information of this kind. "The soldiers are very, very proud to conduct this operation," he said. "I can't describe how happy we were when the soldiers found it.

"Each of the soldiers will be very proud when they visit the museum with their families and their wives and they can say 'I brought it back'."

(Special to American Forces Press Service - Multi-National Division South East PAO)
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Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Resolve to Invest Wisely in 2009

/PRNewswire/ -- As the struggling economy heads into the New Year, investors continue to be unsure of what their financial future may hold. Despite the stock market's tumultuous rise and fall, there remain basic investment truths for making sound investment resolutions no matter what 2009 has in store.

New Year's Investment Resolutions

1. Make sure your investment advisor does not have disbursement authority or other access to your funds beyond trading or fee deduction.

2. Find out exactly how your investment professional is paid; insist on a percent-of-assets fee or a flat fee arrangement only.

3. Don't look at your statements or holdings more than once a month; investing is a long-term game. Find a professional and a long-term strategy you're comfortable with and let time work its magic.

4. Ensure your investment professional holds the CFA (Chartered Financial Analyst) designation -- the worldwide gold-standard for investment analysis and investment portfolio management.

5. Review your portfolio for high-load funds or other expensive investment products; there is usually very little reason to hold high-load investment products. They are almost never in your best interest.

6. Insist on annualized performance results prepared in accordance with GIPS (Global Investment Performance Standards). If your investment professional can't provide annualized percent returns for your portfolio(s), net of fees, you won't know how you're doing.

7. Don't allow the negative psychology of the current market to trick you into selling your stocks at exactly the wrong time. Current valuations may represent the greatest buying opportunity in a long time, although risks clearly remain.

8. Have faith in the U.S. economy. The world is not ending and the country is not going to collapse. We will recover.

9. Recall that you must outpace inflation in the long-run. Stocks are the single best investment vehicle for potentially beating inflation over long periods of time.

10. Assess your spending and saving habits. Eliminate and trim spending where feasible. Spend less on unnecessary items. And always ask yourself if the purchase you are about to make is necessary or impulse.

Eads & Heald Investment Counsel has a 21-year history of managing customized investment portfolios through periods of economic euphoria and despair. See http://www.eadsheald.com/ .

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Tuesday, December 23, 2008

58% of Americans Not Cutting Back on Holiday Spending This Year, New Survey Reveals

/PRNewswire/ -- While most Americans have been directly affected by the sharp decline in the nation's economy, a majority still feel a sense of obligation, both to their family and the country, to maintain holiday gift giving and celebrations, according to a survey of 1,762 adults.

More than 54% of survey respondents know someone who has become unemployed in the past 6 months. However, 58% report they expect to spend the same amount this year on the holidays as they did last year, according to the survey, which was sponsored by Dollar Savvy, a new magazine and website (www.getdollarsavvy.com) dedicated to providing Americans with effective money-saving ideas.

Respondents are aware of the connection between their holiday shopping plans and the economy:

-- Over half (51%) say they have a responsibility to keep shopping to
help the economy.
-- 57% of respondents say regardless of the nation's economic reality,
they have an obligation to provide their families with a wonderful
holiday season.
-- 20% of respondents acknowledged they are dipping into savings to pay
for holiday celebrations.

Survey respondents expressed a sense of optimism about the future, and noted that the economic downturn is helping readjust priorities in a positive way. Among the findings:

-- 61% say the holidays will be more joyful this year.
-- 78% said hard economic times remind them of what is really important.
-- 73% said America will be stronger once we solve our economic problems.
-- 90% percent say the holidays are about family and faith, not gifts and
meals.

When it comes to gift-giving, Americans will continue to give store-bought gifts, but 20% said they plan on giving more homemade gifts this year. In keeping with their perspective on the economy, 53% said they expect the number of gifts they receive this year to be less than last year; 41% said they expect it to be about the same.

Additional holiday spending results:

Amount Spent
-- 9% plan on spending more
-- 46% plan to spend the same amount on gifts as last year
-- 43% plan on spending less
-- The average amount expect to spend is $553

Gifts to Children
-- 56% plan on giving the same number of gifts to children as they have
in the past.
-- 22% plan to give less
-- 13% plan to give more
-- 8% don't know

Gifts to Spouse
-- 52% plan on giving the same number of gifts to their spouse
-- 27% plan on giving less
-- 7% plan on giving more
-- 14% don't know

Gifts to Friends
-- 51% plan on giving the same number of gifts to friends
-- 37% plan on giving less
-- 3% plan on giving more
-- 8% don't know

"Despite economic hard times, Americans continue to have a deep, heartfelt connection with the holiday season," said Neil Wertheimer, Editor in Chief of Dollar Savvy and getdollarsavvy.com. "While they believe that the gifts will be fewer this year, and the meals a little less extravagant, the joys of the holidays will be every bit as great, if not greater, than in years past."

Other survey results included:

-- 61% of respondents said they will be sending store-bought holiday
greeting cards this year; 31% are planning to send e-mail cards; and
12% are sending homemade cards. 13% of respondents say they will be
including a family-update letter.
-- 42% said they will spend less this year on decorating their home for
the holidays; only 6% said they will spend more than last year.
-- 25% said they will spend less on holiday food this year; 15% said they
will spend more.
-- 27% said they will give less money to charity this year; 11% said they
will give more.
-- 48% say that ham will be the main course at their holiday dinner,
followed by turkey (43%), and beef (16%). Only 6% said they will be
serving seafood, and 1% said they will be serving lamb.
-- 38% said they will be dining at restaurants less during the holiday
season.
-- 11% said they would be dining out more.
-- 41% said they will be traveling less during the holiday season.
-- 14% said they would be traveling more.

About the survey

The survey was conducted on December 9 and 10 by Socratic Technologies, a full-service marketing research agency that regularly conducts global Web-based surveys. The respondents were a cross section of women and men who subscribe to one of five broad-interest consumer magazines operated by the Home & Garden Group of the Reader's Digest Association Inc. Survey respondents had a median age of 52 and median household income of $75,400. The survey had a 2.3 percent margin of error.

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Monday, December 22, 2008

Michael Jackson Needs Lung Transplant

RJ Note: Pop star Michael Jackson is reported to need a lung transplant. Thought you'd want to see the news video.

Check out the video.

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10 Tips To Get Your Book Published

RJ Note: Ever thought about writing a book? Here are some tips in case you're writing and are now thinking of the next phase- publishing.

(StatePoint) Over 412,000 books were published in the past 12 months. That means over 1,100 books are flooding the marketplace daily - or almost one a minute.

So how can you break through the clutter to get your book published, promoted, and sold?

"The good news is there's no better time in the history of publishing for individuals seeking access to the marketplace," says publishing veteran Brian Feinblum. "You're no longer at the mercy of big publishing houses. You can get a book published on your own with minimal financial investment - and reap a greater percentage of the profits."

Feinblum, a former book editor and publicist, is the chief marketing officer of Planned Television Arts (PTA), the nation's largest and oldest book promotions firm. He often helps self-published or first time authors.

PTA (www.plannedtvarts.com) has helped many authors become best-sellers, nurturing thousands of unknowns to become household names. Their clients include: Wiley & Sons, Simon & Schuster, Harper Collins, Random House, Penguin Putnam and McGraw-Hill.

Here are 10 tips from Feinblum on how to get published:

* If you want a traditional publisher to publish your book you usually need a literary agent. An agent will take 15 percent of the money the book generates. Once a literary agent agrees to represent you and finds a publisher, it can take another 12-18 months to publish the book. To locate an agent, consult the "Literary Market Place," a directory available at most libraries.

* Self-publish. This means you invest money to print your books. You get to keep all profits and retain control of the editing, cover, and content. It's best to find a distributor who can sell your book to bookstores and libraries, and generate sales to corporations and associations. A distributor typically takes about 25 to 30 percent of the proceeds.

* If you want to get published quickly, keep most of your profits, and lay-out little money, consider using print-on-demand publishers such as iUnivese.com, Trafford, or Blurb.com. Instead of printing thousands of books in advance, they print a book when a consumer orders it.

* Publish an e-book. No printing is involved. People order your book online and it's downloaded or emailed to them.

* To convince a literary agent to represent you or a publisher to publish you, create a book proposal. You must identify what your book is about, why you're qualified to write it, how big the marketplace is, what your competing titles are, and how you plan to promote and market the book. It's not enough to have a good idea or a well-written book.

* Publishers are looking for authors with a platform or following. Create a Web site, blog regularly, build an e-zine mailing list, podcast, speak at local groups, and network at LinkedIn.com and other sites.

* Check if the media is featuring the topic your book covers. If it's fiction, find similar novels. You want to follow a trend and tie into it. However, uniqueness counts. If yours is the only book of its kind, you may have found an underserved niche, ready to be exploited.

* Attend Book Expo America (www.bookexpoamerica.com), the annual publishing event featuring publishers, literary agents, editors and booksellers.

* Read about the publishing industry. "Publishers Weekly" is the magazine covering book publishing. They also have a free daily e-zine. Consult www.publishersweekly.com.

* Tell everyone you know you're trying to get published. Send sample chapters to friends, co-workers, family, etc. You may get lucky and get discovered. At the very least, you'll get useful feedback.

For additional tips on getting your book published or promoted, email feinblumb@plannedtvarts.com. To learn more about book publicity, visit www.plannedtvarts.com.

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Saturday, December 20, 2008

Did Mice Kill the Cats in a Deadly Fire?

RJ Note: While any fire that takes lives is a horrendous event, this story title caught my eye. Out of respect to the victims, I will refrain from making any catty remarks or injecting my warped sense of humor.

Mice Suspected in Deadly Cat Fire

Mice may be responsible for a blaze that killed nearly 100 cats at an animal shelter near the Canadian city of Toronto, officials say.......

Read the story.

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Friday, December 19, 2008

Give the Gift of Good Manners

/PRNewswire/ -- The holidays this year are all about getting back to basics: Appreciating quality time with friends and family, enjoying home-cooked holiday meals, and pampering ourselves in small ways when the going gets tough.

With the extra stress of the economy affecting just about everyone, etiquette guru Peggy Post of the Emily Post Institute suggests we add one more "basic" to our holiday to-do lists: Treat those around you with courtesy and respect-from your closest friends and relatives to the check-out clerk at the grocery store.

"Many of us can be a little on edge during the holidays, and this is going to be especially true this year," says Post. "Giving the gift of respect has a lasting and positive effect on both the giver and the receiver, and that's something that can't be underestimated at a time of year when we can all use a little extra courtesy."

Whether you are visiting someone else's home or inviting others into yours, remember the following holiday etiquette tips in the coming weeks:

For hosts:

-- Decorate-even in the bathroom! A recent study by the maker of Quilted Northern Bath Tissue found that most of us love to decorate our homes for the holidays-including 40% of us who deck out the bathroom!(1) "Decorative towels or scented candles can add the holiday spirit to the occasion, even in the bathroom. And don't forget the quality premium bath tissue, which communicates that you care about the comfort of your guests."

-- Extend the invitation at least a month in advance, longer for those who might be traveling. "If you're inviting out-of-town guests, set a beginning and an end for the visit. Three days is usually the optimum."

-- If a guest asks to bring along a friend, try to make it work. "The more the merrier! Extend the invitation to as many as can you can fit around the table or in your home."

-- Assign tasks, including greeters, hors d'ouevres passers, 'bar tenders', 'circulators and introducers,' servers. "Even though most guests may be family members, give them the red carpet treatment!"

-- Turn off the TV during the meal or party. Focus your attention where it belongs -- on the lovingly prepared food, your family and your friends. "When the dishes are done, everyone can enjoy the games or holiday specials on television(or the chat in the other room!)"

For guests:

-- Let your host know right away if you can come or not. "Don't wait until the day before to RSVP, and avoid showing up with uninvited guests. There is usually room for one more at the table, but discuss it with your host ahead of time."

-- Offer to contribute to the meal, especially in these economic times. Your best bet is to make your offer open-ended and follow your host's direction. "If you or someone in your party has special dietary needs, it is very gracious to offer to bring a dish that meets those needs."

-- All hosts love a surprise gift-including your mother and aunts. "It can be as simple as a bottle of wine or a scented candle; just don't show up empty handed."

-- Family or non-family, this is one day where it is a great idea to pitch in, even if it's just loading the dishwasher or packing up the leftovers. "If you make the offer to help and the host firmly declines, back off -- some people really don't want guests in their kitchen."

-- Say thank you. "A phone call or, better yet, a hand-written note of thanks to your hosts shows your appreciation for all their hard work."

For a chance to win a little plush for your friends and family, visit www.quiltednorthern.com .

(1) "Why Women Need Push" study conducted on behalf of Georgia-Pacific, maker of Quilted Northern

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New Survey: Nation's Food Banks Report Dramatic Increase in Demand for Emergency Food Assistance as Unemployment Rises and Economy Worsens

/PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Food banks across America are reporting a 30 percent increase in requests for emergency food assistance, according to a new survey conducted by Feeding America, the nation's largest hunger relief organization. At the same time, a new public opinion poll released today by the organization finds that many Americans are unable to provide adequate amounts of nutritious food to their families, due to the current economic crisis.

Feeding America urges Congress to pass economic recovery legislation that will offer desperately needed relief to both low-income Americans and the nation's food banks, as the recent surge in unemployment has pushed millions to the brink of hunger. Additional support for emergency feeding through food banks and longer term assistance through food stamps will also generate economic activity that will stimulate local economies as well as relieve the hunger caused by the recession.

Feeding America received responses from 160 of their 205 food bank members for the "local impact survey." It gauged increases in requests for emergency food assistance and how the nation's food banks are coping with the dramatic spike in current demands. The national poll was commissioned by Feeding America to assess the impact of the economic downturn on low-income households.

"The economy is affecting all Americans, but it is low-income Americans who are suffering the most," said Vicki Escarra, president and CEO of Feeding America. "Skyrocketing unemployment rates, increasing food costs and high fuel prices for the majority of this year have put an unprecedented level of need on our food banks. Unemployment projections indicate that the situation is likely to get worse in the near future. Low-income Americans need increases in food stamps and our network needs more food from the federal government to ensure that we can keep feeding the millions of people turning to us for help."

More than 90 percent of food banks respondents cited increases in food prices and unemployment as the primary factors contributing to the increase in requests for emergency food assistance. More than 60 percent cited fuel, and 52 percent cited the inadequacy of food stamp benefits.

Seventy-two percent of food banks reported that they are not able to adequately meet the needs of their communities without adjusting the amount of food distributed - offering smaller amounts of food and groceries to those in need - or their operations.

"We are in a national crisis," said Escarra. "We have some food banks reporting as high as a 65 percent increase in need. There are record numbers of new men, women and children, who never thought they would need food assistance. Some of those seeking help are so unfamiliar with available emergency food assistance that they are having difficulties navigating how to access food."

Many low-income Americans, who are living just above the income eligibility threshold for the Supplemental Food Assistance Program (formerly named the Food Stamp Program), are experiencing food insecurity for the first time. In the public opinion poll, 63 percent of respondents reported that in the past year, their food didn't last and they could not afford to buy more. Forty percent ate less than they felt they should, and 36 percent cut the size of meals or skipped meals because there wasn't enough money for food. Forty percent reported that they have had to choose between paying for food and utilities in the past year. One in three food stamp recipients reported that their benefits only lasted for two weeks or less.

Additionally, the financial crisis is compromising low-income Americans' ability to access nutritious food at grocery stores. Nearly 70 percent of low-income respondents reported that they are cutting back on food spending and 62 percent reported having to make more shopping trips for food because they didn't have enough money to buy everything at one time.

"Winter is here, and we know that millions of families struggle between heating their homes and eating. This is not a choice that anyone in the United States of America should have to make, and too many more families are going to be faced with these decisions in the coming weeks. I urge the Congress to pass economic recovery legislation as soon as they return to Washington that brings hope to the 25 million Americans we feed each year," said Escarra.

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Thursday, December 18, 2008

Survey: College Students Say Illicit Use of ADHD Drugs Helps Their Ability To Study

Undergraduates who illegally use ADHD medication without a prescription say it’s worth the risk for one key benefit: enhancing their ability to study.

In a new study led by researchers from Duke University’s Department of Psychology and Neuroscience, more than 5 percent of students surveyed reported using ADHD medication without a prescription during the past six months. Nine percent reported doing this since beginning college.

The Web-based survey of 3,407 students was taken in spring 2007 at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro and at Duke. Ninety percent of respondents who reported using the medication without a prescription during the past six months said enhancing the ability to study was the reason they most often took stimulant drugs such as Ritalin, Adderall and Concerta for nonmedical purposes. And nearly 90 percent of these students felt it was effective in helping them study.

Nonacademic motives, such as “to get high,” were far less common.

Using ADHD medication without a prescription was more common among students
who reported more frequent use of alcohol and other substances during the past six months. However, it was also more likely to occur among students who felt that concentration and attention was a problem for them. In fact, many of the students reporting illicit use had attention difficulties similar to students who reported a current diagnosis of ADHD.

“Students without prescriptions use ADHD medication primarily to enhance academic performance and may do so to ameliorate attention problems that they experience as undermining their academic success,” according to the study, which appears in the online edition of the Journal of Attention Disorders. “Students perceived non-medical use to be beneficial despite frequent reports of adverse reactions.”

Side effects reported by students included 23.9 percent of respondents saying illicit ADHD medication “always” reduced their appetite, while 15.6 percent said the drugs “always” made it difficult to sleep. More than 7 percent reported that the drugs “always” made them irritable.

Despite the side effects, more than 70 percent of students believed that using ADHD medication without a prescription had been positive for them. More than 70 percent said they “never” worried about becoming addicted to the medication.

The research was led by David Rabiner, associate research professor and director of undergraduate studies in the Department of Psychology and Neuroscience at Duke. Other researchers on the project were from Duke, the University of North Carolina at Greensboro and the University of Michigan.

The researchers noted that several past studies have shown more than 30 percent of students who illegally used ADHD medication did so to “get high,” but only 2.2 percent of respondents in this survey said they frequently used illicit ADHD medication for that purpose.

“Learning about the benefits that students perceive from nonmedical ADHD medication use may inform efforts to prevent this behavior,” Rabiner said.

This study and others like it have shown that the practice was more common at colleges and universities with tougher admission standards. These studies also revealed that most students using illicit ADHD medication tended to be white, belong to a fraternity or sorority, have lower GPAs and engage in substance use and other risky behaviors.

The authors of this study -- “Motives and Perceived Consequences of Nonmedical ADHD Medication Use by College Students: Are Students Treating Themselves for Attention Problems?” -- said the findings point to a need for further study of the academic, social and biomedical consequences of illicit ADHD medication use among college students.

“A limitation of this study is that we only learned how students believe using ADHD medication affects them,” said Rick Hoyle, a psychology professor at Duke. “How students are actually affected -- whether it truly helps them do better academically or whether it contributes to the use of other substances -- cannot be determined from our results. This would require following students across college and learning whether nonmedical ADHD medication predicts any of these other outcomes.”

The other authors of the study were E. Jane Costello, professor of medical psychology in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Duke University Medical Center; H. Scott Swartzwelder, clinical professor of psychiatry and psychology/neuroscience at Duke; Arthur Anastopoulos, a psychology professor and director of the ADHD clinic at UNC-Greensboro; and Sean Esteban McCabe, research associate professor at the Substance Abuse Research Center and Institute for Research on Women and Gender at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor.

The study was funded by a grant from the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

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Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Ranking The Rankings: How To Choose A Charity To Support

(NAPSI)-For many charitable organizations, demand for services is increasing as more people find themselves in need and the public's ability to donate is falling. Americans remain dedicated to charitable giving, but even with this enduring generosity, many social service organizations are expecting lower totals of donations this year.

At any time, it's important to make sure your hard-earned dollars are put to good use when you donate to a charity. Many charity watchdog groups publish annual rankings of charities but the process by which the rankings are created is not consistent and some are more reliable and accurate.

If you rely on charity rankings before making your donation, it is important to keep several things in mind:

1. Examine how effective a charity is at delivering on its mission: check goals and verifiable successes. Trust rankings that give a picture of how well an organization performs, not just how well it manages money.

Charity X might offer job training to homeless women. This group might be extremely effective at delivering its services, since 95 percent of all homeless women in the area who want job training are getting it and are even moving on to employment. But some rankings would not measure these impressive results, focusing instead on the percentage of Charity X's funds invested in program expenses versus operating expenses. Donors who rely on only these rankings would not know how effective Charity X is.

There are some perfectly reasonable expenses necessary to an organization getting its job done, but which may be defined as overhead and not program expenses by ranking organizations. One example is direct mail, which can often be used both for fundraising and information delivery. Even in cases where a mailer includes a great deal of helpful information, if the piece makes any fundraising appeal, many ranking organizations ascribe the cost to overhead, which can affect the ratio used to determine a performance score.

Examine efficiency and the ratio of overhead to program expenses, but do not judge an organization by this ratio alone. My own organization, the American Cancer Society, has set several ambitious goals to achieve by the year 2015, and regularly reports to the public its progress toward reaching each of them.

2. Different charities operate differently and not all rankings account for the differences. Some organizations must raise funds aggressively, while others are supported mostly or entirely by government or private sources. Some charities operate in only one city with a small number of staff, while others have local staff and offices throughout the nation to support the needs of their constituents. Some rankings do not take these organizational differences into account.

The American Cancer Society fights cancer globally on multiple fronts, from funding research to educating the public about prevention and early detection, to providing numerous free services to those facing the disease. In measuring how a charity performs, scale and complexity are not always taken into account, but prospective donors should consider these factors.

3. Research the organization publishing the rankings. Be sure that the group or media outlet issuing the rankings is unbiased. A quick Google search may indicate any connections between a ranking organization and any charities or companies that might represent a conflict of interest.

4. Understand that there is a lot of good information available. Charity rankings can be confusing, especially when donors see that the same organization may be highly rated on one list and rated poorly on another. Make sure that you are comparing apples to apples when looking at rankings.

Alongside the rankings, look to indicators like the Better Business Bureau Wise Giving Alliance National Charity Seal, which confirms a charity passed in-depth evaluations of governance, fundraising, mission work and expenditures. The American Cancer Society is proud to have earned this seal.

It can be useful to watch the watchdogs because in charitable rankings, as with the charities they rank, one size does not fit all.

Mr. Wolf is a lawyer and National Board Chair of the American Cancer Society.

Charitable rankings can help you decide which group to support--but not all rankings are equally reliable.

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Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Biggest Breach of Earth's Solar Storm Shield Discovered

/PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Earth's magnetic field, which shields our planet from particles streaming outward from the Sun, often develops two holes that allow the largest leaks, according to researchers sponsored by NASA and the National Science Foundation.

"The discovery overturns a long-standing belief about how and when most of the solar particles penetrate Earth's magnetic field, and could be used to predict when solar storms will be severe. Based on these results, we expect more severe storms during the upcoming solar cycle," said Vassilis Angelopoulos of the University of California, Los Angeles, Principal Investigator for NASA's THEMIS mission (Time History of Events and Macroscale Interactions during Substorms). THEMIS was used to discover the size of the leak.

Earth's magnetic field acts as a shield against the bombardment of particles continuously streaming from the sun. Because the solar particles (ions and electrons) are electrically charged, they feel magnetic forces and most are deflected by our planet's magnetic field. However, our magnetic field is a leaky shield and the number of particles breaching this shield depends on the orientation of the sun's magnetic field. It had been thought that when the sun's magnetic field is aligned with that of the Earth, the door is shut and that few if any solar particles enter Earth's magnetic shield. The door was thought to open up when the solar magnetic field direction points opposite to Earth's field, leading to more solar particles inside the shield.

Surprisingly, recent observations by the THEMIS spacecraft fleet demonstrate that the opposite is true. "Twenty times more solar particles cross the Earth's leaky magnetic shield when the sun's magnetic field is aligned with that of the Earth compared to when the two magnetic fields are oppositely directed," said Marit Oieroset of the University of California, Berkeley, lead author of one of two papers on this research, published May 2008 in Geophysical Research Letters.

Researchers have long suspected that this "closed door" entry mechanism might exist, but didn't know how important it was. "It's as if people knew there was a crack in a levy, but they did not know how much flooding it caused," said Oieroset.

Previous spacecraft could only sample a small part of this enormous layer of solar particles inside the Earth's magnetic shield, but the five spacecraft in the THEMIS fleet spanned the entire rapidly-growing layer to give definitive measurements.

While the THEMIS researchers discovered the size of the leak, they didn't know its location(s). This was discovered by Wenhui Li of the University of New Hampshire, Durham, N.H., and his team. They used a computer simulation to discover where two holes frequently develop in Earth's magnetic field, one at high latitude over the Northern hemisphere, and one at high latitude over the Southern hemisphere. The holes form over the daylit side of Earth, on the side of the magnetic shield facing the sun.

The simulation also showed how the leaks develop. As solar particles flow out from the sun, they carry solar magnetic fields past our planet. Li's team realized that the solar magnetic field drapes against Earth's field as it passes by. Even though the two fields point in the same direction at equatorial latitudes, they point in opposite directions at high latitudes. When compression forces the opposite fields together, they link up with each other in a process called magnetic reconnection. This process tears the two holes in Earth's magnetic field and appends the section of the solar field between the two holes to Earth's field, carrying the solar particles on this section into the magnetosphere, according to Li's team. "We've found if the door is closed, the sun tears down a wall. The crack is huge -- about four times wider than Earth and more than seven Earth diameters long," said Li, whose paper will be published in an upcoming article of the Journal of Geophysical Research.

Solar particles by themselves don't cause severe space weather, but they get energized when the solar magnetic field becomes oppositely-directed to Earth's and reconnects in a different way. The energized particles then cause magnetic storms that can overload power lines with excess current, causing widespread blackouts. The particles also can cause radiation storms that present hazards to spacecraft in high orbits and astronauts passing through the storms on the way to the moon or other destinations in the solar system. "The more particles, the more severe the storm," said Joachim "Jimmy" Raeder of the University of New Hampshire, a co-author of Li's paper. "If the solar field has been aligned with the Earth's for a while, we now know Earth's field is heavily loaded with solar particles and primed for a strong storm. This discovery gives us a basic predictive capability for the severity of solar storms, similar to a hurricane forecaster's realization that warmer oceans set the stage for more intense hurricanes. In fact, we expect stronger storms in the upcoming solar cycle. The sun's magnetic field changes direction every cycle, and due to its new orientation in the upcoming cycle, we expect the clouds of particles ejected from the sun will have a field which is at first aligned with Earth, then becomes opposite as the cloud passes by."

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No One is Laughing at SNL's Skit of Governor Paterson

/PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Saturday Night Live (SNL) cast member Fred Armisen spent more than four minutes mocking Governor David Paterson for his blindness on Saturday night -- a skit that is being criticized by Governor Paterson himself, the American Foundation for the Blind (AFB), and blindness organizations across the country. Using elementary, offensive humor, the skit derides Governor Paterson for his vision loss and portrays him as a bumbling leader. It also suggests that people with disabilities are from the "freak bin."

Governor Paterson, who has had an impressive academic and political career, is known as a witty politician who brings people together. He has accomplished many firsts in his life, becoming the first non-white New York State Senate legislative leader in 2003, the first visually impaired person to address the Democratic National Convention, and the first African American Governor of New York. As a legally blind public figure, Governor Paterson has challenged public perceptions about what it means to have a disability and shown the world that people with vision loss can be great political leaders.

"Governor Paterson, who was unexpectedly called on to fill the role of Governor last spring, has proven to be an accomplished political leader who is respected and liked by New Yorkers," said Carl R. Augusto, President & CEO of AFB.

It is difficult to understand why SNL, a show known for its clever, political satire, would take cheap shots at people with disabilities instead of coming up with better material -- especially when mimicking a politician known for his sense of humor. Next time, we hope SNL judges Governor Paterson the way we do all politicians, based on his political record and not his disability.

The American Foundation for the Blind (AFB) is a national nonprofit that expands possibilities for people with vision loss. AFB's priorities include broadening access to technology; elevating the quality of information and tools for the professionals who serve people with vision loss; and promoting independent and healthy living for people with vision loss by providing them and their families with relevant and timely resources. AFB is also proud to house the Helen Keller Archives and honor the over forty years that Helen Keller worked tirelessly with AFB. For more information visit us online at www.afb.org.

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Monday, December 15, 2008

National Poll: More Than One-in-Four Teens Think Violent Behavior is Acceptable; Many Say It's OK to Settle a Score

RJ Note: Well, Ollie, that's another fine mess you've gotten us in to. We Americans had best wake up when it comes to our children.

/PRNewswire/ -- While today's teens are learning the Three "Rs" of Reading, Writing and Arithmetic in school, new research shows that many are justifying violence to practice a fourth -- Revenge. In a youth culture where violence is often believed to be acceptable, these and other findings not only present disturbing implications for school safety, but for the workplace as well, say experts.

A new poll of 750 teens from Junior Achievement and Deloitte and conducted by Opinion Research shows that more than one-in-four teens (27 percent) think behaving violently is sometimes, often or always acceptable. More students thought violence was acceptable than was cheating (19 percent), plagiarizing (10 percent) or stealing (3 percent). And fully 20 percent of respondents said they had personally behaved violently towards another person in the past year, and 41 percent reported a friend had done so.

When the teens who agreed that violence was acceptable were asked more specifically about rationale for such behavior, most noted self-defense (87 percent) and to help a friend (73 percent). However, more than a third said violence was acceptable to settle an argument (35 percent) and for revenge (34 percent). Other justifications were dislike of the person who is the target of the violence (22 percent), to gain respect (21 percent), peer pressure (14 percent), and simply for "the thrill" of it (10 percent). Of considerable concern is that more than three-fourths (77 percent) of those who think violence is acceptable also consider themselves ethically prepared to enter the workforce.

"It is highly troubling that so many teenagers have a self-image of ethical readiness and the confidence in their ability to make good decisions later in life, yet at the same time freely admit to current behavior that is highly unethical," said David W. Miller, Ph.D., Director of the Princeton University Faith & Work Initiative, and professor of business ethics at Princeton University. "Employers will have their hands full if a quarter of teens grow up still willing to resort to violence and other unethical behavior when it comes to making decisions about how to settle differences, protect their interests or get ahead."

The poll also shows that teens feel more accountable to themselves (86 percent), than they do to their parents or guardians (52 percent), their friends (41 percent) or society (33 percent). Teens' feelings about accountability, coupled with self-reported unethical behavior, raises a potential concern among employers because ties within a community, school, work environment or social network often guide behavior. If teens lack accountability to others, the data suggests that their choices may be driven purely by self-interest, and not by interest in the greater good.

"The results of the survey reveal considerable ethical relativism among teens and raises questions about their ability to make good decisions later in life," said Sean C. Rush, President and Chief Executive Officer of JA Worldwide. We're understandably concerned about these results but recognize that they do point to a major learning opportunity."

The survey results also show that many teenagers are lacking role models. Only about half (54 percent) cite their parents as role models. Most of those who don't cite their parents as role models are turning to their friends, or they said they didn't have a role model -- which begs the question why more parents, teachers, clergy, politicians or business leaders are not viewed as role models -- and what society can do to improve this statistic.

"Teens need training in ethical decision-making, practical tools and behavioral role models that help them understand not only how to make the right choices, but how those choices will impact their personal success and the success of the organizations they join," said Ainar D. Aijala, global managing partner, Consulting, Deloitte and chairman of the board, JA Worldwide. "That is why Deloitte continues to support ethics education in collaboration with Junior Achievement."

Junior Achievement and Deloitte offer "JA Business Ethics(TM)" as part of their $2 million initiative to help young people make ethical decisions. "JA Business Ethics" was developed in response to the needs of high school students; it provides hands-on classroom activities and real-life applications designed to foster ethical decision-making as students prepare to enter the workforce and addresses issues such as lying, cheating and violence. Students examine how their beliefs align with major ethics theories and learn the benefits and advantages of having a code of ethics. Additionally, Junior Achievement recently updated the original "Excellence through Ethics(TM)" program, which is available online at www.ja.org/ethics free of charge and provides age-appropriate lessons for students in grades 4-12. At the high school level, the "Excellence through Ethics" lessons include appropriate methods of conflict resolution in the workplace. For example, through role-playing exercises, students learn how to overcome disagreements with co-workers by finding common ground.

Methodology

This report presents the findings of a telephone survey conducted by Opinion Research Corporation, among a national sample of 750 teens comprising 375 males and 375 females 12 to 17 years of age, living in private households in the continental United States. Interviewing for this TEEN CARAVAN(R) Survey was completed during the period October 9-12, 2008. The survey's margin of error is +/- 3.6 percent.

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Saturday, December 13, 2008

Study Finds Fat Stem Cells Effective in Treating Pets' Elbow Arthritis

RJ Note: Now this is exciting! Hey doc, I've got this pain in my neck......

24-7 -- Vet-Stem, the San Diego-based company using fat-derived stem cell therapy in veterinary medicine, recently had its second study with positive findings published. The multi-center clinical trial, published in Veterinary Therapeutics Fall 2008, revealed that dogs treated with stem cell therapy showed statistically significant improvement in lameness, pain and range of motion for elbow injuries.

"This study reinforces the importance of our work--we are making tomorrow's medicine a reality today," says Vet-Stem CEO Robert Harman. "We have seen hundreds of dogs benefit from the Vet-Stem regenerative cell therapy, and we are elated the results of this scientific study confirm such success."

Vet-Stem regenerative cell therapy has been used on horses since 2002 and launched for dogs in early 2008. Since then, more than a thousand veterinarians have completed the online credentialing course allowing them to use the stem cell therapy on more than 1,000 dogs across the nation.

"We've seen stem cell therapy save dogs whose only other option was euthanasia," said Dr. Harman. "And for animals where surgery and pharmaceuticals are not an option, Vet-Stem helps with problems like arthritis and joint and tendon injuries."

The procedure is simple. Veterinarians remove a small sample of fat from the dog and send it to Vet-Stem. Laboratory technicians isolate regenerative stem cells that reside in the fat, the high number of stem cells available eliminates the need to grow cells in culture or to manipulate the cells. The cells are then returned to the authorized veterinarian for treatment of the injured animal within 48 hours from collection of the fat.

The results from this study expand on one published in 2007, which explored the effectiveness of Vet-Stem's therapy for hip related osteoarthritis. The outcome showed that stem cells do improve healing in injured or arthritic dogs' hips. The findings stated that in a blinded, placebo controlled, clinical trial 80 percent of dogs improved significantly after being treated by stem cell therapy.

The most recent study published is only the beginning for the future of fat-derived stem cell therapy. Vet-Stem is currently conducting studies for the use of stem cells for internal medicine conditions as well.

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Friday, December 12, 2008

ShopFaithfully.com Launches Virtual Shopping Mall That Helps Churches and Christian Charities Raise Contributions

RJ Note: Now this story has the potential to give Fayette County and all believers new meaning as we "shop til we drop." Or at least until our fingers get all tuckered out!

/PRNewswire/ -- ShopFaithfully.com announced today that it has released the latest on-line "virtual mall" for people who want to support their Church or favorite Christian Charity. During these tough economic times, this site is the answer to a challenge that Churches and Christian Charities continue to experience as direct donations significantly decrease, while individuals see their savings and investment portfolios severely affected by the troubled financial markets. ShopFaithfully.com provides a solution for Christian shoppers to give contributions in addition to their normal tithing.

Working with leading on-line retailers like Wal-Mart, Buy.com, Family Christian Stores, ToysRus.com, Office Depot, Overstock.com, and iTunes, ShopFaithfully.com has created an environment of giving through shopper's everyday on-line purchases. ShopFaithfully.com gives back a percentage of every qualified purchase directly to the shopper's chosen Church or Christian Charity. Shoppers do not have to make a direct donation and pricing is the same or better than if they went directly to the retailers. This provides the shoppers a one-stop shop opportunity that can save consumers time and money in a very charitable way.

Shoppers can allocate their donations to one of the Christian Charitable Partners, or they can submit their own Church or Christian Charity to be added. The site's most popular feature is the capability to submit a Church or Christian Charity for approval. The submittal can be made by the Church, the Christian Charity, or the shopper. Once approved, shoppers can then select that Charitable organization as their charity of choice. Up to 20% of every qualified purchase they make will be donated directly to their chosen charity. This provides an additional revenue stream that supplements their organization's tithes, offerings, donations, and fundraising programs.

Since shoppers are using the web more than ever to do their everyday shopping and to look for gift ideas, ShopFaithfully.com has partnered with hundreds of leading on-line retailers offering over 10 million products to choose from. In an anticipation of strong support by the Christian Community, ShopFaithfully.com has increased the site's capacity and has prepared a migration path that will support future growth. With an estimated 50 million on-line Christian Shoppers and $240 billion spent through on-line shopping annually, ShopFaithfully.com hopes to reach $8 million annually in donations to Churches and Christian Charities within the next 3-5 years.

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Thursday, December 11, 2008

CFO Survey: Historic Recession to Last Another Year

RJ Note: ...And all the king's horses and all the king's men, couldn't put our economy back together again.... At least in the short term or with a new president elect.

Chief financial officers in the United States and around the world are more pessimistic than at any time in the history of the Duke University/CFO Magazine Global Business Outlook Survey. The majority of chief financial officers in the U.S. and Europe say their firms will slash spending and employment in 2009, and their firms will post losses. The recession will last another year, according to nearly two-thirds of CFOs.

These are some of the findings of the year-end 2008 quarterly survey, which asked 1,275 CFOs from a broad range of global public and private companies about their expectations for the economy. (See end of release for survey methodology.) The survey has been conducted 51 consecutive quarters.

SUMMARY OF FINDINGS

-- A record 81 percent of U.S. CFOs are more pessimistic about the economy this quarter (twice as many as last quarter), and 85 percent of European and Asian CFOs are more pessimistic. (See chart at bottom of release.)

-- Nearly 60 percent of CFOs say the U.S. economic recovery will be delayed until the fourth quarter of 2009 or later, while 71 percent of European CFOs expect Europe’s recovery to be delayed until at least the fourth quarter of 2009.

-- Employment is expected to fall by 5 percent in the U.S. and Europe in 2009, and by 0.5 percent in Asia. Capital spending is expected to fall by about 10 percent in all regions.

-- Weak consumer demand and financial market woes are major concerns for CFOs around the world. More than 70 percent of U.S. and European firms are concerned about the state of their financial institutions. Among users of financial derivatives, 75 percent are concerned about the risk of default. European and Asian CFOs are also worried about currency volatility.

“In September 2007, CFO optimism about the future declined sharply, correctly anticipating the current recession. Throughout the history of our survey, CFOs have shown remarkable ability to predict future economic conditions,” said John R. Graham, director of the survey and a finance professor at Duke’s Fuqua School of Business. “Therefore, the record pessimism CFOs are currently expressing is ominous. Eighty percent of U.S. CFOs have grown more pessimistic about the economic outlook for 2009, and pessimists outnumber optimists by a 9-to-1 margin.”

The CFO optimism index has proven accurate in predicting future GDP growth, employment and capital spending. This quarter’s extreme pessimism foretells a poor economy in 2009. Thirty-nine percent say the economy will not begin to recover until 2010.

TOP CONCERNS: CONSUMER DEMAND, CREDIT MARKETS, EMPLOYEE MORALE AND PLANNING

Weak consumer demand is the top corporate concern. CFOs also continue to worry about credit markets, which are devastating lower-rated firms. Companies rated B or lower face interest rates that are 225 basis points (2.25 percentage points) higher than their cost of borrowing before the crisis began.

“CFOs also have important internal concerns,” said Kate O’Sullivan, senior writer at CFO Magazine. “The uncertainty about both near-term and long-term conditions has made it nearly impossible for executives to plan for the future. Even firms that are doing relatively well are still cutting back 'just in case,' exacerbating the situation. CFOs have also grown very concerned about maintaining employee morale and productivity during these tense times.”

EMPLOYMENT, SPENDING, EARNINGS

The employment picture is equally dismal. U.S. companies say they will reduce workforces by 5 percent on average. At the same time, U.S. companies expect to reduce the number of outsourced employees by a smaller 2 percent.

Capital spending is expected to fall by 10 percent. Tech spending also will suffer, falling by 4 percent on average. Marketing and advertising spending is expected to drop by 7 percent.

Earnings over the next 12 months are expected to decline 9 percent. Worst hurt will be the manufacturing industry (where CFOs say earnings will plummet 19 percent) and the transportation/energy sector (falling 12 percent).

REAL EFFECTS FROM FINANCIAL SECTOR TURMOIL

Among companies that have been affected by credit market turmoil, 62 percent say they cannot access the credit they need, and half say the cost is higher when they are able to access it. About one-third of companies have had difficulty establishing or renewing bank lines of credit. Conditions are worst for lower-rated firms.

“The inability to access credit is just the tip of the iceberg,” said Campbell Harvey, Fuqua international finance professor and founding director of the survey. “This is also a crisis of confidence. A stunning three-fourths of CFOs say report fundamental concerns about the health of the financial institutions with which they do business.”

Harvey noted that the FDIC recently reported it is tracking only 177 financially troubled institutions out of a total of approximately 8,500 institutions. “CFOs' concerns suggest this is at best a low-ball number, and at worst highly unrepresentative of the health of American financial institutions,” Harvey said.

Harvey said CFOs are in crisis mode. “Right now, job number one for CFOs is to make sure the firm survives –- and they're taking drastic actions. The steep drop in capital spending is three standard deviations below what we would normally expect; advertising has been slashed by four standard deviations. Employment is sharply lower -– 3.5 standard deviations below normal.”

Financial market turmoil is wreaking havoc in other business sectors. More than 75 percent of firms say that, in the current environment, financial constraints have limited their ability to invest in profitable projects.

ADDITIONAL EUROPE HIGHLIGHTS

Among European companies affected by credit market turmoil, 65 percent say the cost of credit is higher when they can access it, and 57 percent indicate they cannot access the credit they need.

Three-fourths of European companies are concerned about the health of the financial institutions with which they do business and 70 percent of European firms say that, in the current environment, financial constraints have limited their ability to invest in profitable projects.

More than half of European CFOs say they do not expect their own country’s economy to begin to recover until 2010.
Half of European companies say customers are taking longer to pay their bills, and 46 percent are concerned about a higher risk of no payment at all.

ASIA

Seventy-five percent of Asian firms say financial constraints have limited their ability to invest in profitable projects.

In response to souring economic conditions, 57 percent of Asian companies are freezing staff recruitment, 56 percent are delaying, reducing or canceling planned investments, and 51 percent are reducing travel and entertainment spending.

CHINA

Chinese CFOs say their top concern about their own companies is maintaining the morale and productivity of workers.

Among Chinese companies that have been affected by credit market turmoil, 52 percent say they have had difficulty establishing or renewing a line of credit, and 47 percent say they cannot access the credit they need.

Forty-five percent of Chinese companies have experienced a slowdown in exports, 55 percent have seen delays in payments from customers and 43 percent are concerned about a higher risk of no payment from customers.

Only 8 percent of Chinese CFOs believe the Chinese government stimulus package will substantially jump-start the economy. Seventy-three percent believe it will provide some cushion (but not an acceleration), and 19 percent say the stimulus is not adequate or will have little effect.

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Wednesday, December 10, 2008

AIG, Detroit Three, V.A. and Berkeley Featured Among Top 2008 PR Blunders

RJ Note: Ah-- what a year it has been.

/PRNewswire/ -- The 14th Annual Top 10 PR Blunders List, compiled by San Francisco's Fineman PR (http://www.finemanpr.com/), features bailed out big shots, political snafus and a clueless Dept. of Veterans Affairs.

1. AIG All-Expense-Paid Retreats ... Paid By YOU

Mere days after receiving an $85 billion federal bailout package, American International Group Inc. dropped nearly half a million dollars on an executive retreat to the posh St. Regis resort, complete with "spa treatments, banquets and golf outings," according to the Associated Press. Public reaction, as many watched 401(k) and other investments deflate, was heated. Ousted AIG CEO Robert Willumstad condemned the fete as "very inappropriate" when questioned by Congress, and presidential candidate Sen. Barack Obama said participating executives "should be fired" during a debate with Sen. John McCain. AIG compounded the damage when it proceeded with an $86,000 New England hunting retreat. New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo promptly launched a fraud probe, saying "our message to AIG today is simple: The party is over."

2. AP to Detroit Three: "old way of doing business just won't fly."

Already reeling from the $700 billion Wall Street bailout, consumers, taxpayers and legislators were deeply offended when the leaders of the nation's Big Three automakers -- General Motors CEO Richard Wagoner, Chrysler CEO Robert Nardelli and Ford CEO Alan Mulally -- flew to Washington in separate corporate jets to ask Congress for $25 billion ... without a turnaround plan. PR Week reported that "it made the Big Three appear out of touch, and evoked memories of the AIG retreat controversy." The Los Angeles Times reported that, "their first attempt was a lemon." So when the execs made their second foray to Washington to further plead their case, they drove there in hybrid vehicles ... and made sure everyone knew it. But Meredith Vieira on Today was unimpressed. "They should have carpooled," she said.

3. Department of Veterans Affairs says "Shh!" To Veterans' Problems

In this day of digital justice it's surprising that some federal officials still believe their emails are private, as when messages between top officials in the Department of Veterans Affairs indicated secrets were being kept about appallingly high suicide attempt rates among veterans. According to the Associated Press, Dr. Ira Katz, top-ranking VA mental health official, emailed colleagues that "12,000 veterans a year attempt suicide while ... under [Veterans Affairs] treatment." Katz wasn't pushing for reform but hiding data from CBS News, even beginning the email with a "Shh!" Everett A. Chasen, chief communications officer for the VA, wrote that, "I don't want to give CBS any more numbers on veterans [sic] suicides or attempts than they already have -- it will only lead to more questions." Emails get leaked in most organizations, but the true Blunder is the Department's disregard for veterans' well being. Rep. Bob Filner, D-Calif., chair of the House Committee on Veterans' Affairs, told CBS News "this is disgraceful ... a crime against our nation, our nation's veterans. [V.A. officials] do not want to come to grips with the reality, with the truth."

4. Letterman asks McCain, "do you need a ride to the airport?"

Presidential candidate Sen. John McCain canceled what would have been his thirteenth appearance on CBS's Late Night with David Letterman, saying that he was suspending his campaign and "racing to the airport" to tackle the impending financial crisis. Midway through the show, however, Letterman learned that McCain was mere blocks away ... sitting down with CBS stablemate Katie Couric. Letterman obtained a live feed of the interview and, joined by stand-in guest Keith Olbermann of MSNBC, remarked at McCain's expense. McCain's response, when he did make it onto Late Night a couple weeks later, was apt but unapologetic: "I screwed up."

5. Nike Just Blew It

When self-described "good, solid" marathoner and elementary school teacher Arien O'Connell unexpectedly clocked the fastest time in October's San Francisco Women's Marathon, besting her personal record by over 12 minutes, race sponsor Nike had a golden opportunity to support those who "just do it." However, Nike only checked times of those in the allegedly "elite" front-running pack; by the time O'Connell realized she had been fastest, all places had been awarded and Nike would not recognize her victory. Later that week, pressured Nike recanted its initial stance, declaring O'Connell "a winner" but not the winner. C.W. Nevius of the San Francisco Chronicle lamented the tepid ending to "what could have been a lovely Cinderella story." Only after competitor Reebok stepped up to award O'Connell free shoes for a year and a $2,500 donation for her classroom did O'Connell receive her "first place overall" trophy.

6. Merck & Co. and Schering-Plough Corp.: Profits with Side Effects

Prescription for a Blunder: market cholesterol drugs Vytorin and Zetia with a memorable $100 million plus advertising campaign. Withhold study results showing that the combo doesn't work as claimed ... for 21 months. Watch the drugs pull $5.2 billion in revenue in 2007 alone. Side effects, though, may include widespread consumer backlash, around 140 civil class- action lawsuits, and the unwelcome attentions of Congress, the U.S. Department of Justice and a coalition of 35 state attorneys general, according to the Associated Press. Makers Merck & Co. and Schering-Plough Corp. allegedly didn't release the results due to internal scientific concerns. Matthew Herper of Forbes reported there were "reasons to doubt the result [of the study]." Under pressure, Merck and Schering-Plough pulled their quirky "Food and Family" ads, but dwindling investor confidence still pushed Merck stock down to Vioxx-era levels. Martha Rosenberg of AlterNet.com opined, "Merck is repeating its mistakes ... It's getting tough to find any Merck drug that can hold up to scrutiny."

7. Mark Penn: Spinning Out of Control

Mark Penn found himself dropped from the chief strategist role in Sen. Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign when The Wall Street Journal exposed Penn's work on behalf of the government of Colombia, a client for whom Penn was also involved in arranging passage of a controversial trade bill opposed by, among others, Clinton herself. Penn was removed from the helm, although his polling firm, Penn, Schoen & Berland Associates, continued to provide services to the campaign. He ultimately admitted to an "error in judgment," but how many of those can one person convincingly admit to? Penn's other unbelievable missteps throughout the year, including praising McCain attack ads and demeaning Clinton supporters, calling them "downscale voters," earn him a seat among serial PR blunderers. Jason Linkins of The Huffington Post called Penn "dumber than previously realized" and a "despised, incompetent ... microtrending ninnybot."

8. Senior Obama Campaigner Makes "a Monster" of a Slip

Sometimes a simple goof can be a major gaffe if committed by an insider. For example, Samantha Power, senior foreign policy advisor to presidential candidate Sen. Barack Obama, called Sen. Hillary Clinton "a monster" in a March interview with UK newspaper The Scotsman, then realized her error and immediately tried to withdraw her comment, claiming "that is off the record." However, in the dustup to follow, blogger Michael Goldstein of http://www.mondaymorningmediaquarterback.com/ noted that, "you can't do it. There is no off the record." Many journalists agree, including Gerri Peev, the Scotsman reporter who interviewed Power, who noted that journalists are "not in the business to self-censor ... [they are] in the business to print the truth."

9. "Absolut Mistake," says PR Week

Swedish vodka-maker Absolut is famed for its clever, well-executed advertising campaigns, but the company hasn't realized it's a small world after all. According to PR Week, ads for the Mexican market from the company's "Absolut World" campaign showing the western U.S. as Mexican territory "courted animosity" and "stirred up negative sentiment from ... [those] who complain about the porous U.S. border" after appearing on U.S. blogs. Absolut pulled the offending ads and proffered a public apology on its corporate blogs, but competitor Skyy Vodka capitalized on the situation. According to Ken Wheaton's Advertising Age blog, Skyy did "what a marketer should do in a situation like this, [taking] advantage of a competitor's headache" by distributing a humorous press release in which it touts Skyy's U.S. origins and production. Smart opportunistic marketing ... with a twist.

10. Hut, Two, Three, Four, Berkeley Rants Against Our Corps

Berkeley, Calif., has always been known for an anti-establishment atmosphere, one in which free speech and independent thought are held dear. But when the Berkeley City Council denounced local Marine Corps recruiters as "uninvited and unwelcome intruders" and "sales people known to lie to and seduce minors," it incited yet another nationally covered culture clash depicting Berkeley's leadership as hopelessly out of touch. Although individual members of the Council did admit that they may have acted rashly, no apology was ever issued. According to Peter Schrag of the Sacramento Bee, the incident demonstrated "that you can be within shouting distance of one of the world's great educational institutions and still be terminally stupid."

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Tuesday, December 9, 2008

The Procrastinator's Free Shipping Day

Don't you love the retail mind? "They" spend so much time and money trying to figure out how we think and how we shop! Do you know there are people who specialize in setting up store aisles just to entice you to buy? They study how you look around as you walk the aisles, what grabs your attention, when you're most likely to grab that spontaneous item that wasn't on your list and more.

They've figured out which music will have you buy more... which is something many of our fast food restaurants and smaller retail stores should study! I'm going off on a side tangent here, but it one of my pet peeves to walk into a store that caters to me with its merchandise, but caters to those working the store with the choice of music. Sure, they have to be there all day, but I'm the one buying the stuff that pays their salary. Many restaurants and stores have forgotten their customers... but as said, I'm off on a tangent.

The "retail brains" have come up with something that is right up my alley. It's perfect for procrastinators like yours truly. I am famous for doing all, and I mean all, of my Christmas shopping Christmas Eve (and after if I know I'm not going to see someone on "the" day). I am not as bad as one lady I talked with who did her shopping at the local drug store Christmas Eve because she missed the regular store closings... but I'm bad.

A large group of stores have banded together to offer FREE shipping on December 18th. That's about as close as you can cut it before Christmas if you're expecting to get those gifts wrapped in time to go under the Christmas tree.

I'll tell you from personal experience though, that even with free shipping and guaranteed delivery dates, things can fall through the cracks. Last year I ordered a group of items from Amazon. I received confirmation on the order, then a few days later a shipping notice on some of the items. I waited a day, then called to verify that the other things were going to make it. They looked it up and assured me they had been shipped with the other items, just later in the afternoon. They said it must have been an email glitch. I went out to try and track them a day or so later, couldn't be found. Long story, but after four or five calls, Christmas Day rolled around and I still didn't have part of the presents.

I called. I wrote. I got so fed up I swore I'd never shop Amazon again (and I won't). They were rude on my second call and it got progressively worse, even though I was very nice and patient until a few days before Christmas. If they'd told me the truth or taken the time to really investigate when I called I could have picked up the items in the store. I had two very disappointed little girls on Christmas day.

So. Order early. Track well. Cancel fast. And whatever you do, don't wait until Christmas Eve to hit the drug stores for gifts .

December 18 is Free Shipping Day, a first-of-its-kind event designed for holiday shopping procrastinators

Holiday shopping procrastinators now have a day designed especially for them. The inaugural Free Shipping Day (www.freeshippingday.com) - which is set for December 18, 2008, and will be an annual event - is a reward for people who wait until the last minute to cross those final gifts off their list.

On Free Shipping Day participating merchants give free shipping to online shoppers with guaranteed delivery by Christmas Eve.

Retailers have embraced the idea, which was hatched by Luke Knowles, founder of FreeShipping.org (www.freeshipping.org), a one-stop destination for consumers to find online retailers that offer free shipping deals. Participating merchants include brands like Amazon.com, Bloomingdale’s, Brookstone, Circuit City, Coldwater Creek, Crate & Barrel, Endless.com, Nordstrom, Sur La Table, Target and Zappos.

Black Friday, which is the frenetic time when consumers descend upon stores the day after Thanksgiving, and Cyber Monday, which commemorates the Monday after Thanksgiving when people return to their offices and surf the Internet for deals, are now a part of American pop culture. Knowles believes it is natural that Free Shipping Day will also become part of our nation’s holiday shopping vocabulary.

“Simply put, Free Shipping Day is the last chance for many people to buy gifts and get them delivered to the intended recipient in a nick of time,” Knowles explained. “We are a nation of procrastinators, so I think that Free Shipping Day will become a popular annual event.”

There is also a need among retailers for an event like Free Shipping Day, Knowles believes.
“Numbers show that online shopping dramatically slows after December 12th. Free Shipping Day will encourage people to continue buying items online later into the month of December,” Knowles said. “Free Shipping Day has the potential to increase pre- Christmas online sales by hundreds of millions of dollars over the next five years.”

Next year’s Free Shipping Day will be selected in January 2009, Knowles says. There is no cost for retailers or shoppers to participate.

“Every year, we will consult with participating retailers to determine the latest possible day in the Christmas shopping season that they can offer free shipping and guarantee delivery by December 24th,” Knowles said. “Free Shipping Day will typically fall somewhere between December 17th and 19th.”
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Speaking Freely Creates Memorable Legacy for Sarah Palin.

RJ Note: Wowee. So Sarah Palin is already more memorable than Obama. Interesting.

/PRNewswire/ -- President-elect Barack Obama may have used powerful prose to win the election, but America has decided that it's Alaska Governor Sarah Palin whose words are more memorable.

A poll of 1,010 Americans conducted through Facebook, Twitter and other social networks by voice-to-content leader SpinVox found that respondents credited Sarah Palin with delivering a more memorable quote over Barack Obama by an 8 percent margin.

But it was comedian Tina Fey -- portraying Sarah Palin -- who delivered the Most Memorable Quote of 2008. Fey's "I can see Russia from my house," which is often erroneously attributed to Sarah Palin, was given the top spot by 27 percent of the survey's participants. Fey was alluding to a moment during the famed interviews with CBS Evening News anchor Katie Couric when Palin said parts of Russia are visible from land in Alaska.

Palin placed second with "What's the difference between a hockey mom and a pitbull? Lipstick!" Obama ranked a respectable third, with 14 percent of participants selecting as most memorable the resounding "change has come to America" line he delivered during his presidential acceptance speech.

"Great speeches will always play a key role in defining who we were, are, and aspire to be as a people," said Christina Domecq, SpinVox co-founder and CEO. "But it's often only a short message contained within them that really shapes how we will remember the people and events of our times."

It may surprise some that outgoing U.S. President George W. Bush, often and widely needled for his "Bush-isms," didn't even rank in this year's Top 10 Most Memorable Quotes.

"A mix of entertainment and politics, the Most Memorable Quotes of 2008 may not characterize or change the nation's cultural zeitgeist the way Abraham Lincoln's Gettysburg Address or Neil Armstrong's 'one giant leap for mankind' did," Domecq continued, "But they say a lot about what commanded our attention and what we may remember most from this past year."

The Top Ten Most Memorable Quotes of 2008:

#10. "Wall-E!" - From the motion picture Wall-E

#9. "She is in dire need of both medical and psychological intervention."
- Dr. Phil McGraw on entertainer Britney Spears

#8. "There's a delicious irony in seeing private luxury jets flying in to
Washington, D.C. and people coming off of them with tin cups in their
hands." - Congressman Gary L. Ackerman on the Big Three automakers'
trip to Capitol Hill

#7. "That was really uncool." - Jennifer Aniston on Angelina Jolie
falling for Brad Pitt on the set of Mr. & Mrs. Smith

#6. "Although we weren't able to shatter that highest, hardest glass
ceiling this time, thanks to you, it's got about 18 million cracks in
it." - Hillary Clinton

#5. "I just don't want to be thought of as a monster." - Ashley Dupre,
Eliot Spitzer's call girl

#4. "Gay people got a right to be as miserable as everybody else."
- Comedian Chris Rock on gay marriage

#3. "Change has come to America." - President-elect Barack Obama

#2. "What's the difference between a hockey mom and a pitbull? Lipstick!"
- Alaska Governor Sarah Palin

#1. "I can see Russia from my house!" - Tina Fey, impersonating Sarah
Palin on Saturday Night Live



With SpinVox, anyone can be widely read and immortalized by speaking their blog posts and social network updates, dialing a number on their mobile phone, and leaving a message. The message is then automatically converted to text and posted on any Web site the user chooses. For users with several blogs and networks, a new 'Ping through SpinVox' service is available that simultaneously broadcasts spoken updates to thirty of the most popular social networking sites.

Visit http://www.spinvox.com/ for a free one-month trial. Sign-ups are also available through Ping at http://ping.fm/.

This survey was conducted online within the United States on behalf of SpinVox between December 1-5, 2008 among 1,010 U.S. citizens. No estimates of theoretical sampling error can be calculated.

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