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Sunday, October 5, 2008

Fitzy's Week 5 Funspot w/ Fake Sarah Palin

Fitzy jumps on-board the "everyone has a parody version of Sarah Palin" bandwagon to help make his Week 5 fantasy picks.

Padilla Opens Cigar Lounge/Factory in Miami

By David Savona

Fans of Padilla cigars can now smoke one inside the factory where many will be made. Fabrica de Tabacos Padilla opened its doors in Little Havana last week. The new home of the Padilla cigar brand, envisioned by creator and brand owner Ernesto Padilla as a combination boutique cigar factory, cigar shop and smoking lounge, has yet to begin rolling cigars, but cigars are being sold and consumed on the premises.

The grand opening is scheduled for October 10, from 6 to 11 p.m.

Located across the street from historic Domino Park on 8th Street (Calle Ocho) and 15th Avenue, the cigar shop/factory will start rolling once the proper permits are secured.

“The new factory gives us something we have not had before, total control over production of our cigars,” said brand owner Ernesto Padilla.

Do the Dew Tullamore Style

Tullamore Dew is introducing a limited-release, 10-year-old Irish whiskey that will fill a niche between its standard and 12-year-old versions. Set to hit stores in winter, it will have a U.S. allotment of 900 cases.

The new blend, called Tullamore Dew 10 Years Old Reserve ($35), uses a mix of Spanish and American oak casks and a healthy component of pot-stilled whiskeys, which is also true of the 12-year-old ($23). Accordingly, the result is a taste profile much more full- bodied than the famously light standard Tullamore Dew ($23, no age statement) and closer to the full-bodied 12-year-old ($39).

As are most Irish whiskeys, standard Tullamore Dew is very smooth, delicate and sweet, but without the floral notes so common to other such drams. The extra aging in both the 10- and 12-year-old gives each a more full-bodied buttery character. Like its 12-year-old relative, the new whiskey has components of candy and spice, but not the Christmas pudding notes of the older quaff.

Tullamore Dew dates to 1829, when it was born in west central Ireland, in Tullamore, Count Offaly. The whiskey is now made by Midleton Distillery in County Cork as are many Irish whiskeys. Of the three largest Irish brands (with Jameson's and Bushmills), it is the only one owned by an Irish parent company, C&C International (Cantrell & Cochrane), which also distributes Magnus cider, Frangelico and Carolans Irish Cream.


Appearance: light but leggy, champagne to amber color

Nose: candy and vanilla, maple, Bourbon barrel

Palate: hard candy, savory maple candy

Very sweet finish

Judge blocks sale of Wachovia to Wells Fargo

NEW YORK ( -- A New York State judge has temporarily blocked the merger of Wachovia with Wells Fargo, according to a news release by Citigroup - which is trying to buy Wachovia itself.

New York State Supreme Court Justice Charles Ramos issued the order late Saturday, saying that Citigroup and Wachovia must appear before him on Friday, Citigroup said, adding that the order was granted over the objection of Wachovia.

In a deal struck last Monday with the assistance of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC), Citigroup had offered to take over Wachovia's banking operations for $2.2 billion. The deal did not include Wachovia's asset-management or retail brokerage units.

But four days later, Wells Fargo said it was buying all of Wachovia for approximately $15.1 billion in stock.

"This deal enables us to keep Wachovia intact and preserve the value of an integrated company," Wachovia CEO Robert Steel said in a statement on Friday.

The battle also has implications for taxpayers.

The Citigroup offer had come with a backstop from the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC), which would cover any losses on Wachovia's $300 billion loan portfolio beyond the first $42 billion. The Wells offer does not ask for FDIC assistance.

Wachovia spokeswoman Christy Phillips-Brown said in a statement the company believes its agreement with Wells Fargo is "proper, valid and ... in the best interest of shareholders, employees and the American taxpayers," the Associated Press reported. She said Citigroup is free to make a better offer to Wachovia under that agreement.

As of Friday, Citigroup still had support of industry regulators. "The FDIC stands behind its previously announced agreement with Citigroup," Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation Chairman Sheila Bair said in a statement, adding that it would pursue a resolution with all three companies.

Citigroup (C, Fortune 500) had been pressing Wachovia (WB, Fortune 500) and Wells Fargo (WFC, Fortune 500) to abandon their merger plans, arguing that it had entered into an exclusivity agreement with Wachovia.

Citigroup may have a legitimate claim to challenge the Wells Fargo deal. A copy of the exclusivity agreement between Citigroup and Wachovia obtained by reveals that Wachovia had agreed not to seek out another bidder, nor to provide information or enter talks that might facilitate a rival bid.
Why they want Wachovia

A Wells Fargo victory would transform the company, whose operations and bank branches are largely located in the Midwest and on the West Coast, into a dominant presence along the East Coast and in the Southeast.

That would put the San Francisco-based bank squarely in competition with the likes of JPMorgan Chase (JPM, Fortune 500) and Bank of America (BAC, Fortune 500).

Should Wells Fargo ultimately prevail, it will control about $800 billion in deposits and have nearly 11,000 banking locations.

"This would represent a major strategic win for Wells Fargo," said David Hendler, analyst with CreditSights, in a report.

If Citigroup wins, it would represent a huge step forward for the company's retail banking aspirations, whose footprint has lagged many of its biggest rivals.

Investors cheered Citigroup's decision last week to buy Wachovia's banking assets. But some observers had wondered whether Citigroup could pull off the deal since it is in the process of a major restructuring after posting close to $18 billion in losses over the past three quarters.

The tie-up, however, comes at a cost for Wells Fargo. The company said it expected to incur about $10 billion in merger related costs. It said it would also record Wachovia's impaired assets at fair value, which could bring further writedowns.

Howard Atkins, Wells Fargo's chief financial officer, said that pre-tax losses and market adjustments from Wachovia's loan portfolio would hit $74 billion and the bulk of that would be written off shortly after the transaction closes.

In the wake of Friday's news, rating agencies Standard & Poor's and Moody's both placed Wells Fargo on watch for a potential ratings downgrade.

Still, the company said it expected the acquisition to add to earnings in the first year of operations, adding that it planned to raise $20 billion, primarily through a common stock sale to help prop up its capital position.

In the last month alone, the nation's banking industry has undergone a dramatic facelift, including the failure of Washington Mutual and its subsequent purchase by JPMorgan Chase, as well as Bank of America's acquisition of Merrill Lynch (MER, Fortune 500)

Most Significant Debuts at Paris Auto Show

As the Michigan skies shed their summer blues and don the dreary gray they’ll wear for the next seven months, there’s one ray of light that pierces our seasonal depression: the beginning of auto-show season. It means a lot of extra work for us, but it’s not like we have anything to do other than hibernate and shovel the driveway.

The auto market is changing fast, and amid the glamour and promised speed of the headline-grabbing debuts are a number of new models that mean more to us, more to the market, and more to their parent companies. It might be because of an important new technology, a new styling direction, or evidence of change aboard the mothership, but following are the 10 most significant debuts of the first show of this auto-show season, the 2008 Paris show.

Audi S4

The S4 is significant because of what’s under the hood: a smaller engine than the outgoing generation. Where a 4.2-liter V-8 used to reside, the 2010 S4 will make do with Audi’s first supercharged engine, a direct-injection 3.0-liter V-6. Horsepower is down compared to the V-8, from 340 to 333, but torque increases a small amount to 325 lb-ft, from 317. Cars can get cleaner and more efficient, but they don’t have to get slow.


BMW Concept X1

BMW’s fourth SUV, the X1 is a concept in name only. We expect to see a production model very similar to this vehicle within two years. The shocking thing about the X1 is that it is an SUV that was not designed with the U.S. in mind and is currently only “under discussion” for the North American market. Also, the X1 represents the further downsizing of models from one of the globe’s most prominent premium brands, an important idea in this age of growing automotive conservatism.

Cadillac CTS Sport Wagon

The CTS Sport Wagon could make wagons cool again. It’s a stunning vehicle, with gorgeous lines, exciting bulges, and a rear end that could steal the spotlight at a Maxim cover shoot. With a 304-hp V-6 and 25 cubic feet of storage behind the rear seats, the CTS Sport Wagon is powerful and practical, too, and it’s coming to the U.S. Once upon a time, wagons were the car of choice for American families. May everything old be new again.


Chevrolet Cruze

Small cars are big business elsewhere in the world, and are shaping up to be an arena for tremendous growth in the U.S. Chevrolet’s Cruze, the replacement for the Cobalt, is not only a stylish small car from a company that has long lacked one, but it is one of GM’s first products to be built on a global platform, meaning the car we’ll buy in the U.S. will be the same car sold in Europe and around the world.


Chevrolet Volt

Though the production-intent version of the Chevrolet Volt officially debuted at a Detroit event a couple of weeks ago, Paris marks the official auto-show debut of the groundbreaking extended-range electric vehicle (E-REV), which should travel up to 40 miles solely on batteries before its gas-powered generator kicks into recharge them. Chevrolet product planners assure us that the Jetsons-like interior and nifty lighting details will remain when sales begin in November of 2010.


Ferrari California

Once Ferrari gets on board with new ideas in the sports-car world, we have no choice but to take those ideas seriously, and the California boasts two new-to-Ferrari features: a dual-clutch gearbox in the style of Volkswagen’s DSG and BMW’s M DCT, and a folding hardtop. It’s apparent in the styling of the California that folding a metal roof into your trunk isn’t easy or graceful, but we still can’t wait to get behind the wheel.


Honda Insight

The Honda Insight badge returns next April not on another two-seat, four-wheeled shoe, but as a relatively handsome, five-seat Prius clone. The 2010 Insight will feature its own version of Honda’s Integrated Motor Assist powertrain, giving it fuel economy similar to that of Honda’s own Civic Hybrid. The biggest difference, then, will be lighter weight, fewer frills, and with an estimated price of under $20K, lower cost.


Lamborghini Estoque

This front-engine, four-door raging bull is decidedly tamer in looks than Lambo’s other offerings, and with its four seats and luggage-friendly trunk, it’s decidedly more livable, too. The styling mixes ’70s muscle-car proportions with the demonic front and rear styling we’ve grown to love with recent Lambos. Uncertain is which engine would power the Estoque’s four wheels, but our money’s on some modified version of the Gallardo LP560-4’s 552-hp V-10.


Mercedes-Benz ConceptFASCINATION

Although humidors and binoculars are not likely to be included on the next Mercedes-Benz E-class options list, the look of the ConceptFASCINATION will most likely be standard equipment. While still not as edgy as a Cadillac, this concept suggests that the more assertive styling and intricate detailing of the C-class will be making its way throughout the Mercedes lineup.


Volkswagen Rabbit/Golf/GTI

The world is watching as VW launches the sixth generation of the car that carries on the original Beetle’s legacy of bringing affordable German transportation—and in the case of the GTI, performance—to the masses. The new Golf (sold as the Rabbit in the U.S.) is cleaner-looking, lower, sexier, better-equipped, and cheaper to build. Based on an early drive of the Golf in Germany, we expect nothing short of success for round six.

Regenerating Torn Cartlidge

Knee filler: A biomaterial developed by Cartilix, called ChonDux, could improve current microfracture surgery aimed at repairing damaged knee cartilage. During the procedure, the surgeon applies a bioadhesive (shown in blue) to the cavity where the cartilage is missing. Tiny holes (red) are then drilled in the bone next to the cavity and filled in with hydrogel (wavy lines). UVA light is shined on the material, which causes the polymer to harden from a viscous liquid into a gel (crosshatched lines).
Credit: Nature Materials

A new biomaterial developed by Cartilix, a biotech startup based in Foster City, CA, could dramatically improve the success rate of knee-cartilage repair surgery, making the procedure more accessible to patients with bad knees. The new material, called ChonDux, consists of a polymer hydrogel that, when injected into the knee during surgery, guides the regeneration of cartilage by stimulating repair cells in the body.

The minimally invasive knee surgery known as microfracture, in which a surgeon drills holes in the knee to stimulate the regeneration of cartilage lost from wear and tear, has become increasingly popular among athletes in recent years. A number of professional basketball players, including Greg Oden of the Portland Trail Blazers and Amare Stoudemire of the Phoenix Suns, have undergone the procedure, contributing to its rise in popularity. However, the procedure's success rate varies dramatically, says Norman Marcus, an orthopedic surgeon at the Virginia Cartilage Institute, in Springfield, VA. Among young athletes who have small defects in their knee cartilage, microfracture works up to 75 percent of the time. However, that number drops to 50 percent in older patients, Marcus says.

Marcus, who is chief medical officer at Cartilix, and his colleagues hope to improve the procedure and make it more accessible to the larger population of baby boomers. As people age, many are forced to curtail their physical activities due to painful, swollen joints caused by the deterioration of cartilage in the knee that comes with age or results from repetitive stress or injury. Marcus hopes to be able to treat these patients before they develop full-blown osteoarthritis. "The goal is to identify that big population that wants to be active throughout their entire lives," he says.

During microfracture, a surgeon uses a special awl to drill a series of tiny holes into the bone underneath the area of missing cartilage. Bone marrow containing stem cells seeps into the damaged area and forms a clot. The clot releases stem cells, which differentiate into cartilage cells and gradually form new tissue. However, because the new tissue is scar cartilage, not true cartilage, it may not have the same durability and strength as the original tissue--a likely contributor to the high failure rate of microfracture.

ChonDux consists of a hydrogel made of polyethylene glycol--a polymer commonly used in a variety of medical products--and a bioadhesive to keep the hydrogel in place after injection. First, the surgeon coats the inside of the cavity where the cartilage is missing with the bioadhesive and then, as in microfracture, drills tiny holes into the bone next to the cavity. Then the surgeon fills the empty space with the hydrogel and shines UVA light on the material, which causes the polymer to harden from a viscous liquid into a gel.The blood clot that forms from the microfracture then gets trapped in the hydrogel.

One of the biggest problems with transplanting biomaterials is getting the mostly aqueous material to stick in a very slippery space, says Jennifer Elisseeff, a biomedical engineer at Johns Hopkins University, who developed ChonDux and cofounded Cartilix. The adhesive in this case consists of chondroitin sulfate--a natural component of cartilage that is chemically modified to bind to the healthy cartilage surrounding the defect, as well as to the hydrogel. "It acts like a primer that helps paint stick to the wall," Elisseeff said at a panel at the recent EmTech conference in Cambridge, MA. The adhesive prevents scar formation between the new and old cartilage.

Elisseeff, who was a member of Technology Review's TR35 in 2002, and her team have tested the material in rabbits and goats and have found that more cells from the bone marrow get trapped in the blood clot when the hydrogel is present, compared with microfracture conducted without the gel. The researchers also noted that the defects fill faster with the biomaterial than without, and that the newly formed tissue more closely resembles true cartilage.

Results from a small clinical trial in Europe also look promising. According to findings presented at EmTech, magnetic resonance scans of the knee six months after the procedure showed that patients who received the hydrogel had grown more tissue than those undergoing traditional microfracture, and they reported less pain. Cartilix hopes to submit the data from its European study to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and begin a larger human trial in the United States.

While there are a number of studies on different carriers, such as hydrogels and other biomaterials, that can hold the cells in place and grow cartilage, "what's exciting about this work is that this bioadhesive can hold the hydrogel in place fairly strongly, giving it time to regrow cartilage," says Farshid Guilak, a biomedical engineer at Duke University School of Medicine. And because the biomaterial doesn't need to be seeded with cells prior to injection--a strategy that many research groups are investigating--it might be easier for Cartilix to obtain FDA approval for the material.

Elisseeff is adapting her biomaterials for other applications as well. For instance, she recently licensed some of her technology to Kythera Biopharmaceuticals, a company based in Calabasas, CA, that specializes in cosmetic medicine. The company is using Elisseeff's materials to develop light-activated cosmetic fillers that last much longer than those currently on the market. These fillers, which are typically injected into the skin along the sides of the mouth to minimize wrinkles caused by aging, tend to have a short life span. Patients often have the procedure repeated several times a year.

"With our materials, we shine light over [the area of the skin] that was injected and cross-link the materials so that they don't degrade as quickly," says Elisseeff. She says that Kythera plans to test the cosmetic fillers in patients in a couple of months. The first pilot study will take place in Beverly Hills.