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Tuesday, August 18, 2009

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'Avatar' site crashes as fans seek tickets

16-minute sneak preview will be in theaters Friday

By Gregg Kilday and Alex Ben Block

Aug 17, 2009, 06:23 PM ET

The official "Avatar" Web site crashed for several hours on Monday as moviegoers rushed to secure free seats to see the 16 minutes of 3D preview footage that will be shown at 104 Imax theaters around the country on Friday evening.

Ticket ordering was scheduled to begin online at noon PDT, but at about 11:55 a.m., the site started experiencing difficulties. About 17,000 of the 68,000 available tickets were distributed before the heavy traffic forced the site down for several hours.

"Due to the overwhelming response for tickets to the 'Avatar' event on 8/21, our servers have crashed. We will update you as soon as possible," ticket seekers were advised by "Avatar's" Twitter site.

By late afternoon, was again up and running, taking five orders every second. Locations in New York and Los Angeles sold out almost immediately, and most tickets were expected to be snapped up by the end of the day.

Given that "Avatar," James Cameron's first narrative feature since 1997's "Titanic," promises a display of cutting-edge technology, the site snafu was something of an embarrassment.

At the same time, it had to be good news for Fox, which is facing the challenge of creating awareness for a movie that isn't based on a pre-existing brand, book or film. The sci-fi adventure -- with a budget the studio has put at $237 million -- opens in the U.S. on Dec. 18 and worldwide that same week.

While Fox and Cameron have been slowly unveiling footage from the film -- first at the CineExpo convention in Amsterdam in June and then at last month's Comic-Con -- Friday will be the first chance for many moviegoers to see for themselves scenes in which Australian actor Sam Worthington, playing a paralyzed Marine who travels to the planet of Pandora, finds new life as an avatar -- a blue-skinned, 10-foot tall, half-human, half-alien hybrid.

"I think to say that there is already a lot of interest in the movie is a pretty good understatement. Obviously, it blew out all the servers," said Greg Foster, Imax's chairman and president of filmed entertainment. "It's a pretty big statement about the curiosity and interest in the whole thing."

The participating Imax theaters, in between regularly scheduled screenings of "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince," will offer two screenings Friday of the "Avatar" footage, which will include a 30-second introduction by Cameron in which he sets up the clips. Foster said there are no plans to offer more screenings.

Fox is counting on the cachet of Cameron and its advertising and promotion to drive licensing and merchandising beginning more than two months before the movie's release.
Mattel begins shipping 28 toys to stories in early October and expects them to be on store shelves at Wal-Mart, Target and other retailers by early November.

"We're going to be pulling all the levers to make sure these are marketed properly," Mattel spokesman Chris Volk said.

"We were aware the toys would be out six weeks before the movie opens, but luckily we have Jim Cameron's name, which speaks for itself and has its own following," Fox vp licensing Virginia King added.

Lora Cohn, another vp licensing at the studio, said: "The code name for this project was 8-80, which we even use on some T-shirts, which meant that it will appeal to everyone from eight to 80."

The toys will be priced from $8.99 for a simple action figure to $26.99 for the most deluxe version.

Mattel is also counting on the action figures, creatures and vehicles from the movie to attract collectors and fans. Each figure will come with a 3D Web tag called an I-tag. When the buyer gets the toy home, they put the tag in front of a Web camera and it will reveal special content about that item such as bio background or animated models.

There will also be video games released beginning in late November for three different systems and offering two content variations, said Tim Cummings, senior PR manager for Ubisoft, the French company that developed the games in Montreal. The games for Xbox 360 and PlayStation allow the user to take the role of the hero, while a game for the Nintendo Wii allows the user to take the side of the hero or the villains in the movie. All of the games will be 3D capable but also play in a 2D version.

Ubisoft will premiere its first commercial trailer for the video games on Friday alongside the Imax showings. That day, the same trailer will be shown at the huge Gamescon trade show in Cologne, Germany.

The Xbox and PS3 versions will retail for $59.99; the Wii game will retail for $49.99.

In addition to toys and games, Fox has licenses for clothing lines for men (through Jem) and women (through Awake) that will be available at mass retailers and boutiques on Nov. 24.

Both Cohn and King said they are not concerned that toys, games and clothes will be out weeks before the movie. They said Mattel has been careful in how many units are being shipped, and they expect the toys could be sold out based on reaction to the theatrical trailers, TV ads, promotion and interest by collectors even before the movie opens.

There are also publishing licensees, Abrams and Harper Collins, who will put out books and other print products for adults and children.

Da Vinci's lion prowls again after 500 years


A side view shows a fleur de lys, emblem of the French monarchy, inside the flank of the recreated mechanical lion invented by Leonardo da Vinci to entertain the King of France. Eye witnesses from Da Vinci's time said a mechanical lion that could walk was presented to King Francois I by the Florentine community in the French city of Lyon in 1515, to celebrate a new alliance between Florence and France.

REUTERS/Chateau du Clos-Luce d'Amboise/Handout

By Estelle Shirbon

AMBOISE, France (Reuters) - A mechanical lion invented by Leonardo da Vinci to entertain the King of France has sprung back to life in the Renaissance genius's last home.

Da Vinci's original automaton is lost, but the animal has been recreated at the Chateau du Clos Luce, in the Loire Valley town of Amboise in France, where the master lived for the last three years of his life and where he died in 1519.

"We loved the idea that Leonardo was not only an artist and an engineer but also a fabulous stage director, a master of special effects," said Francois Saint Bris, president of the privately owned chateau, which is open to the public.

"He knew how to satisfy an audience with amazing creations. He was the George Lucas of his time," Saint Bris told Reuters in an interview, referring to the creator of the Star Wars movies.


A rear view shows the mechanical workings of the recreated mechanical lion invented by Leonardo da Vinci built to entertain the King of France. Eye witnesses from Da Vinci's time said a mechanical lion that could walk was presented to King Francois I by the Florentine community in the French city of Lyon in 1515, to celebrate a new alliance between Florence and France.

REUTERS/Chateau du Clos-Luce d'Amboise/Handout

Known around the world for the Mona Lisa and Last Supper paintings, Leonardo was also a prolific inventor who envisioned flying machines including a forerunner of the helicopter.

Eye witnesses from Da Vinci's time said a mechanical lion that could walk was presented to King Francois I by the Florentine community in the French city of Lyon in 1515, to celebrate a new alliance between Florence and France.

The symbol of Florence was a lion, and when the king lashed the mechanical beast three times with a small whip, its breast opened to reveal a fleur de lys, emblem of the French monarchy.

A similar lion -- it is not known whether it was the same one or a newer version -- made another appearance at a lavish party organized in honor of the king in 1517.

Da Vinci left no plans or sketches of the lion, although he did leave detailed drawings of mechanisms that give insight into how he may have made it work.

Using those drawings as well as the written descriptions of the lion, master maker of automatons Renato Boaretto recreated the animal for the Chateau du Clos Luce, where it can be seen as part of a Da Vinci exhibition that lasts until January 31, 2010.

Boaretto's lion, which is life-size, is wound up by hand like an old-fashioned clock. Then, it takes about 10 steps forward, shakes its head from side to side, opens and closes its jaws and wags its tail up and down.

A secret mechanism is built into its mane so that when a particular spot is stroked, a trapdoor swings open on the lion's flank and several fleur de lys pop out.

"It's grandiose that as far back as that, he (Da Vinci) managed to make exceptional objects like this one, fully automatic. It's really amazing," said French tourist Benedicte after seeing the lion in action with her husband and children.

Invited to France by King Francois I, who was a great admirer of his work, Da Vinci designed palaces and canals, sketched plants and animals and organized royal festivities.

In 1518, for the set of a play performed for the monarch, he amazed the audience by recreating the night sky over the stage, complete with constellations and planets.

(Additional reporting by Antony Paone, editing by Paul Casciato)

Let There Be Light! - Aussie sunrise at Nudgee Beach

Click to Enlarge

Henry Rollins featuring The Techno Viking

10 Asian Liquors Most Likely To Give You The Creeps

10 Asian Liquors Most Likely To Give You The Creeps

As most of you already know, we like to cover other alcohol and industry information every once in a while besides cognac. Today is one of those days. Cognac is one of the finest drinks in the world, there certainly is no doubt about that. But it certainly doesn’t have that weird element to it and we are glad it doesn’t. While we were browsing the web to find some unusual drinks we came across a site and we were pretty shocked to see these drinks. We have included some of the images of these drinks below and trust us, you will find these quite shocking.

All these drinks are made in Asia and are said to have health benefits. Pretty much all the descriptions were similar as the content inside the bottles were farm raised and are believed to have many different health benefits. If you would like to purchase one of these drinks please check out the source link at the bottom. Once again, be prepared cause when we say “it likely will give you the creeps,” we aren’t joking ;-) .

1. Real Cobra Snake Whiskey

snake whisky2. Giant Centipede Whiskey

centipedewhiskey3. Thai Spider Whiskey

b204. Real Seahorse Whiskey From Vietnam

seahorsewhiskey5. Herbal Snake Whiskey

snakewhiskey16. Common Cobra & Vine Snake Wine

vinesnakewine7. Banana Flavored Scorpion Liquor

b248. Gecko Lizard Whiskey

b259. Real Cobra Snake & Scorpion whiskey

snakescorpionwhisky10. Real Scorpion Vodka


So what do you think? Are you willing to try any of these drinks? If so, which one would you prefer?


“Beatles: Rock Band” Trailer #3 Debuts and Alleged Track List Leaks

by Tony Sclafani

The Beatles: Rock Band is set to hit stores Sept. 9, and you can get a preview of how it will look by checking out the trailer. According to Rolling Stone, the game's design shows "amazing attention to detail" and depicts The Beatles performing in a variety of settings, such as Liverpool and on the "Ed Sullivan Show" stage.

Worth Playing (via: Rolling Stone) is also reporting the contents of the track list, which was purportedly leaked. The featured songs are listed below, with the albums they're from in italics above. Abbey Road is the most represented single disc release here, with five of its tracks being chosen.

I Want To Hold Your Hand
I Feel Fine
Day Tripper
Paperback Writer
Don’t Let Me Down

Please Please Me:
I Saw Her Standing There
Do You Want To Know A Secret
Twist and Shout

With the Beatles:
I Wanna Be Your Man

A Hard Day’s Night:
A Hard Day’s Night
Can’t Buy Me Love

Beatles For Sale:
Eight Days a Week

Ticket To Ride

Rubber Soul:
Drive My Car
I’m Looking Through You
If I Needed Someone

Yellow Submarine
And Your Bird Can Sing

Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band:
Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band/With a Little Help From My Friends
Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds
Getting Better
Good Morning Good Morning

Magical Mystery Tour:
I Am The Walrus
Hello Goodbye

The Beatles (White Album):
Dear Prudence
Back In the U.S.S.R.
While My Guitar Gently Weeps
Helter Skelter

Yellow Submarine:
Hey Bulldog

Abbey Road:
Come Together
Octopus’s Garden
I Want You (She’s So Heavy)
Here Comes the Sun

Let It Be:
Dig a Pony
I Me Mine
I Got a Feeling
Get Back

Within You Without You/Tomorrow Never Knows

'The Smurfs' Movie Now Casting

By Luke Crowe

Sony Pictures Animation Inc. and Columbia Pictures Industries, Inc., are casting kids for "The Smurfs" feature film, which reportedly will be a hybrid of live-action and animation. The motion picture will be produced by Jordan Kerner ("Charlotte's Web") and directed by Raja Gosnell ("Scooby-Doo" and "Beverly Hills Chihuahua"). "The Smurfs" movie is currently in preproduction; shooting will between 2009-10, with an expected 2D and 3D release date of Dec. 17, 2010.

Seeking—Sophie: ages 8-10, a girl of great imagination and originality, though always appealing, she is often socially awkward and doesn't fit in with the other kids, she's smart and open, though she can be physically clumsy, when she discovers that the "doll" her father brought home from Belgium is actually a living, breathing Smurf, she takes "Clumsy" in as a member of the family and tries to get the household to embrace him and the rest of the Smurfs; Sam: 13-16 (to play 14-15), Sophie's brother, a good kid, but he's going through that phase where he can be difficult and withdrawn and retreat to his room to play video games, through his involvement in the Smurfs' quest to get home, he reconnects with his parents and sister.

Online audition videos are currently being accepted for these roles. To access script sides and submission instructions, visit

Quentin Tarantino's Top 20 Movies Since 1992

Quentin Tarantino lists his Top 20 movies since he started to direct in 1992

Battle Royale
Anything Else
Boogie Nights
Dazed & Confused
Fight Club
The Host
The Insider
Joint Security Area
Lost In Translation
The Matrix
Memories of Murder
Police Story 3
Shaun of the Dead
Team America

46 Year Old Michael Jordan Schools Slamball Star Chris Young

August 17, 2009 - Dr. Anklesnap

We’ve been accused by some readers of being bias towards the G.O.A.T., aka Michael Jordan. I can’t speak on behalf of our other writers, but for me personally those readers would be correct. Of course we love MJ. We can recognize and appreciate greatness can’t we? What’s wrong with that?

Well to add to our MJ loving styles, here is a video you might enjoy that shows you even at the ripe old age of 46, MJ still has it. Jordan recently was filmed playing some one-on-one with Slamball Star Chris “The Ghetto Bird” Young. As you can see in the footage Jordan is not exactly wearing his workout gear, but jeans can’t stop the G.O.A.T. from showing this young baller what’s what. MJ still has that patented turnaround fade away perfected. CASH.

(Shout out to SLAM MAG for the Video)

Radiohead Leak Their New Track To BitTorrent

Written by enigmax

During the last few days a new Radiohead song was mysteriously released onto the Internet. The track is called “These Are My Twisted Words” and until today it was unclear where it had come from. Now, thanks to a post on the band’s blog, it seems the boys could’ve had it planned all along, as they are now linking to the song on Mininova.

Radiohead are no strangers to BitTorrent after the well-documented pay-what-you-like “In Rainbows” album unofficially racked up many thousands of downloads using the protocol.

Late last week the band’s BitTorrent link was revitalized after a new Radiohead track leaked onto the Internet. After this advance release of “These Are My Twisted Words,” rumors began to grow that Radiohead themselves might be behind the ‘leak’.

Speculation grew on the back of comments made by Thom Yorke of the band to The Believer: “We’ve actually got a good plan, but I can’t tell you what it is, because someone will rip it off. But we’ve got this great idea for putting things out”.

Today, on the band’s Dead Air Space blog, Jonny Greenwood (lead guitar and keyboard) seems to solve the mystery:

So here’s a new song, called ‘These Are My Twisted Words’.

We’ve been recording for a while, and this was one of the first we finished.
We’re pretty proud of it.

There’s other stuff in various states of completion, but this is one we’ve been practicing, and which we’ll probably play at this summer’s concerts. Hope you like it.

At the bottom of the post are two links to downloads, one directly from Waste and the other the original torrent uploaded to Mininova a few days ago. In fact, it was uploaded twice.

An enthusiastic commenter on Mininova exclaims: “OMFG! This torrent is being redirected from the radiohead official store, so there’s no album, just this song finished, this is very edgy, i mean thom yorke is way ahead from any other artist, at least we know he’s not doing his music to get some profit, at least not anymore, this is history being made, again, GREAT!”

Sounds like the first of many happy listeners.

Mininova is happy with Radiohead’s move also. The site’s co-founder Erik Dubbelboer told TorrentFreak: “It’s great to see that artists use Mininova to distribute and promote their content for free. We encourage everyone to do this, which is why we provide our Content Distribution service.”

Radiohead uploaded the torrent the old fashioned way though, seeding it themselves. Apparently they are well aware of the latest developments in the BitTorrent community, as they used the newly founded OpenBitTorrent tracker.

How Long Does Bill Murray Spend in Groundhog Day?

Groundhog Day

It seems like almost every day someone approaches me and asks, “How long did Bill Murray spend trapped in the film Groundhog Day?” And I always say, “Hmmm, that's not the most timely of questions, but I'll do my best to answer it.”

Actually, Groundhog Day was on TBS yet again and a wave of Geek OCD hit me. I was compelled to count the days and find just how many days Phil Connors spent in Punxsutawney. According to Harold Ramis, on the Groundhog Day DVD commentary, Bill Murray spent 10 years trapped in his own little corner of hell... Punxsutawney (I kid Tawney, I'm sure you're lovely). But this seems like an arbitrary number. We can do better than that.

There are, at least, 36 separate days shown in the movie including his multiple death scenes. There could be more, but it's hard to verify if some moments are simply later in the same day or an entirely different day. Additionally, in the scene where Bill Murray revealed he's a god, he stated, “I have been stabbed, shot, poisoned, frozen, hung, electrocuted, and burned.” Of those the movie only showed electrocution, so that brings it to a base line of 42 accountable days. However, there were many days not shown. We know from the scene when Billy Murray and Andy MacDowell are throwing playing cards into a top hat that it would take, “Six months. Four to five hours a day, and you'd be an expert.” So, we have a bare minimum of six months.

Follow up:

In the first half of the movie, the only other truly time consuming event was the the robbery. Let's give him at least a month to plan a proper bank robbery and memorize when wind gusts. This brings us to roughly 256 days by the time he decides he wants to be a better man. However, becoming a better man is the most time consuming part of Phil's journey! He needs to become an expert pianist, an ice sculptor, and learns French. The tough part about this is that is that no one learns these things at the same rate. He could be a very old piano wunderkind after all. Or it could take him 600 years to become a decent ice sculptor. For the sake of argument let's say it takes an average person 3 years to learn to play the piano. It also would take an average person 3 years to become a professional ice sculptor. However, we don't know how good Phil was at either... maybe, he just learned one song, or just how to sculpt Andy MacDowell's face. But for the sake of argument, let's say three years apiece. And he cannot do both at the same time because an ice sculpture is 8 hours of work, and he only has a small window each day to get a piano lesson. Learning French which is also subjective. It's safe to say it would take him, at least, 2 years to learn enough French to read French poetry.

Which puts us at the grand total of 3176 repeated Groundhog days, or 453 weeks, or 105 months, or 8.7 years. Precisely, 8 years, 8 months, and 16 days. So, in the end Harold Ramis was right and I wasted a Bill Murray length of my time. But I made the hash marks, and I was going to do the math!

Most U.S. Money Laced With Cocaine

Dollar wobbles as Fed meets; yen jumps
AFP/File – A sheet of one dollar bills. The dollar sputtered Tuesday on the eve of a US decision on monetary policy, …

Traces of cocaine taint up to 90 percent of paper money in the United States, a new study finds.

A group of scientists tested banknotes from more than 30 cities in five countries, including the United States, Canada, Brazil, China, and Japan, and found "alarming" evidence of cocaine use in many areas.

U.S. and Canadian currency had the highest levels, with an average contamination rate of between 85 and 90 percent, while Chinese and Japanese currency had the lowest, between 12 and 20 percent contamination.

The findings were presented yesterday at the 238th National Meeting of the American Chemical Society in Washington, D.C.

Study leader Yuegang Zuo of the University of Massachusetts in Dartmouth said that the high percentage of contaminated U.S. currency observed in the current study represents nearly a 20 percent jump in comparison to a similar study he conducted two years ago.

"To my surprise, we're finding more and more cocaine in banknotes," Zuo said.

Scientists have known for years that paper money can become contaminated with cocaine during drug deals and directly through drug use, such as snorting cocaine through rolled bills. Contamination can also spread to banknotes not involved in the illicit drug culture, because bills are processed in banks' currency-counting machines.

"I'm not sure why we've seen this apparent increase, but it could be related to the economic downturn, with stressed people turning to cocaine," Zuo said.

Such studies are useful, he noted, because the data can help law enforcement agencies and forensic specialists identify patterns of drug use in a community.

Previous studies that have reported on cocaine traces on money have had several drawbacks, Zuo said. Some only sampled a small number of bills, while others destroyed the money in the process of testing.

Zuo and his colleagues used a modified instrument that allowed for faster, simpler and more accurate measurement of cocaine contamination than other methods, without destroying the currency.

The amounts of cocaine found on U.S. bills ranged from .006 micrograms (several thousands of times smaller than a single grain of sand) to more than 1,240 micrograms of cocaine per banknote (about 50 grains of sand).

The scientists found that larger cities like Baltimore, Boston, and Detroit had among the highest average cocaine levels. Washington, D.C., ranked above the average, with 95 percent of the banknotes sampled contaminated with the drug. The lowest average cocaine levels in U.S. currency appeared on bills collected from Salt Lake City.

Despite the high percentage of cocaine-contaminated banknotes, Zuo points out that the amount of cocaine found on most notes was so small that consumers should not have any health or legal concerns about handling paper money.

"For the most part, you can't get high by sniffing a regular banknote, unless it was used directly in drug uptake or during a drug exchange," Zuo said. "It also won't affect your health and is unlikely to interfere with blood and urine tests used for drug detection.

Facebook 3.0 For iPhone Submitted. Now Let’s Count The Days Until It’s Available

by Michael Arrington on August 16, 2009

Facebook has submitted v. 3.0 of their iPhone application to Apple, Joe Hewitt says via Twitter: “Just uploaded Facebook for iPhone 3.0 to the App Store for review. :)”

Hewitt also says he’ll post screen shots and more detais on this Facebook page for the iPhone app next week, and that he’s looking forward to getting started on v. 3.1 tomorrow.

We’ve been tracking 3.0 since details first became available in July. A list of some of the much needed improvements is here. And as a bonus, Hewitt said he’d be able to include video uploads to Facebook from iPhone 3Gs phones as well. And from our most recent post (yes, Hewitt has been teasing this out for weeks):

That means that shortly, we’ll have access to the much-improved app which is scheduled to have features such as a News Feed that is more like the one on Facebook’s site, the ability to “like” items and a new customizable home screen. More importantly, it will also have video support for the iPhone 3GS, something which Hewitt threw-in at the last second, unexpectedly. And perhaps best of all, the app will have the ability to manage events, finally.

It’s likely Apple will approve this app in short order. Not only are they trying to avoid high profile app problems, there’s also not very much in the Facebook app that they or AT&T would take exception to.

If you haven’t heard it, make sure to listen to our interview with Joe Hewitt two years ago when Facebook first launched a special browser-based version of Facebook for the iPhone.

Thanks for the tip, Matthew.

The Swiss Menace: health care reform The Democratic health care reform plan most resembles the system in Switzerland, despite comparisons to the approaches taken in Britain and Canada.

Published: August 16, 2009

It was the blooper heard round the world. In an editorial denouncing Democratic health reform plans, Investor’s Business Daily tried to frighten its readers by declaring that in Britain, where the government runs health care, the handicapped physicist Stephen Hawking “wouldn’t have a chance,” because the National Health Service would consider his life “essentially worthless.”

Fred R. Conrad/The New York Times

Paul Krugman

Professor Hawking, who was born in Britain, has lived there all his life, and has been well cared for by the National Health Service, was not amused.

Besides being vile and stupid, however, the editorial was beside the point. Investor’s Business Daily would like you to believe that Obamacare would turn America into Britain — or, rather, a dystopian fantasy version of Britain. The screamers on talk radio and Fox News would have you believe that the plan is to turn America into the Soviet Union. But the truth is that the plans on the table would, roughly speaking, turn America into Switzerland — which may be occupied by lederhosen-wearing holey-cheese eaters, but wasn’t a socialist hellhole the last time I looked.

Let’s talk about health care around the advanced world.

Every wealthy country other than the United States guarantees essential care to all its citizens. There are, however, wide variations in the specifics, with three main approaches taken.

In Britain, the government itself runs the hospitals and employs the doctors. We’ve all heard scare stories about how that works in practice; these stories are false. Like every system, the National Health Service has problems, but over all it appears to provide quite good care while spending only about 40 percent as much per person as we do. By the way, our own Veterans Health Administration, which is run somewhat like the British health service, also manages to combine quality care with low costs.

The second route to universal coverage leaves the actual delivery of health care in private hands, but the government pays most of the bills. That’s how Canada and, in a more complex fashion, France do it. It’s also a system familiar to most Americans, since even those of us not yet on Medicare have parents and relatives who are.

Again, you hear a lot of horror stories about such systems, most of them false. French health care is excellent. Canadians with chronic conditions are more satisfied with their system than their U.S. counterparts. And Medicare is highly popular, as evidenced by the tendency of town-hall protesters to demand that the government keep its hands off the program.

Finally, the third route to universal coverage relies on private insurance companies, using a combination of regulation and subsidies to ensure that everyone is covered. Switzerland offers the clearest example: everyone is required to buy insurance, insurers can’t discriminate based on medical history or pre-existing conditions, and lower-income citizens get government help in paying for their policies.

In this country, the Massachusetts health reform more or less follows the Swiss model; costs are running higher than expected, but the reform has greatly reduced the number of uninsured. And the most common form of health insurance in America, employment-based coverage, actually has some “Swiss” aspects: to avoid making benefits taxable, employers have to follow rules that effectively rule out discrimination based on medical history and subsidize care for lower-wage workers.

So where does Obamacare fit into all this? Basically, it’s a plan to Swissify America, using regulation and subsidies to ensure universal coverage.

If we were starting from scratch we probably wouldn’t have chosen this route. True “socialized medicine” would undoubtedly cost less, and a straightforward extension of Medicare-type coverage to all Americans would probably be cheaper than a Swiss-style system. That’s why I and others believe that a true public option competing with private insurers is extremely important: otherwise, rising costs could all too easily undermine the whole effort.

But a Swiss-style system of universal coverage would be a vast improvement on what we have now. And we already know that such systems work.

So we can do this. At this point, all that stands in the way of universal health care in America are the greed of the medical-industrial complex, the lies of the right-wing propaganda machine, and the gullibility of voters who believe those lies.

Correction: In Friday’s column I mistakenly asserted that Senator Johnny Isakson was responsible for a provision in a House bill that would allow Medicare to pay for end-of-life counseling. In fact, he is responsible for a provision in a Senate bill that would allow a different, newly created government program to pay for such counseling.

Roger Cohen is on vacation.

TomTom navigation for iPhone 3G and 3GS arrives

True, it's not the first app offering turn-by-turn driving instructions for the iPhone 3G or iPhone 3GS -- but it is from TomTom, an industry heavy-weight that is finally delivering on years of rumor and speculation. After starting with New Zealand a few hours ago, the iTunes App Store is now populated with region specific TomTom apps for NZ ($95), Australia ($80), US and Canada ($100), and Western Europe ($140). If that sounds expensive... it is; dedicated TomTom navigators start at $120. In other words, this isn't one of those knee-jerk 99 cent App Store purchases. Naturally, that price does not include the announced TomTom iPhone car kit (rumored to cost £113.85 (about $194) with bundled mapping software) that mounts and charges your iPhone 3G or 3GS while enhancing its GPS performance, speaker, and microphone. Our advice: wait for the reviews before dedicating your non multi-tasking iPhone to the dashboard for navigation duties.

Update: Recombu took the software for a spin and seem duly impressed by their ability to navigate streets with an iPhone taped to the dash (not a joke). They say that when a call comes in, the TomTom app "turns off but restarts as soon as you finish the call." Lame. See the video overview after the break.

Update 2:
TomTom says the upcoming car kit dock / windshield mount will also work with the iPod touch and third-party apps -- it contains a faster, more accurate GPS chip than the one in the iPhone. Check a video of it after the break.

[Thanks to everyone who sent this in]

Read [Warning: iTunes link]

First Avatar Image Reveals Na'vi to Be Advanced Race of Tanning-Bed Addicts

At long last, the Avatar-curious among you have something to look at besides leaked, unfinished production shots and set stills of the director aiming his custom-made, 3-D assault camera at star Sigourney Weaver after she delivered what he deemed to be a phoned-in line reading (or as he put it, “Look alive, Sigourney! This is Avatar, not ‘Miss Hathaway Vs. the Aliens!’”).

Via /Film, who ascertained it was 100% legit and would not be cruelly yanked from the fanboy blogosphere by Fox’s unfeeling intellectual property department, here is the first official glimpse of the film. It features Sam Worthington’s wheelchair-bound Marine Jake Sully, standing in front of his genetically engineered Na’avian host body, which lies peacefully unconscious and suspended in an artificial amniotic compound not unlike Barbicide. A few scenes later, he’s seen standing spread-armed on the back of a soaring winged velociraptor, jubilantly exclaiming that he’s “King of Planet Pandora!”

Download a Copy of The Pirate Bay Before It’s Gone

Written by Ernesto

In just a few days The Pirate Bay will be passed onto its new owners, marking the end of an era but not the end of BitTorrent. The nostalgic torrenters among us might want to download a copy of the site for archival purposes. It never hurts to have a backup of important data in place, especially when it’s free.

pirate bayIn common with music and movies, it’s not that hard to copy a website. It might take some serious server power to serve torrents to millions of people every day, but all the torrent files and site code don’t take up that much space.

In fact, every TorrentFreak reader can easily store a backup of The Pirate Bay on his or her hard drive. Everyone can download it straight from The Pirate Bay, conveniently packed into a massive torrent amounting to 21.3 Gigabytes of data.

The anonymous uploader who compiled this huge torrent told TorrentFreak that he wanted to have a backup of the site in case all torrents mysteriously disappear after the site is sold. “I suppose I want us to have assurances. If the TPB deal disappoints us, we can just put it up again,” he said.

The backup includes a mockup site and all of the 873,671 torrent files hosted on The Pirate Bay’s servers. As the uploader also notes, not all of the 2 million torrents tracked by The Pirate Bay are hosted on the site itself.

With this backup everyone can have their own Pirate Bay up and running in a few minutes. “The basic website supplied in the torrent is a working site, where you can browse the index. You just need a lot of hardware to run a database of this size at a decent speed. And thanks to, you don’t even need a tracker,” the uploader told us.

Those interested in grabbing a copy of the site have to be warned: patience is required. It might take a few days before the download completes with the seeder’s limited upload capacity, but good things come to those that wait.

London's Earliest Timber Structure Found During Belmarsh Prison Dig

ScienceDaily (Aug. 14, 2009) — London's oldest timber structure has been unearthed by archaeologists from Archaeology South-East (part of the Institute of Archaeology at University College London). It was found during the excavation of a prehistoric peat bog adjacent to Belmarsh Prison in Plumstead, Greenwich, in advance of the construction of a new prison building. Radiocarbon dating has shown the structure to be nearly 6,000 years old and it predates Stonehenge by more than 500 years.

Jacobs Engineering UK Ltd acted as the managing consultants, on behalf of the Ministry of Justice, and the work was facilitated by Interserve Project Services Ltd.

The structure consisted of a timber platform or trackway found at a depth of 4.7m (about the height of a double decker bus) beneath two metres of peat adjacent to an ancient river channel (image available). Previously, the oldest timber structure in Greater London was the timber trackway in Silvertown, which has been dated to 3340-2910 BC, c. 700 years younger.

Wetlands adjacent to rivers such as the Thames were an important source of food for prehistoric people, and timber trackways and platforms made it easier to cross the boggy terrain. The structure discovered at Plumstead is an early example of people adapting the natural landscape to meet human needs. The peat bogs which developed at Plumstead provided ideal conditions to preserve organic materials, which in other environments would have rotted away. The peat not only preserved wood, but also other plant matter - down to microscopic pollen grains - which can inform us about the contemporary landscape.

English Heritage, the government's advisor on the historic environment, provides planning advice in respect of archaeology within Greater London and was involved in the discovery at the Plumstead site.

Mark Stevenson, Archaeological Advisor at English Heritage said: "The discovery of the earliest timber structure in London is incredibly important. The timber structure is slightly earlier in date than the earliest trackways excavated in the Somerset Levels, including the famous 'Sweet Track' to Glastonbury, which provide some of the earliest physical evidence for woodworking in England.

"This large area of development has been the subject of extensive building recording of the old Royal Arsenal (East) site as well as detailed work to map the buried ancient landscape."

Archaeology South-East Senior Archaeologist Diccon Hart, who directed the excavation, commented: "The discovery of the earliest timber structure yet found in the London Basin is an incredibly exciting find. It is testament to the hard work and determination of those who toiled under very difficult conditions to unearth a rare and fascinating structure almost 6,000 years after it was constructed."

Other notable finds from the archaeological excavation include an Early Bronze Age alder log with unusually well-preserved tool marks made by a metal axe. This item has been laser scanned at UCL's Department of Civil, Environmental and Geometric Engineering and is currently undergoing conservation treatment prior to its display in Greenwich Heritage Centre, Woolwich (image available).

The study of the samples will continue for the next couple of years as the archaeological team learns more about this intriguing structure and the environment in which it was built.

Why is there... a penguin...

The Corvette ZR1 was chasing a Lambo LP670-4 SV around Millbrook

Corvette ZR1 chasing a Lamborghini Muricelago LP670-4 SV - Click above to watch video after the jump

On Monday we shared a very nifty video of the lads at Autocar and a fire-breathing Blue Devil corvette chasing something around the hill route at Millbrook. Obviously, speculation was rampant about what sort of car had the camera strapped to it. Some folks went ahead and checked out Autocar since it was their video, others simply guessed. Results: Some of you were right! Others, very wrong. But, like the good parents that we are, Autoblog loves all of you equally. Moving on.

I'm going to go a little inside baseball for a moment, so bare bear with me. Yes, Autocar revealed that the chase car was indeed a Lamborghini Murcielago LP670-4 SuperVeloce about two weeks ago. Trouble was, the clip wasn't on YouTube, meaning that we couldn't share it with you here on Autoblog. A questionable decision, but a decision, nonethelss. Anyhow, look – a Chevy Corvette ZR1 chasing a Lamborghini Murcielago LP670-4 SV around a track!!!

This really is an unbelievable video. First of all, you got two of the hottest cars in the world. Second, the Lambo should be a bit quicker than the ZR1, right? It has around 30 more horsepower, weighs about 60 pounds less and has AWD, allowing it to exit corners more quickly. Plus, the Lamborghini has a factory driver at the helm while the Corvette is being piloted by (gulp) an auto journalist. Only thing is, well... watch for yourself, after the jump. One more thing – not counting the "joke's on you, rich people!" Reventon, the LP670-4 SV is Lambo's most expensive vehicle and the ZR1 is (obviously) Chevy's. Can you image a race between the two brands' cheapest vehicles? Aveo vs. Gallardo LP560-4 strikes us as very funny.

[Source: YouTube via Autocar]

Behind the Scenes of District 9

At least from audience response I've spotted on Twitter, District 9 may be the saving grace of mostly lousy summer science fiction. Here's a look behind the scenes compliments of Wired.

Director Neill Blomkamp shares his thoughts on his casual presentation of special effects while WETA Workshop designer Greg Broadmore talks about designing the aliens and their weaponry (specifically, why their weapons can be painted bright orange).

This clip isn't a hardcore look into the movie, but it's a nice bit of fluff to help you relive the alien invasion that you may have enjoyed last weekend. Or you could skip the clip and get back to work. Because that alternative sounds great. [Wired]

Foreign Talent Loads the Bases in Minor Leagues

More Visas Spur Deals From Haiti to India; Korean Teen Scores Big

BOISE, Idaho -- Like many teenagers spending this summer abroad, Hak-Ju Lee is immersing himself in a foreign culture, making friends and tasting exotic food like moose stew. Unlike most teens, however, he's getting paid three-quarters of a million dollars to do it.

Mr. Lee, 18 years old, is a shortstop, and the culture he is experiencing is American minor-league baseball, where major-league teams develop their talent in small towns across the country.

For decades, minor-league rosters seemed the essence of America's heartland. But thanks to growing numbers of foreign players like Mr. Lee, the minors are fast turning into a veritable United Nations.

The Boise Hawks' Imported Talent

Sean Flanigan for the Wall Street Journal

Hak-Ju Lee is one of 18 international players on the Boise baseball roster.

The gangly infielder is one of three South Koreans playing this summer for the Boise Hawks, an affiliate of the Chicago Cubs. The Hawks' opening-day roster boasted 18 of 25 players from abroad -- mostly Venezuela and the Dominican Republic -- making it one of the most "imported" of all minor-league teams.

Recent changes in U.S. immigration law and growing competition in baseball for raw talent have allowed the minor-league farm system to flourish with imported players. It has been a home run for globalization, but bad news for U.S.-born players, who suddenly have much more competition. Across the minor and major leagues, the total number of foreign-born players is growing fast, to almost 3,500 of the 8,532 players under contract this summer, from 2,964 three years ago.

Boise Hawks' hitting instructor, Ricardo Medina, a native of Panama who translates at team meetings in what has become almost a bilingual program, notes that Mr. Lee and his Korean teammates are getting something else from their summer in Idaho. "I think they may be learning more Spanish than English," he jokes.

The three South Koreans on the Hawks' roster matches the total number playing at the major-league level. Today, 19 Koreans play in the minor leagues, compared with just seven five years ago.

This summer's crop of foreign players in the minors includes baseball's first-ever pros from India, two of them on the Pittsburgh Pirates' Gulf Coast league team. That league's rosters include players from Honduras, Haiti, Russia and the Czech Republic.

Minor League Baseball Becomes Melting Pot


As a result of unlimited work visas, minor league baseball is seeing a new influx of international players. Joel Millman reports from Boise, Idaho.

Eight teams have minor leaguers from Brazil, including Fábio Murakami, an outfielder for the Philadelphia Phillies' Williamsport, Pa., minor-league team, the Crosscutters. Mr. Murakami is one of several South Americans of Japanese descent in the minors, a list that includes Claudio Fukunaga and Lucas Nakandakare, both from Argentina and under contract to Tampa Bay.

One Red Sox farm team boasts an even more exotic tandem: the brothers Crew Tipene Moanaroa, called "Boss," and Hohua Moanaroa, called "Moko." Born in New South Wales, Australia, the Moanaroas are believed to be the first members of New Zealand's Maori tribe to play baseball professionally in the U.S. "Boss" is a first baseman. "Moko" plays outfield.

New Zealand's representative in the minors is Scott Campbell. He plays third base for the Blue Jays' Eastern League affiliate, the New Hampshire Fisher Cats.

The surge of young foreign players into the U.S. minor leagues began in 2007, a few months after then-president and former major-league team owner George W. Bush signed the Creating Opportunities for Minor League Professionals, Entertainers and Teams Act, known as the Compete Act. It freed the farm systems of major-league teams from having to compete with all U.S. employers seeking H2B work visas for foreign employees, the supply of which usually was exhausted each year by February. Now, teams can import as many prospects as they want.

"There is no longer a limit on work visas," explains Oneri Fleita, the Florida-born director of minor-league development for the Cubs. "So, yeah, you might see more foreign players getting an opportunity."

The Cubs, who signed Korea's Hak-Ju Lee right out of high school, have become one of the most aggressive signers of foreign players. In 2006, 86 players in the Cubs' major and minor-league system were foreign-born. This year, 142 Cubs are imports.

The changes pose a challenge to American teens hoping to make the big leagues. Instead of signing hundreds of U.S. amateurs out of high school -- the traditional business model for stocking minor-league rosters -- teams are drafting fewer U.S. kids and signing more so-called nondraft free agents, the vast majority of them teenagers from Latin America.

This summer, major-league teams spent over $70 million signing nondraft free agents from outside the country. That is up from $54 million last year, and just under $30 million in 2006, the last year before the Compete Act.

Economics plays a huge role. U.S.-born players drafted out of high school rarely sign a contract to turn pro without a cash bonus, most in excess of $100,000. This summer, the Cubs have forked out more than $6 million in signing bonuses to 26 U.S. prospects, an average of nearly a quarter million apiece.

While some foreign players like Mr. Lee got hefty signing bonuses, the majority do not. Latin players in particular can be had for a lot less -- just $10,000 in the case of Venezuelan pitcher Eduardo Figueroa, one of Mr. Lee's teammates. Third baseman George Matheus, another Hawk from Venezuela, received $15,000 for signing.

Lifting visa limits creates an opportunity for players like Eric Gonzalez, a 22-year-old Spaniard in the San Diego Padres' farm system. Mr. Gonzalez was the last player drafted by the Atlanta Braves in 2005, when he was a 17-year-old high-schooler in the Canary Islands. But under the work-visa cap then prevailing in baseball, the Braves would have had to release another foreign prospect to sign him, Mr. Gonzalez explains, "or else send me somewhere overseas to play, probably Australia."

So Mr. Gonzalez didn't get a shot, and instead polished his skills at the University of South Alabama. Signed by the Padres after graduating last year, he has already whipped through one level of minor-league competition, winning a promotion from the Fort Wayne TinCaps to the Lake Elsinore Storm in July. But the cash rewards will have to wait. "I signed for $1,000, before taxes," laughs Mr. Gonzalez, one of two Spaniards in the minors this year. "Basically, I signed in exchange for a plane ticket and a work visa."

In the past, visa restrictions meant many foreign prospects were sent to play for sister teams in places like the Dominican Republic and Australia, where they tried to get enough visibility to fill a coveted visa spot. Nowadays, teams figure they can train foreign talent personally, and give youngsters a chance to learn English and assimilate with U.S.-born teammates.

On both counts, South Korea's Mr. Lee is an enthusiastic student. "Stolen base! Slider! Fastball! Right down the middle!" the teenager recently shouted with a smile, demonstrating the English terms he's mastered since arriving in Idaho.

Much like in an exchange-student program, local families host foreign ballplayers, getting season tickets in return. Mr. Lee lives in a suburban home festooned with heads of antelope and deer and other hunting trophies. He has learned to play Rock Band with his 17-year-old host-family "brother," a ballplayer who is entering his senior year in high school.

His typical teenage observation about life in America: lack of sleep. "Bus ride after game from Vancouver?" he groans, feigning fatigue. "Thirteen hours! Oh, my God. Tired!"

Write to Joel Millman at joel.millman@

The 35 Best iPhone Apps Of The Year (So Far)

The 35 Best iPhone Apps Of The Year (So Far)

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'Lost': Mr. Eko wants to stage his comeback!


Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, aka former tailie Mr. Eko, has a message for Lost executive producers Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse: “Fans of Eko should have hope.” Though Akinnuoye-Agbaje was the first castaway to vote himself off the island in season three, the British actor hopes to be one of the dead characters who makes a comeback in the drama’s final season. “I loved playing that character,” he told EW at the premiere of G.I. Joe: The Rise of the Cobra, in which he plays Heavy Duty. “I loved working with that team and the reception I got from people was phenomenal. Even at Comic-Con this year I went to sign my action figure for G.I. Joe and people had tons of questions about Lost. It makes you feel good that you could be off a show for more than a year and still have people thinking about your character. It was a great part.

“I’m here for them,” Akinnuoye-Agbaje continues. “Adewale is open for business. We have had talks about some things they might do for the final season and there are other dead folks coming back allegedly but at the moment it is still a maybe. A strong maybe but I have not shot anything yet or signed any contracts. But I’m hoping.”

The executive producers declined to comment but they did tell attendees at Comic-Con last month that the show will allow for dead or presumed-dead characters to return. Definites include Daniel Faraday (Jeremy Davies), Claire (Emilie de Ravin), Juliet (Elizabeth Mitchell) and Boone (Ian Somerhalder). What do you think? Should Mr. Eko be among the dearly departed who’s allowed to stage a comeback? – With additional reporting from Carrie Bell

Photo Credit: Mario Perez/ABC