Friday, February 29, 2008

The Science Of Leap Time

It took astronomers 5,000 years or so to figure out how leap years work - and with every technological leap, we're becoming increasingly dependent on ultra-precise timekeeping.
As a result, even tiny leaps in time are becoming just as important - and just as controversial - as leap days and leap weeks must have seemed back in the days of Julius Caesar and Pope Gregory XIII.

We have Julius and Gregory to thank for Friday's leap day, the extra day that's periodically tacked onto the month of February.

Even before Julius Caesar's reign, the ancients had figured out that a 365-day year came closest to matching the annual round of equinoxes and solstices, which were so important for planting schedules and holy rites linked to astronomical observations. But over the years, the seasons gradually fell out of sync, and extra days had to be stuck in haphazardly to put the year back on track.

With an assist from the astronomer Sosigenes, Julius Caesar instituted the much more reliable Julian calendar, which stuck a 366th day in the month of February every four years. (OK, when the Romans started the leap-year habit in 45 B.C., they added a leap day every three years. Which was bad. But eventually they got it right.)

There was still a slight discrepancy between the calendar cycle and Earth's actual solar year, however, and by the time Gregory entered the picture in the year 1582, the difference added up to 11 days. Armed with updated astronomical advice, the pope revised the calendar again, and added an exception to the four-year leap rule. Leap days would be added to century years divisible by 400 (such as 2000), but not to the other century years (such as 1900 or 2100).

And that's where we're at right now. Even Gregory didn't completely solve the problem. There are still little discrepancies that crop up between the calendar and our planet's yearly rounds. If you could check Earth's precise position in its orbit year over year, you'd find an average yearly discrepancy of 26 seconds.

John Lowe, leader of the atomic standards group at the National Institute of Standards and Technology's Time and Frequency Division, said that gap isn't close to requiring any correction ... yet.

"It's going to take 3,300 years for one day of slippage," Lowe told me today. "I doubt anybody is worrying about that right now."

So don't expect any additional tweaking to the Gregorian calendar until, say, the year 5000 or so. There is another leap-time issue that will have to be resolved much sooner than that, however. One of the biggest dilemmas facing timekeepers today has to do with the leap seconds that have been added to the year periodically since 1972.

Leap seconds aren't directly related to the length of the year, but rather to an infinitesimal difference between the length of a 24-hour day (that is, 86,400 seconds) and the international atomic standard for the length of a second. The difference (known in geekspeak as DUT1) accumulates because our planet's rotation is gradually slowing down.

Every time the gap between atomic and astronomical time reaches 0.9 seconds, a leap second is added to bring the two standards back into sync. Right now, the gap is almost 0.4 seconds - but Geoff Chester, an astronomer at the U.S. Naval Observatory, says the discrepancy could start picking up speed.

"Fifty years or so from now, it's entirely possible that we may be adding two or as many as four leap seconds per year," Chester told me.

That's very inconvenient for the folks who rely on the precise, steady timekeeping of the atomic system - such as the people in charge of the world's computer networks, power grids and even the Global Positioning System.

"Sooner rather than later, this is going to become a real nuisance, so there is debate right now over how we're going to reduce this nuisance factor," Chester said. "The simplest solution is just to do away with the leap second."

However, that doesn't sit too well with the folks who deal with timekeeping in the astronomical world. Without the leap seconds, the atomic time standard would run further and further ahead of natural time cycles.

"If we did away with leap seconds, we would find ourselves at some time in the same position that they did in the 1500s - one minute off, two minutes off, five minutes," NIST's Lowe said.

"All of the charts and tables stating sunrise and sunset, those would all have to be adjusted periodically to accommodate the slipping time scale."

Earth's time lords, at the International Earth Rotation and Reference Systems Service as well as at the International Telecommunications Union, have been talking about proposals to do away with leap seconds, or at least wait until the discrepancy adds up to a leap hour. Lowe and Chester say their organizations have no position for or against the idea, but will do whatever the international standard-setters tell them to do.

Lowe doesn't expect a resolution of the dilemma anytime soon - and in the meantime, there's likely to be more leap seconds added to the clock. "This has been going on for the last dozen years," he said. "Large international bodies like these never proceed too quickly."

But one thing is for sure: Every year, society is becoming more and more dependent on precision timekeeping. For Lowe and his colleagues, the most important job isn't whether an extra day is added to a year, or whether an extra second is added to a minute. Rather, it's to make sure that every second of the year is accurate and accounted for.

"We build these highly precise clocks not to define the time of day, but to define the length of a second," Lowe said. "That defines frequency, so many cycles per second - and frequency is what drives our technological world, from television and radio to our global telecommunication systems. The big satellites that carry massive amounts of data operate at a very high frequency, so they need very stable calibration.

"That's why we build these incredibly accurate instruments," he said. And that's why every second counts.

Update: I revised my reference to the 26-second annual discrepancy between the Gregorian calendar year and the tropical year (which adds up to one day in 3,300 years or so), because the actual discrepancy can't be judged on a year-over-year basis. For more about the so-called 4,000-year rule, check out this Web page.

Also, to celebrate leap day, you can either propose to your beau (if you're a woman) or try out the Project Leap Year Web site, which gives you the opportunity to share your leap-day dreams.

Alan Boyle covers the physical sciences, anthropology, technological innovation and space science and exploration for

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Rock And Roll Heaven

I was just thinking about how pretty much all of my favorite musicians are dead. John Lennon, Jimi Hendrix, John Entwistle, Janis Joplin, Dean Martin, Nat King Cole, George Harrison, Freddie Mercury. I guess that's the reason why I haven't bought any new music in a few years.

I do like some newer artists, but not enough to go out and buy their albums (I know, they don't make albums anymore, but that's the term I've always used and will continue to until I've joined the artists listed above.)

Thinkin It Over by John Entwistle
I'm on the ledge outside my window, the ground is 10 stories below.
As I look down the crowd looks up, wondering whether I'll jump or not.
What ya gonna do, disappoint all those people?
Or make a splash in the headlines next day?
What ya gonna do, waste your time with those policemen,
Or let your audience have their own way.

I love, love, loved John Entwistle who was better known as the bass player for The Who than as a solo artist. While Pete Townsend was smashing guitars and Roger Daltrey was swinging his microphone and Keith Moon was smashing on his drums John Enwistle just stood there, playing his bass guitar. His nickname was Thunderfingers and his bass playing just stunned me. His Smash Your Head Against The Wall album was the first I ever heard of him. It was 1971 and I can still remember hearing it at my cousin's house. I had no idea at that time who he was, but I remembered the album cover and when I saw the album cover a few years later, I bought it and now I have two as I have almost worn out the first one. Most people don't really know his solo music, which is quite dark and very clever in the lyrics. I was lucky enough to see him live at The Living Room, but it was a bit of a disappointment because they played mostly Who songs (I wanted to hear his solo songs!) They were way too loud for the small space they were playing in, but I got to be about 6 feet away from him, so all in all it was pretty great. Sadly, he died of a drug overdose in 2002.

I Wonder by John Entwistle
I wonder what would happen if my dog could talk, would he look me in the eye and say take me for a walk?
I wonder if my fish could fly, would he leap from his tank and hit the cat in the eye?
Imagine living in a place where the sea was red, And your legs were in the position now occupied by your head.
Imagine living in a place where black was white and white was black, even the night.

Anyway, all these dead musicians remind me of a Stephen King short story titled "You Know They Have A Hell Of A Band" was a town a couple found by mistake while driving. The husband didn't want to stop and ask for directions (big mistake.) It was a very picturesque place and this couple soon came to realize that something just wasn't right. All of the dead musicians lived there and had jobs in this town. In the restaurant Janis Joplin was a waitress while Ricky Nelson was the short order cook. Elvis was the mayor and he, Otis Redding and Jimi Hendrix kept the couple from leaving. The dead musicians held a concert every night in the town square that you were required to attend and the concert lasted forever as rock and roll never dies.

So I'd like to think that there really is an afterlife where these favorites of mine are having a great jam session. Freddie Mercury continuing on as the great showman he was, Janis just being Janis, Jimi Hendrix with his fingers flying over the frets and John and George playing together again.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Stop! Is That Poop On Your Lemon?

It's fairly common for restaurant staffers to place a lemon slice on the rim of a beverage glass as a flavor enhancer or decorative garnish. But who knows whether these lemons have been handled using sanitary procedures? Anne LaGrange Loving, a professor of science at Passaic County Community College, decided to find out.

Loving began her investigation after she saw a waitress’ fingertips dip into her soda as the drink was being brought to her table. Although lemon juice is known to kill germs, Loving devised a study to determine whether lemon slices contain germs when they are served to customers.

Using sterile collection swabs, Loving took two samples from each of 76 lemons that were served in restaurants in North Jersey. Patrons normally start to drink a beverage moments after it is served, so samples were taken right away, before a sip was taken and before anyone at the table touched it. One swab was rubbed along the rind, while a second was rubbed along the pulp. The restaurants were unaware that she was doing this. Samples were then analyzed for microbes at a clinical microbiology laboratory.

A total of 25 different types of germs were found on 53 out of the 76 lemons that were sampled. Some are fecal in origin (either from dirty fingertips of the restaurant employees, or from meat-contaminated cutting boards and knives), while others are commonly found in saliva, on the skin and in the environment.

One sample had six different microorganisms on it, three of which are found in fecal material.

Although some lemon slices had germs either only on the rind or only on the pulp, 29 percent had germs on both sites. In 15 instances the germs on the pulp were completely different from those on the rind, indicating that the pulp had been in contact with a contaminated surface as or after it was sliced. Sometimes when more than one lemon was sampled during a single restaurant visit, different germs were found on each.

Although there have been no reported outbreaks of illnesses attributed to lemon slices in beverages, every microorganism that was recovered has the potential to cause a variety of human infections. Establishment of an infection would depend upon the numbers and types of germs involved, the general health and age of the person and whether the person had chapped lips or a cold sore on the lips or gums.

People who love to have lemons with their drinks — especially those who are not in the best of health — might want to check out the sanitary practices of the restaurants they visit. At home, people can simply wash their lemons well with plenty of running water and soap to remove any protective wax that might have been added, then slice them using clean hands, a clean knife and a clean cutting board.

The study did not investigate other beverage garnishes such as olives, celery and limes. Alcoholic beverages were not tested. While alcohol is known to be antibacterial, studies would have to determine whether a beer, glass of wine, or mixed drink would contain sufficient alcohol to kill germs quickly. Previous studies have shown, for example, that the communion wine left in a chalice after all parishioners have taken a sip is loaded with bacteria.

The full report of the investigation is in the December 2007 issue of the Journal of Environmental Health.

Anne LaGrange Loving is an assistant professor of biology at Passaic County Community College in Paterson, N.J., who specializes in public health research. She has investigated infections from the common communion cup, public water fountains, Listerine Pocket Paks® strips, olive oil infusions and beverage lemon slices.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Bush: Clueless And Happy

Here's the link to a very interesting op-ed piece by Dan Froomkin from the Washington Post. He, along with Eugene Robinson, are two of my favorite contributors on the Washington Post web site.

Here's the first page:

President Bush last night delivered a buoyant campaign-style address to the 2008 Republican Governors Association Gala, once again raising the question of whether he has any idea what a drag he'll be on the Republican ticket.

Bush told big party donors that he is optimistic about the GOP's prospects -- as well as the verdict of history. "I don't know about you," he said, "but I'm confident we'll hold the White House in 2008. . . .

"Our ideas are those embraced by the American people. American people want strong national defense and they want the government to protect the people from further attack, and that's precisely what Republicans will give them. Americans want lower taxes and less government, and it's precisely what Republicans will give them. Americans want strong, principled leadership, and that is precisely what Republicans will give them.

"And so when I say I'm confident, I am so because I understand the mentality of the American people."

As for his own legacy, Bush said: "I believe 50 years from now, people will look back at this period of time, and say, thank God the United States of America did not lose its faith in the transformative power of liberty to bring the peace we want for our children and our grandchildren."

Does Bush not recognize what a mess he has created for his party? Is he unaware of the gulf between the "mentality of the American people" and his positions on the most important issues of the day? Americans overwhelmingly want to get out of Iraq and are overwhelmingly negative about his stewardship of the economy. Even on national security and the war on terror, traditionally winning issues for the GOP, Bush has driven the public into the arms of the Democrats.

Outwardly, Bush remains wildly upbeat -- see my Jan. 7 column, Bush's Messiah Complex. But inwardly? Who knows?

Who Likes Bush? Who's Like Bush?
Edwin Chen writes for Bloomberg: "Senator John McCain's battles with George W. Bush date back to the 2000 presidential campaign. That's a political strength these days, says Republican strategist John Feehery. If Democrats are able to portray a McCain presidency as a third Bush term, it would be a 'disaster,' Feehery said.

"One drawback for McCain: On three major issues -- Iraq, the economy and health care -- he has embraced Bush's unpopular policies.

"'Their positions are virtually indistinguishable,' said Thomas Mann, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, a Washington research group. 'That makes him vulnerable to the charge that, 'If you liked President George Bush, you will love President John McCain.' . . .

Meanwhile, on the Democratic side, the lowest blow seems to be calling your opponent Bush-like.

It's Still the War, Stupid
And Bush's war in Iraq will be a -- if not the -- defining issue of the 2008 election.

Monday, February 25, 2008

What A Weekend

It really was quite the exciting weekend here in little old Rhode Island.

We had the Extreme Makeover: Home Edition building a new house in Warwick - by now the family is in their new home and loving everything that was done.

Woonsocket has Richard Gere filming a movie.

Mike Huckabee was looking for some evangelicals to vote for him.

Hillary Clinton had a rally, hoping for a win somewhere...maybe here? Go Hillary!

Even more important - Chelsea and Matthew were here with me; Chels for two nights, Matthew for just one. Emilee was here earlier in the week for two nights!

Last, but certainly not least, JaeMae was here for several hours on Saturday night!

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Finally Closure In Exxon Oil Spill Case?

I hope that anyone who still goes to Exxon/Mobil to buy their gas will think twice about doing so after reading this article. Again, I have been boycotting Exxon, and then Mobil, since 1989 when this happened. Exxon still takes no responsibility for this spill, thinking that just because they paid for the clean-up!! and some fines they are done with it! acdc
By Robert Barnes
Washington Post

When a federal jury in Alaska in 1994 ordered Exxon to pay $5 billion to thousands of people who had their lives disrupted by the massive Exxon Valdez oil spill, an appeal of the nation's largest punitive damages award was inevitable.

But almost no one could have predicted the incredible round of legal ping-pong that only this month lands at the Supreme Court.

In the time span of the battle -- 14 years after the verdict, nearly two decades since the spill itself -- claimants' lawyers say there is a new statistic to add to the grim legacy of the disaster in Prince William Sound: Nearly 20 percent of the 33,000 fishermen, Native Alaskans, cannery workers and others who triumphed in court that day are dead.

"That's the most upsetting thing, that more than 6,000 people have passed and this still isn't finished," said Mike Webber, a Native Alaskan artistic carver and former fisherman in the Prince William Sound community of Cordova. "Our sound is not healthy, and neither are the people. Everything is still on the surface, just as it was."

"The bottom line,'' said Tim Joyce, the mayor of Cordova, where half of the town's 2,400 full-time residents are parties to the suit, "is that there is still oil on the beaches. And this lawsuit still isn't finished."

Punishment excessive?The high court is scheduled to hear arguments on Wednesday on whether punishment is excessive or even permitted under maritime law. The case, Exxon Shipping v. Baker, may turn, in the eyes of the justices, on a nearly 200-year-old precedent set when privateer ships sailed the oceans, or on the more recent provisions of the Clean Water Act.

But in Alaska, the lawsuit is seen as a test of justice and corporate responsibility, and its resolution is seen as critical to healing the scars left by an epic event that defines the state's modern history, Gov. Sarah Palin (R) said in an interview.

"Every Alaskan life was affected by this," said Palin, elected in 2006. "When I got in here, that was one of the first orders of business: to find out how in the world can this administration speak on behalf of all Alaskans who have been so adversely affected by this spill."

Exxon officials contend that such sentiments ignore the facts of the case and note that the company already has spent more than $3.4 billion in compensation for losses, cleanup and fines.

"This case is about whether further punishment is warranted," Exxon spokesman Tony Cudmore said. "We've spent $3.5 billion, which is a significant sum of money we think is adequate to deter anyone" from future wrongdoing.

But that figure no longer impresses Palin and others. When the jury awarded $5 billion in 1994, that represented a year of Exxon profits. An appeals court subsequently reduced the damages to $2.5 billion -- "about three weeks of Exxon's current net profits," the plaintiffs told the Supreme Court in their brief.

"I'm a capitalist, I'm a conservative Republican, I am pro-development and pro-industry," said Palin, who is herself a former commercial fisherman once party to the suit. "But consider what Exxon has made in terms of profits in all these years. The American judicial system came down with this judgment, and they've appealed and they've appealed and they've appealed."

The award has been reviewed three times by a district judge and twice by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit, based in San Francisco, with more than four years elapsing between one appeal and a decision.

"It's a scandal how long it's gone on," said David Lebedoff, a Minneapolis lawyer and author who wrote a book about the five-month trial that led to the punitive damages award. He blames the 9th Circuit for not moving faster. "It's absolutely inexcusable."

The passage of time is a worry for claimants, and they have responded with public relations and legal tactics unusual for Supreme Court cases. A newly created Web site details the continuing environmental damage to Prince William Sound and a commercial fishing industry that has not fully recovered.

News conferences and a vigil are planned before the arguments. The "ridicule pole" Webber carved from yellow cedar, depicting an Exxon executive with oil flowing from his mouth, is crated and on its way to Washington.

Jeffrey L. Fisher, a Stanford law professor who will argue the case for plaintiffs, has sent the court a DVD containing photos and footage taken at the time of the spill, video of Exxon executives acknowledging fault and an audiotape of the distress call made by what plaintiffs claim to be a clearly drunk Capt. Joseph Hazelwood reporting that the Exxon Valdez had hit Bligh Reef.

Fisher said it is important to remind the justices of the events of 19 years ago, and that the jury was punishing Exxon for "socially outrageous behavior."

"One of the dangers for us is that outrage dissipates over time, and it is hard to get back to the place where the country was at that time," he said.

Justices have extended the allotted time for oral arguments, and the briefs filed on both sides indicate that the events of the grounding might be explored yet again.

Some things are not in dispute. The Exxon Valdez left port late on the evening of March 23, 1989, loaded with 53 million gallons of crude oil. It strayed out of the shipping lane to avoid ice. Hazelwood instructed the third mate on when to make the turn back into the lane, and then left the bridge of the ship, a violation of regulations. Just after midnight, the crewman ran the nearly 1,000-foot tanker aground on the reef, and 11 million gallons of oil oozed into Prince William Sound.

The oil eventually spread more than 600 miles, an area plaintiffs contend would stretch from Cape Cod, Mass., to Cape Lookout, N.C.

They also charge that Hazelwood, an alcoholic, was drunk. They argue that he consumed at least five double-vodkas in waterfront bars before boarding the ship. They say Exxon knew that Hazelwood, once treated for his disease, had resumed drinking.

'Relapsed alcoholic' Courts have agreed. "Spilling the oil was an accident, but putting a relapsed alcoholic in charge of a supertanker was not," the appeals court ruled in upholding the punitive damages.

Exxon's lawyer in the case, Walter Dellinger, told the court in his brief that it is "hotly disputed" whether Hazelwood was drunk at the time of the accident, and points out that Hazelwood was acquitted by a state court jury of operating a vessel under the influence.

Whatever misdeeds were committed by Hazelwood, Dellinger argues, they were not the misdeeds of Exxon. "Imposing vicarious punitive liability on a ship owner, without requiring the jury to find that the ship owner directed, countenanced or participated in the conduct, was in conflict with almost 200 years of unbroken maritime law," the brief argues.

The reference is to the court's 1818 decision in The Amiable Nancy, in which it held that a ship's owner could not be held responsible for the plundering of its crew when it was miles out at sea.

Exxon also argues that the punishment for discharges of oil and other hazardous substances is governed by the Clean Water Act, and it does not provide for private punitive damages.

Alternately, the company says punitive damages should not be allowed because of what Exxon already has paid, or they should at least be reduced.

Not surprisingly, the claimants reject all of those arguments. Exxon itself stipulated that Hazelwood was a "managerial agent" of the company, they argue, and that the jury found that both Hazelwood and the company had acted recklessly. They contend that the Clean Water Act claim is baseless, and that the award is justified.

Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. owns Exxon stock and has recused himself from the case. That leaves eight justices to hear it, and an even split would mean that the award stands.

Around Prince William Sound, residents wait for a final judgment on the $2.5 billion award, which plaintiff lawyers say now stands at about $4.8 billion because of the interest earned while the suit proceeds.

"I guess it would mean I can relax a little," said Patience Anderson Faulkner, a subsistence Native Alaskan who became a "legal technician" to help people in Cordova with their claims. Her father and brother were claimants who have died.

"It's painful for people to talk about this," said Jennifer Gibbons, executive director of the environmental group Prince William Soundkeeper, "but they want closure."

Saturday, February 23, 2008

The Joys Of Hybernation

The Commonwealth had their annual inventory of black bears this week and a new mother bear and her cubs were discovered. The cubs are just 5 weeks old!

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Extreme Makeover: Home Edition

They are in Warwick - this week.

The new house is supposed to be started today - demolition was Monday, moving out day was Tuesday.

I took a ride over by there today and the streets are closed except for local traffic and the contractors that are working there. Don't ya know, Janice and Tom live right around the corner from where the work is being done. I'm thinking their house would be a good place to park and then hoof it over to see the crews in action.

This show is my brother Patrick's favorite. I don't think he knows they are in town and I cannot wait to tell him. I'm sure he'll want to go by and check it out also.

Gotta find out when the reveal is - MOVE THAT BUS

Castro Out - ACDC In

I have been saying for weeks now that if a republican is voted into office as President in November I will leave the country. Especially now that it looks like a head to head between McCain and Obama. And I don't think that Americans will vote for a man who is half black, sad to say.

I know not to head north - too cold. Europe is not even a consideration. It would have to be south, which left me thinking over the past couple of weeks - where to go?

Well, the answer came to me today - Cuba!

Now that Fidel has stepped down I think that the Cubans might welcome some Americans - we should all be able to go there more easily in the future than in the past.

I'm figuring my monthly check would go further there than it does here. A lot further. I believe direct deposit would work just fine, if only they have ATM's in Cuba...?

Monday, February 18, 2008

Presidents Day

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The fully restored former refuge of President Abraham Lincoln was brought back into the public view Monday during a Presidents Day ceremony.

The president spent some of the country's darkest hours in the home where he lived from June to November of 1862, 1863 and 1864.

The Civil War president ordered the Emancipation Proclamation, freeing slaves in those states which had seceded the Union, during his time at the cottage in 1862.

On Monday it was buzzing with preservation enthusiasts.

"We think this is probably the most significant Lincoln site in the country because, aside from the White House, it's the only one that represents his presidency," said Richard Moe, President of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, which spearheaded the restoration effort.

The project took 10 years and cost $15 million. On the grounds of the Armed Forces Retirement Home about three miles from the city in northwestern Washington, D.C., the cottage sits on a hill overlooking the capital's downtown.

Lincoln and his family lived at the cottage during the warmer months of the year to escape the dust and heat of the low-lying capital. The president commuted back-and-forth from the cottage to the White House daily, often traveling alone on horseback, against the wishes of his advisers.

The president, who was shot by actor John Wilkes Booth at Ford's Theatre on April 14, 1865, and died the following day, survived an 1864 assassination attempt from a sniper on his lonely night-time route back to the cottage. Lincoln was not hit by the would-be assassin's bullets.

Lincoln and his family evacuated from the cottage in July 1864 during a Confederate attack on Fort Stevens, about a mile from the president's summer residence.

Presidents Rutherford B. Hayes and Chester A. Arthur also spent time at the cottage. Hayes stayed there during the summers of 1877 to 1880 and Arthur during the 1882 winter when the White House was under repair.

The cottage, which has been in continual service since 1851, has also served as a dormitory for the Soldiers' Home Band, an infirmary, a guest house, the first dormitory for women, a bar and lounge and most recently the AFRH public affairs office.

President Bill Clinton declared the Lincoln Cottage and 2.3 acres of surrounding land the President Lincoln and Soldiers' Home National Monument in 2000.

Monday's ceremony finished with a rousing rendition of "The Battle Hymn of the Republic," and attendees were encouraged to roam through the two-story house at their leisure.

One significant find that has excited visitors is Lincoln's library, which was covered with 23 coats of paint. The paint was removed to reveal lines that were thought to be bookshelves during Lincoln's time.

Friday, February 15, 2008


By Keith Olbermann
Anchor, 'Countdown'

A part of what I will say, was said here on Jan. 31.
Unfortunately it is both sadder and truer now than it was then.

“Who’s to blame?” Mr. Bush also said this afternoon, “Look, these folks in Congress passed a good bill late last summer.... The problem is, they let the bill expire. My attitude is: If the bill was good enough then, why not pass the bill again?”

Like the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution. Or Executive Order 90-66. Or The Alien and Sedition Acts. Or slavery.

Mr. Bush, you say that our ability to track terrorist threats will be weakened and our citizens will be in greater danger. Yet you have weakened that ability!

You have subjected us, your citizens, to that greater danger! This, Mr. Bush, is simple enough for even you to understand.

For the moment, at least, thanks to some true patriots in the House, and your own stubbornness, you have tabled telecom immunity, and the FISA act.

You. By your own terms and your definitions, you have just sided with the terrorists. You’ve got to have this law, or we’re all going to die. But, practically speaking, you vetoed this law.

It is bad enough, sir, that you were demanding an ex post facto law that could still clear the AT&Ts and the Verizons from responsibility for their systematic, aggressive and blatant collaboration with your illegal and unjustified spying on Americans under this flimsy guise of looking for any terrorists who are stupid enough to make a collect call or send a mass e-mail.

But when you demanded it again during the State of the Union address, you wouldn’t even confirm that they actually did anything for which they deserved to be cleared.

“The Congress must pass liability protection for companies believed to have assisted in the efforts to defend America.”

Believed? Don’t you know? Don’t you even have the guts Dick Cheney showed in admitting they did collaborate with you? Does this endless presidency of loopholes and fine print extend even here? If you believe in the seamless mutuality of government and big business, come out and say it! There is a dictionary definition, one word that describes that toxic blend.

You’re a fascist — get them to print you a T-shirt with fascist on it! What else is this but fascism? Did you see Mark Klein on this newscast last November?

Mark Klein was the AT&T whistleblower who explained in the placid, dull terms of your local neighborhood IT desk how he personally attached all AT&T circuits, everything, carrying every one of your phone calls, every one of your e-mails, every bit of your Web browsing into a secure room, room No. 641-A at the Folsom Street facility in San Francisco, where it was all copied so the government could look at it.

Not some of it, not just the international part of it, certainly not just the stuff some spy, a spy both patriotic and telepathic, might be able to divine had been sent or spoken by or to a terrorist.
Everything! Every time you looked at a naked picture. Every time you bid on eBay. Every time you phoned in a donation to a Democrat. “My thought was,” Mr. Klein told us last November, “George Orwell’s ‘1984.’ And here I am, forced to connect the Big Brother machine.”

And if there’s one thing we know about Big Brother, Mr. Bush, it is that he is — you are — a liar.

“This Saturday at midnight,” you said Thurs, “legislation authorizing intelligence professionals to quickly and effectively monitor terrorist communications will expire. If Congress does not act by that time, our ability to find out who the terrorists are talking to, what they are saying and what they are planning will be compromised.” You said that “the lives of countless Americans depend” on your getting your way.

This is crap. And you sling it with an audacity and a speed unrivaled by even the greatest political felons of our history.

Richard Clarke — you might remember him, sir: He was one of the counterterror pros you inherited from President Clinton, before you ran the professionals out of government in favor of your unreality-based reality — Richard Clarke wrote in the Philadelphia Inquirer: “Let me be clear: Our ability to track and monitor terrorists overseas would not cease should the Protect America Act expire.

“If this were true, the president would not threaten to terminate any temporary extension with his veto pen. All surveillance currently occurring would continue even after legislative provisions lapsed because authorizations issued under the act are in effect up to a full year.”

You are a liar, Mr. Bush. And after showing some skill at it, you have ceased to even be a very good liar.

And your minions like John Boehner, your Republican congressional crash dummies who just happen to decide to walk out of Congress when a podium-full of microphones await them, they should just keep walking, out of Congress and, if possible, out of the country.

For they and you, sir, have no place in a government of the people, by the people, for the people.

The lot of you are the symbolic descendants of the despotic middle managers of some banana republic to whom “freedom” is an ironic brand name, a word you reach for when you want to get away with its opposite.

Thus, Mr. Bush, your panoramic invasion of privacy is dressed up as “protecting America.”

Thus, Mr. Bush, your indiscriminate domestic spying becomes the focused monitoring only of “terrorist communications.”

Thus, Mr. Bush, what you and the telecom giants have done isn’t unlawful; it’s just the kind of perfectly legal, passionately patriotic thing for which you happen to need immunity!

Richard Clarke is on the money, as usual.

That the president was willing to veto this eavesdropping means there is no threat to the legitimate counterterror efforts under way.

As Sen. Edward Kennedy reminded us in December:
“The president has said that American lives will be sacrificed if Congress does not change FISA.

But he has also said that he will veto any FISA bill that does not grant retroactive immunity.

“No immunity, no FISA bill." So if we take the president at his word, he’s willing to let Americans die to protect the phone companies.

And that literally cannot be. Even Mr. Bush could not overtly take a step that actually aids the terrorists. I am not talking about ethics here. I am talking about blame. If the president seems to be throwing the baby out with the bath water, it means we can safely conclude there is no baby.

Because if there were, sir, now that you have vetoed an extension of this eavesdropping, if some terrorist attack were to follow, you would not merely be guilty of siding with the terrorists. You would not merely be guilty of prioritizing the telecoms over the people. You would not merely be guilty of stupidity. You would not merely be guilty of treason, sir.

You would be personally, and eternally, responsible.

And if there is one thing we know about you, Mr. Bush, one thing that you have proved time and time again — it is that you are never responsible.

As recently ago as 2006, we spoke words like these with trepidation.

The idea that even the most cynical and untrustworthy of politicians in our history, George W. Bush, would use the literal form of terrorism against his own people was dangerous territory. It seemed to tempt fate, to heighten fear.

We will not fear any longer. We will not fear the international terrorists, and we will thwart them. We will not fear the recognition of the manipulation of our yearning for safety, and we will call it what it is: terrorism. We will not fear identifying the vulgar hypocrites in our government, and we will name them. And we will not fear George W. Bush. Nor will we fear because George W. Bush wants us to fear.

Staying Safe While Being A Good Witness

In just a split second, you could find yourself face to face with an attacker, but would you be able to get away and be able to help police track down the suspect?

Here is some advice that could help you survive a dangerous situation and help you to provide police with information to help track down your attacker.

Always be aware of your surroundings. I cannot stress this enough.

For you moms with small kids or babies, it is especially important for you to know what's going on around you at all times. Pay attention when strapping your child into their seat.

When leaving a store or mall, look into the parking lot before you step away from the building. What type of auto is parked next to your car? Are there other people around? There is safety in numbers!

If there is a van or other large vehicle parked next to your car, don't approach your vehicle from that side. Get in from the other side, even if you have to climb over the console.

Once in your car, lock your doors. I'm always amazed at how many people drive around with their doors unlocked.

Don't be talking on your cell phone when walking. Stop and look around to see what's going on if your phone rings while walking. Let the call go to voice mail, you can always call them back from the safety of your locked car.

If you are approached, do everything and anything to get away or bring attention to yourself. Scream as loud as you can.

Never, ever let yourself be taken to a second location. Odds are you will not return.

Assess the situation, is there an easy way to escape safely? Is the attacker armed?

If the attacker gets into into your car and forces you to drive them somewhere, drive erratically to call attention. Try to drive to a police station.

If they are forcing you to drive to an ATM, this may be a chance for you to escape. They are expecting you to get out and move around. Take off running.

If you have a child with you, comply with the attacker and make sure you let them you will do anything so that they do not hurt the child.

In these split second decision making moments, you’ve got to do anything you can do to make sure you protect you and your family.

Look for physical characteristics, such as height, weight, eye color and race or ethnicity.

If they are armed, try to identify the type of weapon. If it was a gun, was it black or silver?

If a knife was it a switchblade, kitchen knife, dagger?

You may not have much time in a very dangerous situation, but any information about the attacker that you are able to pass on to police could be critical to taking the creep off of the streets.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Cheater OR Liar?

Maybe just a perjurer. Probably a cheater and a liar, therefore a perjurer.

What do you think?

Uno - Westminster's Champion


I love dogs. Most people who know me know that!

I also love dog shows, the Westminster Dog Show being the best.

For the first time, ever, a Beagle won Best In Show.

His name is Uno and he was barking and baying like a beagle should - before and after his win.

I was rooting for him all along, though the Weimaraner looked good too.
Thank goodness the two poodles didn't win - they make poodles, like my Hannibal, look soooooo bad! They say that poodles fur is cut and poofed so that it protects the vulnerable parts of their body, but they don't say how ridiculous they look.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Happy 1st Birthday Benjamin

Look at this beautiful brand new baby!
Is that Casper on my head?
Yummy in my tummy!
What a monkey!
I'm a big boy now!


RI Delegation's Views On Iraq Withdrawal

Providence Journal Washington Bureau

Violence in Iraq has declined since President Bush raised U.S. force levels last year, but the surge has failed to bring the political progress needed to defeat the insurgency, say members of Rhode Island’s congressional delegation, who unanimously opposed the strategy.

The local lawmakers continue to support legislation to scale back the U.S. mission in support of Iraqi forces, they said in recent interviews, but they do not insist on specific U.S. force reductions or firm deadlines for removing combat troops.

Sen. Jack Reed, a leader of the unofficial war council of Senate Democrats, credited the surge with what he called the “notable achievement” of reducing violence. The surge “has worked much in the way a tourniquet has worked: it stopped the bleeding,” Reed told reporters after returning last month from his 11th wartime tour of Iraq. But Reed said Iraq’s government has yet to accomplish “the very delicate political surgery needed to repair the deep wounds in this country and initiate a long-term process of healing and stability.”

Reed continues to prefer nonbinding goals for U.S. troop withdrawals over congressional efforts to force rollbacks by specific deadlines.

Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse and Representatives Patrick J. Kennedy and James R. Langevin, all of whom have supported past efforts to force combat troop withdrawals according to fixed deadlines, said in recent days that they are open to legislation that would chart a new course without hard deadlines or targets for troop levels. Whitehouse said, however, that he still prefers a bill that would force withdrawals, starting three months after the law is enacted and finishing within a year — leaving only enough U.S. forces for self-protection and for limited antiterrorist missions and support of Iraqi forces.

Reed was the most emphatic in attributing much of the improved security in Iraq to the influx of U.S. combat brigades, coupled with an aggressive new military strategy. Reed also gave the most specific reading of how political and military actions by various Iraqi groups — and the leadership in neighboring Iran — have coincided with the surge to create a setback for the insurgency and a relative lull in the violence.

Whitehouse and Kennedy assessed the security improvements in much the same way as Reed. Langevin differed, saying the violence could have been reduced in Iraq “with or without the surge.”

Reed also offered the most detailed view of why the past year’s progress is, in his words, “very, very fragile” and subject to reversal as the American force returns by next summer to the “pre-surge” level of under 130,000 troops. More than most congressional opponents of the U.S. invasion, Reed remains open to supporting a large commitment of U.S. troops in Iraq for years to come.

Reed continues to prescribe the legislative course that he helped to chart for Senate Democrats more than a year ago: a formal declaration that the United States will begin on a fixed date to scale back its mission — to contain counterinsurgency, support Iraqi forces and protect remaining U.S. troops. Reed prefers a nonbinding goal with no mandatory ceiling for the number of troops to be left in Iraq, saying this is the approach likeliest to draw enough Republican support to become law.

Last year, efforts to force troop rollbacks failed because there was not enough bipartisan support to override Mr. Bush’s veto.Whitehouse said the military surge has had “value in bringing down the immediate level of violence” and in creating “a bit of a window for the political progress” that he considers necessary for the success of the U.S. counterinsurgency.

Whitehouse said that he now will support “essentially any vote that puts pressure on the administration” to lower the troop levels “with the goal of bringing our troops home.”

Like others in the local delegation, he reasoned that the threat of an end to U.S. troop support will hasten tough political decisions by Iraqi leaders.

Those decisions, all four Rhode Islanders said, include the integration of Sunnis into Iraqi government and society, provincial elections to give power to local leaders and a deal to share Iraq’s oil wealth among contesting ethnic and religious groups.

Langevin said American forces “have done all they can do, and it’s time to start bringing them home.” They played only a “supporting role” in reducing the violence last year, he said, attributing the lull in violence primarily to the turn against al-Qaeda by tribal leaders.

Langevin said he would support legislation to force “an immediate process of withdrawing troops now” with a conclusion “as soon as possible.” He said, however, that the timing and levels of remaining U.S. forces “in and around Iraq” should be left to military leaders.

“At the very least it’s going to take months and possibly years to complete the process of withdrawal,” Langevin said. But he said he expects the “vast majority” of American troops could be withdrawn within a year.

Kennedy, the only member of Rhode Island’s delegation to support the invasion, later reversed his position because of what he depicted as Mr. Bush’s false premises for launching the war.

Kennedy said the surge has contributed to “a marked increase in terms of stability.” “There is no question that if you put more military boots on the ground you are going to have a better situation” in Iraq, said Kennedy — but only if the military force could be maintained indefinitely, which he said is not an option for the United States.

Since Democrats lack the votes at present to force troop withdrawals, Kennedy said, for now he favors any measure that would “send a message to the Iraqis that they are not going to be able to hang on to our coattails for an indefinite period of time. They need to know that we are going to leave and that they have got to get their act together.”

But Kennedy said it may take the election of a Democratic president to change course in Iraq decisively.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Smile Pretty

The title pretty much says it all!



The Awful Waffle Dilemma or LeggoMyEggo

Several years ago I was forced to buy a 4 slice toaster.

For years when Vanessa and Veronica would stay over on our regular Friday night sleepovers a 2 slice toaster worked just fine. We'd make toast, or english muffins. Veronica especially liked when I made her an egg mcmuffin. Life was pretty good with my 2 slice toaster.

Then came Chelsea, Matthew and Emilee!!!

In a nano-second my perfectly adequate 2 slice toaster became a burden, a major burden. And it was all because of waffles! Eggo waffles to be precise.

There's Homestyle, Buttermilk (big no-no), Chocolate Chip, Blueberry, Apple Cinnamon, Banana Bread, Cinnamon Toast, Brown Sugar Cinnamon, French Vanilla, Nutri-grain Cinnamon, Nutri-grain Blueberry, Flip-Flop Choco 'Nilla and the New French Toast Waffle!

Then there's Mini Homestyle, Mini Buttery Maple Syrup and so on...

Ya see what I'm getting at?

When they sleep over, the first thing out of Chelsea's mouth when she wakes up (besides her pretty smile) is "I'm hungry!" And so it begins...

Cooking waffles for these 3 kids in a 2 slice toaster was a nightmare. Which kid gets the first 2 waffles? Or if 2 kids get the first 2 waffles and they're finished with theirs before the next 2 waffles are done toasting, do they get seconds while the 3rd kid has none? Or if I give the 2 waffles to the 3rd kid, the other 2 kids complain that they've only had 1 waffle each! So I would quickly put 2 more waffles into the toaster, but it took so long that the kid noise level would increase until the 2 waffles were done.

Then there was the numbers of waffles. Chelsea has been known to eat 10 waffles! Matthew 8 waffles! And Emilee 6 waffles! Some times I would be standing at that 2 slice toaster for an hour and not even had a waffle for myself.

Getting a 4 slice toaster helped immensely, at least 2 kids could have 2 waffles while the other 1 kid waited. And then 4 waffles would be done so the last kid could have 2 waffles and the other 2 kids could have 1 waffle each. Then I would have the next 4 waffles, pop 4 more waffles in for whichever of the kids wanted more.

And because these kids love waffles so much, the next part of the dilemma is the sheer quantity of our waffle needs. Do I buy the single pack which has 10 waffles, or the double pack which has 16 waffles? If I buy the single pack there are 2 waffles left over when cooking 4 waffles at a time. So If I buy the double pack the 16 waffles work well, we get 4 waffles each, except 4 waffles usually aren't enough waffles for these hungry chowhound kids. The next box size is 24 waffles, but then there was the problem of freezer space.

So I went out and bought a big refrigerator - A BIG REFRIGERATOR. It's much too big for my little tiny kitchen, but there's one thing about a big refrigerator - it has a BIG FREEZER! Big enough, thankfully, for as many waffles as I might need when those hungry kids come to visit.

And now, because the BIG FREEZER is on the bottom of the BIG REFRIGERATOR and now that the kids are bigger they can reach the toaster and now they can cook their own waffles!!

Actually, I have to admit that the real dilemma is now that the kids are bigger they don't come visit me as often :-(

Friday, February 8, 2008

The Blizzard Of 78 - Day 3

The sun came out on day three and it was absolutely incredible! The whiteness was brilliant - so much so that it was impossible to go without sunglasses. Once we got over the fact that the snow was basically up to our waists, we got busy shoveling again. My father finished the path to the dog house and an area for Happy to do his business.

Then he and I got in his green 1974 Lincoln Continental Town Car and we found a way to get to downtown Providence. I don't remember all of that trip, but what I do remember is that just like two days earlier, we were the only car on the roads. Everyone - and I mean everyone - was out walking in the roads. At the intersection of Main Ave & Warwick Industrial Road (right at the corner of the airport property) we saw my Aunt Bobbie walking (she lived behind the library). I can still remember the surprised look on her face as we drove by and waved. What I don't really remember are all the roads we drove down to get into the city, but at some point we crossed over 95 and I was amazed to see all the cars covered by snow.

Surprisingly, we never got stuck or blocked during the trip, but when we got downtown the police had the perimeter of the downtown area cordoned off. My father explained to the cop who was blocking the road that we had to get over to Channel 10.

Before and after my trip to Florida, I had been working for my father cleaning at the Outlet Company and upstairs at the Channel 10. We had to clean the offices and the studios as those folks had been there round the clock with nobody to clean up their messes. While I was there cleaning I met and talked to Robert Hagar from NBC. He was the unlucky reporter they had sent up to cover the storm.

Anyway, we finished cleaning the offices and got in the car and found our way back home.

Again, it was crazy that people were stuck all over the state and we were able to get from the Castle in Warwick all the way into downtown Providence and back with no real trouble.

Sustainable Production And Consumption

Here's a pretty interesting site to visit when you have a few extra minutes and you really DO want to help save the planet.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

The Blizzard Of '78 - Day 2

Other than shoveling on day 2, we were pretty much confined to the house. I hadn't seen that much snow since I was a kid in Maine (where people had to drive around with little flags on their car antennas for when they came to an intersection, that's how high the snow was!)

I remember thinking that it seemed like the snow would never stop. The Castle, which was never exactly warm in temperature, was pretty cozy as we played some games and drank lots of hot cocoa to keep us warm in between shoveling paths and trying to find places to put the snow.

Happy the dog had been brought in from his doghouse during the storm; his doghouse was buried and we knew he'd be trapped inside. Being an outside dog, it was really strange for us to have Happy in the house, and Happy found it to be really strange to be in the house with us.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

The Blizzard Of '78

Thirty years ago tonight - right about this time - my brother Jack, my sister Michelle and her (then) boyfriend Walter and I were in the middle of snow hell. I have to go back a few months to start this story.

I was living in an apartment in Providence and decided to move to Florida to live with my Uncle Pete. Sometime in early November I flew down to West Palm Beach. I didn't really like it there, so I returned home in late January, just in time for two incredible ice storms. Michelle and Walter had been staying at my apartment so I bunked in at the Castle with my father, my stepmother Linda, my brother Jack and my four younger siblings; Sandi and Stephanie, and on weekends Patrick and Michael, who were all 11 years old.

On February 6, it all started with a birthday gathering for Michelle at my mother's house. It was snowing but we didn't think too much of it. We got together for dinner and cake and ice cream. We got arguing about something which ended the get together early. At that time, my mother was living in a house right on the perimeter of the airport. Jack and I had ridden over in his Toyota Corolla, so when we attempted to leave, Jack backed out of the driveway and his car got stuck in the middle of the road! We tried to get it to move, but the snow was too deep, probably somewhere between 9 and 12 inches, and that car wasn't going anywhere. The real problem, however, was the wind coming off the huge expanse of the airport field. It was incredible. We couldn't face that direction, it hurt too much and you couldn't see anything with the snow blowing so hard. It could literally knock you over. We left Jack's car in the middle of the road and we decided to try Michelle's car - a VW Bug.

After clearing off her car, she backed it out of the driveway, around Jack's car, and I got into the back seat while Jack and Walter rode on the rear bumper. Unbelieveably, this worked very well. We headed down Palace Avenue and took a left onto Main Avenue. Keeping the car going, Michelle drove around snowbanks and stuck cars and we slowly made our way to the Castle, where Jack and I got out. Michelle and Walter continued on and, surprisingly, made it to my apartment off of Douglas Avenue in Providence. It amazes me still that they were able to get that far - I'm sure there were few cars on the road that night that traveled as far.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Random Thoughts And Rants

Super Tuesday??? Even the excitement of primary elections across the country isn't quite enough to erase the disappointment of the Patriots Super Bowl loss. Whenever I am reminded of it; whether it's the TV, internet or my own muddled brain I feel bad all over again.

I wonder how Tom Brady is feeling; though now that he's decided, along with Randy Moss, to skip the Pro Bowl, I gotta figure he's not in a really great place. I sure hope he and Randy Moss aren't sore losers. Tom Brady always seemed better than that.

As for the Super Tuesday coverage, the networks seem to be more concerned with commercial interruptions than anything. MSNBC, which I always watch, has had so many breaks that I've actually started watching Katie Couric. It's interesting that so far John McCain is winning blue states tonight - if he's the Republican candidate, he should be easy to beat in these states come November. I think Romney's fizzling out and will drop out before long. Is it just me or have you noticed that Willard "Mitt" Romney is working on a Paulie Walnuts hairstyle?

I wonder how the Super Tuesday outcome will be for the Democrats. Obama and Clinton have split most of the states so far. I like Obama, he seems like a very nice man. For some reason, and I don't know why, he makes me nervous - there's just something about him that makes me question how good he would be as President. Though, I guess, anybody is better than who we have now. Cripes, even I could do better than that idiot.

I wonder if these candidates realize that we are going to hold them to their promises when whoever gets elected. Pelosi has been such a disappointment, she may be beaten by Cindy Sheehan, she's been so ineffective. We need to demand the end of the Iraq war, health insurance, immigration reform and improve the economy, especially the cost of gas and oil.

I wish the RI primary was today - we have a full month to wait, which seems such a long time right now. There was a lottery held the other day to determine the order of candidates on the RI ballot. I'm happy that John Edwards name will be on ballot, I am still planning on voting for him. One of the the sad things (among many) about living in Rhode Island - our votes for president never really matter. With just 4 delegates, nobody ever comes here to campaign.
Tomorrow, February 6th is my younger sister's 50th birthday, which makes me feel older than I already do. I'm going to take her and JaeMae out to lunch to celebrate. It's also the 30th!! anniversary of The Blizzard of '78, which I hope to blog about tomorrow.

Sunday, February 3, 2008

A Superbowl Shocker

When the NE Patriots won the Superbowl a few years ago, my brother Jack and I looked at each other in disbelief and shock. We didn't think it could possibly happen. Tonight, I feel the same way, shock and disbelief that the NE Patriots lost.

Somehow they just didn't get their rhythm going tonight. And the Giants did. The Patriots have nothing to hang their heads about - they had an unbelieveable year and 18-1 is something to be proud of, that's for sure. Though I wonder if it's cuz Gisele was there!

The show opened with many athletes and others reading the Declaration of Independence, which I was much impressed by and enjoyed thoroughly. Jordin Sparks did a great job singing our national anthem and it was great to see the "handsomest man in football" and the "most adorable man in football" on the field together.

I thought the commercials were pretty good, especially the Diet Pepsi Max with Chris Kattan and the one with JustinTimberlake. Loved, loved, loved the Fed Ex commercial with the pigeons, that made me laugh out loud! The ugly girl with the cashew perfume was pretty good too. And I love the fact that Charles Barkley can laugh at himself.

It was a good game, and just didn't have the finish that I was hoping for and expecting. I'm gonna blame this on GWB also!

Friday, February 1, 2008

This Idiot Lives In LaLa Land

President Idiot says:
"There are certainly some troubling signs that the economy is weakening"

Yeah, and those checks that you're thinking of sending out really aren't gonna make much of a difference either.

I just might not make it until 1/20/09!

They Ought To Be Ashamed

Exxon Mobil posts $40.6 billion annual profit

It seems that it doesn't matter what the price of a barrel of oil is, whether it's from South America, Canada or the Middle East. It is the greedy people in between - Exxon Mobil, primarily - read below and you'll probably be as ticked off as I am! I've been boycotting them since 1989 and I hope everyone will join me - it's the only way the price will go down! As the industry leader, they set the standard all others follow.

Oil giant breaks record for largest annual profit by a U.S. company

HOUSTON - Exxon Mobil Corp. posted the largest annual profit by a U.S. company — $40.6 billion — on Friday as the world’s biggest publicly traded oil company benefited from historic crude prices at the end of the year.

Exxon also set a U.S. record for the biggest quarterly profit, posting net income of $11.7 billion for the final three months of 2007, beating its own mark of $10.71 billion in the fourth quarter of 2005.

The previous record for annual profit was $39.5 billion, which Exxon Mobil had in 2006.

The eye-popping results weren’t a surprise given record prices for a barrel of oil at the end of 2007. For much of the fourth quarter, they hovered around $90 a barrel, more than 50 percent higher than a year ago.

Crude prices reached an all-time trading high of $100.09 on Jan. 3 but have fallen about 10 percent since then.

The record profit for the October-December period amounted to $2.13 a share versus $1.76 a share in 2006. Year-ago net income was $10.25 billion.

Also extraordinary was Exxon Mobil’s revenue, which rose 30 percent in the fourth quarter to $116.6 billion from $90 billion a year ago. For the year, sales rose to $404.5 billion — the most ever for the Irving, Texas-based company — from $377.64 billion in 2006.

In addition to benefiting from higher commodity prices, the company said its results were evidence of a well-run, globally diverse operation that’s investing billions to find more energy supplies. It noted that its capital and exploration spending amounted to nearly $21 billion last year, up 5 percent from 2006.

Exxon Mobil produces about 3 percent of the world’s oil.

Its shares fell 13 cents to $86.27 in afternoon trading after rising as high as $87.86 earlier in the session. The shares have traded in a 52-week range of $69.02 to $95.27.

Higher commodity prices in the quarter were clearly evident from earnings at Exxon Mobil’s exploration and production arm, known as the upstream. Income rose 32 percent to $8.2 billion from $6.2 billion a year ago.

On an oil-equivalent basis, production increased nearly 1 percent from the fourth quarter of 2006, driven by higher demand for natural gas in Europe. Excluding the expropriation of its Venezuelan assets last year, divestments and other factors, production rose nearly 3 percent.

Refining and marketing, or downstream, earnings were $2.3 billion, up from nearly 2 billion in the year-ago quarter, as improved refining operations offset lower U.S. refining margins.

In the U.S., downstream earnings were off sharply from a year ago — $622 million in the most-recent quarter versus $945 million in 2006.

Refining margins — the difference between the cost of crude and what the company makes on refined products such as gasoline — have been squeezed in recent months as spiking oil prices outpaced increases in gasoline prices and other refined products.

Already, ConocoPhillips has said record oil prices at the end of 2007 helped it post a 37 percent increase in fourth-quarter profit, even as it produced less crude and natural gas than a year earlier. Its quarterly net income rose to $4.37 billion versus $3.2 billion a year earlier.

ConocoPhillips is the nation’s third-largest integrated oil company behind Exxon Mobil and Chevron Corp.

Chevron reported separately Friday that its profit rose 29 percent in the fourth quarter, as surging prices for crude oil offset weak results from its refining business. It earned $4.88 billion, or $2.32 per share, from $3.77 billion, or $1.74 per share, a year earlier. Revenue rose 29 percent to $61.41 billion from $47.75 billion.

On Thursday, Royal Dutch Shell PLC, Europe’s largest oil company, posted a 60 percent gain in fourth-quarter profit to $8.47 billion on asset sales and higher oil prices. Shell said full-year net profit was a company record $31.3 billion, up 23 percent from the prior year.