Monday, June 30, 2008

Opiate Addiction

You've never touched drugs in your life and you go to the Doctor one morning only to be told that that your urine sample shows you've been smoking heroin or possibly injecting a little too much morphine. How'd that happen? As you talk to the Doctor about your food intake over the last two days: banana, bagel, strawberry...wait, wait what type of bagel did you have? A poppy seed bagel. That explains it! But, how? To answer this question, one would have to know that there are two types of poppy seeds. Those derived from opium poppy plants which can imitate heroin. There are also other poppies that have nothing to do with opiates. Piece of advice: if you’re going in for a drug screen for that job you’ve always wanted, avoid having a morning bagel. Perhaps the next question one would have is:

What is an opiate?

An opiate is a drug derived from the opium plant. The main opiates are morphine, codeine, heroin, thebaine, and papaverine. Morphine and heroin have the same chemical structure which is why morphine use can show up in a urine screen as heroin, especially when small amounts have been used. Having said this, out of the two drugs, heroin is more potent because it can enter the brain faster than morphine. Both drugs act as analgesics and sedatives producing a relaxing effect.


Morphine is the most important and prevalent form of opium. It is responsible for side effects such as coma, respiratory difficulties, or cardiac problems. A lethal dose is considered 120- 125 mg which is approximately two grams of opium. Even though morphine is the most prevalent form of opium, codeine, which is made from morphine, is utilized most frequently.


Codeine works the same way as morphine, in that depending on the way it is extracted and from what plant, one gets a stronger or lesser effect.

Thebaine and Papaverine

Studies have been done to try to determine how much thebaine and papaverine are in opium plants. As of now, Iranian samples have the highest percentage. Thebaine is the most potent, poisonous and dangerous opium alkaloid and isn’t used often. However, it has been converted into other narcotics that are used medically such as: oxycodone, oxymorphone and hydrocodone. Papaverine is used often for anything from erectile dysfunction to heart spasms. It is used so often in fact, that supplies often run short.

How do you get these drugs from a poppy plant?

How potent morphine, heroin or codeine is depends not only on the type of opium poppy utilized but also on the moisture content of the plant. How much morphine is expressed from a plant depends on how wet the plant is and on how much opium is produced by that plant. It also depends on what country the plant has been obtained. For instance in Greece, Bulgaria and Turkey, each capsule is bled one time, making the plant more potent. In countries like India and Afghanistan the capsules are bled four or five times on different days until they give no more juice. The less juice there is the less potent the drug. After the plants are bled they are then mixed together. This is why usually Indian opium is not as potent as Turkish and Greek opiums.

Most legal morphine is used to manufacture codeine. Morphine can also be utilized to make drugs such as apomorphine (used as an emetic—to stop people from vomiting), dihydromorphine (analgesic- to stop pain), hydromorphone (to relieve pain, commercial form is Dilaudid).

Are opiates dangerous?

If one looks back historically, derivatives of the opium poppy have been used for centuries as it is a very effective analgesic. This is not to imply however, that use of the opium is safe or advisable in excess. Some of the side effects of opiates include:

• psychological and physical dependence
• Body as a whole- muscle spasticity
• Respiratory- difficulty breathing, slow, shallow and labored breathing, stopped breathing (sometimes fatal within 2-4 hours)
• Eyes, ears, nose and throat- pinpoint pupils
• Gastrointestinal- constipation, spasms of the stomach and intestinal tract.
• Heart and blood vessels- low blood pressure
• Nervous system- drowsiness, disorientation, coma

Isn’t Methadone an Opiate as well?

Yes, methadone is a liquid form of opiates usually used to help stop heroin use. When de-toxing from heroin use, it is imperative that one be careful and be monitored. Otherwise, use of methadone can also be addictive.

What Is so Addictive About Heroin?

Heroin imitates endorphins, causing a feeling of euphoria. For this reason it is used as both a pain killer and as a recreational drug. However, frequent administration of the drug leads to a high potential for causing addiction. Withdrawal is also highly likely. If one uses heroin continuously for three days and then stops abruptly it is possible to have symptoms of withdrawal. This occurs much faster than with other pain killers like oxycodone and hydrocodone.

What should I do if I know someone who is addicted to an opiate?
Opiate addiction warrants immediate attention by individuals that are familiar with how to cope with the addiction. As mentioned prior, opiate addiction does cause serious adverse effects which can be life threatening and should be taken seriously.

What about those poppy seeds?

Back to the original question, if someone tests positive for an opiate, and they know they’ve never taken such drugs, what do they do? A study was conducted in 1998 where a subject was tested for urine morphine concentrations after eating two poppy seed rolls.

When the urine was tested, the concentration was almost three times the cut off set by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

So, how do I prove I never used an opiate?

Don’t worry, there are secondary tests. Thebaine is a natural part of opiates and doesn’t show up in products processed from opium poppy plants. So, if a urine sample that tests positive for opiates also tests positive for thebaine, the urine opiates were from eating poppy seeds, not drug use. Having said this, your best bet is to avoid bagels for a few days before that new employment drug screen.

Is cereal safe for my children to eat?

My children are avid eaters of breakfast cereal. I avoid the sugar-coated and chocolate varieties they clamour for in the supermarket, but their staple breakfast is made up of Rice Krispies, Special K, Cheerios and Oatibix. I read recently that breakfast cereals are nutritionally questionable, and may even contain a type of carcinogen. Should I banish these boxes from the breakfast table? Emma, 43, Brighton

I suspect the cancer-causing substance to which you are referring may be molecules called advanced glycation end products, or AGEs for short. These are formed when foods are heated at a high temperature and have been linked to triggering inflammation in the body, which in turn may increase the risk of problems such as arthritis, Alzheimer's, heart disease and also cancer. In other words, they appear to play a role in speeding up the ageing process.

The biggest contributors of AGEs to our diet are far and away meat and other protein-rich foods which are cooked at high temperatures such as roasting and grilling. Much lower amounts are formed when carbohydrates are cooked or processed at high temperatures. French fries and crisps are two of the worst, although they still contain nowhere near as many AGEs as, say, a burger.

Breakfast cereals that contain a lot of sugar will contain more AGEs than those with little added sugar. Given that it is a good idea to keep a close eye on the amount of sugar and salt that children eat, swapping to the cereals you mention is a good idea for this reason alone. That you will be slightly lowering their AGE intake is another, smaller, advantage.

Ultimately, the less processed the breakfast cereal, the less sugar, salt and AGEs it will contain and the more naturally present fibre, vitamins and minerals you will get. This means that something such as good old-fashioned porridge is an excellent start to the day for children and adults alike.

The disadvantage of dropping the cereals you currently give your children is that they are fortified and can provide useful top-ups of B vitamins and in some cases vitamin D, which is quite hard to find in foods other than oily fish. Many are also fortified with iron, a mineral which is vital for growth and energy. Since cereals will be eaten with milk, which is great for bone-building calcium, these or porridge are still worth having on your children's breakfast table.

It is generally thought to be good to eat a wide variety of foods, so rather than rely on breakfast cereals every day, it would make good nutritional sense to alternate cereal days with breakfasts of boiled eggs and bread, scrambled eggs with grilled tomatoes (grilled vegetables have hardly any AGEs) and even a really nutritious home-made smoothie made with semi-skimmed milk, yoghurt, a banana and another favourite fruit of your children's choice such as peaches, pineapple or berries (which can be fresh, frozen or canned in natural juice).

Special Thanks to The London Times

Baby to be born free of breast cancer after embryo screening

A woman has conceived Britain’s first baby guaranteed to be free from hereditary breast cancer.

Doctors screened out from the woman’s embryos an inherited gene that would have left the baby with a greater than 50% chance of developing the cancer.

The woman decided to have her embryos screened because her husband had tested positive for the gene and his sister, mother, grandmother and cousin have all had the cancer.

The couple produced 11 embryos, of which five were found to be free from the gene. Two of these were implanted in the woman’s womb and she is now 14 weeks pregnant.

By screening out embryos carrying the gene, called BRCA-1, the couple, from London, will eliminate the hereditary disease from their lineage.

About 5% of the 44,000 cases of breast cancer diagnosed in Britain each year are estimated to be caused by the BRCA-1 and BRCA-2 genes, both of which can be detected in embryos.

Doctors say thousands of cases of breast cancer could be avoided by screening embryos using the technique called preimplantation diagnosis (PGD).

Many women who test positive for the gene have their breasts surgically removed to avoid the disease. Only one other woman – an Israeli mother-to-be – is thought to have become pregnant after undergoing the embryo screening.

The 27-year-old British mother, who asked not to be named, says that after seeing all her husband’s female relatives suffer from breast cancer, she felt she had to take action to save their children from the same plight. Any daughter born with the gene would have had a 50% to 85% chance of developing breast cancer.

She said: “For the past three generations, every single woman in my husband’s family has had breast cancer, as early as 27 and 29. We felt that, if there was a possibility of eliminating this for our children, then that was a route we had to go down.

“It has been successful for us which means we are eliminating the gene from our line.

“We had been through his sister being ill, so it was something we had seen first hand. I thought this was something I had to try because, if we had a daughter with the gene, and she was ill, I couldn’t look her in the face and say I didn’t try.”

The woman and her 28-year-old husband had to go through IVF (in vitro fertilisation) even though they are fertile, in order to create embryos that could be screened.

Tests on the 11 embryos were conducted by removing just one cell when they were three days old. Six of the embryos carried the breast cancer gene. Two embryos that were free of the gene were then implanted, resulting in a single pregnancy.

The couple have also been able to freeze two healthy embryos for future use.

The woman said she felt a responsibility to put herself through the invasive IVF procedure. “The treatment I had to go through was nothing in comparison to what I have seen members of my husband’s family go through.”

In addition to breast cancer, women carrying the gene also have a higher risk of ovarian cancer and male carriers are at greater risk of developing prostate cancer.

The couple’s doctor, Paul Serhal, medical director of the Assisted Conception Unit at University College London hospital, said the breakthrough gives parents the option of avoiding passing a high risk of breast cancer on to their children.

He said: “Women now have the option of having this treatment to avoid the potential guilty feeling of passing on this genetic abnormality to a child. This gives us the chance to eradicate this problem in families.” Serhal added: “It may be devastating psychologically and emotionally for a young woman to have her breasts removed.”

Serhal has treated other couples to create babies free from less well known cancer genes, including one that causes eye cancer and another that carries a high risk of bowel cancer.

Some critics say it is wrong to destroy embryos because there is only a chance women with the gene may develop breast cancer in adulthood. They argue that, increasingly, breast cancer can also be successfully treated.

Special Thanks to The London Times

Great Science Websites For The Whole Family

The Exploratorium
The Ontario Science Center
The Howard Hughes Medical Institute

Noodle Caboodle

189.00 g noodles (cooked)
315.45 ml cooked turkey (leftovers)
2/3 (283 1/2 g) can mushroom soup
2/3 (283 1/2 g) can celery soup
2/3 (283 1/2 g) can cream of chicken soup
78.86 ml white wine or apple juice
85.05 g black olives
302.39 g cheddar cheese (shredded)

1 Mix everything but cheese together.
2 Spread in a casserole dish.
3 Spread cheese over and bake 350' 25 minutes.

More Dane Cook 2

One brother, five sisters… dude I’d have to wear a tampon just to fit in.

I don't know if I could kill someone with a frozen turkey because that is a lot of evidence to eat. Unless I found a whole room of people who also wanted that person dead.

I saw a young boy eating an ice cream cone, ... I smashed it in his face. You know that kid is going to remember me when he's 50.

I say fuck shoes! Your shoes do not represent you! Neither here, nor in a court of law!

You never make secret hallways normal height, they always have to be uncomfortable. Like Why the fuck did I build them like this?! Where's my Lab!?!

Wouldn't it be awesome just to come home and know that somewhere in your place there's a monkey you're gonna battle?

I invite her back to my apartment, or as I call it, the "Death Star." I'm still working on it, it's not completely operational.

Nice teeth is a turn on for me. If you open your mouth and it looks like a battle of epic proportions, I don't like it.

I HATE it when somebody turns around in my driveway. You're just sitting comfortably watching T.V., you hear a car pulling up like "Who is this?!" It's so disruptive you look out, strange car, you dont know if it's a government official. You start getting concerned "What I dont know this car," then they turn to leave you're like "You son of a bitch, you wasted moments of my life! Moments i will never get back!"

I'd like to shoot a laser out of my cock. And when I'm empty, my balls glow.

Who doesn't like movies? Who has ever said, "Hey, you wanna go see a movie?" "Fuck that and fuck you, movies! It’s ridiculous, the whole idea of it! It’s just wrong and fake and no!

When you walk into the public restroom, why is everything fucking wet?

Time machine... wouldn't you like to travel through time? I would. I'd go back..mess with people. You know what I would do? I would go back to when my mom and dad were having sex, to have me. Ya'know, come in, spank my dad on the ass, I'M YOUR SON FROM THE FUTURE!! AAAAAAHAHAHHAHAHAHA! *smack* IM FROM THE FUTURE!! AHAHAHAHAHAHAH

You're with someone for like 2 weeks in and you're like, "Fuck, no way. I can't stand this person. I'll stay around for 5-6 years and we can end this thing violently, I got time.

I was literally cheated on...I woke up and they were on top of me.

When you swear to God, its true. Right now God is watching and saying, "this is true."

Get a toilet.. when you flush it says "Thanks for shitting me.. I enjoyed your shit"

Start each day out the holy way..with Christ Chex, it's a miracle in a bowl. Just open the box and you hear AHHHHH....and then a lil' angel flies out and says 'good morning, life is beautiful!

I don't know if I could kill someone with a frozen turkey because that is a lot of evidence to eat - unless I found a whole room of people who also wanted that person dead.

I wish I had some superpowers. I was thinking about that the other day. Maybe quit comedy, fight some crime. Everybody wants to fly. That's the number one power. If I could grant you a power, "Dane, I'd love to fly." Yeah? Who the fuck doesn't. Who doesn't want to leave the show tonight and be like, "Alright I'll catch you guys later." *Shwwooosh* and zip up into the skies. "I can show you the world. Shining, shimmering splendor."

"You know what you do at the next party.You shit on the coats.Then u just wait till someone comes out of the area that the coats are and the'll be all like " Someone shit on the coats " or they may say " I think someone has shit on the coats because i smell the stench of shit in the vasinity of the coat area." then to make inconspetious you say " What? I hope they didn't shit on my coat " then bam like a phantom just blend back into the croud."

I'd love to shoot a laser out of my cock. And when I'm empty my balls glow. Low fuel...balls are empty.

You know what I'd like to be able to do more than anything else? I'd love to be able to shoot spaghetti out of my fingertips. *Pppthhh.* 'Cause no one wants to be covered in spaghetti. No. If I'm on a date with a girl and she's very rude I'd be like, you know what? *PPpptthhh* Enjoy your spaghetti, you're very rude. Enjoy your spaghetti, 'cause you're rude. *Pppttthh*... these are all dreams. These are all things we want to have. (To man in audience) If I could grant you a power, any power, what would you want? Anything right now? "Dah, Jesus." You want to be Jesus? God you're such an egotistical prick. He thinks he's Jesus. Ah, Jesus. I'd love to cover him with spaghetti right now. *Ppppttthh* Enjoy your spaghetti, you're very egotistical. Ahhh Christ... Not you.

It would be great when you enter the DMV, someones just hiding there comes out and punchs you in the face..... *argh* well waiting in line ain't so bad after the punch in the face.

nobody talks to that guy...but let me tell you something, every job i ever had in my life, i talk to that guy, i'd talk to him, i'd find him on purpose and i'd have little chit chats with him and i'd be very interested and be like by the way here's a snickers, thats for you, peanuts caramel, put that in your mouth, enjoy that. you know why i talk to that guy? Because when that day finally comes and he *ffffffffffp* snaps, and he comes into work with a sotoff shot gun walkin' through the halls *gunshot noises* and he finally gets to my office he's gonna be like " *GASP* THANKS FOR THE CANDY" *continues shooting" you laugh now but you know Monday morning you're gonna be like "heyy MARCKUS"

More Dane Cook

If you have to be at work at 8, it's always like, 7:54. Just enough time to do nothing. To just lay there and go, "I can't do anything! I can't even have an English muffin!"

It was peace. Peace is when you would shake the hands of the people around you. And you knew peace was coming because the priest would say it five times rapid fire. He'd go, "My peace I leave, my peace I give to you. While we ate Reese's Pieces with the Lord. And I have a piece of lint in my peaceful eye!"

On stage I am the actor, director and the bouncer all at the same time. Fear does not exist in this dojo does it? No Sensi! Sorry... when I get excited I have to toss in some Karate Kid quotes.

When you're not in love, when you don't have love, everybody you know falls in love on like the same day - even Karen the douche bag falls in love! Even retarded people in your neighborhood are getting married on their front lawn as you drive by, "What? The 'tards just got married on their lawn. That's great! I have nobody, and the 'tards just committed to each other for a lifetime of 'tardiness''

Has anyone here ever been fully engulfed in fire? It's gotta be so hot!

A lot of comics are kind of vampire types; we do our shows and disappear into the night. My philosophy was, this is like politics, and if I want people to know about my campaign, I'm going to go out there and shake hands.

Three weeks ago one of my dreams came true. I finally got to see something I always wanted to witness live. I finally saw someone get hit by a car... Nailed!

Dane Cook Quotes

I just want to run up and spank my dad's ass and run off screaming, "I'm your son from the future! Ahhhh!! I'm from the future, I'm your son!"

I don't like that. I don't like it when juice wears tights. It's a horrible combination, a bowl of juice wearing tights.

I always wanted to be a snake. Everytime I saw a snake of TV. I'd always say WHY NOT ME?!?!

We were so poor growing up, that little iron...we had to actually use that little iron. That's not funny. It takes a long time to iron a shirt with that tiny little iron. {Monopoly}

Anonymous Hackers Shoot For Scientologists, Hit Dutch School Kids

Dutch schoolchildren may be the first collateral damage of an online war being waged against the Church of Scientology by a motley crew of internet troublemakers who call themselves Anonymous.

Coordination broke down Friday among the loose affiliate of online troublemakers known as Anonymous as they tried to continue their ongoing attacks against Scientology.

The group has spent the last few days trying to keep down the website via a distributed denial of service attack, posting sensitive Scientology documents around the web, and up-voting anti-Scientology stories on Digg. The attack, dubbed Project Chanology, has a wiki that attempts to tell Anonymous 'members' what to do, though the advice is ever-changing and often contradictory.

But the Church of Scientology hired Prolexic, a company that specializes in protecting websites from DDOS attacks. Prolexic's protection works by publicly substituting a Prolexic server for the attacked server, filtering out the bad traffic and passing the good traffic to the site's real server.

One of the moderators on thought he had learned from a friend what the real server's address was on Friday.

The user, who was using the handle Splongcat, uploaded DDOS software configured with the supposedly secret address and urged others in an internet chat room to download and run the software. The software was intended to flood the specified IP address with rogue traffic in order to bring the server down.

But within minutes, users began complaining the software was crashing and others analyzed the traffic and found that the IP address didn't belong to the Church of Scientology, reporting that that the software was actually targeting a school in the Netherlands.

Immediately the IRC chat room hosted on (currently down) was filled with calls to stop using the program, and the 900 people in the chat room returned to their disorderly conversation about whether they should be flooding Digg with anti-Scientology links or making harassing phone calls to local Scientology branches.

The Etty Hillesum Lyceum's site seemed to quickly recover, and Splongcat apologized to fellow script-kiddies for simply taking his friend at his word and not checking the IP address before unleashing the software.

Anonymous launched the attack on Scientology on January 16 to protest its use of copyright law to take down material critical of the church's bizarre practices and to attempt to force media outlets to run stories about the Church of Scientology. Their stated goal is to destroy the Church of Scientology.

The Church of Scientology has not replied to THREAT LEVEL's request for comment.

Special Thanks to WIRED

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Really Cool: Glass Harps!!


We've all (or nearly all) seen one. If you ever watched sailor moon then you have seen an anime one. They are called miko. They are "priestesses" or "maidens" in the shinto religion. Sailor Mars was one . Here is their article in The Encyclopedia of Shinto:
A general term for a woman possessing the magico-religious power to receive oracles (takusen) from the kami in a state of spirit possession (kamigakari). Nowadays the term generally refers to a woman who assists shrine priests in ritual or clerical work. The word may be written with various characters (巫女、神子、巫子). Among miko there is a significant distinction between those female priests who have historically been attached to a shrine and those who are separate from shrines and either are settled in a village or travel the countryside as magical kitōshi (see kitō). Under the ritsuryō system, in the Jingikan female priests were called mikannagi, while they were called mikanko in the Shoku Nihongi. In the Wakun no shiori, miko is described as the general term, while female norito performers are referred to as mikanko, and it further explains that miko can be written with different characters. The etymology of the word is unclear, but it may be an abbreviated expression of kamiko, the substance (monozane) in or upon which the kami manifests itself. It can also be thought of as a transformation of the honorific term miko (御子), indicating spiritual power and high birth.
In the past, a variety of related positions were found at different shrines: miyanome at Ōmiwasha, sōnoichi at Atsuta Jingū, itsukiko at Matsuno'o Taisha, monoimi at Kashima Jingū, naishi at Itsukushima Jinja, waka at Shiogama Jinja, and nyobettō at Ideha Jinja (Hagurosan). In ancient times miko acted as ritualists for the kami who possessed magical capabilities, as in the examples of Amenouzume no mikoto, Yamato totohi momoso hime no mikoto, Yamato hime no mikoto, and Empress Jingū. Eventually, however, male kannushi, hafuri, and negi took their place, and miko came to be placed in roles assisting these male ritualists, according to one theory. Peregrinating and settled miko may be seen historically nationwide, performing magic and kitō (invocations of divine power) or transmitting the words of the dead. These unaffiliated miko exerted a great influence on folk religion and the verbal arts. Such women who serve miko-like functions may still be observed in some areas, and women performing similar functions may also be found in Shinto-derived new religions.

Pro Poker Players Bet Away From the Table, Too

IT was past midnight and Mike Matusow, nicknamed the Mouth, was about to hit his stride. Best known as a verbose professional card player on ESPN poker telecasts, Mr. Matusow was not gambling at high-stakes Texas Hold ’Em on this night in May. Instead, he was in a spare bedroom at his house, shirtless, furiously pumping his legs on a commercial-strength stepping machine.

His drive to burn calories was motivated by finance, not fitness. “Last year, I talked about how I used to weigh 181 pounds and somebody said that I’d never weigh that again,” said Mr. Matusow, who stands six feet tall and who on this day weighed 189, down from his peak of 241 pounds. “I said I would, and we made the bet for $100,000.”

He was given one year to get back to 181 by Ted Forrest, one of the world’s leading poker players; on June 3, the year would be up.

Mr. Matusow seemed headed for victory — he had 19 more days to drop just eight pounds — but there was a wrinkle. “My girlfriend and I are going on a cruise,” he said. “I asked Ted to settle for $70,000, so I could eat and drink with her. He said, ‘I’ll gamble for 30.’ So now I will have to run five miles every day on the boat, drink protein shakes and eat grilled chicken.”

Over the years, so-called proposition betting — the sometimes absurd, usually spur-of-the-moment wagers that gamblers make among themselves — has become as ingrained as oversize designer sunglasses in the professional poker world. Huck Seed, the 1996 champion in the World Series of Poker, once bet $10,000 that he could learn to do a standing back flip in two months (he did). The pool-player-turned-poker-pro John Hennigan vowed to spend six weeks living in Des Moines, Iowa (action-starved, he returned to Las Vegas after two days). Howard Lederer, an avowed vegan, ate a hamburger to win $10,000 from a fellow poker professional, David Grey. (Offered an opportunity to win his money back by eating a few olives, which he can’t stand, Mr. Grey demurred.)

With $10,000 or $100,000 on the line, what often sound like frat-boy boasts had better ring true, and fast. “You make claims? You say you can do something? You put your money up,” Mr. Lederer said. “That is being a gambler.”

These bets offer a glimpse into the rarefied world of professional gamblers, where often money is not the object, but the pawn one moves about the board. Such wagers are “mostly a way of keeping score, but if the points are too small there is no fun in it,” said Daniel Negreanu, the winner of four World Series of Poker tournaments, who has been known to play casual rounds of Wii bowling and Golden Tee golf for sums totaling in the low five figures. “You have to understand that losing money is no big deal when you gamble for a living.”

“We don’t think of money the way that salaried people do,” continued Mr. Negreanu, who sports a goatee and two gold hoops in his left earlobe. “We don’t love money the way rich people do. We know we can always make more of it.”

His confidence is abetted by the fact that the professional poker economy has grown significantly in recent years, with an explosion of tournaments, the advent of online poker sites and promotional deals with those sites, giving top players a large pool of money to gamble with when they’re not sitting at card tables. Indicative of this is the 2008 World Series of Poker now taking place here. The event has attracted many of the game’s most successful players for a gross prize pool that is on track to exceed 2007’s total of $159.8 million. (In an unusual arrangement, the nine finalists will be chosen by July 14, but play will be suspended until Nov. 9 and 10, when ESPN will cover the final table.)

Among many high-stakes professionals, gambling goes beyond being a job; it’s also a lifestyle and a passion. Of course, there are successful players who avoid proposition betting — Chris Ferguson, called Jesus and known for his mathematically rigorous approach to poker, describes these wagers as “maybe not a waste of money, but often a waste of time.” But it is not unusual for gambling to be in a pro’s blood.

“These guys may play poker 10 hours a day, but that leaves 14 hours in which they need to do something interesting,” said Michael Craig, the author of “The Professor, the Banker and the Suicide King,” which chronicles a mega-stakes Hold ’Em game between a Texas banker and a group of professional players. “If they are home watching TV, they bet sports. If they are driving through the rain, they bet on how long it will take a raindrop to reach the bottom of the car’s window. They want to have gambling in every aspect of their lives.”

This begs a question as to whether poker’s high-stakes proposition bettors meet the clinical definition of pathological gamblers. “They have their own culture and their own norms,” said Bob Breen, a clinical psychologist at the Rhode Island Gambling Treatment Program. “We’re talking about professional gamblers, not pathological gamblers. They may be doing nothing more than blowing off steam by making these bets.”

Technically, such bets are illegal in some states, according to gambling and criminal law experts, though authorities almost never pursue wagers between individuals. In Nevada, “gambling between private persons does not require a license and is not illegal,” said David Salas, a deputy chief of enforcement for Nevada’s Gaming Control Board.

Almost anything is fodder for a wager between pros. This was borne out on a recent afternoon in the high-rise apartment of Andrew Robl, 21, who dropped out of college and moved here to make his living as a gambler. His favorite game is online poker, at which he has made more than $1 million, he said, playing under the name Good2CU.

Facing a floor-to-ceiling window with a view of the Strip below, Mr. Robl recounted a wager in which he paid $20,000 to a friend who endured 25 days without leaving the bathroom of a room at the Bellagio hotel, surviving on room service and food from friends. While Mr. Robl regaled this reporter with the story, his manager, Nick Rainey, who recently negotiated Mr. Robl’s one-day endorsement deal with the Web site Full Tilt Poker ( when Mr. Robl made it to the final table at a World Series of Poker tournament, initiated a bet of his own. He wagered another poker professional in the room, Luke Kim, that he, Mr. Rainey, could tell Coke from Pepsi in a blind tasting.

Mr. Rainey disappeared into a bedroom, and Mr. Kim filled the first four of 20 Dixie cups with the soft drinks, numbering each cup and compiling a list of which cola was in each. Mr. Rainey emerged from the bedroom and began sipping. He flubbed it during the second flight, on the seventh cup.

Mr. Kim had won a quick $1,000, at least on paper; like many proposition bets, this one was added to a running tab between the bettors. Gamblers bet so frequently among one another that money changes hands only when one party requests a payout, and then often in the form of chips or a transfer between online poker accounts.

Collecting on a bet is not always a given. Gavin Smith, who earns his living playing poker tournaments, remembers wagering a wealthy Californian who, with $100,000 on the line, said he could jump from an automobile roof to a hotel awning. The Californian failed to make it, came close to injuring himself in the process, and has yet to pay it all off, Mr. Smith said.

Considering Las Vegas’s many world-class golf courses, it is not surprising that gamblers extend their wagering to the links. There, between standard bets on rounds of golf, proposition bets on making specific putts or, in one case, catching drives as if they’re fly balls in centerfield, are an additive to most outings.

“Golf betting is the funnest thing in the world,” said Mr. Negreanu, whose game is raggedy at best and whose financial results reflect it. An unlucky card “can kill you at poker,” he said, but golf is only “2 percent luck.”

In the past, he has found himself in the hole for more than $1 million in golf bets. Nonetheless, he remains surprisingly sanguine about it all. Recently he coolly came back from a deficit of $160,000 on the front-nine of a golf match against the poker pro Patrik Antonius. They were playing for $20,000 a hole. Mr. Negreanu wound up ahead by $20,000 after the 18th.

Mr. Antonius said he has $400,000 riding on planned golf and tennis games in the near future. “Having money at risk motivates me to get better and beat the other guy,” said Mr. Antonius, a fitness fanatic. “It’s nice to wake up in the morning and know what you need to work on.”

Clearly, though, golf is not for everyone. Mr. Matusow, he of the $100,000 weight bet, said that he avoids taking up the game for a simple reason: “I’d go broke. Those other guys would win all of my money.”

And what came of his weight wager? On the seven-day cruise with his girlfriend, Mr. Matusow gained seven pounds, which left him needing to lose 15 pounds in nine days. “I didn’t eat for the last five days, did a master cleanse and spent time in the Jacuzzi,” he said by telephone. “It was sheer torture. But I did it. I got down to 179.”

SOON after Mr. Matusow made weight, he said, Mr. Forrest paid up, with $60,000 in poker chips (after accounting for $40,000 Mr. Matusow owed from a previous debt). Mr. Forrest did not return several messages seeking comment.

As for Mr. Matusow, his weight began climbing almost immediately. “Right now I am eating a 20-piece Chicken McNugget meal,” he said by telephone. “And guess what? It’s gooood!”

Days later, after collecting $675,924 in tournament winnings, Mr. Matusow reported that he had bet Erick Lindgren, another poker pro, that he, Mr. Matusow, would weigh less than 200 pounds on Jan. 15, 2009. “Right now,” Mr. Matusow said, “Erick is looking pretty good.”

The New York Times

Finding the Beat of Chicago’s Latino Quarter

In a fifth-floor art gallery in Pilsen, Chicago’s fashionable Latino neighborhood, vibrant guitar chords were pouring out an open window on a recent Friday night. Four Latina artists were showing their paintings, and the shoebox of a gallery was jammed with a mixed, talkative crowd. Some swayed in time to the music, swigging beer and sipping wine. The din seemed to be drawing art patrons and good-time Chicagoans from all over the huge building at 1932 South Halsted Street, the central site of an every-second-Friday art walk.

Many come to the art walk from the suburbs or other parts of the city, but like much of Chicago these days, the affair draws its real energy from the city’s surging Latino population. One of the painters whose work was on display — Carolina Reyes — moved to Pilsen from a North Side neighborhood two years ago to paint. “Being a Latina, I’m still searching to learn more about my culture,” she said.

For that, there is no need for her to leave Chicago. More than 1,000 miles from the Mexican border, the city is home to about 800,000 people of Hispanic origin, mostly Mexican. That’s more than a quarter of the population and gaining share daily — this when the city shrank by nearly a million residents after the 1950s. But in Latin Chicago, there is a new boomtown to explore.

A native of a mostly Latino suburb of Los Angeles, I moved here 25 years ago; my wife, a Latina from Texas, came 12 years ago. So, it’s natural we would be drawn to areas like Pilsen, where Spanish and English mix against a backdrop of brilliant mosaics and murals of Mexican heroes, and Little Village nearby, where mariachi bands carrying their instruments into restaurants could easily be south of the border. But it’s more than just familiarity and the fact that eating and entertainment on the Latin side of Chicago is generally cheaper. It’s where the energy is.

“It’s happening so fast,” said Carlos Tortolero, who came to Chicago from Mexico at age 3 and, as a 28-year-old school teacher in 1982, started what would become the National Museum of Mexican Art, the city’s leading Latino cultural organization. “It’s becoming a very Mexican city.”

The museum made a name for itself in 2006 when it opened an exhibition about the influence of Africans in Mexico. In a city known for its racial separation, blacks flocked to Pilsen for the show. This summer, the museum will insert itself into the national political debate with an exhibition opening on the Fourth of July — “A Declaration of Immigration” — that will go beyond painting and sculpture to present data to argue that point. “It is pro-American to be pro-immigrant,” Mr. Tortolero said.

Immigrants certainly made Chicago one of history’s great boomtowns. It grew from a nearly uninhabited swamp in the early 1800s to a metropolis of a million people by 1890. An up-to-date version of that multicultural frontier town is on display every Sunday morning at a flea market, just around the corner from where Mrs. O’Leary’s cow — in fable, anyway — is said to have kicked over the lantern that started the Great Fire of 1871. Known as the Maxwell Street Market, it runs along Canal Street south of Roosevelt Road. (The city closed down the original location on nearby Maxwell Street in the 1990s, but the name stuck.) After more than 100 years, it still attracts immigrants and their offspring from many points on the globe. But today, as with much of Chicago, the market moves to a Latin beat. Browsers seem to move in step with the blaring Latin music as they peruse the four-block stretch of stalls that feature art, jewelry and the usual knock-off purses and leather goods.

If you see a skinny fellow with a goatee who appears to know the street-food vendors, he might be Rick Bayless, the Chicago chef and cookbook author who raised traditional Mexican cooking to gourmet status, stopping by on his day off to snack on mole and hand-pressed tortillas. The crowds become thicker around the stall for Lencho’s Tacos, where people take a number and wait their turn. Well before 10 a.m., Lencho’s fans are three and four deep around the counter, lined up for tacos of grilled beef, onions, cilantro and hot sauce — a perfect on-the-go lunch for about $5.

To the north, above the stalls and the brightly dressed shoppers, rises the Loop and its towering skyscrapers, and in a single frame the city’s remarkable accomplishments and its restless, unrealized dreams come into focus.

With much of Chicago’s Latino population relatively new, many of the restaurants, much of the music and other cultural offerings burst with the flavor of home.

Upon arrival in Chicago, “people are much freer to be who they are,” says Mr. Bayless, an Oklahoma native who has adopted Mexico’s cuisine with singular fervor, and in 1987 opened Frontera Grill in the River North area. Its success, along with the success of his more refined restaurant next door, Topolobampo, has spawned many other serious and un-Americanized Latin places, making Chicago an unlikely culinary standout when it comes to Latin cuisine.

Frontera is decorated with Mexican art that Mr. Bayless and his wife have collected over the years, a riot of color and images, and Latin music plays at a volume to permit dinner conversation, though you may still find your legs dancing under the table. His simplest dishes, like the tacos al carbón ($16) — grilled meats served with guacamole, beans and tortillas made on the premises — are memorable for their simplicity and freshness.

Mr. Bayless’s restaurants are, of course, just one side of the story when it comes to Chicago’s Latin cuisine. In the West Side neighborhood of Humboldt Park, a lively Puerto Rican and Mexican area, Carlos Reyna’s small restaurant, Maiz, is a shrine to the many corn vessels — tortillas, tamales, sopes — used in traditional Mexican cooking. In the cozy storefront, Mr. Reyna waits on many of the tables himself and can help you choose a series of small dishes, like a vegetable tamale cooked in banana leaf and triangular tamales covered in mole, to be washed down by tart margaritas. He also serves bebidas frías, the sweet, refreshing mixtures of fruit and water that he grew up drinking in Mexico City. (Try the cucumber flavor.)

Mr. Reyna moved to Chicago in 1986 to pursue a career as a dancer, waiting tables to support himself. When he decided to open a restaurant, he focused on food that reminded him of home. “I always wanted to bring it to Chicago,” he said.

Similarly, over the last 36 years, another immigrant, Roberto Marín, has kept playing the salsa he grew up on in his native Colombia. He works days as a machine operator at an electrical components factory and plays bass most Saturday nights at Las Tablas, a mid-price Colombian steak house on Irving Park Road, north and west of downtown. As dinner wound down one recent night, half the patrons were grooving in their seats to Mr. Marin’s beat, and the other half were rising to dance.

Las Tablas is in a very mixed neighborhood; Latin, sure, but also Eastern European and plenty else. And that is one of the beauties of Latin Chicago: it is spread throughout the city.

But Pilsen, on the city’s near southwest side, may be the neighborhood that is most closely identified with Latin Chicago. Always working class, initially Czech, and now 100 years or so old, Pilsen is mostly a neighborhood of modest cottages and three-flats — the Chicago term for a detached three-family house. For every trendy restaurant or shop in the conspicuously gentrifying area, there remains at least a dozen stores very plainly serving local residents. It remains perhaps 90 percent Latino, and it is mostly Latinos who run those welcoming coffeehouses, upscale restaurants and trendy new stores. But apartments in the area are being fixed up, and higher rents are squeezing out some residents. Anglo newcomers in their 20s and 30s are out and about, jogging and walking their dogs.

“Right now we’re co-existing,” said Sylvia Rivera, general manager of a youth-programmed radio station, WRTE-FM (, based in Pilsen and owned by the National Museum of Mexican Art. “Hopefully, we’ll be able to do that and share, as well.”

A walk east on 18th Street from the Blue Line El stop cuts through the heart of Pilsen. It is a street lined with cafes and restaurants like Cafe Mestizo (1646 West 18th Street; 312-421-5920), a laid-back coffeehouse where a T-shirt displayed on a wall announces, “Pilsen is not for sale”; and Mundial Cocina Mestiza (1640 West 18th Street; 312-491-9908), an upscale and friendly place (for weekend brunch, try the steak and eggs, surrounded by delicious Mexican side dishes and served with warm, chewy tortillas for about $12). Farther east is Bombon (1508 West 18th Street; 312-733-7788), an elaborate Mexican bakery and wedding cake shop.

Ms. Rivera used to give tours of 18th Street and the surrounding neighborhood, but increasingly visitors arrive unguided and wander by themselves. “It’s all a good thing,” she said.

Indeed, as the Latino population expands its influence in Chicago, as in other American cities, visitors won’t have to go looking for the Latin beat. It will be all around.



In the Loop, the Hotel Burnham (1 West Washington Street; 312-782-1111) is in the landmark Reliance Building, which reopened as a boutique hotel in 1999. Rooms start at $239 and suites at $389 in June and July. It’s a block away from the Blue Line train, which you can take south to the 18th Street stop (elevated at that point) for Pilsen.

The Omni Chicago Hotel (676 North Michigan Avenue; 312-944-6664) is a short walk from the Frontera Grill and Topolobampo. Rooms start at $201.75 in July.


The Frontera Grill (445 North Clark Street; 312-661-1434) is the home restaurant of the cookbook author and TV show host Rick Bayless. It has eye-popping art on the walls and lively music. The food ranges from tacos al carbón for $16 to nightly specials, exquisitely prepared for $36. Next door is Topolobampo, Mr. Bayless’s high-end restaurant.

At Maiz (1041 North California Street; 773-276-3149), order and share a series of small traditional Mexican dishes, like tamales in mole, for $4.75 to $7.75.

Café Aorta (2002 West 21st Street; 312-738-2002) serves Caribbean cooking near the National Museum of Mexican Art. A Cubano sandwich is $9. Corn beef hash with Puerto Rican rice and eggs and toast is $9.

Carnitas la Michoacana (2049 West Cermak Road; 773-254-2970) serves pork fried in a giant cauldron, chopped and served in fresh soft tacos for $1.35 each. (If you’ve come this far, after lunch walk around the corner to St. Paul’s Church, a massive pile of bricks on West 22nd Place; it once rivaled the skyscrapers of the Loop.)

Taqueria Moran (2226 North California Avenue; 773-235-2663) is a reliable and friendly Mexican diner. Try the eggs and machaca (shredded beef), $7.50; the taco plate (try the carnitas) is $6.95.

Kristoffer Cafe & Bakery (1733 South Halsted Street; 312-829-4150) is a small coffeehouse that serves baked goods as well as Mexican- and Central American-style tamales (wrapped in a green banana leaf) for $1.75 to $2.75 and stays open for the second Friday art walks on Halsted, sometimes with live music.

Special Thanks to The New York Times

Obama Supporters Take His Name as Their Own

Emily Nordling has never met a Muslim, at least not to her knowledge. But this spring, Ms. Nordling, a 19-year-old student from Fort Thomas, Ky., gave herself a new middle name on, mimicking her boyfriend and shocking her father.

“Emily Hussein Nordling,” her entry now reads.

With her decision, she joined a growing band of supporters of Senator Barack Obama, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, who are expressing solidarity with him by informally adopting his middle name.

The result is a group of unlikely-sounding Husseins: Jewish and Catholic, Hispanic and Asian and Italian-American, from Jaime Hussein Alvarez of Washington, D.C., to Kelly Hussein Crowley of Norman, Okla., to Sarah Beth Hussein Frumkin of Chicago.

Jeff Strabone of Brooklyn now signs credit card receipts with his newly assumed middle name, while Dan O’Maley of Washington, D.C., jiggered his e-mail account so his name would appear as “D. Hussein O’Maley.” Alex Enderle made the switch online along with several other Obama volunteers from Columbus, Ohio, and now friends greet him that way in person, too.

Mr. Obama is a Christian, not a Muslim. Hussein is a family name inherited from a Kenyan father he barely knew, who was born a Muslim and died an atheist. But the name has become a political liability. Some critics on cable television talk shows dwell on it, while others, on blogs or in e-mail messages, use it to falsely assert that Mr. Obama is a Muslim or, more fantastically, a terrorist.

“I am sick of Republicans pronouncing Barack Obama’s name like it was some sort of cuss word,” Mr. Strabone wrote in a manifesto titled “We Are All Hussein” that he posted on his own blog and on

So like the residents of Billings, Mont., who reacted to a series of anti-Semitic incidents in 1993 with a townwide display of menorahs in their front windows, these supporters are brandishing the name themselves.

“My name is such a vanilla, white-girl American name,” said Ashley Holmes of Indianapolis, who changed her name online “to show how little meaning ‘Hussein’ really has.”

The movement is hardly a mass one, and it has taken place mostly online, the digital equivalent of wearing a button with a clever, attention-getting message. A search revealed hundreds of participants across the country, along with a YouTube video and bumper stickers promoting the idea. Legally changing names is too much hassle, participants say, so they use “Hussein” on Facebook and in blog posts and comments on sites like, and, the campaign’s networking site.

New Husseins began to crop up online as far back as last fall. But more joined up in February after a conservative radio host, Bill Cunningham, used Mr. Obama’s middle name three times and disparaged him while introducing Senator John McCain, the presumptive Republican nominee, at a campaign rally. (Mr. McCain repudiated Mr. Cunningham’s comments).

The practice has been proliferating ever since. In interviews, several Obama supporters said they dreamed up the idea on their own, with no input from the campaign and little knowledge that others shared their thought.

Some said they were inspired by movies, including “Spartacus,” the 1960 epic about a Roman slave whose peers protect him by calling out “I am Spartacus!” to Roman soldiers, and “In and Out,” a 1997 comedy about a gay high school teacher whose students protest his firing by proclaiming that they are all gay as well.

“It’s one of those things that just takes off, because everybody got it right away,” said Stephanie Miller, a left-leaning comedian who blurted out the idea one day during a broadcast of her syndicated radio talk show and repeated it on CNN.

Ms. Miller and her fellow new Husseins are embracing the traditionally Muslim name even as the Obama campaign shies away from Muslim associations. Campaign workers ushered two women in head scarves out of a camera’s range at a rally this month in Detroit. (The campaign has apologized.) Aides canceled a December appearance on behalf of Mr. Obama by Representative Keith Ellison, a Minnesota Democrat and the first Muslim congressman.

Mr. Obama may be more enthusiastic, judging from his response at a Chicago fund-raiser two weeks ago. When he saw that Richard Fizdale, a longtime contributor, wore “Hussein” on his name tag, Mr. Obama broke into a huge grin, Mr. Fizdale said.

“The theory was, we’re all Hussein,” Mr. Obama said to the crowd later, explaining Mr. Fizdale’s gesture.

Some Obama supporters say they were moved to action because of what their own friends, neighbors and relatives were saying about their candidate. Mark Elrod, a political science professor at Harding University in Searcy, Ark., is organizing students and friends to declare their Husseinhood on Facebook on Aug. 4, Mr. Obama’s birthday.

Ms. Nordling changed her name after volunteering for Mr. Obama before the Kentucky primary.

“People would not listen to what you were saying on the phone or on their doorstep because they thought he was Muslim,” she said.

Ms. Nordling’s uncle liked the idea so much that he joined the same Facebook group that she had. But when her father saw her new online moniker, he was incredulous.

“He actually thought I was going to convert to Islam,” Ms. Nordling said.

Special Thanks to The New York Times

23rd Annual PNC Christmas Price Index UP 3.1 %

Rising Wages For Milkmaids, Higher Commodity Prices Lead Increases
- Cost of “Twelve Days of Christmas” Song Items Reflect Consumer Pricing Trends -
The significantly higher price of gold and increased compensation for minimum wage workers will make Christmas more expensive this year, according to the PNC Christmas Price Index. The tongue-in-cheek economic analysis by PNC Wealth Management is based on the cost of gifts in the holiday classic, “The Twelve Days of Christmas.”

According to the 23rd annual survey, the cost of “The Twelve Days of Christmas” is $19,507 in 2007, a 3.1 percent increase over last year. The rise in gift prices mirrored the U.S. government’s Consumer Price Index – a widely used measure of inflation calculated by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The Consumer Price Index is up 3.5 percent so far this year.

“Each year, the Christmas Price Index reflects trends in the broader economy,” said James Dunigan, managing executive of investments for PNC Wealth Management. “This year, increased commodities prices, concerns about the value of the dollar and the first minimum wage increase in 10 years were major factors in the increases to the Christmas Price Index.”

“Ringing” in a Pricier New Year

True Loves will have to pay a bit more for the five Gold Rings this year, as the jewelers who provide the prices for the rings report having no choice but to pass increased prices along to consumers as the price of gold continues to rise.

“The cost of the Gold Rings in this year’s Christmas Price Index reflects the general trend of increasing commodity prices in the Consumer Price Index, including gold,” said Dunigan. “In addition, increased fears about inflation and the value of the dollar may have led investors to turn to gold as a safer place to invest their money.”

The price of five gold rings now totals $395, a 21.5 percent increase over 2006 prices, but still nowhere close to 1989 prices, when the five Gold Rings hit an all-time high of $750.

Milkmaids Benefit from Minimum Wage Increase
As the only unskilled laborers in the Christmas Price Index, the eight Maids-a-Milking make minimum wage, and have not had a raise since 1997. This year, Congress increased their wages by 13.6 percent; bringing the cost of eight Maids-a-Milking for one hour of work to $46.80. The True Love will have to reach deeper into his pockets for the milkmaids in 2008 and 2009, as well - Congress has already approved continued increases to the minimum wage for the next two years.

The cost of most performers in the index — the Drummers Drumming, Pipers Piping and Lords-a-Leaping — rose a modest 3 to 4 percent, due primarily to an increase in the performers’ compensation, reflecting the current labor market in which the unemployment rate is still below 5 percent. Only the price for the Ladies Dancing was unchanged this year, according to Philadanco, a modern dance company in Philadelphia.

Food Prices Are For the Birds

Among the feathered friends in the Christmas Price Index, the most notable increase was a 20 percent change in the price for six Geese-a-Laying, provided by the National Aviary.

“For True Loves planning to serve a Christmas goose - or six - for a holiday meal, this item will be a bit more expensive,” said Dunigan. “Food prices have increased over the last year, which has not impacted birds like Turtle Doves and Partridges, but has had an impact on birds traditionally served as food, like Geese.”

Most of the other bird prices in the index remained even with last year’s rates, thanks to steady supply and demand for Partridges, Turtle Doves, French Hens and Swans. Aside from the Geese-a-Laying, only the Calling Birds will cost more in 2007. PNC prices the Calling Birds from a national pet store chain, and prices for Calling Birds (or canaries) were up 25 percent this year, thanks to higher demand and increased shipping costs for retailers.

2007: Most Expensive Christmas Ever
For those True Loves who prefer to do their shopping online, PNC Wealth Management calculates the cost of The Twelve Days of Christmas gifts purchased on the Web. This year, the trends identified in the traditional index are repeated in the Internet version, with overall growth of 3 percent, very close to the 3.1 percent in the traditional index. This year, the Internet index is very similar to the traditional index. For example, the price of gold is significantly higher online in 2007 compared to 2006. And, as with the traditional Christmas Price Index, bird prices are mostly even with or, in some cases, down a bit from 2006 levels. In general, Internet prices are higher than their non-Internet counterparts because of shipping costs.

As part of its annual tradition, PNC Wealth Management also tabulates the “True Cost of Christmas,” which is the total cost of items gifted by a True Love who repeats all of the
song’s verses. This holiday season, very generous True Loves will pay more than ever before – $78,100 — for all 364 items, up from $75,122 in 2006. This 4 percent increase is about even with last year’s 3.5 percent increase.

Special Present: Updated Web Site
For a historical look at PNC’s Index, please visit our updated Web site at Each year, educators across the country use the Christmas Price Index to teach economic trends to students of all ages. With that in mind, this year’s site has been updated to include interactive activities, annual results and trends, a Flash presentation, MP3 download, games and much more. New this year, Jim Dunigan will present a live chat about this year’s results on Dec 18, 2007.

Educators who visit the site will also find sample lesson plans on the Christmas Price Index from The Stock Market GameTM (SMG) program, America’s premier educational stock-market simulation. Available in all 50 states for grades 4-12, the SMG program teaches children core academic and investment skills. Individually, or in teams, students invest a hypothetical $100,000 portfolio, choosing equities and mutual funds over a 10-15 week period.

The PNC Financial Services Group, Inc. ( is one of the nation’s largest diversified financial services organizations providing retail and business banking; specialized services for corporations and government entities, including corporate banking, real estate finance and asset-based lending; wealth management; asset management and global fund services.

2007 Christmas Price Index:

Special Thanks to The PNC

Great Song By Duffy

Mercy By Duffy

Presidential Nomination Primary Results

Map of the Results of The Democratic Primaries

Map of The Results of the Republican Primaries

Special Thanks to The New York Times for the Maps

Paterson Greeted Enthusiastically at Gay Pride Parade

If there was ever any doubt that gay people form one of Gov. David A. Paterson’s most loyal and enthusiastic constituencies, that doubt was erased on Sunday by the howl of a drag queen on Fifth Avenue.

The drag queen, standing at the foot of the steps to the New York Public Library dressed in a green Afro wig, a red miniskirt and candy-cane-striped stockings, had the duty of announcing the notables marching down Fifth Avenue in the gay pride march.

She introduced Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg and City Council Speaker Christine C. Quinn, and the onlookers who had gathered along the parade route politely applauded.

But when she bellowed, “Let’s hear it for the governor of New York, David Paterson!” the crowd roared.

“I predicted a hero’s welcome for him,” Ms. Quinn said. “And I think my expectations have been blown out of the water.”

Few governors have made advancing gay rights as central to their policy making as Mr. Paterson. Even liberal Democrats who have long advocated equal rights for gay men and lesbians, like Mr. Paterson’s predecessor, Eliot Spitzer, have not embraced the gay community so publicly.

In fact, those who walked down Fifth Avenue with Mr. Paterson on Sunday could not recall another serving governor’s ever marching in the city’s gay pride parade.

The most significant move Mr. Paterson has made toward broadening gay rights in New York was an order he issued in May that directed state agencies to recognize same-sex marriages performed outside of New York.

That order built on the policies of the Spitzer administration, which had been planning to issue the same directive before Mr. Spitzer resigned in March. David Nocenti, who was Mr. Spitzer’s legal counsel and now holds that role in Mr. Paterson’s administration, drafted the order earlier this year. It was to be issued once the state’s highest court ruled on a February decision by an appeals court in Rochester that said the state must recognize same-sex marriages performed in other jurisdictions, even though New York does not itself allow gays and lesbians to marry.

The Court of Appeals rejected the case on technical grounds on May 6, and the order went out to all state agencies on May 14.

Earlier this month, on behalf of several state Republican elected officials, a conservative Christian policy group based in Scottsdale, Ariz., sued Mr. Paterson in State Supreme Court in the Bronx to block the governor’s order.

Before he marched in the parade on Sunday, Mr. Paterson defended his order and insisted that a lawsuit challenging it would fail.

“It is the law and it is the right thing to do. I stand by it,” he said. “If someone would like to go to court and waste their money and prove me wrong, they can do that. And I welcome that.”

Sunday was not the first time Mr. Paterson marched in a gay pride parade. He said he attended his first parade in 1976 at the urging of a gay friend and had walked in them on and off ever since.

“Back then, we would march in the back,” he said. “But then we learned that wasn’t cool because you couldn’t hear the music in the back. So we moved up.” He added that in those early years, he did not generate quite the same amount of attention from the crowd.

“I don’t think I’ll be anonymous today,” he said.

As he walked down Fifth Avenue from 52nd to 34th Street on Sunday afternoon, he could not go more than a few blocks without stopping to pose for a picture or accept hugs and expressions of gratitude from paradegoers.

“Thank you, Governor,” said Greg Sengle, 38, as he took one hand off the pole he was using to hold up a giant arch of rainbow-colored balloons and shook Mr. Paterson’s hand. As Mr. Paterson walked away, Mr. Sengle, a technology consultant, added: “I’m tired of being treated like a second-class citizen.”

Assemblyman Daniel J. O’Donnell, a Democrat from the Upper West Side who has become a perennial presence at the parade, said he saw a new role emerging for Mr. Paterson: gay icon.

“The gay community has relied on our straight icons like Judy and Bette,” Mr. O’Donnell said. “And I think David could be one of our icons.”

Special Thanks to The New York Times

Bill O'Reilly's Producer (Unseen Footage)

From Barely Political!!

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Which country has the longest coastline?

Canada's coastline is the world's longest at 243,792 km or 151,485 miles (including the coastline of the country's 52,455 islands.)

'I'm a Girl' -- Understanding Transgender Children

Parents of Transgender 6-Year-Old Girl Support Her Choice

From the moment we're born, our gender identity is no secret. We're either a boy or a girl. Gender organizes our world into pink or blue. As we grow up, most of us naturally fit into our gender roles. Girls wear dresses and play with dolls. For boys, it's pants and trucks.

But for some children, what's between their legs doesn't match what's between their ears -- they insist they were born into the wrong body. They are transgender children, diagnosed with gender identity disorder, and their parents insist this is not a phase.

"A phase is called a phase because it is just that. It ends. And this is not ending. This is just getting stronger," Renee Jennings told ABC News' Barbara Walters. The Jennings asked that "20/20" not disclose their real name in order to protect the identity of their 6-year old transgender daughter, Jazz.

Most transgender children still live in the shadows, hiding from a world that sees them as freaks of nature. Rejected by their families, many grow up hating their bodies, and fall victim to high rates of depression, drug abuse, violence and suicide.

Today, hundreds of families with transgender children -- who have found each other over the Internet -- are taking a dramatically different course. They're allowing their children to live in the gender they identify with in order to save them from a future of heartache and pain.

"I think we're a very normal family," said Renee's husband, Scott. "I think we have a very healthy marriage. We love to watch our children in all of their activities, whether it's at school, or on the field playing sports."

'You're Special'

On the surface, the Jennings and their four children are a typical American family. But their youngest child, Jazz, is only in kindergarten, and already she is one of the youngest known cases of an early transition from male to female.

"We'll say things like, 'You're special. God made you special.' Because there aren't very many little girls out there that have a penis," said Renee. "Renee and I are in 100 percent agreement as to how we should raise Jazz," said Scott. "We don't encourage, we support. And we just keep listening to what she tells us."

From the moment he could speak, Jazz made it clear he wanted to wear a dress. At only 15 months, he would unsnap his onesies to make it look like a dress. When his parents praised Jazz as a "good boy," he would correct them, saying he was a good girl.

The Jennings wanted to believe it would pass. Scott said he "was in a bit of denial" about what Jazz was trying to tell them. After all, even their rowdy twin boys, who are two years older than Jazz, had painted their nails growing up. But Jazz kept gravitating to girl things, insisting that his penis was a mistake.

When Jazz was two, he asked his mother a question that left her numb and frozen. "[He] said, 'Mommy, when's the good fairy going to come with her magic wand and change, you know, my genitalia?" according to Renee.

Gender Identity Disorder

Troubled by her son's behavior, Renee eventually consulted her copy of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual or DSM-IV, the book used by psychologists and psychiatrists to identify mental disorders. She read the entry for Gender Identity Disorder (GID), with alarming familiarity.

The DSM-IV says a diagnosis for GID can be made if: (1) someone has a strong and persistent cross-gender identification; (2) feels a persistent discomfort with his or her sex; (3) this discomfort is not due to being intersex or hermaphroditic; and (4) the discomfort causes significant distress or impairment in their life.

Even Jazz's pediatrician told the Jennings that they had a serious problem on their hands. According to Renee, their doctor said, "'Yes, I believe your child has gender identity disorder, and I recommend that you go to a professional.' And I was -- my mouth opened up and you literally had to scrape me off the floor," Renee said.

Dr. Marilyn Volker, a therapist who specializes in sex and gender issues, later confirmed Jazz's diagnosis.

"When we began to talk, and I used -- whoops -- the pronoun 'he,' I was corrected," Dr. Volker said. Jazz told the therapist, "I'm a girl. I'm she."

Dr. Volker then brought out anatomically correct male and female dolls for Jazz to play with, and asked him to point out which one looked like his body. According to Dr. Volker, Jazz pointed to the male doll and said, "This is me now," and then pointed to the female doll and said, "This is what I want."

No Known Cause

No one knows why children like Jazz are transgender -- there are only theories. Through the first eight weeks of pregnancy, all fetuses' brains look exactly the same: female, nature's default position.

Only after testosterone surges in the womb do male brains start to develop differently. Some scientists suggest that a hormone imbalance during this stage of development stamped the brains of transgender children with the wrong gender imprint.

With Jazz's diagnosis at hand, the Jennings explained the situation to their other children. In their home, they came to accept Jazz as a girl. There he could wear a dress or dance as a ballerina, although they still referred to Jazz with male pronouns.

In public, they kept Jazz's look more ambiguous or gender neutral, especially at preschool, where he was allowed to put on a pretty top but he had to wear pants. Officially, Jazz remained a boy.

Jazz chafed under that arrangement. He wasn't happy until he could present as a girl both indoors and outdoors. Everyday became a struggle, according to Renee. Finally, a dance recital opened the Jennings' eyes to just how unhappy Jazz was.

The Turning Point

"She wasn't allowed to wear a tutu, like the rest of the girls. And she just kind of stood there and snapped her finger and did the tapping thing with the toe, and just looked so sad," Renee recalled. "It was heartbreaking to watch. Really heartbreaking."

The dance recital was a turning point. The Jennings then made the difficult decision to let their son become their daughter. On his fifth birthday, Jazz wore a girl's one-piece bathing suit. "He" was now "she," and an innocent pool party became a "coming out" to all of her friends.

"They referred to her as a boy. But kids are very accepting at that age. They believe what you tell them. She is a boy but she wants to be a girl, so we let her wear a bathing suit," said Renee.

"That was the first time in front of everybody, she … announced to the world, that she was a girl," Scott added.

Living as a Girl

So how does a 5-year-old biological boy begin living as a girl? For Jazz, it meant growing her hair out, piercing her ears, and wearing dresses everywhere -- even to kindergarten.

At school, Jazz is registered as a boy. Her teachers know she's biologically male, but most of her classmates don't. She's lucky because there's a unisex bathroom and in sports, unisex teams. But even play dates are an issue.

Renee said, "I don't want to send Jazz over to anybody's house unless they know the truth. Nor will I let a child walk into our house, and play with Jazz, unless it's been explained to them."

Jazz's physical safety is always on Scott's mind. He worries about teasing, taunting, or worse. "Every day I'm afraid that I might get a call that something happened. But what we've tried to do for Jazz is give her as much self-esteem as we can. We have older brothers, and an older sister, that are always looking out for her. Keeping their eyes on her."

Dresses and Mermaids

After months of careful deliberation, the Jennings agreed to participate in Barbara Walters' special on transgender children, in the hope that doing so would further understanding of Jazz and others like her.

"I don't feel like you can capture the true essence of a child like Jazz until you see her in her environment doing things that she would normally do. It makes it a lot more believable," said Scott.

Jazz's bedroom is filled with things one would find in a typical girl's room: dresses in the closet, pink and purple sheets, and a bed overflowing with stuffed animals. There are also mermaids -- lots and lots of mermaids.

Asked why she liked mermaids so much, Jazz said, "Because they're different than us." She added, "They have tails."

"All of the male to female younger transgender children are obsessed with mermaids," said Renee. "It's because of the ambiguous genitalia. There's nothing below the waist but a tail. And how appealing is that for somebody who doesn't like what's down there?"

Jazz told Walters that she was very happy being a girl, and that she always thought of herself as one. When people ask her whether she's a boy or a girl, Jazz answers without any hesitation: a girl.

Jazz also showed Walters a drawing of a little girl with a tear-streaked face. Jazz drew it when she was in pre-school and still dressing as a boy. Asked by Walters why the little girl was crying, Jazz said, "Because she wants to wear the dress to school."

Now allowed to wear a dress, Renee reports that Jazz enjoys going to school and has lots of friends. If Jazz hadn't been allowed to transition, Renee said, Jazz today would be "very depressed" and "suffering."

The Child That Never Was
For all intents and purposes, Jazz is a girl. But underneath her frilly dresses, she still has the body of a boy, and puberty looms large over the horizon.

"This child will come into my bedroom in the middle of the night, [and say] 'Mommy, mommy, I had a bad dream that I had a beard and moustache like daddy, and I don't ever want to have a beard or a moustache,'" Renee said.

In order to prevent Jazz's nightmare from becoming a reality, the Jennings will probably allow her to undergo hormone therapy when she reaches puberty. First, Jazz's doctor will prescribe blockers that will stop her from growing body hair and developing other masculine characteristics.

A few years after beginning that regimen, Jazz will start taking estrogen, which will allow her body to go through a form of female puberty. She will grow breasts and her body fat will move to her hips. Most doctors will not perform sex reassignment surgery until the age of consent, 18. The Jennings say that if Jazz chooses to also take that step, they will fully support her. But they are also mindful of keeping all of Jazz's options open.

"We check in with her all the time," Renee said. "I tell her, I say, 'Jazz, if you ever feel like you want to dress like a boy again, cut your hair, you just let me know.' And she goes, 'Mommy, why would I want to do that?'"

While Jazz's parents now fully accept their son as their daughter, the transition has not been without considerable doubt and stress. Many parents grieve for the child that never was. "I mourn the loss of the idea of my son," Renee said. "I see pictures and the video, and that child's gone. But there's a wonderful person now that's with us."

By any measure, the Jennings home is a happy place. Kids play, kids fight. For now, Jazz lives safely inside a bubble, but the enormity of Jazz's situation is not lost on her parents.

"I always say that I'm in the front line. Jazz is protected, because she's not getting the slack, because I am putting out the fires before they burn her," said Renee. "I want to pave the way for a better life for her, and any trans kids. They didn't ask to be born this way."

Special Thanks to ABC

My 500th post! Yay!!

It's not my 500th, it's actually my 501st post but still yay!!

Friday, June 27, 2008

"It's a Google": John McCain's top ten vice-presidential choices

1. Charlie Crist The popular governor of Florida would be a massive boost to McCain's chances of taking the state, a key battleground with 27 electoral votes on offer. At 51, his youth could counteract concerns about McCain's advanced years, while his shock of dazzling white hair and permatan make him both telegenic and instantly recognisable. Florida's attorney-general before becoming governor in 2006, he has a reputation as a hardliner on law and order, while his strong conservative credentials on issues such as gun rights, abortion and marriage could help shore up the Republican right. Crist was invited to a gathering at McCain's Arizona ranch along with a handful of other VP hopefuls last month, and has recently appeared alongside the nominee at Florida campaign stops.

Follow the money: 8/1

2. Tim Pawlenty Again, the governor of a key battleground - this time Minnesota. The state offers fewer electoral votes that Florida, but rival Barack Obama is performing far better here in the polls, with a comfortable lead that McCain needs to peg back. Pawlenty has solid conservative credentials which could help win over right-wingers alienated by McCain's moderate stance on issues such as immigration and civil unions. McCain aides have suggested Pawlenty is near the top of the shortlist - I would have made him number one had he been invited to the nominee's Arizona "audition". However his absence could simply indicate that he is the man to beat.

Follow the money: 6/1

3. Bobby Jindal This rising star took over as governor of Louisiana in January, becoming the first American of South Asian origin to be hold such office. A staunch social conservative, he opposes human embryonic stem cell research and abortion in any form, and favours the teaching of intelligent design in schools as an alternative to evolution - positions that could help win over the religious right. At 36, he is considered by some to be too young for the VP spot, but has been widely tipped as a favourite and was one of the favoured few at the Arizona gathering. He has also appeared alongside McCain at recent campaign stops in Louisiana.

Follow the money: 6/1

4. Mitt Romney Rumours of animosity between Romney and McCain have led some to discount this former Massachussetts governor, but he remains a strong all-round contender. A former opponent in the nomination race, his solid conservative credentials proved a big draw for right-wingers , while his business experience as head of private equity investment firm Bain Capital and CEO of the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City would assuage concerns over McCain's ability to manage a struggling economy. Fears that his Mormonism could harm him among Christian evangelicals do not seem to overly bother McCain, who invited Romney to his gathering of VP favourites.

Follow the money: 5/1

5. Mike Huckabee A Baptist pastor with huge appeal to the religious right - a group with whom McCain has severe difficulties - Huckabee staked his claim to the VP spot when he took a swathe of southern states during the primaries. But his staunchly conservative views on religious and social issues - he does not believe in evolution, for example - were not mirrored by a hardline stance on economic matters during his ten-year stint as governor of Arkansas. He does however have a certain amount of charisma - or perhaps quirk appeal - having made regular campaign appearances with his Christian rock band Capitol Offense. Huckabee received an invitation to McCain's ranch - but did not attend.

Follow the money: 10/1

6. Tom Coburn A rock-solid conservative, Coburn's tough stance on issues such as immigration could allay concerns about McCain's liberal voting record. The pair have similar views on fiscal conservatism, a matter on which they have worked together before. However he is not particularly charismatic and as a senator represents Oklahoma, which is not expected to be a battleground state this year.

Follow the money: 25/1

7. Condoleezza Rice Her strong national security credentials - she was National Security Advisor to President Bush before taking over from Colin Powell as Secretary of State - will appeal to McCain. Meanwhile her status as a black woman could go some way towards negating the Obama factor and attracting women voters, including disgruntled supporters of Hillary Clinton. Considered a conservative Republican, she could also bring those in the party who are disenchanted with McCain back into the fold.

Follow the money: 14/1

8. Sarah Palin The telegenic governor of Alaska has a down-to-earth persona which would appeal to rural Americans. At 44, she is energetic and devoted to her family, which could help win over the soccer mom crowd. Her life-long membership of the National Rifle Association would make her immensely popular with the gun lobby, while she also has strong credentials as a social conservative. Known for her maverick governing style, McCain could see in her something of a kindred spirit.

Follow the money: 6/1

9. Mark Sanford The governor of South Carolina is youthful enough, at 48, and conservative enough, with a lifetime rating of 92/100 from the American Conservative Union, to provide a good counterbalance to McCain. His early support helped the Arizona senator to a primary win in the state, while his Southern appeal could pull in voters there. But some argue that McCain should have little difficulty in the South regardless of his running mate, while concerns have been raised over his lack of name recognition.

Follow the money: 12/1

10. Joe Lieberman If there's anyone to whom McCain owes the VP spot, it is Joe Lieberman. An Democrat-turned-independent, sometimes described as an Independent Democrat, Lieberman crossed party lines to throw his full weight behind McCain early in the primary season. Since then the pair have often seemed inseparable, and on many aspects of policy there is certainly little distance between them, particularly when it comes to defence and foreign policy. Far from being a strength, however, this could prove Lieberman's greatest drawback. As an independent he might burnish McCain's appeal to swing voters, but his selection would certainly not help - and could well harm - the nominee's efforts to woo conservative Republicans.

Follow the money: 20/1

Terrorism Beyond Islam

There's just one thing that most Americans and Osama bin Laden seem able to agree on: that the attacks on the World Trade Center arose somehow from Islam. Whether the purest form of Islam or the most perverted, it so enveloped the hijackers in religious zeal that the centrality of Islam to the attacks is hard to deny.

So let me try.

It is easier to try that here in East Asia. The kind of defiant and violent antagonism to the West that we now associate with Islamists was for centuries linked instead to places like Japan, Korea and China.

The vocabulary of the rejectionist movements varies with the country and the time -- the Koran in today's Saudi Arabia, Kim Il Sung ideology in today's North Korea, and a mix of Confucianism and secular xenophobia in the Japan, China and Korea of the 17th through 19th centuries. But these religions and ideologies seem to reflect something deeper: frustration at the humiliating choice faced by once-great civilizations heartsick at the pressure to discard bits of their own cultures to catch up with the nouveaux riches in the West.

East Asians killed those who came to them, of course, rather than taking jet planes to kill infidels in their home countries. But the (sometimes feigned) superiority of 17th-century Japanese, Koreans and Chinese, the all-out rejection of Westernization, the glorification of their own culture, the brutality inflicted on those perceived as pro-Western -- all these are remarkably parallel with Osama bin Laden and those like him in the Islamic world today.

Today Westerners come to Japan and soak naked in the glorious outdoor hot springs. But similar pools were used to torture Christian missionaries. Francisco de Jesus, a Spaniard, suffered fairly typical hospitality after his arrest in 1629: he was executed by being plunged into a boiling pool for 33 consecutive days.

Richard Cocks, a 17th-century English visitor to Japan, described the country as ''the most puissant tyranny the world has ever known,'' adding about the treatment of Japanese Christians, who were seen as a fifth column for Europeans: ''I saw 55 of them martyrized at one time in Miyako. Among them were children of five or six years, burned alive in the arms of their mothers.''

Yet none of this was really about religion. Indeed, Hideyoshi, the Japanese ruler who first banned Christianity, supposedly had earlier toyed with the idea of becoming a Christian himself, deciding not to when he learned that he would then be limited to one wife. Rather, it was about social conservatives trying to protect their way of life from a Western onslaught.

Of course, the faith of Al Qaeda's warriors runs deep and makes it easier to accept ''martyrdom.'' But Muslims have no monopoly on suicide tactics; think of all the Japanese kamikaze pilots in World War II.

When I lived in Egypt in the early 1980's, I often heard in the voices of anti-Western Muslims a mix of emotions -- pride in their past civilization, frustration at their present poverty, scapegoating of the West -- that echoed when I moved to Asia and talked to North Koreans or hard-line Chinese Communists.

Unfortunately, antagonism to Western-style change leaves countries lagging further and further behind. I once came across a 19th-century Chinese account of a goldsmith who challenged the powerful craft guilds by flouting their rules so he could boost production and gain market share. The other goldsmiths were outraged, so 123 of them banded together to punish him. One had the bright idea that if they bit him to death it would not be a crime, since no one bite could be shown to be the fatal one. Thus each goldsmith took a bite out of the entrepreneur, and none were allowed to leave without showing bloody gums. It was an early setback to Chinese economic reforms.

Eventually, Asia did transform itself, of course, beginning in Japan in 1868 with the Meiji reforms, which ended feudal rule and led to widespread Japanese modernization. In country after country, contempt for the West became something closer to a bear hug, or at least -- of all things -- ''practical.''

The Islamic world today is ripe for its own Meiji period, and it should find the experience of Asia reassuring. The lesson of the Far East is that it is possible for a troubled civilization to regain its footing only by integrating sweeping change into its society, and that this embrace of modernity does no dishonor to a national heritage.

Cindy McCain v Michelle Obama

America's two prospective first ladies could scarcely be more different. Here we take a brief look at the lives of Michelle Obama and Cindy McCain and consider what qualities each would bring to the White House.

Cindy McCain

Background: After growing up a wealthy Arizona heiress, McCain, then Hensley, eschewed a role in her father's beer distributing business to embark on a career teaching children with learning difficulties. She later founded the American Voluntary Medical Team, leading 55 emergency assistance missions to countries such as Iraq, Nicaragua and Vietnam. During a visit to Mother Theresa's orphanage in Bangladesh in 1991, McCain arranged to bring a child to the United States for medical treatment, later adopting the girl. Upon her father's death in 2000, she became chair of the now $300 million a year Hensley & Co, the third largest distributor of Anheuser-Busch beer in the United States. She continues to be active in the charity world, serving on the boards of organisations such as CARE and the HALO Trust.

The marriage: The former cheerleader and rodeo queen met John McCain, married and 18 years her senior, at a military reception in Hawaii in 1979. The pair quickly embarked on an affair but Cindy was not to be cast as the "other woman" for long, as in February 1980 McCain divorced his first wife, clearing the way for their marriage in May of that year. She suffered several miscarriages before giving birth to their first child, Meghan (now an active blogger on her father's campaign) in 1984. She went on to have two other children, Jack and Jimmy, before adopting Bridget. A stay-at-home mum for several years, Cindy also helped further her husband's political career, introducing him to family contacts and campaigning with him door-to-door during his successful first bid for Congress in 1982.

First lady?: Cindy McCain has adopted a supporting, rather than actively campaigning role, in her husband's presidential bid. Attractive and glamorous, she nevertheless projects a homely, maternal persona - the perfect combination of political wife and soccer mom. Would be unlikely to get openly involved with policy-making, instead using her position to campaign on charitable issues. But make no mistake - she has no shortage of ambition where her husband's career is concerned and would certainly be his closest confidante.

On the campaign trail: Her past addiction to opioid painkillers - which ultimately led her to steal drugs from her own medical charity - has attracted unwelcome media attention. So has her involvement in the Keating Five scandal, which saw her husband accused of pressuring investigators to drop a fraud probe into a long-time friend and business associate of the couple - a charge of which he was later largely exonerated. She also drew criticism after it emerged that recipes she had submitted to the McCain campaign official website had in fact been ripped off the Food Network - an affair that became known as Pasta-gate.

While Cindy has largely kept quiet on the campaign trail, she has at times aimed blows at Michelle Obama, most notably after her rival's wife commented that she was proud of her country "for the first time in my adult life." She also recently posed for Vogue in a pair of size zero jeans - not bad for a 54 year old.

Michelle Obama

Background: A distinguished career woman in her own right, Michelle Obama grew up in a blue collar family on Chicago's South Side before attending Princeton University and Harvard Law School. She was then joined the law firm Sidley Austin as an associate specialising in marketing and intellectual property, before taking up a variety of positions in the public sector and non-profit organisations, first in the Chicago Mayor's office and most recently at the University of Chicago Hospitals, where she still serves as Vice-President for Community and External Affairs. She has recently cut back her professional responsibilities in order to participate in her husband's campaign and to devote more time to motherhood.

The marriage: The couple married in 1992 after meeting at Sidley Austin; she had been assigned to mentor Barack Obama when he was a summer associate at the firm. They later had two daughters, Malia and Sasha, with whom they live in Chicago. The pair appear extremely close and rely on each other for professional advice - she reportedly once asked him to meet with a prospective boss before deciding whether or not to accept a job offer. Her public comment that Barack is "snorey and stinky" when he wakes up at the morning were seen by some as demeaning but greeted by others as endearing. She was reportedly reluctant about the prospect of her husband running for the White House, and granted her support only in exchange for a promise that he would quit smoking.

First lady?: An Eleanor Roosevelt. A fiery public speaker, Michelle Obama has become a force in her own right on the campaign trail, and would likely take an active role in her husband's White House, using it as a platform to advance causes about which she is passionate. She would also restore a little Kennedyesque glamour to Pennsylvania Avenue, having been widely praised for her understated elegance on the campaign trail. In July 2007, she was listed among "10 of the world's best-dressed people" by Vanity Fair.

On the campaign trail: Notoriously outspoken, Michelle Obama has drawn both criticism and admiration for her conduct during the primary campaign. Her declaration that she was proud of her country "for the first time in my adult life" drew charges of anti-Americanism, while she displayed a less gracious attitude than her husband towards his then rival Hillary Clinton. Insiders have suggested that efforts will be made during the presidential campaign to head off such controversies in future, perhaps by restricting press access to her.

An intelligent and forthright woman, however, she has also provided a big draw to many voters, energising rallies and making confident appearances with Oprah Winfrey, Caroline Kennedy and Stevie Wonder, among others. She is said to be her husband's closest adviser, though she has repeatedly made clear that this is not in any official sense.

Special Thanks to the Times Online