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!!