Friday, August 28, 2009

DHS, TSA Report New Terrorist Threat: Athlete's Foot

The Homeland Security Department and Transportation Security Agency on Friday held a joint press conference to announce that they have discovered a terrorist plot to start a pandemic of athelete's foot through airport hubs, in particular at the security lines.

Athlete's foot is caused by a parasitic fungus and is usually spread in moist environments where people walk barefoot such as showers and locker rooms.

Since shoe bomber Richard Reid tried to bring down a commercial flight on Dec. 22, 2001 by lighting explosives hidden in his shoes, it has been standard policy at U.S. airports to require passengers to remove their shoes and place them on the conveyor belt to be X-rayed.

During summer months especially, TSA estimated that between one third and a half of travelers wore flip flops, Crocs, or another type of shoe wear that obviated the need for socks.

The terrorist plot included having people with athlete's foot walk barefoot through security lines while discreetly sprinkling the floor with liquid to create a more moist, fungal environment.

In order to avert the spread of athlete's foot, which is typically not life threatening but causes extreme itchiness, TSA announced that it will forbid people from passing through security if they are not wearing socks. They also will be sprinkling baby and talcum powder in the security line in the event that people attempt to walk through with bare feet.

Enterprising merchants have sprung up to take advantage of a potentially lucrative commercial opportunity. Hudson News stores in the New York airports were stocked with overpriced socks an hour after the press conference -- $10 for simple white tube socks, $15 for athletic socks and $20 for 100 percent cotton ones.

Not everyone appreciates the new security rule. "If someone is stupid enough to walk through the line barefoot they deserve to get athlete's foot," groused Greg McIntyre," of Cleveland, Ohio. "Now it's just gonna take twice as long since more people are going to be wearing shoes with laces."

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Post Office to Not Deliver Junk Mail for a Fee

Plagued by slumping revenue, the U.S. Postal Service will soon be testing out a new service: not delivering junk mail.

The financially troubled agency has struggled to maintain its market share against competitors such as Fed Ex and UPS. But it's the increasing use of e-mail that has taken the biggest chunk of revenue over the last decade.

The marketing of the new service even echoes the vocabulary used for e-mail. "Tired of junk mail? Have enough credit cards? Tired of being addressed as "John Smith or resident of 215 Maple Drive?" For just $15 per month the Post Office will filter your mail and send it to the trash without it even getting to your mailbox."

The Post Office has also contemplated other cost cutting measures such as eliminating Saturday delivery, but the reaction was mostly negative.

Of course, there is the risk that companies that send junk mail may choose to not do so if their mail never reaches the intended recipient. But the Post Office is hoping that the money from the subscribers will more than offset any decrease in junk mail revenue. Although they will not be releasing figures on how many people sign up for the program, a consultant hired by agency said that they were hoping it could raise $200 million annually.

As with e-mail, the postal service will retain the junk mail for a limited period of time -- probably around two months -- and customers can request that it be delivered or pick it up.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Bernanke Gets Second Fed Term By Making Clutch Shot

WASHINGTON D.C. -- An invitation to shoot hoops with President Obama may be more coveted than an invite to a State Dinner, but it turns out it can also have a consequential career impact as well.

Ben Bernanke, chairman of the Federal Reserve, was reappointed to a second term Tuesday, with news of the move leaking Monday. Economists have been bullish on Bernanke, who has helmed the agency during the most challenging economic period since the Great Depression.

But some advisers have urged Obama to move the agency in a more liberal direction by appointing a Democrat. Other names floated included former Fed vice chairmen Alan Blinder, Bernanke's colleague at Princeton, and Roger Ferguson, San Francisco Fed President Janet Yellen and former Treasury Secretary and current White House aide Lawrence Summers.

Obama was genuinely torn, said an aide. So he made the executive decision to host a three-on-three basketball game: Obama, Blinder and Ferguson against Bernanke, Yellen and Summers. Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel refereed.

The president did not tell them that their performance on the court would factor into the selection, but they were trying their hardest to impress anyway, said the aide.

"Blinder likes basketball to begin with, so he had a natural advantage," the aide reported.

Still, Yellen impressed with her speedy dribbling and deft ball handling. Summers -- perhaps sensitive to the criticism he received after remarks suggesting that innate differences between men and women might explain why not as many women succeed in science and math while president of Harvard University -- was particularly collegial, passing to teammates Yellen and and Bernanke as often as he tried making a shot himself.

Ferguson, however, suffered from an inconsistent jump shot and blundered badly on an attempted skyhook.

Ultimately, it was a clutch shot that sealed the deal for Bernanke, said the aide. Obama's team was leading, 49-47, with 10 seconds to go. Up till that point Bernanke had been solidly unremarkable -- neither impressing nor making any egregious errors. But then, in a stunning game changer, Bernanke hit a three point shot from over 45 feet away. Although that meant Obama's team lost, the president was still clearly impressed, said the aide.

The pivotal game took place Sunday evening at the exclusive and pricey estate that the Obamas are renting for the week. Although Obama did not explicitly tell the Bernanke or the other candidates afterward that the nearly mid-court shot was the decisive factor in his selection, his comment to Emanuel that "Ben is a miracle worker and that's just what we need for the economy" was interpreted to mean as such.

Still, there is some hope for the rejected candidates. Bernanke's term will last four years, which means that if Obama is still president he could renominate him or choose another candidate. At least one of the candidates is wasting no time in his preparations. After the Bernanke announcement, Blinder was heard asking a graduate student he is advising to contact Princeton's basketball coach to see if he could practice with the team. Presumably, the shape of the economy in four years also will be a consideration.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Elite Preschool Takes Fundraising Cue from Selective Colleges

NEW YORK, NEW YORK -- Statewide unemployment may be inching close to 10 percent but you'd never be able to tell by visiting the exclusive 92nd Street Y preschool, which has co-opted some fundraising strategies more commonly associated with elite universities.

With a higher per capita endowment than Harvard University, the $24,300 annual tuition might be expected to cover the cost of five hours of instruction a day.

But the tuition combined with the endowment money is only enough to cover regular operating costs. When it came to paying for the new 400 square feet sandbox with silky white sand imported from the Bahamas, the preschool sought a sponsor. Seven parents offered to foot the $1.5 million cost, which included the additional floor space. But ultimately one parent offered to create a separate $200,000 fund to pay for the weekly service of cleaning and sifting through the sand in order to minimize germs. Now children as young as 2 years old can play in the Jack Grubman Sandbox.

The school also has created special positions -- commonly referred to as endowed professorships or chairs at universities -- in order to pay for such extras as organic snacks prepared by Alice Waters and music appreciation with Yo-Yo Ma.

The four and five year olds are able to choose between exercise electives of yoga, pilates and mini-golf; children as young as three can take a building blocks class with Frank Gehry or enjoy storytelling with J.K. Rowling. Suze Orman -- whose speaking fee is typically around $60,000 -- recently stopped by to guest lecture for a class entitled "how to grow your piggybank."

The artistically inclined can enjoy finger painting with Banksy, while aspiring thespians have enjoyed workshops with actress Dakota Fanning.

Some parents have attempted to attend the classes under the guise of their children having separation anxiety, but administrators typically discourage such involvement.

For parents without millions of dollars to donate for a sandbox or jungle gym, they can still get their name on a plaque. A $30,000 donation will let a parent sponsor the Tiffany lamps used to light one classroom; and Persian rugs range from $10,000 for a welcome mat to to $80,000 for a large one.