Saturday, December 04, 2010

Congress turns down the volume on TV ads IT's ABOUT TIME!

Lawmakers pass the CALM Act, which is meant to 'bring relief to millions' of viewers by requiring advertisers to moderate the loudness of their sales pitches.

Taking aim at a national annoyance, Congress has sent President Obama legislation that lowers the volume on loud TV ads.

"Consumers have been asking for a solution to this problem for decades, and today they finally have it,'' said Rep. Anna G. Eshoo (D-Menlo Park), chief sponsor of the Commercial Advertisement Loudness Mitigation, or CALM, Act.

When Obama signs the measure, "it will bring relief to millions of television viewers across the country," she said.

Under the legislation, the Federal Communications Commission must require advertisers, within a year, to adopt industry technology aimed at lowering the volume on televised sales pitches

To those who might suggest the solution to blaring ads is the mute button, Rep. Lee Terry (R-Neb.) asked what happens if you can't find the remote.

"How many times a night does this scenario play out? You're on your couch; you're watching a nice program … and the commercial comes on and it's really loud," he said this week. "Your spouse in the other room, with her impatient voice, says, 'Turn that down,' but you can't find the remote."

Terry noted that several of his colleagues had said that more government regulation was not needed.

"But for that living room on that night, it was sure helpful to restore calm," Terry said.

"TV programs use a variety of sound levels to build dramatic effect. But advertisements have been neither subtle nor nuanced," Eshoo said. "My bill reduces commercial volume, allowing them to only be as loud as the decibel level of regular programming.''

The bill passed on a voice vote Thursday night.

"While this is far from the biggest issue we face, it will mean one less daily annoyance in our lives," added Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), who helped push the bill through the Senate earlier.

Were the Three Wise Men from China?

'Revelation of the Magi,' a new analysis by Harvard scholar Brent Landau of a little-known 8th-century text, uncovers an intriguing version of the Three Wise Men story.

The only reference in the Bible to the "wise men" appears in the second chapter of the Gospel of Matthew, quoted here from the King James version:

1 Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judaea in the days of Herod the king, behold, there came wise men from the east to Jerusalem,

2 Saying, Where is he that is born King of the Jews? for we have seen his star in the east, and are come to worship him.

3 When Herod the king had heard these things, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him.

4 And when he had gathered all the chief priests and scribes of the people together, he demanded of them where Christ should be born.

5 And they said unto him, In Bethlehem of Judaea: for thus it is written by the prophet,

6 And thou Bethlehem, in the land of Juda, art not the least among the princes of Juda: for out of thee shall come a Governor, that shall rule my people Israel.

7 Then Herod, when he had privily called the wise men, enquired of them diligently what time the star appeared.

8 And he sent them to Bethlehem, and said, Go and search diligently for the young child; and when ye have found him, bring me word again, that I may come and worship him also.

9 When they had heard the king, they departed; and, lo, the star, which they saw in the east, went before them, till it came and stood over where the young child was.

10 When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceeding great joy.

11 And when they were come into the house, they saw the young child with Mary his mother, and fell down, and worshipped him: and when they had opened their treasures, they presented unto him gifts; gold, and frankincense and myrrh.

12 And being warned of God in a dream that they should not return to Herod, they departed into their own country another way.

The story of the Three Wise Men is one of the most familiar and beloved parts of the Christmas story. But for all of their popularity, the mysterious travelers from the East — known as the Magi — appear in only one short passage in the New Testament, following a star to the site of Jesus' birth and bringing gifts of gold, francincense and myrrh. Many religious scholars aren't even sure they really existed.
Now, a first-ever English translation and detailed analysis of a little-known eighth-century text uncovers a far more substantial version of the wise men story.

Brent Landau, a professor of religious studies at the University of Oklahoma and an expert in ancient biblical languages, found references to a text about the wise men in writings from the Middle Ages and learned that a collector in the 18th century had discovered in a Turkish monastery a manuscript called "the Revelation of the Magi" with a narrative about the wise men. He gave it to the Vatican Library, where the document, written on vellum, a type of parchment made of animal skin, remains archived away in virtual obscurity.

As part of his doctoral dissertation at Harvard Divinity School, Landau spent seven years translating and analyzing the text, written in Syriac, a language used by early Christians throughout the Middle East and Asia — and which he happened to be studying. He worked from both a 1927 published text in Syriac and the original document at the Vatican.

Landau's book, Revelation of the Magi: The Lost Tale of the Wise Men's Journey to Bethlehem (HarperOne) describes the Magi as an ancient mystical sect descended from Seth, the pious and virtuous third son of Adam and Eve. From Seth they inherited a prophecy of "a star of indescribable brightness" someday appearing and "heralding the birth of God in human form." This same star had initially hovered over the Tree of Life in the Garden of Eden.

Among the book's other revelations:

•The Magi are described as coming from a land called Shir, "located in the extreme east of the world, at the shore of the Great Ocean." In other ancient texts, Shir is referred to "as a place where silk comes from," says Landau, suggesting that the references were to China.

•In Syriac, the word Magi means "to pray in silence." Landau says it has no relationship to magicians or astrologers, sometimes cited in stories today.

•The text names 12 Magi, not three, while other parts of the text suggest that "a group the size of a small army" traveled to Bethlehem, says Landau.

Other religion scholars who reviewed Landau's work recognize the unique interest the wise men narrative holds.

Of the many early Christian documents recently discovered, Magi "is by far the most fascinating," writes John Dominic Crossan, professor emeritus at DePaul University, in a comment on the book's back cover.

"Landau is to be congratulated for bringing this important and unexpectedly influential work to light," adds Jennifer Knust of Boston University School of Theology, in another comment.

Although the text claims to be personal testimony, "it seems unlikely that it could have been written by the Magi themselves," Landau says. He cites a number of anachronisms, such as references to Christian writings recorded years after Jesus' death.

Who then wrote the wise men story?

"One guess," says Landau, "is some kind of religious community of Christian mystics."

The fact that the Magi are described as standing for days at a time on top of a sacred mountain, visiting a purifying spring, and seeing visions after eating certain foods could suggest that this was a way for a community to talk about itself and give it some authority by putting it in the mouths of the Magi, he says.

In addition to offering a detailed account of the life and background of the wise men, the text sheds some light on how some early Christians experienced Christ, Landau says.

When they first encounter the long-prophesied star, the text says it initially appears in a celestial form that then transforms into a human form or "star child," who instructs them to go to Bethlehem to witness its birth. Each of the Magi, in fact, sees the star child in a different form, with each vision representing a different time in the life of Christ. Nowhere in the text is the name Jesus Christ used to designate the Magis' celestial guide, suggesting that they experienced Christ and became followers without ever knowing the savior figure by that name, Landau says.

This speaks to the "universality of Christ's revelation," says Landau, an Episcopalian.

What should everyday readers take from this retelling, especially during the Christmas season?

An appreciation for the "imaginative way in which early Christians engaged" the story of the wise men to make it their own, says Knust. They "loved this story enough to write this version."

Christians carry on that same tradition today, whether through Christmas pageants, or songs, or art. "We continue to re-imagine the significance of the Christmas story in a way that is meaningful to the people," she says.

A Silicon Bubble Shows Signs Of Reinflating

.In a memorable scene in the movie “The Social Network,” Sean Parker, the investor played by Justin Timberlake, leans over the table and tells the founders of Facebook in a conspiratorial tone: “A million dollars isn’t cool. You know what’s cool? A billion dollars.”

These days in Silicon Valley, a billion dollars seems downright quaint. The enthusiasm for social networking and mobile apps has venture capitalists clamoring to give money to young companies.

The exuberance has given rise to an elite club of start-ups — all younger than seven years and all worth billions. Successive investments in Twitter have reportedly increased its value 33 percent, to $4 billion, while Zynga, creator of the popular Facebook game FarmVille, is worth more than $5 billion.

Google was willing to pay $6 billon for Groupon, an online coupon company that was valued at $1.35 billion only eight months ago. And Groupon was willing to reject the bid on Friday evening, presumably because it could sell for even more money later.

Less than a decade after the dot-com bust taught Wall Street and Silicon Valley investors that what goes up does not keep going up forever, a growing number of entrepreneurs and a few venture capitalists are beginning to wonder if investments in tech start-ups are headed toward another big bust.

The chief evidence, according to industry experts and analysts, is the way venture capitalists and established companies are clamoring to give money to young companies, including those with only a shred of an idea. They are piling into me-too start-ups that imitate popular Web companies that already received financing. Companies that involve social shopping, mobile photo sharing and new social networking are finding it easy to attract investors because no one wants to miss the next big thing.

Yammer, a system for sending Twitter-like messages inside businesses, recently raised $25 million, while investors reportedly signed a check for close to $30 million for a niche blogging site called Tumblr. GroupMe, a new group messaging app for cellphones, raised $9 million. Path, an iPhone app for sharing only photos on a social network limited to just 50 people, received $2.5 million. Its competitor, Picplz, scored $5 million. And those are just within the last few weeks.

It has some venture capitalists scratching their heads.

Noah Berger/Bloomberg NewsDave McClure, founding partner of 500 Startups, a technology incubator. Chris Sacca, below, an investor who has decided to temporarily hold off on new investments until valuations fall.Noah Berger/Bloomberg News “I’m not saying Quora, Foursquare, Square aren’t eventually worth a lot of money, but the price to pay to get into those games is kind of amazing — $50 to $80 million?” said Dave McClure, founding partner of 500 Startups, a technology incubator in Silicon Valley. “These companies are in big markets with proven founders, so maybe not absolutely crazy but certainly eyebrow-raising.”

Fred Wilson, a prominent venture capitalist, said he had watched the trend accelerate over the last six to nine months. “I am seeing many more unnatural acts from investors happening,” he said in a recent blog post. He attributes it to competition among investors eager to participate in popular young start-ups. And he notes, “I have never seen phases like this end nicely.”

No one really knows if there is a bubble until after one pops. Nevertheless, there are many signs of froth. For example, enthusiasm for closely held Facebook shares has run so high that private investors are trading derivatives of it.

“I always get a little nervous about bubbles when five different angel investors ask me to join their brand new angel funds” in one week, said Alex Gould, Leadership Scholar of the Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research. And although the rapid-fire pace of investment in popular Web companies feels reminiscent of the investing craze that led to the dot-com bust a decade ago, there are a few significant differences.

For starters, this is not a stock market bubble. None of the companies are publicly traded.

Mr. Gould said that while “bubble behavior doesn’t change,” the culture of high-flying start-ups like, and making initial public offerings is largely nonexistent. Those did not fare well, though companies like Amazon have continued to prosper.

Instead, entrepreneurs are increasingly looking to large technology companies like Microsoft, Apple or Google with mountains of cash, not the stock market.

Those three companies have about $90 billion in cash on their books. McKinsey & Company calculates that the largest software and hardware companies have enough excess cash on hand to buy nearly all of the tech industry’s medium-sized companies.

Although the volume of deals is expected to swell, financiers are much more conservative in the amounts they are investing in each company. “Back in the ’90s, companies got funded for five times the amount that Tumblr raised and didn’t have anything close to a business model,” said Roger Ehrenberg, founder and manager partner of IA Ventures. “People were getting $50 to $200 million a pop and it brought down an entire industry.”

The frenzy is as much the result of simple laws of supply and demand as the herd mentality. Thanks to the constantly falling cost of computing power, a start-up needs less money to get off the ground.

Meanwhile, more wealthy people are viewing investing in tech as a hobby, which has increased the competition.

“Investing in technology has become fashionable,” Mr. Ehrenberg said. “It used to be that angel investing was the province of wealthy men. Now its become the province of everyone.”

Some venture capitalists, hungry for growth and troubled by weak returns, have moved toward smaller investments, hoping to catch the next Facebook in its infancy.

“I think at the high end, it’s not that frothy, but there’s a lot of exuberance in the early-stage stuff,” said Chris Sacca, an angel investor who has decided to temporarily hold off on new investments until valuations drift lower. “A lot of the valuations there don’t make a lot of sense.”

Most Silicon Valley investors still see no signs of gloom and doom. Ron Conway, a San Francisco financier who has invested in more than 500 companies, including Facebook, Zappos, Google and Twitter, says he does not think there is any bubble.

“All the start-ups today have business models and business cases that make them viable,” he said in an e-mail. “In 1999 when the bubble happened many companies did not have business models and advertising on the Web was very immature.”

Jeff Clavier, managing partner at SoftTech VC and a well-known Silicon Valley angel investor who has financed companies like Mint and Ustream, said that over the next 12 to 18 months the real challenge for start-ups flush with venture cash would be proving they were worth the investment or risk having to fold their companies.

“There may not be a big implosion, but down the road there will be a bunch of blood and tears,” he said.

“The music is going to stop and people will realize there aren’t enough chairs for companies to get the next round of financing.”


YOUR GOV'T BOUGHT & PAID FOR BY N O T YOU THE VOTER! The USA is now owned by corporations & the rich. The average voter counts for nothing because we have been ensalved by our lack of EFFORT & gagets!

72 super PACs spent $83.7 million on election!

The newly created independent political groups known as super PACs, which raised and spent millions of dollars on last month's elections, drew much of their funding from private-equity partners and others in the financial industry, according to new financial disclosure reports.

The 72 super PACs, all formed this year, together spent $83.7 million on the election. The figures provide the best indication yet of the impact of recent Supreme Court decisions that opened the door for wealthy individuals and corporations to give unlimited contributions.

The financial disclosure reports also underscore the extent to which the flow of corporate money will be tied to political goals. Private-equity partners and hedge fund managers, for example, have a substantial stake in several issues before Congress, primarily the taxes they pay on their earnings.

"Super PACs provide a means for the super wealthy to have even more influence and an even greater voice in the political process," said Meredith McGehee, a lobbyist for the Campaign Legal Center, which advocates for tighter regulation of money in politics.

American Crossroads, a conservative super PAC that outspent its peers, pulled in six- and seven-figure donations from the financial industry. That included $500,000 from Anne Dias-Griffin, founder of the Aragon Global Management hedge fund, and her husband, Kenneth Griffin, founder of the Citadel Investment Group hedge fund.

Crossroads, which was founded with the support of Bush administration adviser Karl Rove, raised $70 million, much of it used to support 10 Republican Senate candidates and 30 Republican House candidates.

John Childs, founder of Boston-based J.W. Childs Associates, gave $650,000 to the Club for Growth, an anti-tax group. Dalea Partners, a private-equity firm based in Oklahoma City, gave $250,000 to the First Amendment Alliance, which spent money opposing five Democratic Senate candidates, including incumbents Harry M. Reid (Nev.) and Michael Bennet (Colo.).

Most of the donations from the financial industry went to interest groups attacking Democrats, the disclosure reports show.

That follows support from some Democrats for a measure that would increase tax rates on income executives receive as "carried interest." The proposals would raise the tax above its current 15 percent rate. Other income for those in the highest bracket is taxed at a 35 percent rate.

Several measures that would change the tax rate for carried interest have passed the House in recent years but have stalled in the Senate each time. Democrats have proposed raising the tax as a source of revenue to pay for other programs; that is now unlikely given the Republican takeover of the House after the November elections.

Private-equity partners and hedge fund managers argue that carried interest should be taxed at the same rate as investment income because there is risk involved.

Under federal law, donations to candidates and the political parties cannot exceed certain limits. But recent court decisions have removed limits for contributions to interest groups operating independently of candidates.

The Supreme Court's ruling this year in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission found that corporations, unions and nonprofit groups could spend unlimited money on advertising directly attacking or supporting candidates. In a separate decision, a federal court in the District removed limits on contributions to those groups.

To take advantage of the loosened regulations, political activists created super PACs, which are allowed to accept any kind of contribution as long as they disclose their donors and do not coordinate with candidates.

Super PACs represent only one portion of the spending spurred by the court's decision. Nonprofit groups that are not required to disclose their donors also spent heavily on the election.

Hedge funds and private-equity partners have previously tended to favor Democratic candidates with their contributions. For example, George Soros, founder of the Soros Fund Management hedge fund, has in the past donated large amounts to Democratic interest groups.

The new figures show that this year, other financial industry executives have supported liberal groups. The group Accountability 2010, which spent money attacking Republican House candidate Steve Pearce in New Mexico, drew contributions from half a dozen financial industry executives. They included $45,000 from George Denny, co-founder of the private-equity firm Halpern, Denny & Co., according to the reports, which were filed with the FEC on Thursday night.