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National Museum of Scotland reopens after three-year redevelopment

Friday, July 29, 2011

Today sees the reopening of the National Museum of Scotland following a three-year renovation costing £47.4 million (US$ 77.3 million). Edinburgh’s Chambers Street was closed to traffic for the morning, with the 10am reopening by eleven-year-old Bryony Hare, who took her first steps in the museum, and won a competition organised by the local Evening News paper to be a VIP guest at the event. Prior to the opening, Wikinews toured the renovated museum, viewing the new galleries, and some of the 8,000 objects inside.

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Dressed in Victorian attire, Scottish broadcaster Grant Stott acted as master of ceremonies over festivities starting shortly after 9am. The packed street cheered an animatronic Tyrannosaurus Rex created by Millenium FX; onlookers were entertained with a twenty-minute performance by the Mugenkyo Taiko Drummers on the steps of the museum; then, following Bryony Hare knocking three times on the original doors to ask that the museum be opened, the ceremony was heralded with a specially composed fanfare – played on a replica of the museum’s 2,000-year-old carnyx Celtic war-horn. During the fanfare, two abseilers unfurled white pennons down either side of the original entrance.

The completion of the opening to the public was marked with Chinese firecrackers, and fireworks, being set off on the museum roof. As the public crowded into the museum, the Mugenkyo Taiko Drummers resumed their performance; a street theatre group mingled with the large crowd, and the animatronic Tyrannosaurus Rex entertained the thinning crowd of onlookers in the centre of the street.

On Wednesday, the museum welcomed the world’s press for an in depth preview of the new visitor experience. Wikinews was represented by Brian McNeil, who is also Wikimedia UK’s interim liaison with Museum Galleries Scotland.

The new pavement-level Entrance Hall saw journalists mingle with curators. The director, Gordon Rintoul, introduced presentations by Gareth Hoskins and Ralph Applebaum, respective heads of the Architects and Building Design Team; and, the designers responsible for the rejuvenation of the museum.

Describing himself as a “local lad”, Hoskins reminisced about his grandfather regularly bringing him to the museum, and pushing all the buttons on the numerous interactive exhibits throughout the museum. Describing the nearly 150-year-old museum as having become “a little tired”, and a place “only visited on a rainy day”, he commented that many international visitors to Edinburgh did not realise that the building was a public space; explaining the focus was to improve access to the museum – hence the opening of street-level access – and, to “transform the complex”, focus on “opening up the building”, and “creating a number of new spaces […] that would improve facilities and really make this an experience for 21st century museum visitors”.

Hoskins explained that a “rabbit warren” of storage spaces were cleared out to provide street-level access to the museum; the floor in this “crypt-like” space being lowered by 1.5 metres to achieve this goal. Then Hoskins handed over to Applebaum, who expressed his delight to be present at the reopening.

Applebaum commented that one of his first encounters with the museum was seeing “struggling young mothers with two kids in strollers making their way up the steps”, expressing his pleasure at this being made a thing of the past. Applebaum explained that the Victorian age saw the opening of museums for public access, with the National Museum’s earlier incarnation being the “College Museum” – a “first window into this museum’s collection”.

Have you any photos of the museum, or its exhibits?

The museum itself is physically connected to the University of Edinburgh’s old college via a bridge which allowed students to move between the two buildings.

Applebaum explained that the museum will, now redeveloped, be used as a social space, with gatherings held in the Grand Gallery, “turning the museum into a social convening space mixed with knowledge”. Continuing, he praised the collections, saying they are “cultural assets [… Scotland is] turning those into real cultural capital”, and the museum is, and museums in general are, providing a sense of “social pride”.

McNeil joined the yellow group on a guided tour round the museum with one of the staff. Climbing the stairs at the rear of the Entrance Hall, the foot of the Window on the World exhibit, the group gained a first chance to see the restored Grand Gallery. This space is flooded with light from the glass ceiling three floors above, supported by 40 cast-iron columns. As may disappoint some visitors, the fish ponds have been removed; these were not an original feature, but originally installed in the 1960s – supposedly to humidify the museum; and failing in this regard. But, several curators joked that they attracted attention as “the only thing that moved” in the museum.

The museum’s original architect was Captain Francis Fowke, also responsible for the design of London’s Royal Albert Hall; his design for the then-Industrial Museum apparently inspired by Joseph Paxton’s Crystal Palace.

The group moved from the Grand Gallery into the Discoveries Gallery to the south side of the museum. The old red staircase is gone, and the Millennium Clock stands to the right of a newly-installed escalator, giving easier access to the upper galleries than the original staircases at each end of the Grand Gallery. Two glass elevators have also been installed, flanking the opening into the Discoveries Gallery and, providing disabled access from top-to-bottom of the museum.

The National Museum of Scotland’s origins can be traced back to 1780 when the 11th Earl of Buchan, David Stuart Erskine, formed the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland; the Society being tasked with the collection and preservation of archaeological artefacts for Scotland. In 1858, control of this was passed to the government of the day and the National Museum of Antiquities of Scotland came into being. Items in the collection at that time were housed at various locations around the city.

On Wednesday, October 28, 1861, during a royal visit to Edinburgh by Queen Victoria, Prince-Consort Albert laid the foundation-stone for what was then intended to be the Industrial Museum. Nearly five years later, it was the second son of Victoria and Albert, Prince Alfred, the then-Duke of Edinburgh, who opened the building which was then known as the Scottish Museum of Science and Art. A full-page feature, published in the following Monday’s issue of The Scotsman covered the history leading up to the opening of the museum, those who had championed its establishment, the building of the collection which it was to house, and Edinburgh University’s donation of their Natural History collection to augment the exhibits put on public display.

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Selection of views of the Grand Gallery Image: Brian McNeil.

Selection of views of the Grand Gallery Image: Brian McNeil.

Selection of views of the Grand Gallery Image: Brian McNeil.

Closed for a little over three years, today’s reopening of the museum is seen as the “centrepiece” of National Museums Scotland’s fifteen-year plan to dramatically improve accessibility and better present their collections. Sir Andrew Grossard, chair of the Board of Trustees, said: “The reopening of the National Museum of Scotland, on time and within budget is a tremendous achievement […] Our collections tell great stories about the world, how Scots saw that world, and the disproportionate impact they had upon it. The intellectual and collecting impact of the Scottish diaspora has been profound. It is an inspiring story which has captured the imagination of our many supporters who have helped us achieve our aspirations and to whom we are profoundly grateful.

The extensive work, carried out with a view to expand publicly accessible space and display more of the museums collections, carried a £47.4 million pricetag. This was jointly funded with £16 million from the Scottish Government, and £17.8 million from the Heritage Lottery Fund. Further funds towards the work came from private sources and totalled £13.6 million. Subsequent development, as part of the longer-term £70 million “Masterplan”, is expected to be completed by 2020 and see an additional eleven galleries opened.

The funding by the Scottish Government can be seen as a ‘canny‘ investment; a report commissioned by National Museums Scotland, and produced by consultancy firm Biggar Economics, suggest the work carried out could be worth £58.1 million per year, compared with an estimated value to the economy of £48.8 prior to the 2008 closure. Visitor figures are expected to rise by over 20%; use of function facilities are predicted to increase, alongside other increases in local hospitality-sector spending.

Proudly commenting on the Scottish Government’s involvement Fiona Hyslop, Cabinet Secretary for Culture and External Affairs, described the reopening as, “one of the nation’s cultural highlights of 2011” and says the rejuvenated museum is, “[a] must-see attraction for local and international visitors alike“. Continuing to extol the museum’s virtues, Hyslop states that it “promotes the best of Scotland and our contributions to the world.

So-far, the work carried out is estimated to have increased the public space within the museum complex by 50%. Street-level storage rooms, never before seen by the public, have been transformed into new exhibit space, and pavement-level access to the buildings provided which include a new set of visitor facilities. Architectural firm Gareth Hoskins have retained the original Grand Gallery – now the first floor of the museum – described as a “birdcage” structure and originally inspired by The Crystal Palace built in Hyde Park, London for the 1851 Great Exhibition.

The centrepiece in the Grand Gallery is the “Window on the World” exhibit, which stands around 20 metres tall and is currently one of the largest installations in any UK museum. This showcases numerous items from the museum’s collections, rising through four storeys in the centre of the museum. Alexander Hayward, the museums Keeper of Science and Technology, challenged attending journalists to imagine installing “teapots at thirty feet”.

The redeveloped museum includes the opening of sixteen brand new galleries. Housed within, are over 8,000 objects, only 20% of which have been previously seen.

  • Ground floor
  • First floor
  • Second floor
  • Top floor

The Window on the World rises through the four floors of the museum and contains over 800 objects. This includes a gyrocopter from the 1930s, the world’s largest scrimshaw – made from the jaws of a sperm whale which the University of Edinburgh requested for their collection, a number of Buddha figures, spearheads, antique tools, an old gramophone and record, a selection of old local signage, and a girder from the doomed Tay Bridge.

The arrangement of galleries around the Grand Gallery’s “birdcage” structure is organised into themes across multiple floors. The World Cultures Galleries allow visitors to explore the culture of the entire planet; Living Lands explains the ways in which our natural environment influences the way we live our lives, and the beliefs that grow out of the places we live – from the Arctic cold of North America to Australia’s deserts.

The adjacent Patterns of Life gallery shows objects ranging from the everyday, to the unusual from all over the world. The functions different objects serve at different periods in peoples’ lives are explored, and complement the contents of the Living Lands gallery.

Performance & Lives houses musical instruments from around the world, alongside masks and costumes; both rooted in long-established traditions and rituals, this displayed alongside contemporary items showing the interpretation of tradition by contemporary artists and instrument-creators.

The museum proudly bills the Facing the Sea gallery as the only one in the UK which is specifically based on the cultures of the South Pacific. It explores the rich diversity of the communities in the region, how the sea shapes the islanders’ lives – describing how their lives are shaped as much by the sea as the land.

Both the Facing the Sea and Performance & Lives galleries are on the second floor, next to the new exhibition shop and foyer which leads to one of the new exhibition galleries, expected to house the visiting Amazing Mummies exhibit in February, coming from Leiden in the Netherlands.

The Inspired by Nature, Artistic Legacies, and Traditions in Sculpture galleries take up most of the east side of the upper floor of the museum. The latter of these shows the sculptors from diverse cultures have, through history, explored the possibilities in expressing oneself using metal, wood, or stone. The Inspired by Nature gallery shows how many artists, including contemporary ones, draw their influence from the world around us – often commenting on our own human impact on that natural world.

Contrastingly, the Artistic Legacies gallery compares more traditional art and the work of modern artists. The displayed exhibits attempt to show how people, in creating specific art objects, attempt to illustrate the human spirit, the cultures they are familiar with, and the imaginative input of the objects’ creators.

The easternmost side of the museum, adjacent to Edinburgh University’s Old College, will bring back memories for many regular visitors to the museum; but, with an extensive array of new items. The museum’s dedicated taxidermy staff have produced a wide variety of fresh examples from the natural world.

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At ground level, the Animal World and Wildlife Panorama’s most imposing exhibit is probably the lifesize reproduction of a Tyrannosaurus Rex skeleton. This rubs shoulders with other examples from around the world, including one of a pair of elephants. The on-display elephant could not be removed whilst renovation work was underway, and lurked in a corner of the gallery as work went on around it.

Above, in the Animal Senses gallery, are examples of how we experience the world through our senses, and contrasting examples of wildly differing senses, or extremes of such, present in the natural world. This gallery also has giant screens, suspended in the free space, which show footage ranging from the most tranquil and peaceful life in the sea to the tooth-and-claw bloody savagery of nature.

The Survival gallery gives visitors a look into the ever-ongoing nature of evolution; the causes of some species dying out while others thrive, and the ability of any species to adapt as a method of avoiding extinction.

Earth in Space puts our place in the universe in perspective. Housing Europe’s oldest surviving Astrolabe, dating from the eleventh century, this gallery gives an opportunity to see the technology invented to allow us to look into the big questions about what lies beyond Earth, and probe the origins of the universe and life.

In contrast, the Restless Earth gallery shows examples of the rocks and minerals formed through geological processes here on earth. The continual processes of the planet are explored alongside their impact on human life. An impressive collection of geological specimens are complemented with educational multimedia presentations.

Beyond working on new galleries, and the main redevelopment, the transformation team have revamped galleries that will be familiar to regular past visitors to the museum.

Formerly known as the Ivy Wu Gallery of East Asian Art, the Looking East gallery showcases National Museums Scotland’s extensive collection of Korean, Chinese, and Japanese material. The gallery’s creation was originally sponsored by Sir Gordon Wu, and named after his wife Ivy. It contains items from the last dynasty, the Manchu, and examples of traditional ceramic work. Japan is represented through artefacts from ordinary people’s lives, expositions on the role of the Samurai, and early trade with the West. Korean objects also show the country’s ceramic work, clothing, and traditional accessories used, and worn, by the indigenous people.

The Ancient Egypt gallery has always been a favourite of visitors to the museum. A great many of the exhibits in this space were returned to Scotland from late 19th century excavations; and, are arranged to take visitors through the rituals, and objects associated with, life, death, and the afterlife, as viewed from an Egyptian perspective.

The Art and Industry and European Styles galleries, respectively, show how designs are arrived at and turned into manufactured objects, and the evolution of European style – financed and sponsored by a wide range of artists and patrons. A large number of the objects on display, often purchased or commissioned, by Scots, are now on display for the first time ever.

Shaping our World encourages visitors to take a fresh look at technological objects developed over the last 200 years, many of which are so integrated into our lives that they are taken for granted. Radio, transportation, and modern medicines are covered, with a retrospective on the people who developed many of the items we rely on daily.

What was known as the Museum of Scotland, a modern addition to the classical Victorian-era museum, is now known as the Scottish Galleries following the renovation of the main building.

This dedicated newer wing to the now-integrated National Museum of Scotland covers the history of Scotland from a time before there were people living in the country. The geological timescale is covered in the Beginnings gallery, showing continents arranging themselves into what people today see as familiar outlines on modern-day maps.

Just next door, the history of the earliest occupants of Scotland are on display; hunters and gatherers from around 4,000 B.C give way to farmers in the Early People exhibits.

The Kingdom of the Scots follows Scotland becoming a recognisable nation, and a kingdom ruled over by the Stewart dynasty. Moving closer to modern-times, the Scotland Transformed gallery looks at the country’s history post-union in 1707.

Industry and Empire showcases Scotland’s significant place in the world as a source of heavy engineering work in the form of rail engineering and shipbuilding – key components in the building of the British Empire. Naturally, whisky was another globally-recognised export introduced to the world during empire-building.

Lastly, Scotland: A Changing Nation collects less-tangible items, including personal accounts, from the country’s journey through the 20th century; the social history of Scots, and progress towards being a multicultural nation, is explored through heavy use of multimedia exhibits.

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Gastric bypass surgery performed by remote control

Sunday, August 21, 2005

A robotic system at Stanford Medical Center was used to perform a laparoscopic gastric bypass surgery successfully with a theoretically similar rate of complications to that seen in standard operations. However, as there were only 10 people in the experimental group (and another 10 in the control group), this is not a statistically significant sample.

If this surgical procedure is as successful in large-scale studies, it may lead the way for the use of robotic surgery in even more delicate procedures, such as heart surgery. Note that this is not a fully automated system, as a human doctor controls the operation via remote control. Laparoscopic gastric bypass surgery is a treatment for obesity.

There were concerns that doctors, in the future, might only be trained in the remote control procedure. Ronald G. Latimer, M.D., of Santa Barbara, CA, warned “The fact that surgeons may have to open the patient or might actually need to revert to standard laparoscopic techniques demands that this basic training be a requirement before a robot is purchased. Robots do malfunction, so a backup system is imperative. We should not be seduced to buy this instrument to train surgeons if they are not able to do the primary operations themselves.”

There are precedents for just such a problem occurring. A previous “new technology”, the electrocardiogram (ECG), has lead to a lack of basic education on the older technology, the stethoscope. As a result, many heart conditions now go undiagnosed, especially in children and others who rarely undergo an ECG procedure.

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On the campaign trail, January 2012

Friday, February 3, 2012

The following is the third in a monthly series chronicling the U.S. 2012 presidential election. It features original material compiled throughout the previous month after a brief mention of some of the month’s biggest stories.

In this month’s edition on the campaign trail, the challengers to President Barack Obama react to the results of the New Hampshire Democratic Party primary, two new political parties choose their first presidential nominees, and an economist who announced his intentions to seek the nomination of Americans Elect answers a few questions for Wikinews.

Contents

  • 1 Summary
  • 2 New Hampshire Democratic Party primary results
  • 3 New parties select presidential nominees
  • 4 Economist running for president
  • 5 Related articles
  • 6 Sources

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Indonesian anti-corruption chief convicted of murder

Friday, February 12, 2010

An Indonesian court has convicted the former head of the country’s anti-corruption agency of murder. The prosecution of Antasari Azhar and three others has been controversial, with some fearing the so-called “Judicial Mafia” played a role.

The Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) already saw a proven plot to discredit it and frame its senior members. Shortly after Azhar’s arrest in May last year police came to take away Bibit Rianto and Chandra Hamzah, two deputy commissioners, to face trial for corruption. The trial, instead, unveiled a plot to convict the men of offences they had not committed. Protests in the street ensued, and locals gave corrupt officials the joint nickname of the “Judicial Mafia”.

The scandal resulted in the resignations of a chief detective and a deputy attorney general; the KPK had begun probing the attorney general’s office and that of the national police. During Azhar’s time as chair the KPK has exposed bribery at the former and prosecuted an in-law relative of the president during the country’s election preparations, with a jail sentence being the result.

The defendants had claimed political elements orchestrated a conspiracy to see the quartet convicted. The judges disagreed, with judge Herri Swantoro telling the court, “Defendant Antasari Azhar has been legitimately proven guilty of participating in persuading the carrying out of a premeditated murder.” The court’s judgement ran to 179 pages.

The case saw the four accused of plotting the March 2009 murder of tycoon Nasruddin Zulkarnaen, shot dead in his car by a motorbike assassin in Jakarta. Zulkarnaen was Azhar’s golfing partner and the businessman was alleged by the prosecution to have been blackmailing the KPK leader, who is a former prosecutor.

Azhar is alleged to have had an affair with one of Zulkarnaen’s wives, a golf caddie. With Zulkarnaen threatening to inform the press and parliament, Azhar is alleged to have plotted murder with several other officials. Police commissioner Wiliardi Wizar was accused of locating the assassins used; he claimed his senior had ordered him to testify he had been told by Azhar to kill Zulkarnaen.

Media mogul Sigid Haryo Wibisono stood accused of financing the contract killing, and businessman Jerry Hermawan Lo of arranging a meeting with the gunmen. All three were convicted alongside Azhar, who received an eighteen-year prison sentence. Wizar was jailed for twelve years, Wibisono for fifteen and Lo for five. All intend to appeal the verdicts.

One person who feels the court got it wrong is a human rights lawyer who defended Bibit and Chandra. “I think that this is all still a mystery,” said Taufik Basari. “I don’t think the judge had all the necessary facts to warrant a verdict of eighteen years.”

Despite the conviction of his relative, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono retained the presidency last June by a landslide majority. Originally elected in 2004, Yudhoyono has used an anti-corruption stance in his campaigns, heaping praise upon the KPK which Azhar was head of from December 2007 until his arrest.

The four new convicts join five men convicted of the murder in December. Alleged to have comprised the gang behind the shooting, they received sentences varying from seventeen to eighteen years imprisonment.

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British military secrets leaked on social networking sites

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Britain’s Ministry of Defence (MoD) has admitted sixteen instances of sensitive information being leaked on social networking websites in the past eighteen months. Ten employees have been disciplined for misuse of the sites. The revelations follow a Freedom of Information request by Lewis PR and computer security company F-Secure.

The MoD would not comment on what disciplinary action was taken, or whether the leaks involved operational information. The ministry’s guidelines state that staff must obtain clearance to release any information that is related to sensitive, controversial or political matters, or military operations.

“It’s worrying that employees in sensitive positions have been sharing confidential information via Twitter and other means,” said Mikko Hypponen, of F-Secure. “Loose Tweets can cost lives.”

According to Lewis PR, computers on the main MoD networks are blocked from visiting social networking sites. However there are a small number within the department which have unrestricted Internet access. Some personnel in Afghanistan and Iraq also have access through internet cafés on military bases.

The ministry’s “online engagement guidelines”, released in August last year, recognise the importance of social media such as Facebook for personnel keeping in touch with friends and family. According to the document: “Service and MOD civilian personnel are encouraged to talk about what they do, but within certain limits to protect security, reputation and privacy.”

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Apple introduces new iPod with video playback capabilities

Thursday, October 13, 2005

On Wednesday, Apple introduced an iPod capable of displaying video, as well as a new video section to the iTunes music store. Apple CEO Steve Jobs believes that this may have a large impact on the film industry, in a similar fashion to that of the impact on the music industry when the iPod first was released.

The new iPod comes in a 30GB edition and a 60GB edition for US$299 and US$399, respectively. On the 30GB iPod, 75 hours of video at a resolution of 320×240 can be stored, and on the 60GB iPod, 150 hours can be stored. Despite these features, people claim that the screen may be too small for people to enjoy. However, iPod owners will be able to purchase an optional S-Video cable for playing video from their iPod on a television.

To help complement the new video section, Apple and ABC have agreed to a deal in which episodes of television programs such as Lost and Desperate Housewives will be available the day after airing for $1.99 per episode. Other plans for the video section involve the animation company Pixar, which was founded by current Apple CEO Steve Jobs. There are also plans to distribute content from Disney, Pixar’s distributor and owner of ABC. In addition, music videos will also be available at the on-line music store for $1.99 each.

The video iPod was announced along with a new model of its iMac G5, which features a remote control that allows the iMac to act as a home media center as well as a normal personal computer. To control media center capabilities, the new iMac is sold with a program called Front Row. Some customers have complained however that this iMac is missing functionality out-of-the-box that allows a user to watch TV on it.

The new iMac also has an Apple iSight digital camera built-in as well as a thinner design than its predecessor.

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Eurovision ’04 winner Ruslana discusses her paths as singer, spokesmodel, stateswoman and source of inspiration

Monday, March 30, 2009

First becoming famous in her native Ukraine in the 1990s, long-haired self-described “AmazonRuslana gained international recognition for winning the 2004 Eurovision Song Contest with her song “Wild Dances,” inspired by the musical traditions of the Hutsul people of the Ukrainian Carpathian Mountains.

In the five years since, Ruslana has decided to use her name and public status to represent a number of worthy causes, including human trafficking, renewable energy, and even the basic concept of democratic process, becoming a public face of Ukraine’s Orange Revolution and later serving in Parliament.

Currently, she is on an international publicity tour to promote her album Wild Energy, a project borne out of a science fiction novel that has come to symbolize her hopes for a newer, better, freer way of life for everyone in the world. She took time to respond to questions Wikinews’s Mike Halterman posed to her about her career in music and her other endeavors.

This is the fifth in a series of interviews with past Eurovision contestants, which will be published sporadically in the lead-up to mid-May’s next contest in Moscow.

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Sallie Mae leads Consumer Financial Protection Bureau complaints about student loans

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

A review this week by Wikinews of US Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) complaints about student loans in the United States shows Sallie Mae leads all lending institutions in complaints. Of the 4,851 complaints dating back to March 2012 when the CFPB first began collecting student loan data, 2,262 or 46.6% of all complaints were about the lender. US Federal Reserve data from 2010/2011 shows Sallie Mae is the nation’s largest student loan lender, responsible for 25% of the market

The other major lenders in this space include Wells Fargo, JP Morgan Chase, PNC, and Discover. In complaints, AES/PHEAA came in second with 546, or 11.3% of all complaints. Wells Fargo, Citibank and JPMorgan Chase each had between 5% and 7.5% of all complaints, totaling 918 complaints between them. 78 other lending institutions round out the list of organizations with complaints filed against them for student loans.

Few of the complaints originate from people with problems with federal student loans. Less than 1%, 35 total, are for these types of loans, with Sallie Mae accounting for the bulk of complaints with 17 total. 14 other lending institutions have 3 or fewer complaints. For non-federal student loans, Sallie Mae is still the leader for complaints, with 2245 or 46.6% of all non-federal student loan complaints.

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau sorts complaints into three issues: Problems when you are unable to pay, Repaying your loan, and Getting a loan. None of the federal loans had complaints about getting a loan. For non-federal loans, 65.5% of the 4,816 complaints related to loan repayment. Sallie Mae led in total complaints in this category with 1467. They were followed by AES/PHEAA with 356, Wells Fargo with 231, Citibank with 201, Discover with 158, JPMorgan Chase with 154, ACS Education Services with 143, and KeyBank NA with 116. CFPB says loan repayment issues include a basket of claim types including “fees, billing, deferment, forbearance, fraud, and credit reporting.” Problems when you are unable pay accounts for 30.8% of the complaints. Sallie Mae had 698 complaints. They were followed by AES/PHEAA with 181, JPMorgan Chase with 106, Wells Fargo with 104, Citibank with 70, and KeyBank NA with 58. Many of the complaints are, according to the CFPB, because borrowers have difficulty getting deferrments on loan repayment as a result of being unable to find employment.

The total complaints against Sallie Mae for September of this year is 2 fewer than the same time last year. The company’s performance this year compared to last year has been mixed. March and June numbers were down over 150 complaints from the same month a year before. April, May, July and August all saw increases of 17–43. Of the top six lenders by volume of complaints, only AES/PHEAA and Citibank saw drops every month between March and September from the total volume in the previous year. Wells Fargo had a gain of 1 in August and 6 in May from the previous year. JPMorgan Chase had a difference of 0 from the same month last year for April, 3 more this year for May, and 4 more for August. Discover saw an increase every month from the same period last year except for September. When the total complaints differences from year to year for March to September are counted, this year has 571 fewer complaints against the top six lenders.

Most, 1470, of the complaints against Sallie Mae were closed with explanations. 10.2% were closed with monetary relief. 7.7% were closed with non-monetary relief. 2.1% were closed with relief and 12.1% were closed without relief. AES/PHEAA’s complaint closure picture was much different. 40.1% of AES/PHEAA’s 546 complaints were closed with non-monetary relief, 35.3% were closed with explanations and 21.2% were closed without relief. Of the eight lending institutions with 100 or more complaints filed against them, Discover was the institution most likely to result in a closure with monetary relief with 12.9% of all their closures ending this way. Citibank was the institution with the highest percentage of closures ending with no relief at 26.0%.

Complaints over student loan lenders were geographically distributed, coming from 3,447 different zip codes. The largest cluster of complaints is for 20001, a Washington D.C. zip code with 10 complaints originating from there. 07950, the zip code for Morris Plains, New Jersey, and 37013, the zip code for Antioch, Tennessee, each had 8 complaints originating from them. Zip codes for Patchogue, New York; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; Washington D.C.; and Arlington, Virginia each had 7 complaints originating from them. By volume of complaints by state, New York led with 497, with California second with 467, Pennsylvania third with 303, Florida fourth with 288 and Ohio fifth with 219 complaints. US Territories largely occupied the bottom spots. The Northern Marianas Islands, with a population of around 50,000, had 1 complaint. The U.S. Armed Forces – Pacific had 3. North Dakota and U.S. Armed Forces – Europe had 5 complaints each. South Dakota had 7. Wyoming had 8. Puerto Rico and Alaska had 9 each. Rounding out the bottom five states by volume of complaints, Mississippi had 11.

With the possibility of a United States government federal shutdown looming on October 1, student loans may be impacted because of potential for an automatic increase in interest rates.

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Furry fans flock to Further Confusion 2007

Tuesday, February 6, 2007

San Jose, California —Cell phones, cigarette lighters and glowsticks are raised in tribute as Circle of Life begins playing. Soon cheers drown out the song as the multicoloured performers appear on stage. A somewhat unusual introduction; but this is no ordinary show, and these are no ordinary attendees. This is Further Confusion, the second largest furry convention in the world.

The volunteer organizers have something to cheer about, too; Furry fans have gathered from far and wide at the DoubleTree Hotel to indulge their love of anthropomorphics, and Further Confusion’s 9th year is its largest, with a paid attendance of 2061. Their gains mirror those of Midwest FurFest, a similar convention held in Schaumburg, Illinois which grew 35% last November.

Both events feature art shows and auctions, live puppetry performance, masquerades, variety shows, games and parades, as well as panels that range from science and technology to society, sex and spirituality. Filling out the schedule, the hotel walls are lined with announcements of public and private room parties for separate groups. At night, the disco floor fills with dancing cats, dogs, and dragons.

For some, dressing up plays a large part of the convention – almost 300 brought a full costume. There are few professional mascots here, though, and only one or two of the costumes would be recognized by even the most avid cartoon-watcher. Instead, each act is planned and performed by other attendees, wearing “fursuits” of their own design. Many play off the year’s secret-agent theme — “Fur Your Eyes Only”.

Other fans seem content to restrict themselves to small accessories — perhaps some combination of paws, ears, or tail. Each fur bears a 3″x2″ badge detailing their personal character, or “fursona“. Often these characters are better-known than the people who play them.

It may seem lighthearted, even frivolous, but these conventions are becoming big business. Furry fans spent over $180,000 for lodging during the five days (Jan 18-22) of Further Confusion, and another $50,000 at the art auction. Attendees also purchase all manner of merchandise from attending dealers and artists, from on-the-spot art commissions and comic books of all ratings to prints, sculptures, and plush toys – even their very own fluffy tail.

Of course, any business has risk, and conventions can drain wallets when the sums just don’t add up. The first furry con, ConFurence in Southern California, ran successfully for over a decade, but cost its new organizer an estimated $60,000 in its last four years due to falling attendance before folding in 2003.

Anthropomorphic Arts and Education board member Peter Torkelson says that won’t happen to Further Confusion. Indeed, the convention ran a healthy surplus of almost $30,000 on $125,000 revenue last year, allowing it to pay off the last of its old debts and save for the future. As Torkelson explains: “The idea is if for some reason, say an earthquake happens, and it cripples the revenue stream, the convention will be able to survive into the next year. It does help our staff to know that we have [a reserve].”

The reserve also gives AAE the financial flexibility to fund charities throughout the year, a big part of its 501(c)(3) mandate. Over the nine years of the convention, attendees have raised over $60,000 for a variety of animal sanctuaries, wildlife refuges, and the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund.

Further Confusion’s hopes for the future are high. Chairwoman Laura Cherry noted that, unlike previous years, the board has “gone all out” for next year’s tenth anniversary, booking as many rooms as the hotel could offer. The host for 2009 has yet to be decided, but for many fans the question was not whether the current hotel will reach a limit, but when – and where – the convention will find a new home.

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Building collapse in Barbados traps family

Sunday, August 26, 2007Miami Dade Fire Rescue, Urban Search and Rescue Florida Task Force 1 Members were on the scene since last night. Search dogs worked the scene all night.

According to current reports, sometime early this morning, an apartment building in Brittons Hill, Barbados fell into a cave below.

Five family members are known to be trapped in the collapse, although reports have not be made as to whether these are the only individuals involved. Rescue workers, as well as several prominent politicians are currently on the scene; two cranes have been deployed to remove debris. Evacuation has occurred, with an extension of this area being discussed.

Miami Dade Police arrived on the scene late Sunday night and are now in a joint effort with the Barbados Defence Force, Barbados Fire Service and Royal Barbados Police Force to rescue possible survivors. Prime Minister Owen Arthur also stated that surveys are currently being conducted to determine the stability of the surrounding area, and only after these reports have been compiled will residents know whether they will be able to return to their homes.

A cadaver dog was sent into the cavern and has identified two areas where there are possible dead bodies. Sadly it is no longer a rescue mission but recovery one.