Archive for April, 2011

10 Tornado Facts That May Save Your Life

Apr 28th, 2011

You don’t need a meteorology degree to understand that tornadoes are serious business. In Arkansas and Alabama this week, violent weather accompanied by tornadoes killed seven people and damaged the property of countless others. Fewer than two weeks earlier, 21 people were killed in North Carolina as dozens of tornadoes wreaked havoc on the area. In order to avoid falling victim to such a disaster, you should be able to anticipate when, where and how one will strike. Hopefully, the following facts (obvious to some) will help you do just that, enhancing your chances of weathering a twister.

  1. Tornadoes travel an average speed of 30 mph, but they can reach 70 mph: In other words, you may have time to take cover once a tornado warning has been issued — note the difference between a tornado watch and tornado warning — but if you encounter one that’s fast approaching, then you better have a plan in place. If you’re at home, find a small, low-lying center room without windows, preferably a basement, and find a safe and sturdy area in which to sit. Cover yourself with thick padding, such as a mattress, in order to avoid falling debris.
  2. The average tornado alert time is 13 minutes: With the use of more advanced technology — such as a NEXRAD, a system of 159 Doppler radars used by the National Weather Service — the average tornado lead time has increased from just a few minutes to 13 minutes, giving people in harm’s way a more legitimate chance to find safety than before. Research has shown that NEXRAD has reduced deaths caused by tornadoes by 45 percent. So when the weather turns sour, stay tuned.
  3. Several signs indicate the development of a tornado: The signs of a developing tornado are fairly obvious and you may already be familiar with them, but it’s important for you to be observant when a watch is issued. Look for a strong rotation in the cloud base, whirling dust and debris beneath the cloud base, an eerie green-colored sky during the daytime, a low-pitched persistent rumble, heavy rain or hail followed by complete calm, and bright blue-green to white flashes at ground level near the storm.
  4. Violent tornadoes cause 70 percent of tornado deaths: Although they only comprise two percent of all tornados, violent tornadoes strike each year, changing and even ending the lives of their unsuspecting victims. With winds exceeding 205 mph and lifetimes exceeding an hour, their paths of destruction are quite extensive. In 1953, for example, a violent tornado ripped through Waco, Texas, killing 114 people and causing severe damage to 600 businesses, 850 homes and 2,000 cars. Today, even with modern preparations, dozens — and sometimes more than 100 — people are killed each year by tornadoes, and many, many more lose their homes. If you live in an area in which violent tornadoes occur, take extreme preparations from the start. For example, choose to live in a low-cost apartment instead of an always-fragile mobile home.
  5. Tornadoes typically occur from 3 p.m. to 9 p.m.: Fortunately, most tornadoes don’t occur in the dead of night when you’re least prepared. Because they often occur in the afternoon, you’ll have to time to take precautions before one potentially strikes. Consider your usual locations during those times — such as home or work — and, as previously mentioned, devise a plan. If you’re in your car for a significant period time in the afternoon — rush hour occurs during that time — find an exit strategy that would enhance your chances of finding safety.
  6. Most tornadoes strike in May: An average of 180 tornadoes strike the U.S. each May, making it the most active month. In May 2003, a record 543 tornadoes were confirmed. April, too, gets its fair share of twisters, as evidenced by the 292 confirmed this year, so we can only imagine what this May will bring. Tornadoes frequently form during the spring because cold air from the Rockies overrides the warm, humid air from the Gulf of Mexico. It’s the only season in which both warm air and cold air are present, which explains why fewer tornadoes are formed during the winter.
  7. Tornadoes can strike during any time of year: While you should remain on heightened alert during the spring, you shouldn’t completely let your guard down during the rest of the year. In December 2010, for example, 44 tornadoes were documented nationwide, 18 of which struck Missouri and Arkansas on New Year’s Eve, killing six people. A couple of those rated as threes (severe) on the 5-point Fujita Scale, boasting winds from 136 to 165 mph. The December record for tornadoes in Missouri is 28, a large number given that it’s a relatively inactive month.
  8. Florida is the state with the most annual tornadoes per 10,000 square miles: Historically, Texas has the most tornadoes annually because of its size — Tornado Alley encompasses much of the state’s central portion and basically its entire northern portion including the panhandle. A more effective measure of how prone a state is to tornadoes, however, is annual tornadoes by square miles. On that chart, Florida comes in first, followed by Oklahoma, Indiana, Iowa and Kansas. Of course, three of the latter four are in tornado alley while Florida is on the warm waters of the Atlantic, where tropical storms and hurricanes are common. Although the Sunshine State’s tornadoes are typically of the weaker variety, residents should always be prepared.
  9. Oklahoma City is the city that has endured the most tornadoes: Located in the heart of Tornado Alley, Oklahoma City has endured more than 100 tornadoes since residents began taking count. The figure is inexact because reporting practices and the city limits have changed, but the frequency at which they strike is certainly high. For example, five were spotted during the infamous 1999 Oklahoma tornado outbreak that included 66 tornadoes over Oklahoma and Kansas between May 3 and 6. Most notably, one of the five was a violent F5 with winds measured at 300 mph, the fastest ever recorded. It caused 36 direct fatalities (41 indirect fatalities) and 583 direct injuries, and destroyed 1,800 homes. Live in a tornado-prone city like OKC? Make sure you home is as safe as possible, practice drills with your family and take the threat seriously.
  10. Tornadoes are often accompanied by flash floods, lightning, damaging winds and hail: It’s common sense, but such occurrences can be forgotten once a tornado warning has been issued. Keep in mind that flash floods are considered the deadliest severe form weather, causing 146 deaths per year. Additionally, lightning kills 75 to 100 people each year and hail causes hundreds of millions of dollars in damages to property and crops each year. Don’t use all of your resources for hurricane preparations when there are other potentially life-altering and deadly dangers.

9 Embarrassing Facts That Could End Trump’s Presidential Run

Apr 21st, 2011

Donald Trump: merely saying the name is enough to make most people laugh, cringe, or shake their heads in confusion. No matter what else he’s achieved, he’s never been the kind of person you take seriously, which is something that’s going to come back to bite him sooner than he’d probably like, now that he’s toying with the idea of running for president. (Yeah, of the United States.) Like it or not, he’s got a past that could kindly be called colorful. It doesn’t matter how much he or others might dislike President Obama; Trump’s got too much baggage to get further than testing the waters. Need proof? Enjoy this walking tour through his life, complete with awkward moments, personal failures, and generally demeaning life choices. As much as he’d like to hear the voters say "You’re hired," it’s guaranteed to go the other way.

  1. He’s had three wives: Presidents have typically been men on their first and only marriage, with only a handful having had past wives. What’s more, almost all of those men were widowed before remarrying: Woodrow Wilson, John Tyler, and Benjamin Harrison all saw their wives die while they were in office, while Teddy Roosevelt’s first wife died years before he was elected. Ronald Reagan has been the only divorced president ever to hold the office, having divorced Jane Wyman in 1949 and marrying Nancy Davis in 1952. Trump, though, is currently on his third wife. He was married to Ivana from 1977 to 1992, and after that it was Marla Maples for a few years. Since 2005, it’s been Melania, more than 20 years his junior. That track record of swapping out wives for newer models is old hat for high-powered businessmen and movie stars, but it won’t play well with voters looking for someone with stability. Like it or not, America wants a mostly normal family man in the Oval Office, and Trump’s far from it. The tabloid fodder from his earlier relationships is almost enough to tank his campaign single-handedly.
  2. He’s been in debt for billions: Spending is always a hot topic in Washington — the federal government recently came within spitting distance of a shutdown over the budget — which makes the idea of Trump leading the country a laughable one. He used junk bonds to pay for the construction of the Taj Mahal in Atlantic City, and in 1991 he slid into business bankruptcy so massive he almost had to file a similar status for his personal holdings. His personal debt was $900 million at one point, which is the same as this year’s annual budget for the "food" portion of the Food and Drug Administration. That’s right: Trump’s personal debt was enough to power a government agency. His business debt soared past $3 billion, too, and he wound up dismantling much of his businesses to stay afloat. Again, that might fly in financial circles, but that reckless approach to spending is the easiest way to drive the nation further into a recession.
  3. He rents out his name: Donald Trump puts his name on every building he creates, usually in type big enough to read for blocks. He definitely wants you to remember whose building you’re in when you’re at his hotels or casinos. But it turns out that Trump also lends his to other developers who slap "TRUMP" up on the building and cut The Donald a check for his trouble. It boggles the mind to think of the President of the United States as a man who’s engaged in licensing deals on the level of Happy Meals. This is the kind of crass commercialism that feels so empty it makes Washington look like Peoria. If he were to get elected, would he put his name on the White House? Would he rent out the presidential seal to the highest bidder?
  4. He runs beauty pageants: Trump is a joint owner with NBC Universal of the Miss Universe Organization, which runs the Miss Universe (duh), Miss USA, and Miss Teen USA beauty pageants. To say the least, this is probably not the message that the leader of the free world should send to his nation’s young women, especially as that nation tries to compete in a global economy and catch up with other superpowers who are beating it in the education arena. It’s not like presidents have avoided entertainment media — Reagan was, after all, an actor and head of the Screen Actors Guild before entering the business world — but there’s a world of difference between making some movies and producing beauty pageants. This is the 21st century, after all, and staged pageants feel hopelessly 1950s.
  5. He advocates conspiracy theories: How did Trump even start polling so well in the first place? By being certifiably bonkers. Like, raisin cakes, full-tilt, crayola crayons out of the box nuts. He did this by claiming that President Obama was not a U.S. citizen, despite the fact that this conspiracy theory has been debunked time and again. The birther claims are now so derided that they can’t even get footing on Fox News: Bill O’Reilly slammed Trump for trying to kick up dirt that isn’t there. Trump is trying to get ahead by scoring points in the very short term with some very unhinged people. That’s no way to govern, and it’ll do nothing but make him look bad.
  6. He can never make up his mind: Maturing over time is natural, as is the evolution of certain opinions or worldviews. But Trump’s statements about social topics like gays and abortion don’t play like the thoughts of a man who’s reasoned out how he feels so much as they come off as sound bites that have been manufactured to ride whatever zeitgeist Trump needed to succeed at the time. When he was kicking the tires on a Reform Party bid for the presidency in the 2000 race, he went on record as being "strongly pro-choice," though he’s now pro-life. Similarly, though he once agreed with the idea of extending marriage rights to gay couples, he’s now changed his mind. Trump’s actions don’t feel like those of a man defining himself but redefining himself, and doing so to capture a narrow but vocal slice of the electorate.
  7. He does not, evidently, own a mirror: Seriously: something has to be done about his hair. He’s 64 years old, and he’s far too successful to need to care about the fact that he’s losing some of his hair. Sporting a comb-over that starts in the air to the left side of his head is not an appropriate look for a man considering holding the highest office in the land; he looks, well, like a game-show host. This isn’t a facetious complaint, either. It doesn’t seem unreasonable for the American people to ask their commander-in-chief to go gray or bald with dignity. Trump’s astounding ‘do just looks weird (and could very well be a double-comb-over), but more than that, it looks cheap. There’s no way he’d make it past the primary without having to fess up to the secret of its creation.
  8. Everything that’s happened on The Apprentice: It’s weird to think about, but The Apprentice actually started out as a halfway-decent reality show. (Faint praise, but still.) The goal was to find a legitimate businessperson to work with Trump, and that’s what the series did. By the seventh season, though, any pretense of originality or excitement was abandoned, and the show was turned into a dumping ground in which lower-echelon celebrities shouted at each other while ostensibly raising money for charity but usually trying to promote their own side ventures. Again, not to overuse Reagan, but he’s a good counterpoint here: Reagan co-starred with a chimp in Bedtime for Bonzo but managed to reinvent himself and bring some gravitas to the White House. But Trump’s a ringleader for C-list catfights. It doesn’t matter that some of them are now endorsing him, either. This isn’t just embarrassing; it’s disqualifying.
  9. He’s tried and failed to run before: Trump’s recent surge in quasi-popularity feels very much tied to this moment in our culture, likely because he got there by spreading stories about Obama. But it’s important to remember that this isn’t Trump’s first time to make noises about running for president, and he wasn’t remotely successful in the past. He’s becoming something of a perennial upstart, fanning the flames of fringe voters early in the process before the real candidates step up to the plate. This is probably Trump’s biggest failure: as with all things, he’s not really serious, even though he tries to be and clearly wants to be taken that way by the people. His runs at a presidential campaign are merely part of a broader media blitz to expand his fortune and empire. He doesn’t want to govern, he just wants to be in charge. This is something that many, many reporters will have no trouble making clearer as time passes, and as Trump’s chances for any real connection with voters dwindle into nothing. It doesn’t matter how much he wants it; this is one job interview he’ll never survive.

10 Things Wrong With the MPAA Rating System

Apr 20th, 2011

The Motion Picture Association of America’s ratings system exists in a paradox: the classifications, originally intended to help parents, have now become a label that has more to do with marketing than responsible film viewing, and though they were originally created to keep Hollywood product from being censored by local, state, or federal offices, they wind up having the same chilling effect as classical censorship. It’s a tricky area to navigate, to say the least, but on the whole it’s easy to see that the MPAA rating system, overseen by the Classification & Rating Administration (CARA), is deeply flawed and almost comically unable to do anything it actually sets out to do. Instead of providing a helpful guide to parents, the ratings are often ignored altogether. They wind up hurting films that need help, and they promote films that should probably come with a warning label. They’re backward just about any way you want to look at it. Need more proof? Read on:

  1. Ratings creep: "Ratings creep" is a movie wonk term that refers to the grade inflation along the different movie ratings, specifically the fact that current movies in a given rating classification contain more violence, sexuality, and similar adult material than films of the same rating in an earlier era. What’s more, a given rating category is so broad that it becomes instantly clear that not all ratings are created equal. The Dark Knight was rated PG-13 for "intense sequences of violence and some menace," which is a pretty polite way of talking about a relentlessly bleak film in which, for example, the hero drops a villain from a short height just to hear his legs break. The film was geared for adults, but it was given the PG-13 label, which has slid from meaning "parents strongly cautioned" to "good for everyone over 12." There’s so much elasticity in the ratings that it’s impossible to hold them all to the same standard.
  2. Violence is permitted…: Kirby Dick’s phenomenal documentary This Film Is Not Yet Rated is a fantastic look at the troubling aspects of the rating system, as well as a metafictional object lesson: because he wants to use scenes from NC-17 movies in his documentary, Dick is unable to barter down the rating to an R, so he puts it out without a rating. One of the film’s many compelling arguments is that violent acts are viewed with increasing leniency by the MPAA and CARA. For instance, Eli Roth’s Hostel, one of the leading entries in the torture-porn genre that boomed a few years back, is rated R for "brutal scenes of torture and violence, strong sexual content, language and drug use." Instead of the stronger NC-17, which prohibits anyone under 17 from getting in, the film earned the same R that went to The King’s Speech (which used the F-word one too many times). Adult dramas are given the same label as blood-fests like Kill Bill. So if violence gets more of a pass, what does the MPAA focus on? Good question.
  3. …While sex isn’t: The short version is that human sexuality almost always gets an NC-17 rating (which is problematic for reasons we’ll get into in a minute) while instances of graphic violence are given a more widely tolerated R. What’s more, sex in fantasy or horror situations gets a pass, while more realistic sex (which is still, let’s remember, not actually happening but being simulated for the camera) gets hit with an NC-17 unless the filmmaker trims the scene. The fall of 2010 offered a perfect example. Black Swan, Darren Aronofsky’s fever dream about mutants, fingernails, and the deadly pursuit of perfection, was rated R even though it featured an oral sex scene between Natalie Portman and Mila Kunis. Meanwhile, the depressing drama Blue Valentine, which featured similar scenes between Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams, was originally branded with an NC-17 and took emphatic appeals from the Weinstein Company to earn an R. Same act. Same year. Different rating. And all because one was within the narrative framework of a fantasy and the other was intended to be real.
  4. Language gets a knee-jerk rating: The MPAA’s rules are worth quoting here: "A motion picture’s single use of one of the harsher sexually-derived words, though only as an expletive, initially requires at least a PG-13 rating. More than one such expletive requires an R rating, as must even one of those words used in a sexual context." What this means is that the appearance of the F-word as an expletive (e.g., "This is a good f***ing hot dog.") will automatically earn the film a PG-13, and the use of the F-word in any formulation or relation to a sex act (e.g., "F*** you.") automatically garners an R. There are very occasional exceptions to this rule — Ron Burgundy got away with it — but for the most part, the use of the F-word automatically gets the R. In other words, mainstream dramas like The King’s Speech that are devoid of sex or violence but that feature even a fleeting instance of bad language are given the same rating as The Human Centipede. Parents are told to exercise the same caution and restraint with showing both films to their kids. That’s a horribly inept application of a rule meant to help parents. It’s supposed to make things clearer, but it only makes them more obscure.
  5. Double-standards for smaller studios: Smaller production companies and distributors often have a tougher time appealing what they feel is a harsh or prohibitive rating. In 2010, the documentary A Film Unfinished was given an R rating for its archival footage of Jewish prisoners, some nude, in Nazi death camps in World War II. Despite the fact that this was historical news footage with not a shred of intended sexual titillation, the ratings board gave the film an R, making it tougher (if not impossible) to be distributed to classrooms as an educational tool. The small distributor, Oscilloscope (founded by the Beastie Boys’ Adam Yauch), argued that the film was a valuable teaching tool and on par with what children see when they visit Holocaust museums, but the MPAA didn’t budge. Another good example: Orgazmo, an independent comedy from South Park‘s Trey Parker and Matt Stone, was rated NC-17 for "explicit sexual content and dialogue," while Scary Movie, which came out a couple years later and actually featured a scene in which a woman is blasted and glued to the ceiling by her lover’s copious orgasm, was rated R for "strong crude sexual humor, language, drug use and violence." But the latter was put out by Dimension Films, a division of Disney. They can throw their weight around and get away with it.
  6. The guidelines are secret: Aside from a few stated rules about F-words getting automatic R or PG-13 ratings, the actual rules of how the CARA arrives at a rating are unspecified. The members of the ratings board use what one presumes is their own judgment and a sense of whimsy to arrive at a given rating for a film; how else to explain that a horror film like The Ring earned a PG-13 while Frost/Nixon earned an R? Then there are films like 1996′s Twister, which earned a PG-13 for — and this is true — "intense depiction of very bad weather." You can look it up. Without transparency, the ratings board and their processes will remain shrouded in mystery to any and all who want to know just how and why they classify films the way they do.
  7. The members of the ratings board are anonymous: Another issue explored in This Film Is Not Yet Rated is that the ratings board is anonymous. It’s impossible to think of another non-governmental group with this much commercial clout and influence on moviegoers, period, let alone one that keeps their membership list a secret. The CARA site offers a series of FAQs about the group; the question about who rates the movies is answered with the flip, "Parents do." It goes on to say that the board members "represent a diversity of American parents" who are tasked with determining what "would be the majority view of their fellow parents" in determining what’s appropriate. Kirby Dick’s film saw him hire a private investigator who dug through trash and conducted stakeouts to suss out the identities of the board, and they were partly successful, but since board members don’t serve more than five years and the film came out in 2005, we’re back to square one. What’s the harm in being open and honest? Does the CARA think the studios would assault or harm these people?
  8. It tries to replace parental guidance: The ratings system was originally conceived to offer parents a guide to what a film might contain and the ways it might be found offensive to them or inappropriate to children of a certain age. But the system now often works against that goal by prohibiting entrance of minors to certain films regardless of a parent’s wishes. An R rating means that viewers under 17 have to have a parent or guardian with them to see the film in the theater, ignoring the fact that sometimes a parent or guardian might want to buy their child a ticket to the film and then leave, shop, or see another movie entirely. The child still has the parent’s OK to see the movie, but the theater won’t seat them for fear of breaking the rules set out by the MPAA and the National Association of Theatre Owners. Similarly, what if a parent or guardian wants to take their mature and discerning 16-year-old to see something that’s rated NC-17, as Blue Valentine originally would have been? That’s the parent’s choice. The MPAA ratings are a guide, not a rule, and barring an older teen from a seeing a movie even if they have their parent’s permission is a legislative overreach.
  9. They’re so broad and inaccurate that they get ignored: The 2011 release The Roommate (a warmed-over version of Single White Female) was rated PG-13, which would seem to indicate that it’s a lighter horror flick that emphasizes jump scares over gore. But the film actually featured a scene in which an animal is cruelly killed, something that feels far more adult and worrisome (and is tougher for many to watch) than what you’d find in a boilerplate thriller. This is one of the broader problems with the rating system: each grade covers so many films that are so different that the ratings get ignored by just about everyone who doesn’t have small children. The ratings also emphasize a standard pack of bugaboos without getting into specifics, which makes them almost meaningless unless you roll the dice and watch the movie to find out what’s in it. What’s the point of a warning label that doesn’t tell you what’s inside the package?
  10. It’s a non-censorship type of censorship: The NC-17 is essentially a kiss of death for a film. Most media outlets won’t advertise NC-17 movies, and though services like Netflix are willing to stock and stream unrated or NC-17 films, for years Blockbuster and Hollywood Video refused to stock them. In other words, filmmakers are free to make a film that’s NC-17, but it won’t get booked in theaters, advertised in media, or stocked by video or retail outlets. This means it’s in a studio’s best interests to cut an NC-17 down to an R, which means appealing harsh ruling decisions or just complying with requested changes that get into all the problem areas above, like trimming a few frames from normal sex scenes, editing out brief expletives from otherwise dry adult dramas, and so on. This is really the worst and most damaging part of the system: rather than alert parents to a film’s content, it forces filmmakers to tailor their product to fit the changing demands of an anonymous board of critics who have the power to keep the film from being seen by a wide audience. It’s time for a change. The system needs to evolve or die.

10 Ways to Tell if You’re Dealing with a Diploma Mill

Apr 17th, 2011

Almost everyone goes to college for the same reason: to prepare for their future career. Of course, it is also about expanding your mind, challenging yourself, and meeting new people, but in the end it comes down to being qualified for the job that you really want. In today’s society, online degrees are more common than ever. Consequently, "diploma mills" are also more common than ever. A diploma mill will go to great lengths to appear legitimate, making it very difficult to differentiate the scams from accredited online universities. And while the internet boasts thousands of institutions for higher learning, it also houses thousands of con artists. Diploma mills cheat you out of your money and your academic goals. While diploma mills can be tricky, there are several ways you can avoid them. An online education offers many benefits a traditional education cannot. Here’s how you can get the online education you desire without getting scammed:

  1. Check for Accreditation: To ensure that the online universities you are interested in are legitimate, you must research them thoroughly. The first step is to check to see that the institution is an accredited online university. The U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Postsecondary Education maintains a database of accredited schools. Go to this site and check to see if the institution you are considering is on the list. Only schools that provide proper educational degrees can become accredited. If the school that you are interested in is not among the institutions listed by the Department of Education, you will need to do some further investigating. If government education agencies have never heard of the program, then the program is probably a scam. If it isn’t clearly stated whether the school is accredited or not, there is no way to be sure that your coursework will count towards a true degree. While accreditation is the first thing to look for in an online program, your research into the school should not stop there. Also, be weary of schools that use terms like "licensed" or "state authorized" rather than displaying legitimate accreditation.
  2. Research the Accrediting Agency: While checking for accreditation is the first step to confirming the legitimacy of an online institution, diploma mills can be very sneaky. Even a school that claims accreditation and provides evidence from an accrediting agency can be fraudulent. Be sure to research the accrediting agency that the institution lists. Unfortunately, diploma mills often work closely with "accreditation mills". These accreditation mills pose as official accreditation agencies and are often very difficult to distinguish from the real thing. Any legitimate accrediting agency will be recognized by either the U.S. Department of Education or the Council for Higher Education Accreditation.
  3. Check Contact Information: A big red flag should go up in your mind when an online institution’s website does not provide thorough contact information. A real educational institution (online or otherwise) will offer advisors and customer service representatives who can answer any questions you may have about the school or degree program. One of your first steps should be contacting the school to ask them questions about the program and receive a virtual tour of the institution. Diploma mills will likely only list one phone number to contact them at or provide only a fax number (always a terrible sign). Try to speak with a live person and get as much contact information as you can. Keep in mind that it takes a lot of people to run a university. If the university is legitimate there should be plenty of people to talk to and address your concerns.
  4. Roaming Addresses: In addition to verifying contact information for an online institution, you should also investigate an institution’s address. If the school changes their address from one state to another often, this is a serious warning sign. Also, if the school only provides a post office box number with no physical location for the school headquarters, you are likely dealing with a scam. If a physical address is provided for the institution, look up that address on the internet and verify that it is truly the address of an online education provider. Diploma mills have one objective: to get your money. A school that only offers a post office box is hoping you will mail them a check and then have no way of locating them.
  5. Check the Better Business Bureau: Another great way to identify a diploma mill is by checking for complaints to the Better Business Bureau. Although we may not realize it, universities are businesses who work for profit. You obtain an education at the cost of a (sometimes hefty) fee. Because online universities are businesses, they are evaluated by the Better Business Bureau. The U.S. Better Business Bureau is a corporation that is dedicated to gathering and reporting information on business reliability. The BBB alerts the public to frauds businesses have committed and provide information on ethical business practices. Check with the Better Business Bureau in the university’s area to see if there have been any complaints about the institution. Obviously, if there are complaints to the Better Business Bureau about invalid diplomas or internet fraud, then you should seek a different institution for your educational purposes.
  6. Alumni Information: Another important aspect of a college degree program is the alumni connections made through an institution. When choosing an online degree program, search for references from the college’s alumni. Most universities are more than willing to provide prospective students with references from former students. As mentioned earlier, because universities are businesses they should try to "sell" the school to you. They should be more than happy to supply you with positive alumni references. Obviously, diploma mills posing as legitimate institutions will not have a list of happy former customers.
  7. Odd Application Process: One of the most obnoxious parts of entering the world of higher education is the application process. With cover letters, essays, test scores, and academic records, applying to college can be a very tedious process. An institution’s application process can be a huge clue into determining whether that institution is a sham or not. If the school’s only acceptance requirement is a credit card number, then you should be very cautious. If it seems like you are buying your diploma, you probably are buying your diploma and nothing more. Another way to determine that an online college is illegitimate is if the degree program costs a flat fee, rather than paying for each course. Institutions like this want to get as much money out in one sitting before you have the chance to realize that you are being cheated. Moreover, if the application process does not ask for any testing scores or other educational background you should seek a different online program.
  8. Negative Reviews: In today’s world, there is no limit to the number of places you can go online to complain about things. While most people stick to complaining on their Facebook statues, there are also tons of forums and blogs dedicated to discussing short fallings. When researching an online degree program, look for online forums or blogs that discuss the institution. If there are negative reviews of the school, then you should look more closely into the school’s legitimacy. Now, don’t be scared off if there are some posts about how difficult a professor or class is (these are not the complaints that we mean). But, if there are numerous complaints concerning the validity of the school, you should be concerned. Furthermore, if you do research and are unable to find any forums or blogs discussing the institution you are interested in, you should beware. If you are the only person who has heard of this online education program, it is likely that the program is a scam.
  9. Sounds Too Good To Be True: As we all know, earning a college degree takes time and energy. Part of what you gain from a college education is the gratification of working hard and accomplishing your goals. So, if a degree program sounds really easy, it probably isn’t real. Diploma mills will offer degree programs that boast easy classes and fast results. Although earning a degree online offers several advantages, it is not a shortcut to a fast degree. While some online degree programs may be shorter than traditional ones, no degree can be earned in a matter of days or even weeks. Furthermore, if credit is offered for "real world" experience, you are likely dealing with a diploma mill. You should also be cautious of institutions that offer degree programs for significantly less money than most other institutions. Diploma mills offering degrees for cheap are hoping that potential students will be too excited by the insanely low cost to check the school’s credentials.
  10. Poor Quality Website: Another key insight into the legitimacy of an online college is the quality of its website. If the marketing material displayed on the website has several spelling or grammatical errors, it is most likely a fake educational institution. Furthermore, if the school’s URL does not end in .edu, you should look more closely into the school’s credentials. Most legitimate educational organizations have websites ending with .edu. Also, you should carefully evaluate the name of the institution you are interested in. If the institution’s name is very similar (but not identical) to the name of a well-known university, you may be dealing with a scam. Some fraudulent companies will change minor details of the name of the institution like putting "college" when the well-known school is "university". For example, hopeful students may think they are enrolling at "Boston College Online" when really they are really enrolling at "Boston University Online".

History’s 10 Most Bloodthirsty Rulers

Apr 11th, 2011

Unfortunately, the worst of humanity is often exhibited by those with the most power. Whether their reign is passed down through bloodlines or it’s obtained through violent uprisings, half of the ensuing battle is maintaining control and ensuring no further changes are made — hence the need to create a personality cult. When that fails, civilians can be faced with years-long civil wars, mass murder or genocide, and if such humanitarian crises occur, they can only pray outside intervention quells the bloodshed. The fact of the matter is, although society has evolved at a rapid rate in recent centuries, we’re still prone to reverting back to our primal desires for power and security. The 10 bloodthirsty rulers below are proof of that.

  1. Mao Zedong, 1st Chairman of the Communist Party of China: It’s difficult to imagine that someone who may have been responsible for up to 80 million deaths is held in such high regard in his native land, but that’s what happens when you successfully forge a personality cult. There are a few infamous instances in which Mao caused the demise of scores of Chinese, most notably with his first political campaign, the Campaign to Suppress Counterrevolutionaries, along with the Great Leap Forward and Cultural Revolution. The Great Leap Forward, an effort to modernize China’s economy, resulted in an estimated 40 million deaths. The Cultural Revolution, a social movement intended to squash capitalist elements, was facilitated after the failure of the policies of the Great Leap Forward, and only worsened the death toll.
  2. Joseph Stalin, General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union: Another power-drunk communist leader, more reckless policies. Stalin assumed the role of General Secretary in 1922, and immediately consolidated power and implemented his economic plan, which entailed industrialization and resulted in the greatest famine in human history (1932 and ’33). In 1937, he oversaw the Great Purge, in which he ridded the government and the rest of Soviet society of suspected saboteurs and traitors. Memorably, the costliest theater of World War II occurred in the Soviet Union and much of the damage was done after Germany violated their non-aggression pact — it took about 24 million Soviet deaths to stave off the Nazis.
  3. Pol Pot, Prime Minister of Democratic Kampuchea: Pol Pot ascended to power in Cambodia during America’s involvement in the region. Also the General Secretary of the Communist Party of Kampuchea, he cleansed the countryside in an effort to start anew, killing up to 2.5 million people, 21 percent of the country’s population, due to starvation, extremely arduous labor, primitive medical care and the killings of enemies and suspected enemies. His ill-conceived agrarian socialism plan, which forced urban dwellers to work in the countryside, only further crippled the economy and limited the length of his reign of terror.
  4. Adolf Hitler, Fuhrer of Germany: With an ideology that led to the world’s greatest war and tens of millions of deaths, Hitler is perhaps the most despised man in human history. His ideology of Aryan superiority and mission to obtain a region exclusively for the race to reside, Lebensraum, resulted in the killing and enslaving of Slavs and an attempt to systematically exterminate the Jews. The Holocaust eliminated two-thirds of the European Jewish population — most people starved, died while participating in intense labor or were executed in structures such as gas chambers and ovens. Seventeen million deaths occurred under his reign — such inhumanity in the Western world is difficult to imagine today.
  5. Leopold II of Belgium, Ruler and Owner of Congo Free State: Crooked rulers tend to choose titles that indicate the opposite of what’s true. Leopold II privately owned and oversaw the inappropriately named Congo Free State, and treated it as his own possession, using its resources to expand his personal wealth. He ignored conditions established at the Berlin Conference that called for the free trade and the natives to be modernized. Instead, he forced the natives to work as his personal slaves in the formation of a profitable rubber industry. The number of people who died as a result is hard to measure, but some have estimated the figure is 15 million.
  6. Hideki Tojo, Prime Minister and Army Minister of Japan: Executed as a war criminal after Japan’s unconditional surrender in 1945, Tojo waged unnecessary wars and caused millions of deaths in China, Indochina and the Philippines. As the Prime Minister of Japan and Army Minister, among several other titles, he supported militarism and nationalism and advocated eugenics. In America and much of the West, he’s remembered for authorizing the mistreatment and killings of tens of thousands of Allied POWs. Some historians consider him responsible for five million deaths.
  7. Ismail Enver, General and Minister of War of Ottoman Empire: Enver’s quick rise to power came as a result of his ability to organize and lead his military. However, he suffered a crushing defeat at the hands of the Russians in the Armenian Highlands after allying with the Central Powers in World War I. Subsequently, he oversaw the systematic destruction of the Armenian population with massacres and forced deportations that led them into areas where they had no chance to survive. The event gave birth to the term genocide, and is often overshadowed by the more costly Holocaust. More than one million Armenians died.
  8. Kim Il-sung, President of North Korea: Father of modern day Supreme Leader of North Korea Kim Jong-Il , Kim Il-sung was the original leader of communist North Korea. He initiated the Korean War, which led to the split of Korea, and strengthened his control over the nation by winning the trust of his people and claiming the U.S. spread diseases through the country’s population. In addition to lying, he conducted purges like Stalin did in the Soviet Union in order to forcefully ensure he was supported, putting suspected saboteurs and traitors in prison camps. His leadership resulted in more than a million needless deaths.
  9. Mengistu Haile Mariam, Chairman of the Derg and Head of State of Ethiopia: As the leader of the Derg, a communist militia, Mengistu notably fought resistance from the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Party and other revolutionaries in the Red Terror by systematically murdering them in 1977 and ’78. Tens of thousands of Ethiopians died during the period, including thousands of children. Overall, during his reign, hundreds of thousands were killed due to internal and external conflicts.
  10. Omar Hassan al-Bashir, President of Sudan: The recent conflict in Darfur, which has taken up to 400,000 lives, has been well-documented, and al-Bashir has been in the middle of it. In 2010, he was accused by the International Code Council (ICC) of "genocide by killing, genocide by causing serious bodily or mental harm and genocide by deliberately inflicting on each target group conditions of life calculated to bring about the group’s physical destruction." Still in power, one can only hope he doesn’t inflict further significant damage.