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25 Best Places to Retire

Oct 16, 2012

Whether you dream of retiring to a big city, small town, resort area or college town, these great places offer reasonably priced homes, low crime and tax rates, quality health care, and more.

Did You Know It Doesn’t Actually Snow in Subtropical Sochi?

Russia will host the 2014 Winter Olympics in the balmy seaside city of Sochi. And with more than $50 billion spent on them, they will be the most expensive Olympics ever. With the opening ceremony just under three weeks away, here's a quick rundown on the Florida of Russia.

Sochi is Russia’s sunshine destination

Sochi is about as far as you can get from the sprawling snow-covered steppes of the popular imagination. A 37-hour train ride from Moscow, it's located in Russia’s deep south, on the Black Sea, and boasts palm trees, pebble beaches and sulfur hot springs that were once frequented by “Soviet leaders, acclaimed cosmonauts, actors and other members of the Soviet jet set”, according to the Sochi Project. There is no snow in the city of Sochi itself. That doesn't present problems for indoor events like figure skating or curling, but for Alpine sports like skiing, athletes will have to travel to Krasnaya Polyana in the Caucasus Mountains, a few dozen miles away. Organizers are also depending on 500 snow guns and 710,000 cubic meters of snow taken from the mountains last winter and kept in storage.

Did you say Caucasus? Isn't that a conflict zone?

The Winter Games will be held in close proximity to the restive North Caucasus region where bitter insurgencies in Chechnya and the republics of Dagestan and Ingushetia have led to armed rebellion and terrorist attacks in the Russian interior.

"I, from the very beginning, found it very ambitious to decide to [hold the] Olympics in such a close proximity to the most active insurgency crisis in Europe," Ekaterina Sokirianskaia, the North Caucasus project director for the International Crisis Group, told NPR during a recent interview.

Less than a month ago, suicide bombers in Volgograd (approximately 400 miles from Sochi) killed more than 30 people. Amid ongoing threats from insurgents and to prevent terrorists from targeting the Games, Russian officials have established what amounts to martial law in the area and have sent more than 30,000 police officers and Interior Ministry troops to provide security.

Oh yeah, and that genocide

While active insurgencies might be a current reality that worries officials and spectators alike, the area also has a tragic and violent past. According to Reuters, the Winter Games in Sochi will coincide with the 150th anniversary of the expulsion of Muslim Circassians from the Black Sea coast that resulted in the estimated deaths of 1.5 million people. Circassians living in the U.S. have staged demonstrations to protest the I.O.C.’s decision to host the games in Sochi.

You may not want to be alone in Sochi, ever

If the security situation leaves you feeling nervous, no problem. Sochi's planners have made it possible for you to have company at all times, as shown in this photo snapped by BBC journalist Steve Rosenberg, who is inspecting the Games’ sites prior to the opening ceremony.

https://twitter.com/BBCSteveR/statuses/425247559934676992">

And these types of toilets don’t come cheap. According to opposition leader Alexei Navalny, the restroom facilities at the Sochi Olympics media center alone cost around 1.5 billion rubles, or $45 million, to build.

So where is everybody?

With less than three weeks to go until the opening cermony of the Winter Games commences, there are still 300,000 tickets still available. The Sochi 2014 organizing committee remains hopeful of a late rush. “We are expecting strong last-minute ticket sales and do not envisage having empty seats,” organizing committee chief Dmitry Chernyshenko told AP.

But why bother leaving your couch?

In the U.S., NBC will be providing more than 1539 hours worth of coverage of the event across six different platforms. And if one were to do the math that’s 64 days worth of Winter Olympics, which is quite a bit of coverage considering the Sochi Games will take place over a 17-day period from Feb. 6 to the 23. So if you’re worried that slalom skiing final might interrupt with the men’s half-pipe semis during the opening round of curling, fear not NBC likely has you covered.

DVDs, Pizza, Porn: How One Video Store Chain Stays in Business

Last fall, when Blockbuster announced it would close the last of its storefronts, it seemed to officially end the era of the physical video rental model. Family Video, the country's largest operational video rental chain, is demonstrating otherwise. <!-- more -->

At a time when Blockbuster and other video rental chains are gone and discussions about the video marketplace largely center on Netflix and premium cable offerings, little attention is paid to the old-fashioned video rental hub. Yet the Family Video chain is not only still in existence, with nearly 800 locations mainly in the Midwest and Canada, it's apparently expanding and quite profitable.

The company is very careful about what figures it doles out to the media, but more than two dozen new Family Video locations have opened over the last two years. Company owner Keith Hoogland told a Chicago Sun Times blog that, “The video business, as far as I’m concerned, is cranked up,” and that same-store sales for Family Video have risen in 29 out of the past 30 years.

How has Family Video done it, especially during a time span when the brick-and-mortar video rental business has almost universally gone bust? Customers credit cheap prices and friendly service among the reasons they keep coming back. New releases rent for $2 or $3, and older titles can go for two for $1. For that matter, some movies are loaned out totally for free, and kids can get a free movie rental by showing A's on their report cards.

(MORE: The One Killer Feature Netflix Is Still Missing)

Low costs aren't the only draw, however, and there are arguably more important reasons why Family Video is still in business. Legacy Pro, a real estate investment company also run by Hoogland, owns the vast majority of Family Video locations. Often, the Family Video site shares space with gas stations and other businesses that give reason for consumers to stop in even if they're not specifically in the market to rent a movie or video game. Dozens of Family Video stores now operate directly in the vicinity of a Marco's Pizza, a Toledo-based restaurant chain, and hundreds more Family Video-Marco's Pizza combos are planned.

In some cases, customers get a free movie rental with, say, a large pizza order. What's more, the model offers speedy movie pickup and delivery, via pizza delivery drivers. “If you order a pizza, we’ll deliver the movie with your food,” a Family Video regional manager told a Wisconsin newspaper. “If you have movies sitting at home that you need to return, the drivers will bring them back.”

There's also a small but significant portion of the population that simply prefers the in-person movie browsing and selecting process. “They’re real friendly in here,” one Family Video customer in St. Louis said to the Post-Dispatch, while also mentioning that he usually picks up a pizza during his visit. “I like to browse the aisles. I’m old-fashioned like that.”

“I always thought the experience of being in the store, browsing, getting recommendations from a clerk that knew what they were talking about were very valuable experiences,” Russ Crupnick, video industry analyst for NPD Group, said to the Sun Times' Grid blog. “Frankly, I don’t think they’re experiences that digital has replicated quite as well.”

(MORE: 2014 Shaping Up as an Epically Bad Year for Potholes)

One other factor that makes Family Video stand out is that, despite the company name, an undisclosed number of locations have back-room sections featuring adult (pornographic) rentals. Family Video didn't respond to a request about how many locations host adult titles, nor any data regarding adult rentals and sales. But during an era when porn has flourished online to an even greater extent than mainstream videos, it's very interesting that Family Video still finds it worthwhile to maintain the old-fashioned "adults only" back section in stores.

In some cases, the presence of such sections has drawn gripes from locals who don't think porn belongs in their neighborhoods, especially not in a place named "Family Video." Over the years, residents in small towns in Pennsylvania and Indiana have filed complaints against their local porn-renting Family Video stores. But apparently, pornographic DVD rentals are still available at many locations, along with the latest action films, Disney classics, and oftentimes, pizza. The goal seems to be giving every member of the family a reason to swing by Family Video.

Gareth Cattermole / Getty Images for Netflix

Netflix's Gain Is HBO's Loss in Subscriber Wars

Updated 9:01 pm EST

People can’t get enough Netflix. According to a new report, the streaming video service and others like it have been gaining subscribers as premium pay networks like HBO and Showtime have been losing them.

The NPD Group, a global information company, says over the past two years, the number of households subscribing to premium networks has fallen by 6%. Online streaming subscriptions, however, have risen by 4%, according to their report.

According to the report, in August 2013, 32% of American households paid for premium networks like HBO or Showtime and 27% subscribed to on-demand digital services. While Netflix is the most widely used service, Hulu Plus and Amazon Prime are gaining in popularity.

"It's fair to say ... that some of the shift that you're seeing is probably caused by Netflix," Russ Crupnick, a senior vice president of the NPD Group told the Los Angeles Times. "Some of this could be caused by the economy. It could be people looking at their cable bills and saying, 'I can't afford this.'"

Update: Showtime, HBO and Starz disputed the results of the study on Tuesday.

Mark Zuckerberg during a Facebook press event to introduce 'Home' a Facebook app suite that integrates with Android in Menlo Park
Robert Galbraith / Reuters

Facebook Is About to Lose 80% of Its Users, Study Says

Facebook's growth will eventually come to a quick end, much like an infectious disease that spreads rapidly and suddenly dies, say Princeton researchers who are using diseases to model the life cycles of social media.

Disease models can be used to understand the mass adoption and subsequent flight from online social networks, researchers at Princeton's Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering say in a study released Jan. 17. The study has not been peer-reviewed. Updating traditional models on disease spread to assume that "recovery" requires contact with a nondiseased member — i.e., a nonuser of Facebook ("recovered" member of the population) — researchers predicted that Facebook would see a rapid decline, causing the site to lose 80% of its peak user base between 2015 and 2017.

Basically, Facebook users will lose interest in Facebook over time as their peers lose interest — if the model is correct. "Ideas, like diseases, have been shown to spread infectiously between people before eventually dying out, and have been successfully described with epidemiological models," write the researchers.

You can check out the full study here.

Facebook Is About to Lose 80% of Its Users, Study Says

Facebook's growth will eventually come to a quick end, much like an infectious disease that spreads rapidly and suddenly dies, say Princeton researchers who are using diseases to model the life cycles of social media.

Disease models can be used to understand the mass adoption and subsequent flight from online social networks, researchers at Princeton's Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering say in a study released Jan. 17. The study has not been peer-reviewed. Updating traditional models on disease spread to assume that "recovery" requires contact with a nondiseased member — i.e., a nonuser of Facebook ("recovered" member of the population) — researchers predicted that Facebook would see a rapid decline, causing the site to lose 80% of its peak user base between 2015 and 2017.

Basically, Facebook users will lose interest in Facebook over time as their peers lose interest — if the model is correct. "Ideas, like diseases, have been shown to spread infectiously between people before eventually dying out, and have been successfully described with epidemiological models," write the researchers.

You can check out the full study here.

Why I Took My 7-Year-Old to a Tattoo Parlor

Last month, following a long period of girlish cajoling, my daughter finally got her ears pierced in celebration of her 7th birthday. The setting was not the traditional mall kiosk staffed by some bored and minimally trained 16-year-old. Instead I took my daughter to a tattoo parlor.

Surprised they even allow 7-year-olds in those kinds of places? Think again. A growing number of parents are apparently turning to tattoo parlors to bejewel their children's little lobes. I didn’t come up with this crazy idea out of the blue; I’m a reporter, after all: I researched where to take Shira and weighed the pros and cons. I found that tattoo parlors — despite the blaring heavy metal music — were mom-approved by a local parenting email list. When even a nurse cast her vote in favor of the tattoo parlor, I deliberated no longer.

“There is a stigma attached to tattoo parlors that they’re dirty and will be bombarded by foul-mouthed people,” says Sarah LaRoe, a mom with multiple facial piercings and tattoos creeping up her neck, who pierced my little girl’s ears so tenderly that she left her not in tears but with a big, happy smile on her face.

MORE: Why Spanking Doesn’t Work

Contrary to what you might think, tattoo parlors — at least the one I went to — are actually bastions of cleanliness. Some states regulate them, and reputable ones use disposable needles and sterilize all their equipment in an autoclave. In contrast, mall piercers and many jewelry stores use piercing guns that have been associated with complications and can’t be completely sterilized. Armed with that knowledge, which would you choose?

While some parents might be freaked out by the idea of taking their kid to a tattoo parlor, I looked upon the outing as an adventure, joking with my daughter about getting a Hello Kitty tattoo for mom. What I didn’t expect was that the experience would evolve into a lesson in tolerance. In that unnerving way little kids have of speaking their mind, Shira took an initial look at LaRoe and stage-whispered: “I think she looks ugly like that.”

I immediately flashed her my scary mom eyes to signal her to clam up. But later, after we’d left the store, her comment served as an opportunity to point out that just because someone looks different, it doesn't mean she’s not a good person. LaRoe, regardless of her unconventional piercings, was super-professional and extremely kind.

For professional piercers like LaRoe, who stick needles through noses, eyebrows, tongues and nether regions, ears are the most mundane of piercing locations. But that doesn’t mean they don’t take it seriously. LaRoe spent nearly an hour with us, versus the quick in-and-out that I remember from getting my ears pierced at the mall as a girl. Before leading us into the piercing room — which looked just like a doctor’s office — LaRoe handed the birthday girl a bag with a lollipop, which expertly distracted Shira from being overly nervous about what was going on.

The bag also contained non-iodized sea salt and instructions for mom on how to mix a saline solution to clean newly pierced ears. Unlike the alcohol that mall kiosks recommend for cleaning, salty water doesn't burn.

MORE: Clean Needles Saved My Life. Now Congress Wants to Ban Funding for Needle Exchange

Now for the gory details: at tattoo parlors, piercers use hypodermic needles to core out a sliver of skin, making room for an earring — a relatively painless procedure. In contrast, at the mall, the piercer uses a gun that painfully jams a blunt-tipped earring stud into the ear lobe; the process does not remove skin, but effectively pushes it aside.

LaRoe is so convinced of the superiority of needles over piercing guns that she’s signed petitions to ban the guns; one such petition makes the case that “only cowboys use guns.” In her quest to reform the ear-piercing industry, LaRoe leaves her business card at schools and pediatricians’ offices. When she takes her own son to the doctor, she’ll frequently get questions about her multiple piercings; sometimes she gets customers that way too.

Ultimately, though, change starts parent by parent, through word of mouth. “It kind of acts like a trendsetter,” says LaRoe. “All it takes is one little girl who goes to school and says it didn’t hurt.”

It didn’t hurt? Well, maybe a little. But so little that Shira didn’t even blink when LaRoe pierced her first ear. During the procedure, LaRoe had her do some deep, yoga-like breathing, which Shira is familiar with from her weekly yoga class. In and out, in — pierce! Of course, the lollipop helped too.

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Getty Images

We're All Going to Be Single Forever Because No One Knows When They're On a Date Anymore

A new survey commissioned by ChristianMingle.com and JDate.com says that when out with a potential love interest, 69% of singles have absolutely no idea if they're on a date or just "hanging out," thus proving that God provides absolutely no clarity when it comes to the horribleness of dating.

The online poll questioned 2,647 singles between 18 and 59 about their dating confusion, made even more confusing by the fact that 80% think that a date is "a planned one-on-one hang out." But not all one-on-one hangouts are dates, so there's that.

Fordham MBA student Tayo Rockson, 24, kindly clarified to USA Today that "if it's someone that you just met recently and consistently have one-on-one hangout sessions, that's sort of a date." Ish.

Have fun navigating that one.

College Track Star Jumps to Her Death After Instagram Post

A 19-year-old college student jumped to her death Friday night shortly after posting an innocuous photo of a Philadelphia park on Instagram.

Madison Holleran, a freshman track star at the University of Pennsylvania, threw herself from a parking garage, the Associated Press reports, just an hour after posting this photo:

Investigators have not yet determined why the bright and popular teen from Allendale, N.J., would commit suicide, but her death left her family and teammates stunned.

Holleran (pictured below, left, with a friend) was an award-winning track star in high school and planned to major in philosophy, politics and economics in college.

“The entire Penn community is deeply saddened by the death of Madison Holleran. She was bright and well-liked with an incredible future ahead of her,” university president Amy Gutmann said in a statement. "There are simply no words that can properly convey the sense of heartache that we all feel at such a tragic loss."

The school postponed sorority recruitment out of respect for Holleran.

[AP]

A comparison of two raw Pancam photographs from sols 3528 and 3540 of Opportunity's mission (a sol is a Martian day). Notice the "jelly doughnut"-sized rock in the center of the photograph to the right. Minor adjustments for brightness and contrast.
A comparison of two raw Pancam photographs from sols 3528 and 3540 of Opportunity's mission (a sol is a Martian day). Notice the "jelly doughnut"-sized rock in the center of the photograph to the right. Minor adjustments for brightness and contrast.NASA / JPL-CALTECH

Martian Ghost Rock Baffles NASA

Scientists analyzing images from the Mars Opportunity Rover are flummoxed after a rock mysteriously appeared in the rover's field of vision last week.

“It was a total surprise," NASA scientist Steve Squyres told Discovery News. "We were like ‘wait a second, that wasn’t there before, it can’t be right. Oh my god! It wasn’t there before!’ We were absolutely startled.”

Some hypothesize the rock may have landed there after being flung skyward by a meteor that landed nearby, but the leading theory blames the rover itself for overturning a nearby rock with a quick, jittery wheel maneuver.

“You think of Mars as being a very static place and I don’t think there’s a smoking hole nearby so it’s not a bit of crater ejecta, I think it’s something that we did," Squyres said. "We flung it.”

0 of 0

Martian Ghost Rock Baffles NASA

Scientists analyzing images from the Mars Opportunity Rover are flummoxed after a rock mysteriously appeared in the rover's field of vision last week.

“It was a total surprise," NASA scientist Steve Squyres told Discovery News. "We were like ‘wait a second, that wasn’t there before, it can’t be right. Oh my god! It wasn’t there before!’ We were absolutely startled.”

Some hypothesize the rock may have landed there after being flung skyward by a meteor that landed nearby, but the leading theory blames the rover itself for overturning a nearby rock with a quick, jittery wheel maneuver.

“You think of Mars as being a very static place and I don’t think there’s a smoking hole nearby so it’s not a bit of crater ejecta, I think it’s something that we did," Squyres said. "We flung it.”

0 of 0

Preparations Ahead Of The Davos World Economic Forum

A worker prepares a logo for the World Economic Forum inside the Congress Center ahead of the World Economic Forum 2014 (WEF) meeting in Davos, Switzerland, on Sunday, Jan. 19, 2014.

Japanese Fishermen Slaughter Dozens of Dolphins

Japanese fishermen killed dozens of dolphins Tuesday in the Taiji cove, the focus of the 2009 Oscar-winning documentary The Cove, despite protests from the West.

The fishermen put up a blue tarpaulin that partially hid them from activists and journalists during the final, killing phase of the annual hunt that began on Friday, Reuters reports.

Every year the fishermen herd hundreds of dolphins into the cove where they pick some to sell to marine parks, others to kill for meat, and release the rest. On Tuesday, Reuters reports, fishermen waited in the shallow water where they wrestled the exhausted and food-deprived dolphins into submission, tied their tales with ropes, and killed some of them. Activists with Sea Shepherd say 41 dolphins have been killed and 52 were taken captive.

United States Ambassador Caroline Kennedy said ahead of the killing that she was “deeply concerned” by the hunt and said the U.S. opposes the practice.

Japan says killing dolphins is not banned under international law and the animals are not endangered.

[Reuters]

Falcon Steals Camera, Accidentally Records Stunning Aerial Footage of Penguin Colony

A team of researchers at a penguin colony tricked a falcon by disguising a camera as an unhatched egg -- and what a beautiful prank it turned out to be. The falcon -- a striated caracara -- snatched the "egg" and took off, capturing beautiful aerial views of the penguin colony below.

Alas, after about 30 seconds, the egg cam slips from the falcon's grasp and falls to the ground. A pair of turkey vultures tries to get in on the action, but they prove to be less skilled than the falcon and just send it tumbling down a hill.

Falcon Steals Camera, Accidentally Records Stunning Aerial Footage of Penguin Colony

A team of researchers at a penguin colony tricked a falcon by disguising a camera as an unhatched egg -- and what a beautiful prank it turned out to be. The falcon -- a striated caracara -- snatched the "egg" and took off, capturing beautiful aerial views of the penguin colony below.

Alas, after about 30 seconds, the egg cam slips from the falcon's grasp and falls to the ground. A pair of turkey vultures tries to get in on the action, but they prove to be less skilled than the falcon and just send it tumbling down a hill.

Hey Dove, Don't 'Redefine' Beauty, Just Stop Talking About It

Dove is famous for making two things: soap, and long-winded advertisements aiming to "redefine beauty" in the name of selling soap.

Their latest ad, titled "Selfie," debuted Monday at Sundance, like a real-live movie. It's a heartwarming tale of a bunch of normal-looking girls who have absolutely no discernable interests in anything except how they look. They all thought they were ugly until Dove told them they were beautiful, and then the world was illuminated with their beaming smilies, because they are beautiful, and feeling beautiful makes you happy, according to Dove. Also, smelling good!

Here's Dove's "groundbreaking" indie film:

Dove's not the only culprit. Pantene had an ad late last year that equated shiny hair with respect at work, they even provided a hashtag, #shinestrong. And American Eagle's Aerie brand recently debuted a lingerie campaign featuring "real unphotoshopped girls" to encourage customers to "embrace their own beauty," as a brand representative described it on Good Morning America. After years of marketing outer beauty, it looks like inner beauty is the hot new thing.

But I'm sending back the soup on this "redefining beauty" stuff, especially when it's used by cosmetics companies. Whether they're selling shampoos or bras or search engines (Bing also came out with a feminist-inspired ad recently,) the companies who think they can sell their product by tricking feminist writers into promoting their ads for them are pretty crafty, I have to admit. They've got our number. They know that there are a bunch of lady-writers out there, just like me, who tend to write about things that have to do with women. There are whole blogs devoted to lady issues, and many online magazines have women's-issues sections, and all of those writers need to write about something besides Miley Cyrus, and a statement about "redefining beauty" is basically internet catnip. An anti-beauty ad can launch a thousand think pieces (just like this.)

And even non-writers love to share these feel-good ads among their friends, so these videos usually end up going viral-- the Dove "Sketches" ad was the most watched viral ad of all time a month after it debuted in 2013. Advertising dressed as a PSA literally sells itself. Bravo, corporate masterminds, that mustache-twirl is well-deserved.

But marketing conspiracy aside, I just think the conversation about "redefining beauty" is a misguided one at best. Because "redefining beauty" is still talking about beauty, and we need our girls to be thinking and talking about things other than the way they look. Making girls suddenly feel beautiful is all well and good for the purposes of selling soap and moisturizers, but it's not real progress. Real progress would be if that conversation in the gym were about climate change, not hair.

MORE: American Eagle Ditches Photoshop For New Lingerie Campaign

Forgive the personal anecdote, but now is when I'll tell you about my own awkward phase. Fairly or not, I considered myself a "super-ugly" girl. I had braces until I was 18, and my high school yearbook picture has that tight-lipped Mona Lisa smile hiding a mouth full of wires instead of the secret of the Renaissance. My braces had gaps and pulleys and bunched-up rubber bands stuck in random places that looked like permanent blobs of food. I had a tooth growing in the middle of the roof of my mouth that had to be anchored and pulled to shore like the Costa Concordia. Even if I could get control of my frizzy hair or get my hands on an Abercrombie shirt, being beautiful was out of the question. I felt like the Man in the Iron Mask.

Seeing a picture of another girl with braces in a sentimental ad wasn't going to make me feel beautiful, because nothing could make me feel beautiful. But that doesn't mean I spent all day taking selfies and crying about it. Granted, I was very fortunate that I wasn't regularly bullied over my looks, so I had it easier than some. So I wasn't beautiful. I got over it.

There is a difference between feeling beautiful and feeling good. And that is the central conflation here, the reason these ads are so awful. The Dove ad says that our self esteem problem exists only in the realm of beauty, that if we make everyone feel beautiful, then everyone will be happy. The message is that if you can get to a place where you feel beautiful, you will be stronger, more confident, more powerful. But anyone who's ever seen a picture of Lindsay Lohan knows that's a load of bull.

The thing that helped me through my awkward phase wasn't the idea that I was beautiful even with my braces, which I knew was a blatant lie (nice try, mom). What helped was doing other things, evaluating myself on other criteria. I discovered that even if I was not beautiful, I could still do well in class. I could play an old lady in the school musical. I could do a good impression of my Chemistry teacher. ( I still could not play volleyball, though. Ever).

"Redefining beauty" is just another way to keep talking about beauty, which is what companies want but is the last thing girls need. Let's put a lid on it. Maybe if we focus on teaching girls about viral marketing instead of "ways to think you're beautiful," some of them might grow up to be the kind of shrewd marketing execs that started all this in the first place.

MORE: Dear Beauty Brands: Stop Using Feminism as Your Marketing Strategy

Are You Addicted to 'Candy Crush'? Take Our Quiz and Find Out

Are You Addicted to 'Candy Crush'? Take Our Quiz and Find Out

Evidence of War Crimes In Syria But No Prospect of Trials

The trove of horrific photos that surfaced Monday purporting to document systematic torture, starvation and execution of prisoners by Syrian authorities is exactly the kind of evidence prosecutors look for when seeking to bring charges of crimes against humanity in international courts. Yet legal experts say any such trial is highly unlikely.

“The obvious route of justice here would be the International Criminal Court,” says Reed Brody, an expert on international justice at Human Rights Watch. The ICC was created in The Hague, Netherlands, in 2002 to prosecute exactly the kind of outrages the report lays out in the sort of chilling bureaucratic detail seen in previous war crime trials, from the prosecution of Nazi officers at Nuremberg onward. And even though Syria is not among the 122 nations that have made themselves accountable to the ICC its officials still could be referred to The Hague by a vote of the United Nations Security Council.

“And we believe obviously that that’s what should happen, considering the evidence that serious crimes have been committed in Syria,” Brody says. “The problem is the Russian nyet.”

As a permanent member of the Security Council, Russia can veto any action there. And as a backer of Syrian President Bashar Assad, Moscow has repeatedly blocked condemnations of human rights violations in the country -- which would include appalling atrocities attributed to assorted rebel groups arrayed against the central government. The thwarted demands for justice included a letter signed by 58 nations a year ago to refer the situation in Syria to the ICC.

Russia – along with China, which frequently objects on principle to outside scrutiny of a state’s behavior toward its own people – also is in a position to prevent establishment of a U.N. court specifically devoted to prosecuting war crimes in Syria, as were established after wars in Yugoslavia, Rwanda, Sierra Leone and elsewhere.

There may be one other option: Under the legal concept of “universal jurisdiction,” courts in other nations sometimes prosecute severe human rights abuses. In 1998, Gen. Augusto Pinochet was arrested in Britain for a warrant issued in Spain charging the former Chilean ruler with torturing Spanish citizens while in power. “But this is also a long shot, because many countries that have universal jurisdiction legislation place conditions on its use,” says Yuval Shany, an expert on international law at Hebrew University Law School, where he is dean.

And then there's the question of the strength of the evidence – some 55,000 photos showing 11,000 bodies, nearly 10 percent of the death toll of the entire war – first published by The Guardian and CNN. Would it help convict Assad, or other senior Syrian officials, if a case were brought?

“This is horizontal evidence of the crime base, as opposed to vertical evidence that links the people on top to the crime,” says Brody, who spoke en route to Senegal, where he is supporting the prosecution in a special court of Hissene Habre on charges of systematic torture and executions when he ruled Chad. “Obviously Assad didn’t kill any of these people, but at a certain point things become so overwhelming it becomes hard to imagine that the leader didn’t know about this.”

Shany was less confident. He did not question the veracity of the report, which was prepared by three highly respected experts on war crimes, nor its funding by Qatar, a Gulf state supporting rebels in the Syrian civil war. The problem, Shany says, is legal precedents emerging in recent judgments, specifically the 2012 acquittal on appeal of two Croatian generals earlier convicted of targeting Serb civilians by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia.

“It’s tough, and it’s becoming tougher” to convict senior officials for war crimes, says Shany. The Croatia case “raised the bar for command responsibility – from a negligence to an awareness standard.”

At the ICC, the only head of state convicted so far of war crimes is former Liberian President Charles Taylor, now serving a sentence of 50 years. But then, as incumbent Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta has complained in his own trial, so far only Africans have faced prosecution before the ICC. That appears to be partly because so many African countries – 33 – have submitted themselves to its jurisdiction. But Shany says it may also reflect the “geopolitical reality” that African countries are less likely to have a protector on the Security Council.

U.S. Oil Demand Grew Faster Than China's in 2013. That Won't Last

The oil production boom in the United States is old news, something we covered in a special section just a few months ago. Improved hydraulic fracturing and directional drilling has helped unlock vast new tight oil supplies, mostly in Texas and North Dakota. But I don't think everyone has realized just how much boom is in this boom.

New numbers from the International Energy Agency (IEA) might change that. Crude oil production in the U.S. rose by 990,000 barrels a day (bbd) last year, a increase of 15% from the year before. That's the fastest such absolute annual growth of any country in 20 years. And it's not just production: The IEA reports that in 2013, U.S. demand for oil grew by 390,000 bbd, or about 2%, after years of decline. For the first time since 1999, U.S. demand for oil grew faster than China's demand, which rose by 295,000 bbd, the weakest increase in six years. So not only is the U.S. producing a gusher of oil, but it's also consuming more crude.

(MORE: North Dakota Derailment Shows Dark Side of America’s Oil Boom

That increase in domestic demand could a good sign for the economy, if not for the environment. Growth in oil demand was mostly steady in the U.S. from the early 1980s on, before plateauing a couple of years before the financial crisis of 2008. Since then it's mostly dropped. Average consumption in the U.S. was 18.8 million bbd between 2009 and 2012, compared to 205 million bbd between 2005 and 2008. Economic growth and energy demand have historically gone together—more businesses using more energy, more workers driving to the office—so last year's unexpected increase in oil demand could mean the U.S. is rebounding, as Antoine Heff, head of oil market research at the IEA, told the Financial Times:

It is clear that the US economy is rebounding very strongly thanks to its energy supplies. Sometimes oil is a lagging indicator, but sometimes it is the opposite and shows that an economy is growing faster than thought.

According to the IEA, much of that growth has been in the petrochemical industry, which has taken advantage of burgeoning domestic oil supply. U.S. exports overall hit a record high in November, cutting the trade deficit to its lowest level since 2009. And much of that export growth came not from manufactured goods but from diesel and gasoline, with the U.S. exporting $13.3 billion worth of petrochemical products in November. With oil companies forbidden from exporting crude from the U.S.—though they've been lobbying lately to get that changed—refineries have taken up the slack, benefiting from the fact that domestic oil is often sold at a discount (they've also benefited from low natural gas prices, thanks to shale drilling). It's not for nothing, as Mitchell Schnurman noted in the Dallas Morning News, that the oil capital of Houston led the nation in exports in 2012, ahead of the New York area.

(PHOTO: Black Rock Rush: Working the Oil Fields of North Dakota)

But even if the U.S. economy does rebound—and boom times in the petrochemical industry don't necessarily translate to the rest of the country—don't expect the U.S. to go all the way back to its gas guzzling days. There are other reasons besides a declining economy that explain why U.S. oil demand fell so much over the past several years. Cars are now more fuel-efficient than ever, thanks to tougher fuel economy standards and growing consumer preferences for lighter, smaller cars and hybrids. But we're also driving less. An analysis by Michael Sivak at the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute found that 9.2% of U.S. households in 2012 were without a vehicle, compared to 8.7% in 2007. Vehicle miles traveled has largely plateaued over the last several years, indicating the U.S.—like other developed countries—may have reached something like "peak car."

That's arguable—the drop in the percentage of households with cars could well have more to do with high unemployment and slugging economic growth than anything else. But while the boom in domestic oil production has helped stabilize gas prices—a gallon cost an average of $3.32 a gallon in 2013, just a little more than in 2012—the days of cheap gas are almost certainly over. The future of oil demand is going to be in the developing world—especially China, where consumers bought over 20 million cars in 2013, compared to 15.6 million in the U.S. 2013 will likely turn out to be a blip in that epochal shift.

(MORE: US Oil Dominance Will Be Short Lived)

Katy Perry on the cover of the February 2014 issue of GQ
Katy Perry on the cover of the February 2014 issue of GQPeggy Sirota / GQ

Are You There, God? It's Me, Katy Perry

Katy Perry has cemented herself as a feminist's worst nightmare with her new GQ cover story, in which she reveals that she prayed to God for boobs, that she sings in that whiny voice on purpose, and that she thinks Geishas love unconditionally. Yes, we can all laugh at Perry for praying for her voluptuous figure, but we should be nervous that this influential pop star—that thousands of tweens and teens bop along to—is peddling a childishly sexy persona as feminism.

Katy Perry touted her newest album, Prism, as some sort of feminist awakening. She declared in 2012 that she was "not a feminist" but believed in the strength of women. By 2013, her first post-Russell Brand breakup song, "Roar," was supposed to declare her independence and communicate that "girl power" mantra that—even if it's not labeled with the dreaded "f" word—is something close to feminism. Instead, the album dropped, and we got a series of the most obvious sexual metaphors ever.

So let me get you in your birthday suit
It's time to bring out the big balloons
So let me get you in your birthday suit
It's time to bring out the big, big, big, big, big, big balloons

Spoiler alert: The balloons are her breasts. It seems the veiled metaphors haven't progressed much since "peacock cock, cock" on Teenage Dream four years ago. This self-acclaimed powerful and independent woman is cultivating that sexy baby image that men love and Liz Lemon/Tina Fey reviled on 30 Rock. Just check out some of the quotes from the GQ article.

On perfecting a sexy whininess:

“A little whinier and looser,” her voice coach commands. “Make your tongue super-loose.”

“Ex-cuse me?” she responds, batting her lashes, enjoying the vague reference to naughty things one can do with one’s mouth, then blasts out another scale. “Good,” says the coach, dodging a mascara wand and a hot curling iron to play another note on his iPad keyboard. “Now, really whiny. Say: Gwah!

On her controversial choice to dress up like a Geisha for a performance:

“I was thinking about unconditional love, and I was thinking: Geishas are basically, like, the masters of loving unconditionally.” She’s so earnest, I don’t have the heart to point out that in the gamut of human interactions, the courtesan-patron relationship is, um, maybe the most conditional relationship there is?

On petulantly yelling at her staff:

"Sew it to my head!" Perry commands, then squeals as Clyde cinches [her wig] down. "Do it, do it, do it quick!"

“Toothbrush, Tamra!” Perry calls out, and her assistant immediately hands over an electric.

And, of course, on her body:

“I lay on my back one night and looked down at my feet, and I prayed to God. I said, ‘God, will you please let me have boobs so big that I can’t see my feet when I’m lying down?’ ” At age 11, “God answered my prayers,” she says, glancing south. “I had no clue they would fall into my armpits eventually.”

This is what young girls are supposed to aspire to?

Perry proudly proclaims later in the interview, "I never had any plastic surgery. Not a nose, not a chin, not a cheek, not a tit. So my messages of self-empowerment are truly coming from an au naturel product." It doesn't occur to her that she's far from au naturel with her heavy makeup and wigs and airbrushing. And even if she does play down the bright blue wigs and fake eyelashes, many women are still taking trips to plastic surgeons to try to make themselves look more like Perry.

But it's hard to credit her with any self-awareness when she rounds out the interview with some crazy statements. “I see everything through a spiritual lens,” she said. “I believe in a lot of astrology. I believe in aliens.” She even claimed that she won Wisconsin for President Barack Obama. And of course it ends, appropriately, with Perry declaring as she heads for the stage, "Let's take it all off!"

Ladies and gentleman, your daughter's idol.

katy-perry-gq-magazine-february-2014-music-women-hot-photos-04

Katy Perry on the cover of the February 2014 issue of GQ

Courtesy: Summerville/Dorchester COC

Summerville, SC

In the late 19th century, medical experts deemed Summerville one of the best places in the world to treat lung and throat disorders; they credited the dry air and a plethora of pine trees.

Today Summerville offers much of the history and charm of nearby Charleston but in a smaller, more affordable setting.

And modern-day ailments are cured in the 94-bed Summerville Medical Center, which scores top points from the Joint Commission for its treatment of heart attacks, heart failure, and pneumonia.

See complete data for Summerville

© David R. Frazier Photolibrary, Inc. / Alamy

Ottawa, KS

When the railroads started coming into Ottawa in 1868, the area blossomed. The only legacies of those railroads today are the 200 miles of rail trails running around the outskirts of town.

But walk down Ottawa's Main Street and you'll still get a feel for the era, with dozens of historical buildings peppering the landscape.

While Ottawa doesn't lack for festivals, farmers' markets, and amenities, retirees looking for more options for shopping, medical care, or cultural activities needn't go far. Overland Park is about 40 miles to the northeast, and Kansas City is just beyond that.

See complete data for Ottawa

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