Zoo babies

baby1Dema, a Sumatran tiger, licks Nia, a baby orangutan, in a nursery room at the Taman Safari Zoo in Bogor, Indonesia. The tiger and orangutan baby, which would never be together in the wild, have become inseparable playmates after they were abandoned by their mothers.

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Kangaroo joeys peek out from their mothers pouch at the Zoo in Hanover, Germany. Mother Naddel gave birth to her twins about six months ago.
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A French bulldog plays with a 2-week-old baby Bengal tiger, which was rejected by its mother, at Shirotori zoo in Higashikagawa, southwestern Japan. The dog is nursing the baby tiger as if it were its true mother, according to the zoo.
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Emit, a 4-week-old southern three-banded armadillo eats banana from the hand of keeper Dawn Strasser at the Cincinnati Zoo. This is the first time in 11 years the zoo has successfully bred this rare species of armadillo, which lives in the open grassy areas, forests, and marshes of Bolivia, Brazil, Paraguay, and Argentina.
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Thirteen-year-old lioness Stella watches over her 6-week-old cub at the al Maglio zoo in Magliaso in southern Switzerland.
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Anak, a 31-year-old orangutan, holds her 5-day-old baby, Apie, in her arms. The baby was born in captivity at Ouwehands Zoo in Rhenen, Netherlands.
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The Great Solvent North

Has the world turned upside down? America, the capital of capitalism, is pondering nationalizing a handful of banks. Meanwhile, Canada, whose banking system had long been notorious for its stodgy practices and government coddling, is now being celebrated for those very qualities.

The Canadian banking system, which proved resilient in the global economic crisis, is finally getting its day in the sun. A recent World Economic Forum report ranked it the soundest in the world, mostly as the result of its conservative practices. (The United States ranked 40th).

President Obama has joined the adoring throng. He recently said that Canada has “shown itself to be a pretty good manager of the financial system in the economy in ways that we haven’t always been here in the United States.” Paul Volcker, former chief of the United States Federal Reserve, commented that what he’s arguing for “looks more like the Canadian system than the American system.”

Most people don’t know that the vision behind Canada’s banking system, made up of a few large, national banks with branches from coast to coast, actually had its beginnings in the United States. Canada’s system is the product of a banking framework inspired by Alexander Hamilton, the first American secretary of the Treasury. Hamilton envisioned the First Bank of the United States, chartered in 1791, as a central bank modeled on the Bank of England.

Canadians found inspiration in Hamilton’s model, but not all Americans did. In the 1830s, President Andrew Jackson opposed extending the charter of the Second Bank of the United States, perceiving it as monopolistic. Money-lending functions were then assumed by local and state-chartered banks, eventually giving rise to the free-market, decentralized system that America has today.

Today, Canada’s system remains truer to Hamilton’s ideal. The five major chartered banks, the few regional banks and handful of large insurance companies are all regulated by the federal government. Canadian banks are relatively constrained in the amounts they can lend. Canadian banks are required to have a bigger cushion to absorb losses than American banks. In addition, Canadian government regulations protect the domestic banks by limiting foreign competition. They also keep banks broadly owned by public shareholders.

Since Canada’s financial services sector was deregulated in 1987, permitting the banks to buy brokerage houses, they have enjoyed vast earnings power because of their diverse businesses and operations. And in contrast to the recent shotgun marriages at bargain prices between ailing Wall Street brokerages and American banks, Canadian banks paid top dollar decades ago for profitable, blue-chip investment firms.

Canadian banks are known to be risk-averse, and this has served them well. While their American counterparts were loading up their books with risky mortgages, Canadian banks maintained their lending requirements, largely avoiding subprime mortgages. The buttoned-down banks in Canada also tended to keep these types of securities on their books, rather than packaging them and selling them to investors. This meant that the exposures they did have to weak mortgages were more visible to the marketplace.

The big five Canadian banks — Royal Bank of Canada, Toronto-Dominion Bank, Bank of Nova Scotia, Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce and Bank of Montreal — survived the recent turmoil relatively unscathed. Their balance sheets remain intact and their capital ratios are comfortably above requirements. Yes, Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s government may buy as much as 125 billion Canadian dollars (about $100 billion) worth of mortgages, increasing banks’ capacity to lend. But this is small change compared with the scale of Washington’s bailout.

Few would have predicted that Canadian banks, long derided as among the least autonomous because of stringent government oversight, would emerge from the global mayhem as some of the more independent international players.

Since Mr. Obama seems to admire the Canadian banking system, his administration might want to take a page out of its playbook.

This would entail building a national banking system based on a small number of large, broadly held, centrally and rigorously regulated firms. Imitating the Canadian model would require sweeping consolidation of American banks. This would be a very good thing. Washington had difficulty figuring out the magnitude of the financial crisis because there are so many thousands of banks that it was impossible for regulators to get into all of them.

Washington is already on the path to achieving consolidation. Eventually, some of the larger banks into which the government is injecting taxpayer money will probably be deemed beyond help, and will either be allowed to die or be partnered with other banks. The market will take its cues from this stress-testing, and make its own bets on which banks will survive. It’s hard to predict how many will have survived when the dust settles, but the new landscape might consist of only 50 or 60 banking institutions. More radically, Washington could take over the licensing of banks from the states, or, at the very least, consider more stringent regulation of global and super-regional banks. After all, the Canadian system is considered successful not only because it has fewer banks to regulate, but because regulation is based on the tenets of safety and soundness.

There is no time to waste. Reconfiguring the American banking structure to look more like the Canadian model would help restore much-needed confidence in a beleaguered financial system. Why not emulate the best in the world, which happens to be right next door? At the very least, Hamilton would have approved.

Theresa Tedesco is the chief business correspondent for The National Post.

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Full article and photo: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/02/28/opinion/28tedesco.html?em

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See also: John Gibbens’s tour of second-hand bookshops turns up a neglected humorist

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My Financial Career (Stephen Leacock)

He started writing pieces for periodicals in the 1890s, and in 1910 he brought them out as a book, Literary Lapses. It was a smash. A wag commented in 1911 that more people had heard of Stephen Leacock than had heard of Canada. His most lucrative book, however, was his first, Elements of Political Science (1906), which became a standard university text.

Like Literary Lapses, Laugh with Leacock opens with ‘My Financial Career’. If this was actually his first piece, few writers can have made a debut so near their peak. Describing his attempt to open a bank account, Leacock captures minutely the psychopathology of the ‘customer’ – bullied, belittled and bewildered. The detail may be historical, but the theme has only grown more universal, now that we spend so much of our lives being treated as ‘customers’ by someone or other.

A lot of his satire still stands up like this. The clothes and settings have changed, but the pretensions, follies and fads are all recognisable. Take, for instance, his assault on the magazine short story, ‘The Snoopopaths or Fifty Stories in One’: ‘ “Back,” she iced. And then, “Why have you come here?” she hoarsed. “What business have you here?” “None,” he glooped, “none. I have no business.” They stood sensing one another.

“I thought you were in Philadelphia,” she said – her gown clinging to every fibre of her as she spoke.’

Leacock’s durability may result from a rule he made himself. Apparently, when he was in teacher-training he carried off a wicked impersonation of the principal of his college that deeply wounded the man, and from then on the precocious humorist vowed to keep personal mockery out of his comedy. Someone who’s funny without either malice or obscenity – it’s increasingly hard to imagine, nowadays.

The sleepy lanes, by the way, turned out to be vergeless and patrolled by ferocious 4x4s. And though we scanned every single headstone, we never found Andrew Young. Was that precise description of his own funeral the canon’s little joke?

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Full article: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/books/3665799/Shelf-life.html

Photo: http://nfb.tv/explore-by/director/Gerald-Potterton/

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NFB Movie: http://nfb.tv/film/My_Financial_Career/

My Financial career: http://web.iiit.ac.in/~nirnimesh/Literature/MyFinancialCareer.htm

‘Newbos,’ self-made multi-millionaires, have built wealth, influence

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Basketball star LeBron James — a quintessential Newbo — has established notoriety in one field with the goal of leveraging that success into other businesses. Newbos take their brand very seriously. 

Americans have a deep penchant for classifying people, including by race and socio-economic categories. Blacks historically have not fared well in either of those schemes and young black males have been especially stigmatized.

The media portray them as uneducated dropouts, irresponsible absentee fathers, sellers or users of drugs and criminals destined for prison. And it isn’t an accident that many blacks, both male and female, fall into the lower end of the traditional low-class, middle-class and upper-class distinctions of socio-economic standing.

The lines differentiating those classes tend to blur, influenced not only by income or assets — difficult enough standards for many blacks — but also by occupation, geography and heritage, a sorting and sifting process that is, overall, unfavorable to blacks. So strong is the appeal of classifying one another that we can lose sight of tectonic shifts taking place among us. Such is the case with the rise of what I call the New Black Overclass, or Newbos.

Newbos are young African-Americans who rely on working-class values, a capitalistic philosophy and entrepreneurial instincts to create wealth and fame that would be unimaginable to their forebears. Largely male, they are using entertainment, professional sports, and media as foundations upon which to build diversified enterprises, some already worth hundreds of millions of dollars.

Droves of other young blacks are building businesses and careers in industries that have sprung up around these sports, entertainment and media figures, including sports and entertainment agents and lawyers, producers, financial advisors, publicists, composers, choreographers, stylists, personal trainers and security professionals, among others.

Unlike previous generations of blacks striving to succeed in a white-dominated world, these young moguls and their retinues have found their economic power in refusing to assimilate. Recognizing that institutional racism and other social and cultural barriers often block their way forward in a traditional white-dominated economy, they embrace and commercialize their interpretations and versions of black style and culture, a trend that reflects the emergence of non-traditional, creative leadership — think Bill Gates and Steve Jobs — in every aspect of the American economy. Their rapid rise from almost nothing represents a shining new aspect of the American dream, but also creates unprecedented challenges in their lives.

The statistics are astounding. Black athletes and hip-hop CEOs like 50 Cent and Sean “P. Diddy” Combs are outperforming and out-earning most Fortune 500 CEOs, usually without the benefit of Ivy League educations, exclusive pedigrees, or generations of familial wealth. Today there are only three African-American CEOs running Fortune 500 companies.

In 2004, the highest-paid black CEO, American Express chairman and CEO Kenneth Chenault, earned a total compensation package of $21.4 million. That same year Bad Boy Records CEO Sean Combs, earned $36 million, Tiger Woods pulled down $87 million and Atlanta Falcons quarterback Michael Vick was paid $37.5 million as part of a 10-year, $130-million contract. The top three highest paid African-American athletes earned a combined $141.9 million in 2004, while the three African-American CEOs working in the Fortune 500 that year earned a combined total compensation of $56.5 million.

By 2007, the disparity in the earnings of the two groups had widened. In fact, two of the three black Fortune 500 CEOs, Time Warner’s Dick Parsons and Merrill Lynch’s E. Stanley O’Neal, were no longer in their CEO posts. Today’s three African-American CEOs in the Fortune 500 earned combined total compensation of $97 million, while the three highest-paid athletes earned a total of $192 million.

Collectively, young black athletes bring in billions of dollars a year in salary alone, not counting the money they earn from endorsements. According to Forbes, 31 of the 50 highest-paid professional athletes in America were African-American.

Researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison compiled for this book statistics that show black players in the NFL, the NBA and Major League Baseball earned about $3.98 billion in their 2007-2008 seasons alone. Beyond that, the 19 highest-paid black rappers in America earned about $503 million in 2007. The combined $4.5 billion brought in by professional athletes and top rappers last year easily justifies the appellation of “overclass.”

As with most socio-economic categories, there is no hard-and-fast rule for what constitutes a Newbo. Newbos are, it goes without saying, black and wealthy. But wealth is an ephemeral concept. While the most famous and successful Newbos are millionaires many times over, their lesser-known compatriots may have far less, although their incomes are in the top 10 percent of all Americans.

Many of the most successful Newbos reach celebrity status at a young age and often hail from backgrounds that do not always value education. They seldom have more than a high-school diploma, in contrast to their lesser-known Newbo colleagues, many of whom pursue education to become lawyers, agents, financial advisors or producers.

The lack of education among the most popular Newbos also fuels widespread scorn from society at large, which considers them a major reason that thousands of black children over-invest in dreams to become professional athletes or rap stars and under-invest in the educations that would backstop those often-unsuccessful dreams.

No single individual ever personifies perfectly the characteristics and life of a class of people. Combs comes close. But the person who comes closest to being the quintessential Newbo is the basketball star Lebron James. Anyone who knows the sport stands in awe of James’ phenomenal skill.

Basketball has, of course, provided James with immense wealth, not only in the form of his multi-million-dollar contract with the Cavaliers, but also through extremely lucrative endorsement deals, most notably with Nike, which signed him to $90-million shoe contract even before his NBA debut. But for all the fame and money that basketball brought to James, the game has been not an end in itself, but the path to a life that embodies many of the much lesser known aspects of being a Newbo.

James is acutely aware of the brand value of his name and persona and goes to extraordinary lengths to protect and promote that brand. The most successful Newbos understand personification of a brand — their public conduct, image and identity — and how it is directly connected to their commercial value.

The Newbo phenomenon embraces the concept that people who establish notoriety doing one thing well can then leverage that success into other businesses. The brand becomes more valuable than the talent, whether for sports or entertainment. Newbos take their brand very seriously.

James had the foresight to realize that he had to build his brand while still in the NBA so that he could build a strong business to carry him past the eventual end of his basketball career. Today, he considers himself 80 percent basketball player and 20 percent businessman. Over time, that balance will gradually shift to 70 percent and 30 percent and eventually to almost entirely businessman.

“I realized early that this is the shortest career that you can have. I don’t know what the average career is for a player, but you can get maybe 15 years or less years out of this. And then, what are you going to fall back on? When I thought about it that way, it was easy. I didn’t want to be 16 years into the NBA and when it’s time to retire then I try to get into business.”

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Full article: http://rss.msnbc.msn.com/id/29413966/

Photo: MSNBC

’Scuse me, while I sue this guy

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In this 1970 file photo, rock and roll guitarist Jimi Hendrix is shown performing on the Isle of Wight in England.

The estate of rock guitarist Jimi Hendrix says it has won a trademark infringement lawsuit against a company that promoted Hendrix Electric vodka.

The Experience Hendrix and Authentic Hendrix companies in Seattle say they won a $3.2 million federal court judgment that orders the vodka to be pulled from the market.

The family owned companies filed the lawsuit in 2007 against Seattle businessman Craig Dieffenbach, who packaged the vodka in purple-tinted bottles with Hendrix’s face and signature above the label.

Hendrix died in 1970 at age 27.

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Full article: http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/29259898/

Photo: MSNBC

Vatican Sponsoring Conferences on Works of Darwin and Galileo

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Darwin – Galileo

Over the next several months, the Vatican will sponsor academic conferences dedicated to the work of biologist Charles Darwin and astronomer Galileo Galilei, two thinkers whose ideas have posed revolutionary challenges to religious belief.

Featuring distinguished international panels of scientists and theologians, these events are the latest efforts by the Catholic Church under Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI to affirm that Christian faith and modern science are not at odds, but entirely compatible.

Yet some critics inside and outside the Church insist that such gestures do not satisfy the Vatican’s duty to admit its historical role as an obstacle to scientific progress.

Unlike some conservative Protestant churches, which have rejected Darwin’s theory of evolution through natural selection as contradicting the biblical account of creation, the Catholic Church has a record of guarded tolerance of Darwin’s ideas.

Pope Pius XII permitted “research and discussions . . . with regard to the doctrine of evolution” in 1950, nearly a century after Darwin’s theory was published; and John Paul II recognized evolution as “more than a hypothesis” nearly half a century later.

The church has won praise from scientists and religious believers in various traditions.

“The ongoing and vigorous engagement of the Catholic Church with evolutionary theory reflects, in my opinion, a fluid and dynamic pathway that combines a profound sense of continuity with its historical past and a living and open, experiential response to . . . the discoveries of science,” said Robert J. Russell, founder of the Center for Theology and Natural Sciences in Berkeley, Calif.

Russell, a physicist and minister in the United Church of Christ, will be one of the speakers next month at a Vatican-sponsored conference marking the 150th anniversary of Darwin’s book, “The Origin of Species.”

In recent years, however, with the growing prominence of “creationism” and “intelligent design” as alternative explanations for the existence of humanity and the universe, Catholics have increasingly voiced doubts about Darwin’s acceptability.

Cardinal Christoph Schoenborn, a friend and former student of Pope Benedict’s, provoked controversy with a 2005 article arguing that “neo-Darwinian dogma” is not “compatible with Christian faith” and insisting that the “human intellect can readily discern purpose and design in the natural world.”

That the cardinal published his article with the encouragement and assistance of proponents of intelligent design gave the impression that a high church official was endorsing ideas that most scholars reject as unscientific.

Schoenborn has since attempted to clarify his position, insisting that he rejects not the theory of evolution, but arguments that use Darwin’s ideas to disprove the existence of a creator-God.

The Rev. Marc Leclerc made the same distinction recently in L’Osservatore Romano, the Vatican’s newspaper. “Evolution and creation do not present the least opposition between them,” he wrote, “on the contrary, they reveal themselves as entirely complementary.”

Leclerc, lead organizer of the upcoming Darwin conference, said last year that no proponents of creationism or intelligent design had been invited to the event.

Yet the Vatican’s embrace of Darwin remains a qualified one. The conference is “not, even minimally, a ‘celebration’ in honor of the English scientist,” Leclerc said. “It is simply a matter of taking stock of the event that has forever marked the history of science and has influenced how we understand our own humanity.”

By contrast, an official Vatican statement recently declared that the “Church desires to honor the figure of Galileo, innovator of genius and son of the church.”

Those words introduced a series of Vatican-sponsored or -supported events to take place this year, which the United Nations has designated as the International Year of Astronomy, marking the 400th anniversary of the first use of an astronomical telescope by Galileo.

One of the most prominent of these events will be a May conference in Florence, Italy, devoted to the astronomer’s conflicts with the Vatican, which silenced and imprisoned him for teaching that the Earth revolves around the sun.

The Church has been trying for centuries to put this embarrassing episode behind it. In 1981, John Paul II established a commission to reevaluate the case, and in 1992 he concluded that Galileo had fallen victim to a “tragic mutual incomprehension.” That misunderstanding, the pope said, had given rise to a “myth” that the Church opposed free scientific inquiry.

John Paul’s statement failed to satisfy prominent critics, including the Rev. George V. Coyne, former head of the Vatican Observatory, who has called for a fuller recognition that church authorities unfairly prevented Galileo from pursuing his research.

In January 2008, Pope Benedict canceled an appearance at a Rome university after faculty members and students protested his presence as an offense to the “secularity of science and of culture,” citing words from a 1990 lecture in which he seemed to justify Galileo’s condemnation.

Vatican officials are clearly hoping that this year’s observances will clarify once and for all that the church now regards Galileo as not only a great scientist but an exemplary Catholic. Archbishop Gianfranco Ravasi, president of the Pontifical Council for Culture, has even spoken in terms that evoke sainthood, suggesting that Galileo “could become for some the ideal patron for a dialogue between science and faith.”

Yet there is at least one honor for which Galileo will have to wait a little longer. Plans to put up a statue of the astronomer in the Vatican gardens this year have been “suspended,” Ravasi said, voicing hopes that the money would be spent instead for educational projects on the “relationship between science and religion.”

 

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Full article: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/02/27/AR2009022702730.html

Photo: http://www.catholicregister.org/content/view/2701/849/

Schwarzenegger declares California drought emergency

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger declared a state of emergency Friday because of three years of below-average rain and snowfall in California, a step that urges urban water agencies to reduce water use by 20 percent.

“This drought is having a devastating impact on our people, our communities, our economy and our environment, making today’s action absolutely necessary,” the Republican governor said in his statement.

Mandatory rationing is an option if the declaration and other measures are insufficient.

The drought has forced farmers to fallow their fields, put thousands of agricultural workers out of work and led to conservation measures in cities throughout the state, which is the nation’s top agricultural producer.

Agriculture losses could reach $2.8 billion this year and cost 95,000 jobs, said Lester Snow, the state water director.

State agencies must now provide assistance for affected communities and businesses and the Department of Water Resources must protect supplies, all accompanied by a statewide conservation campaign.

Three dry winters have left California’s state- and federally operated reservoirs at their lowest levels since 1992.

Federal water managers announced last week that they would not deliver any water this year to thousands of California farms, although that could change if conditions improve. The state has said it probably would deliver just 15 percent of the water contractors have requested this year.

Schwarzenegger declared a statewide drought in June but stopped short of calling a state of emergency. His 2008 executive order directed the state Department of Water Resources to speed water transfers to areas with the worst shortages and help local water districts with conservation efforts.

Over the last few weeks, storms have helped bring the seasons’ rain totals to 87 percent of average, but the Sierra snowpack remains at 78 percent of normal for this time of year. State hydrologists say the snowpack must reach between 120 to 130 percent of normal to make up for the two previous dry winters and replenish California’s key reservoirs.

Court decisions intended to protect threatened fish species also have forced a significant cutback in pumping from the Sacramento-San Joaquin delta, the heart of the state’s delivery system.

The governor, farmers and lawmakers have argued for years that California must upgrade its decades-old water supply and delivery system and build new reservoirs.

“The situation is extremely dire,” said Tim Quinn, executive director of the Association of California Water Agencies, adding that the governor’s action Friday “underscores the urgency of serving the long-term structural problems.”

The state delivers water to more than 25 million Californians and more than 750,000 acres of farmland.

Schwarzenegger’s order leaves the door open for more severe restrictions later. Additional measures can include mandatory water rationing and water reductions if there is no improvement in water reserves and residents fail to conserve on their own.

At least 25 water agencies throughout the state already have imposed mandatory restrictions, while 66 others have voluntary measures in place.

The state prefers such local efforts so it does not have to call for statewide rationing, Snow said.

The federal government on Thursday created a drought task force to provide farmers technical assistance in managing existing water supplies. Farmers also could be eligible for federally-backed emergency loans.

Almond farmer Shawn Coburn of Mendota said the emergency declaration comes too late for many growers who already are halfway through the season. Some farmers didn’t bring in bees to pollinate, while others sprayed their orchards with chemicals that keep nuts from forming.

“It’s too late,” he said. “It’s going to sound horrible coming from a farmer because you never turn down help, but come on, this thing is over with.”

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Full article: http://www.usatoday.com/weather/drought/2009-02-27-california-drought_N.htm

Decision Signed, Sealed: Fairfax Man Owns Rare 1776 Copy of Declaration

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Richard L. Adams Jr. of Oakton bought this 1776 copy of the Declaration of Independence for $475,000 in 2002.

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A Fairfax County collector who paid nearly half a million dollars for a 1776 copy of the Declaration of Independence received a welcome declaration of ownership yesterday when Virginia’s Supreme Court dismissed the State of Maine’s claims to the antique document.

The court ruled in favor of Internet tycoon Richard L. Adams Jr. of Oakton, who had purchased the printed copy from a rare-book dealer in London for $475,000 in 2002. The document, known as a broadside, was one of many circulated in New England towns to alert colonists to the break with England in 1776.

Maine officials, who brought the claim on behalf of the Town of Wiscasset, claimed that the broadside was an official document that had been improperly removed from the town’s possession and should be returned.

“There was no indication that the town ever knowingly, willingly or purposefully divested themselves of that document,” said David Cheever, Maine’s state archivist. But Cheever, who was disappointed by the ruling, said the state’s attorney general saw no grounds to appeal further.

Adams’s attorney, Robert K. Richardson, said: “We’re very pleased with the ruling. It’s what we hoped.”

The case began in Maine in the 1990s and rummaged through early American history to reach its result.

After the Founding Fathers inked the Declaration of Independence in the summer of 1776, the Second Continental Congress directed congressional delegations to inform their fellow citizens back home. The Massachusetts Executive Council, which helped oversee the Massachusetts colony, including parts of what is now Maine, commissioned a private printer in Salem to produce between 200 and 300 of the broadsides. They were to be read aloud by ministers in the various towns and delivered to each town’s clerk. The clerks were then to copy the broadside’s text into their respective town record books “to remain as a perpetual Memorial thereof.” But the council never explained what to do with the broadside after its text was copied.

The broadside in this case had been given to the Rev. Thomas Moore in the town of Pownalborough. Moore read the broadside aloud to his congregation and ultimately handed it over to Pownalborough’s town clerk.

From there, the broadside’s trail grows murky. Notations on the back of the document offer meager hints: “from 1776 to 1784 Warrants . . . ,” “Town Warrants . . . ,” “Loose Papers no Taxes.”

As the document gathered dust, the town of Pownalborough changed its name to Wiscasset in 1802 and became part of Maine with statehood in 1820.

In 1995, the daughter of Solomon Holbrook, a watchmaker who had served as Wiscasset’s clerk, hired an auctioneer to handle the family’s estate. Tucked among receipts in the attic was the neatly folded broadside. After being auctioned for $77,000, it was passed between collectors until Adams bought it.

In 2005, Maine moved to get it back.

The Virginia Supreme Court held that the broadside could not be considered a public record under a 1973 Maine law on public records because the law was not retroactive. And it held that it also could not be considered a public record under common law. The court also rejected Maine’s assertion that the broadside had been improperly sold by Holbrook’s family, saying there was no evidence that it had been wrongly converted to private ownership.

“We were certainly surprised by the verdict,” said Cheever, Maine’s state archivist. He said the case only inflames a sense in Maine that too much of its history has been raided by out-of-state collectors.

“Here’s somebody from ‘away’ who comes in and finds something of value,” Cheever said.

“Because it’s the Declaration of Independence, the hair on the back of the neck stands up. This shouldn’t be leaving.”

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For the court opinion: http://www.courts.state.va.us/opinions/opnscvwp/1080987.pdf

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Full article and photo: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/02/27/AR2009022702956.html

Faking it

A dentist in Italy whose unorthodox methods raised suspicion is exposed as an imposter

In 1969, a legal report said a key feature of any profession is its restriction of admission to only those with the required training. Certainly, you’d expect that your dentist met that professional standard. But you’d be disappointed if you were a patient at the surgery of Alvaro Perez in Sampierdarena in northern Italy.

Perez, from Ecuador, was recently arrested after his patients complained that he’d been knocking out their old fillings with screwdrivers and pulling teeth with household pliers. His main apparatus was — skip this next bit if you’re of a sensitive disposition — a power drill. Perez was arrested after one patient suffered unendurable pain and summoned the police.

Perez, who has no dental qualifications, has now been charged with deception. There have been several comparable imposter offenders in Britain. In the world of medicine there have been 40 cases in the last 70 years. In 1992, for example, Mohammed Saeed, a layman, was found to have been fraudulently practicing as a family doctor in Bradford for 30 years. His partners had grown progressively suspicious of his absence of medical knowledge. He was given a five-year jail sentence.

From the 1980s, Paul Bint, a former hairdresser, posed as a doctor in many hospitals for 12 years. He did all sorts of medical procedures including trying to assist in a heart by-pass operation. In 1994, Roy Grimshaw, another fake doctor, was jailed for fraud after gaining a job as a clinical services manager at Guy’s hospital in London. He had previously posed as a surgeon at a private clinic in Lancashire where he’d carried out nine surgical operations, many gynaecological procedures and three vasectomies. He was only exposed when Bolton magistrates’ court, where he was facing a driving ban, had his medical qualifications checked.

People have also been discovered faking it as lawyers. Say hello again to Paul Bint, the former hairdresser and would-be doctor. He has also been convicted of fraud for posing as a barrister, having stolen a wig and gown and worked on his eloquence. His smooth speech, though, wasn’t delivered in a court room but on a Virgin train in 2000. Proclaiming he was a distinguished advocate, he tricked the chief executive of Virgin, who happened to be travelling on the same train, into compensating him for expensive goods and tickets he claimed to have been stolen while on board.

But the prize for faking it goes to Dr Kenneth D. Yates, an associate professor of physics at the University of New Hampshire in America. In 1954, “Dr Yates” was revealed to be Marvin Hewitt, a high school dropout. When caught, he was in his fifth academic job in seven years, though he was not prosecuted because despite his fraud he was an admirable and respected physicist.

Professor Slapper is Director of the Centre for Law at The Open University.

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Full article: http://business.timesonline.co.uk/tol/business/law/columnists/gary_slapper/article3990945.ece

World Book Day

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Fond as we are of World Book Day, we have to admit it’s a bit of a funny old business. It happens, in Britain and Ireland, next Thursday, and is marked by all sorts of wonderfulness, most particularly by children being given £1 book tokens that they can spend on some specially produced £1 books.

The tradition comes from Catalonia, where books and roses have been given as gifts on St George’s Day for more than 80 years.

St George’s Day is in April – on the 23rd, to be precise – and is believed to coincide with Shakespeare’s birthday, so you’d have thought that adding World Book Day into the mix would be just perfect, wouldn’t you? But no – our little island nation, eccentric to the last, clearly thinks that it’s best not to interfere with the huge annual celebrations (parades, costume balls, feasting, bonfires) that ordinarily mark the Bard’s birth, and so set apart World Book Day with its very own dedicated festival. Fair enough.

But then there’s the “World” bit, too. English-speaking nations are peculiarly bad at reading what might be called world literature. The translator Daniel Hahn, writing on Booktrust’s website devoted to translated fiction (www.translatedfiction. org.uk) makes a valiant defence of our reading habits.

Only 3 per cent of books in this country are in translation; in Europe the figure is closer to ten times that. Hahn, acclaimed for his translations of the novels of José Eduardo Agualusa, argues that “reading should open readers’ minds, broaden their horizons. But we’d be more open-minded, our horizons broader, if we all started reading English-language writers from cultures in Africa and Asia, more than we would, I think, if we read more close-to-home fiction translated from Dutch or Welsh.” It’s a fair point – and there’s little to be gained in giving ourselves a scolding. Encouragement is always a better bet, and that’s just what this website provides, with a fine, broad and appealing list to choose from if you don’t know where to start.

Why think of them as translated books, anyway? Why not think of them as simply books? After all, when it comes to crime writing (for instance) British readers are happy to branch out. They love P. D. James and Ruth Rendell, it’s true; but they are also mightily taken with Henning Mankell and Fred Vargas.

And translation itself – if you have even a passing acquaintance with another language – offers rich opportunities for entertainment. If you are a Tintin fan, as I am, it’s tough to decide which expression is more appealing: “Mille milliards de mille sabords!” or “Billions of blue blistering barnacles!” They’re both fabulous; it depends what you are in the mood for. (And note: Captain Haddock’s name apparently came from a remark made by the wife of Tintin’s creator, George Remi, when she noted that haddock was “a sad English fish”. Would the English think the haddock sad? I reckon not.)

The trick is to keep expanding your horizons. That said – since we’re speaking of French – why not broaden them across the Channel? I spent a few days the other week teaching a writing course thanks to the new Faber Academy: the next course – taught by Jill Dawson and Louise Doughty – is in Paris, at the Shakespeare & Co bookshop, March 12-15. I had a fine time; I bet you would, too.

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Full article: http://entertainment.timesonline.co.uk/tol/arts_and_entertainment/books/article5814280.ece

Photo: Unesco

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Notes:

1- Shakespeare died on April 23, 1616, on the same day as Cervantes and Lope de Vega did.

Cultural diversity highlighted in UN World Book and Copyright Day

UNESCO chose 23 April to celebrate World Book and Copyright Day as it also marks the day on 1616 that Britain’s William Shakespeare, Spain’s Miguel de Cervantes and the Peruvian writer “El Inca” Garcilaso de la Vega all died. The prominent writers Vladimir Nabokov, Halldór Laxness, Josep Pla, Maurice Druon and Manuel Mejía Vallejo were also either born or died on this day.

http://www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp?NewsID=22300&Cr=UNESCO&Cr1=

2- Shakespeare was christened on April 26, 1564

William Shakespeare was born in 1564, in Stratford-upon-Avon. Located in the centre of England, the town was (and still is) an important river-crossing settlement and market centre. The register of Stratford’s Holy Trinity Church records Shakespeare’s baptism on 26 April. He is traditionally said to have been born on 23 April.

http://www.shakespeare.org.uk/content/view/12/12

3. The Gregorian calendar was in effect in Spain, but not in England in 1616, so Shakespeare did not die on the same day as Cervantes and Lope de Vega, assuming of course that the dates are established according to the calendar in force in England and in Spain at the relevant time.

Spain, Portugal, the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, and most of Italy implemented the new calendar on Friday, 15 October 1582, following Julian Thursday, 4 October 1582.

Britain and the British Empire (including the eastern part of what is now the United States) adopted the Gregorian calendar in 1752 by which time it was necessary to correct by 11 days.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gregorian_calendar

13 Unsolved scientific puzzles

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Watching a solar eclipse

Author Michael Brooks has investigated some of the most puzzling anomalies of modern science, those intractable problems that refuse to conform to the theories. Here he counts down the 13 strangest.

1. MOST OF THE UNIVERSE IS MISSING

We can only account for 4 per cent of the cosmos

If you’re wondering what the LHC might do for you, how’s this: it might just find a whole quarter of the universe. The collider is hoping to create some particles of what physicists call “dark matter”, an enigma that is thought to make up roughly 25 per cent of the universe. Then there is the “dark energy”, a mysterious force that seems to be ripping space and time apart. In total, a whopping 96 per cent of the universe has gone AWOL. Unless, that is, we’ve got our maths all wrong. Watch this space.

2. THE PIONEER ANOMALY

Two spacecraft are flouting the laws of physics

In the 1970s NASA launched two space probes that have caused no end of headaches. About 10 years into the missions of Pioneer 10 and 11, the mission head admitted that they had drifted off course. In every year of travel, the probes veer 8000 miles further away from their intended trajectory. It is not much when you consider that they cover 219 million miles a year; the drift is around 10 billion times weaker than the Earth’s pull on your feet. Nonetheless, it is there, and decades of analysis have failed to find a straightforward reason for it.

3. VARYING CONSTANTS

Destabilising our view of the universe

A decade ago, we discovered that the fundamental constants of physics might not be so constant after all. These are the numbers that describe just how strong the forces of nature are, and make the laws of physics work when we use them to describe the processes of nature. Light that has travelled across the universe from distant stars tells us those laws might have been different in the past. Though the physical laws and constants have helped us define and tame the natural world, they might be an illusion.

4. COLD FUSION

Nuclear energy without the drama

In 1989, the world was rocked by claims that you could release nuclear energy without a catastrophic explosion. Various failures to replicate or explain these results soon ended the careers of the scientists involved. But, despite what you might have heard, “cold fusion” never really went away. Over a 10-year period from 1989, US navy labs ran more than 200 experiments to investigate whether nuclear reactions generating more energy than they consume – supposedly only possible inside stars – can occur at room temperature. Numerous researchers have since pronounced themselves believers. With controllable cold fusion, many of the world’s energy problems would melt away: no wonder the US Department of Energy is interested again.

5. LIFE

Are you more than just a bag of chemicals?

Are you more than the sum of the inanimate chemicals that make up your body? What turns a living tree into a lifeless piece of wood? No one knows. Researchers have even given up trying to define what life is. But they are still trying to understand it – by making it from scratch. In labs across the world, people are taking the raw materials of living things and trying to put them together in a way that makes them come alive. In an effort to resolve the anomalous nature of life, the idea of scientists playing God has taken a whole new turn.

6. METHANE FROM MARTIANS

NASA scientists found evidence for life on Mars. Then they changed their minds

On July 20, 1976, the Viking landers scooped up some Martian soil and mixed it with radioactive nutrients. The mission’s scientists all agreed that if radioactive methane was released from the soil, something must be eating the nutrients – and there must be life on Mars. The experiment gave a positive result, but NASA denied an official detection of Martian life. Today, there is even more evidence that something is creating methane on Mars. Is it life? The Viking experiment suggests it was. Martin Rees, England’s astronomer royal, calls the search for extraterrestrial life the most important scientific endeavour of our time. But have we already found it?

7. THE WOW! SIGNAL

Has ET already been in touch?

It was an electromagnetic pulse that came from the direction of the Sagittarius constellation. It lasted 37 seconds and had exactly the characteristics predicted for an alien signal. Maybe that’s why, on 15 August 1977 it caused astronomer Jerry Ehman to scrawl “Wow!” on the printout from Big Ear, Ohio State University’s radio telescope in Delaware. The nearest star in that direction is 220 light years away. If that really is where is came from, it would have had to be a pretty powerful astronomical event – or an advanced alien civilisation using an astonishingly large and powerful transmitter. More than 30 years later, its origin remains a mystery.

8. A GIANT VIRUS

It’s a freak that could rewrite the story of life

Mimivirus is sitting in a freezer in Marseille. Around thirty times bigger than the rhinovirus that gives you a common cold, it is by far the biggest virus known to science. But this virus’s biggest impact won’t be on the healthcare systems of the globe. It will be, most likely, on the history of life on Earth. Mimivirus doesn’t fit with the established story of how life on Earth got going. Mimi has a genome that, in parts, looks like yours. Mimivirus seems to be part of the story of life on Earth. It may even make us rewrite it.

9. DEATH

Evolution’s problem with self-destruction

Why must we die? It is a question that splits biologists, and over the years, theories have been batted back and forth as new evidence comes to light. One answer is that death is simply necessary – to avoid overcrowding, for instance. But evolution doesn’t – can’t – select for a “death switch” because evolution is supposed to be all about the individual. And yet there does seem to be a death switch: researchers have managed to locate genetic switches that massively extend the lifespan of some nematode worms. Can we solve the riddle of death?

10. SEX

There are better ways to reproduce

Sex is everywhere, but no one knows why. It is a question that “better scientists than I have spent book after book failing to answer,” says Richard Dawkins. To Charles Darwin, the reason for the prevalence of sexual reproduction was “hidden in darkness”. All the arguments in favour of sexual reproduction are countered by stronger arguments in favour of self-cloning: asexual reproduction, where an organism produces a copy of itself, is a much more efficient way to pass your genes down to the next generation. There’s no proof that sex makes a species more resilient, or better placed to cope with change. Why is it still around?

11. FREE WILL

Your decisions are not your own

Our gut instinct, our experience, is that we make the decisions to move, to think, to eat, to steal, to lie, to punch and kick. We have constructed the entire edifice of our civilisation on this idea. But science says this free will is a delusion. According to the world’s best neuroscientists, we are brain-machines. Our brains create the sense that somewhere within them is the “you” that makes decisions. But it is an illusion; there is no ghost in the machine. What does this mean for our sense of self? And for our morality – can we prosecute people for acts over which they had no conscious control?

12. THE PLACEBO EFFECT

Who’s being deceived?

The placebo effect used to be thought of as just a manipulation, a mind-trick. Doctors wore white coats, spoke in soothing tones, exuding confidence and medical know-how, and if they told you a pill would make you better, it would. By the time you found out it was just a sugar pill, you were feeling great, so who cares? Well, lots of people, actually, because our new understanding of placebo is messing up medicine. Some prescription drugs that were judged to perform “better than placebo” in clinical trials don’t work unless you know you’re taking them. All in all, the gold standard of medicine, the placebo-controlled clinical trial, is looking a little peaky.

13. HOMEOPATHY

It’s patently absurd, so why won’t it go away?

Homeopathy’s claim is that you can take a substance of dubious properties, dilute it to the point where there are no molecules of the original substance left in the sample you have, and still use it to heal sickness. Sir John Forbes, the physician to Queen Victoria’s household, called it “an outrage to human reason.” There is no justification in all of science for this idea — and yet there remains some slim evidence that homeopathy works. How can this be?

13 Things That Don’t Make Sense – The Most Intriguing Scientific Mysteries of Our Time by Michael Brooks is published by Profile Books.

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Full article: http://entertainment.timesonline.co.uk/tol/arts_and_entertainment/books/article5797028.ece

Photo: London Times

Dean Grose to quit as Los Alamitos mayor over e-mailed cartoon

melon1
The image that was sent to Keyanus Price from Mayor Dean Grose’s personal e-mail account.
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The mayor of Los Alamitos said he will resign after coming under fire for an e-mail depicting the White House lawn as a watermelon patch, saying the controversy over racism has made it difficult to lead the city.

Dean Grose issued a statement Thursday saying that he is sorry and will step down as mayor at Monday’s City Council meeting. But he will continue to serve as a council member until his term expires in 2010, city officials said.

The announcement came less than a week after Grose sent the e-mail, which had a picture of the White House lawn planted with watermelons and the title “No Easter egg hunt this year.”

The e-mail garnered national media scrutiny after it was first reported by the Orange County Register on Tuesday night.

Police have stepped up patrols around Grose’s home and business after he found a smashed watermelon Wednesday morning on the sidewalk and door outside his business, EMS Medical Products.

Local businesswoman and city volunteer Keyanus Price, who is black, told the Associated Press on Tuesday that she was offended by the e-mail she received from the mayor’s personal account Sunday.

“I have had plenty of my share of chicken and watermelon and all those kinds of jokes,” Price said.

“I honestly don’t even understand where he was coming from, sending this to me. As a black person receiving something like this from the city freakin’ mayor — come on.”

Grose told the Associated Press last week that he didn’t mean to offend Price and was unaware of the racial stereotype that black people like watermelons.

In a written statement Thursday, Grose apologized and said he would step down as mayor, saying that the incident has “impacted my ability to provide leadership and team-building efforts.”

“We had exchanged e-mail jokes in the past, and it was never my intention to cause any discomfort or embarrassment for Ms. Price. I am truly sorry,” Grose wrote. “This was clearly my mistake, which I accept was in poor taste and I regret that it has created this cloud.”

Grose has served on the City Council since 2006 and in December became mayor of the predominantly white Orange County town of about 12,000, just east of Long Beach.

Los Angeles civil rights leaders Friday applauded Grose’s resignation.

“Grose did the right and honorable thing by resigning,” Los Angeles Urban Policy Roundtable President Earl Ofari Hutchinson said in a written statement.

“His resignation serves as a cautionary warning to other public officials that racial sensitivity must be their watchword in governance,” Hutchinson said.

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Full article: http://www.latimes.com/news/local/la-me-los-alamitos-mayor28-2009feb28,0,6976813.story
Photo: http://www.ocregister.com/articles/mail-price-public-2317355-apology-people

Sex chemistry ‘lasts two years’

 

lustand

The husband-and-wife writing team Rolf and Gabriele Froböse wrote the big-selling Royal Society of Chemistry book “Lust and Love: is it more than Chemistry?”

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1- Sex Chemistry ‘lasts two years’ (BBC News – 2006)

A team from the University of Pisa in Italy found the bodily chemistry which makes people sexually attractive to new partners lasts, at most, two years.

When couples move into a “stable relationship” phase, other hormones take over, Chemistry World reports.

But one psychologist warned the hormone shift is wrongly seen as negative.

Dr Petra Boynton, of the British Psychological Society, said there was a danger people might feel they should take hormone supplements to make them feel the initial rush of lust once more.

‘Not ever-lasting’

The Italian researchers tested the levels of the hormones called neutrophins in the blood of volunteers who were rated on a passionate love scale.

Levels of these chemical messengers were much higher in those who were in the early stages of romance.

Testosterone was also found to increase in love-struck women, but to reduce in men when they are in love.

But in people who had been with their partners for between one and two years these so-called “love molecules” had gone, even though the relationship had survived.

The scientists found that the lust molecule was replaced by the so-called “cuddle hormone” – oxytocin – in couples who had been together for several years.

Oxytocin, is a chemical that induces labour and milk-production in new and pregnant mothers.

Donatella Marazziti, who led the research team, said: “If lovers swear their feelings to be ever-lasting, the hormones tell a different story.”

Similar research conducted by Enzo Emanuele at the University of Pavia found that levels of a chemical messenger called nerve growth factor (NGF) increased with romantic intensity.

After one to two years, NGF levels had reduced to normal.

‘Real Cupid’s arrows’

The researchers said: “Whether more nerve growth is needed in the early stage of romance because of all the new experiences that are engraved into the brain, or whether it has a second, as yet unknown function in the chemistry of love, remains to be explored.”

Michael Gross, a bio-chemist and science writer who has studied the latest findings, said: “It shows that different hormones are present in the blood when people are acutely in love while there is no evidence of the same hormones in people who have been in a stable relationship for many years.

“In fact the love molecules can disappear as early as 12 months after a relationship has started to be replaced by another chemical glue that keeps couples together.”

He added: “To any romantically inclined chemist, it should be deeply satisfying to be able to prove that chemical messengers communicate romantic feeling between humans.”

“It may be the only thing that science can offer as a real-world analogy to Cupid’s arrows.”

But Dr Boynton said: “This feeds into a 1970s view that when you meet it’s all sparky, and then it’s a downward trajectory to cuddles – which is seen as a negative.

“It is suggesting that what happens first is the best bit – and that isn’t true.”

She added: “I’m concerned that, having identified these hormones, there will be some move to suggest replacements to recreate the early passion.”

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Full article: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/health/4669104.stm

Photo: BBC News

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2- Cupid’s chemistry (Chemistry World – 2006)

Molecules in love 

Donatella Marazziti, a psychiatrist at the University of Pisa, Italy, started out investigating the hormonal changes connected to obsessive-compulsive disorder, before moving on to those that occur when people fall in love. Initially, she and her co-workers found a decrease in functionality of serotonin transporters in the blood of enamoured volunteers, who had been selected and rated on a passionate love scale (PLS), much like those in the US studies. Like obsessive-compulsive patients, the love-struck volunteers showed a reduced concentration of serotonin in the blood, which might explain why early phase romantic love can turn into obsession.  

In her most recent study, Marazitti, together with fellow Pisa researcher Domenico Canale, casts the net wider to check for changes in the concentration of a number of hormones, including oestradiol, progesterone, dehydroepiandrosterone, and androstenedione, which were found to be unaffected by any romantic feelings. In contrast, they observed changes for cortisol, follicle stimulating hormone, and testosterone. Some effects were gender-specific. For example, testosterone was found to increase in love-struck women but to reduce in men when they are in love. 

If lovers swear their feelings to be everlasting, the hormones clearly tell a different story. Re-testing the same subjects 12-24 months later, Marazziti and Canale found that the hormonal differences had disappeared entirely, even if the relationships remained intact.  

Using the same method for volunteer selection, Enzo Emanuele and his co-workers at the University of Pavia, Italy, investigated whether a different class of chemical messengers, the neurotrophins, is involved in the romantic experience. At the end of 2005 they reported that the concentration of nerve growth factor (NGF) in the blood exceeds normal levels in enamoured volunteers, and that it increases with the intensity of romantic feelings as measured by the PLS. Whether more NGF is needed in early stage romance because of all the new experiences that are engraved into the brain, or whether it has a second, as yet unknown, function in the chemistry of love remains to be explored.  

Emanuele and co-workers also found that after one to two years, all of the love molecules had gone, even if the relationship survived. Neither the initial intensity of the PLS nor the concentration of NGF appeared to be a suitable predictor for the fate of the relationship after that period.  

But, if all the chemical messengers of intensive romantic feelings disappear within two years, what is the chemical glue that keeps – at least some – couples together?  

Hormonal attachment 

A key molecule for the attachment phase is the hormone oxytocin, a nonapeptide that was first described as the chemical that induces labour and lactation, but later found a second job as the human ‘cuddle hormone’. It is related to the hormone vasopressin, which controls kidney function, and has also been identified when prairie voles form attachments. 

Experiments have shown that, depending on the species, either or both of these hormones can make animals snuggle up. In humans, it has been shown that oxytocin production is high during female orgasm. Apart from that, and its role in childbirth, very little was known about oxytocin’s role in human physiology and psychology until recently.  

Last year, several groups reported progress in investigating oxytocin’s role in humans, linking the hormone to early socialisation, social cognition, and trust. Michael Kosfeld and his co-workers at the University of Zurich, Switzerland, showed that applying oxytocin via a nasal spray made participants in a trust game more trusting towards other human participants, but not towards a computer. This finding fits in with the expectations of the Italian researchers. ‘I am not surprised by the results of Kosfeld’s paper,’ says Donatella Marazziti, who has just completed a study of oxytocin in romantic love but keeps the details under wraps. 

Cupid’s arrows 

Finally, another family of chemical messengers associated with love, the pheromones, are equally poorly understood in humans, as most of our knowledge derives from animals. By definition, pheromones are chemicals intended for communication between individuals of the same species. Their use in insects is well understood to the extent that pheromone traps are commercially available for crop protection.  

Our knowledge is much more incomplete for mammals, let alone humans. Most people’s educated guess is that pheromones secreted from some glands, eg with sweat, are recognised by receptors presumably located in a very small part of our nose known as Jacobson’s organ or vomero-nasal organ (VNO). However, it was only in 2002 that researchers could pin down some putative mammalian pheromone receptors in mice.  

Last October, Hiroko Kimoto’s group at the University of Tokyo, Japan, added a surprising piece to the jigsaw. The researchers showed that a non-volatile mouse pheromone, which they called ESP-1 (exocrine-gland secreting peptide) is released from the tear glands of the male mouse and, after face to face contact, activates receptors in the female’s VNO.  

Again, it remains unclear whether human male tears have a similar effect on the female of the species. Indeed, there is a long-running controversy as to whether the human VNO is in fact a working part of our physiology or whether it’s an inactive relic of mammalian evolution. It now appears that the evidence is slowly giving the pro-VNO party the upper hand.  

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Full article: http://www.rsc.org/chemistryworld/Issues/2006/February/CupidChemistry.asp

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3- The Royal Society of Chemistry Guide to Love – 2008

A Chemistry World story on the chemistry of love has resurfaced after two years, as one of the most emailed BBC news stories. 

The heightened interest in the story headlined Sex Chemistry ‘lasts two years’ is presumably down to the approach of Valentine’s Day.

The article explains why lovers’ early passions subside when their ‘lust molecules’ fade; however it is replaced by another molecule which has been linked to a longer-lasting bond. 

Is there more to love and life than chemistry? The RSC explains:

Whether you are looking to tempt a future partner, ward off unwanted Valentine advances or simply get through the day, it all comes down to chemistry.

The romantics of us may want to believe that love really is a mystery of the soul.

The science shows that the mystery is perhaps not so profound. 

Let the RSC explain the real chemistry behind the warm and tender feeling that love is meant to bring. If you don’t want your romantic notion to be contaminated with a cocktail of chemicals, then look away now…

The excitement and feeling of love is a cascade of chemical signals speeding rapidly through the brain to trigger electrical or chemical effects. Via nerve cells, these are then involved with controlling what we perceive as emotional reactions. 

We are then unable to control some of the familiar effects such as racing heartbeat, sweaty palms and breathing heavily. 

PEA-Phenylethylamine (or “jubilation”)

This fishy-smelling hormone, often found to be low in depressive people, is similar to adrenaline. It is linked to pulse rates, and is significantly higher after physical activity. Research shows this may be the trigger for “romantic love”, and may lead to sweaty hands, lumps in the throat and butterflies in the stomach.

But after 2-3 years the nerve endings in the brain will have adapted to the increased levels of PEA and the excitation sadly fades. 
This chemical may also explain the high divorce rates which peak close to the forth year of marriage. 

This drug can be found in chocolate and almonds, but unfortunately may be rapidly metabolised before significant quantities can reach the brain.

Oxytocin (the “cuddle” hormone)

Not only can we blame the physical responses of lust and the honeymoon period of love on chemicals. Chemistry is also responsible for the perhaps less tangible desire for tenderness, comfort and physical and mental closeness.

The hormone oxytocin is responsible for these emotional feelings; it has also been associated with maternal behaviour, trust and generosity.

Levels of oxytocin soar with a tender touch, sexual arousal and after orgasm, creating a feeling of safety and comfort and increasing the bond between couples after an amorous encounter. 

The more intimate encounters you have with one partner, the more you associate the pleasant feeling oxytocin brings with that person. This chemical is the long-term glue of relationships. However an overdose of this glue might manifest as an infatuation or obsessive dependence.  

Serotonin ( the ‘happiness’ chemical), chase away the winter blues by eating chocolate

This chemical mainly affects the brain and about 10 milligrams are needed for psychic stability. Lack of serotonin leads to lack of drive, sleep disorder, anxiety and depression. Serotonin can be provided by foods such as bananas, pineapple, strawberries, raspberries, sesame, rice pudding and chocolate. 

Studies have also shown that levels of serotonin in the brain depend on our exposure to light. So rather than wallowing alone in a dark room this Valentine’s, indulge in a massive rice pudding smothered in strawberries and chocolate to get you through.

“Don’t wash, Will arrive in Three days” a private message from Napoleon Bonaparte to his wife-

Experiments have shown that attraction between two people is crucially influenced by body odours and pheromones- love will only work if noses agree.

Scientists claim we are more likely to be attracted to the smell from someone with a different genetic make-up to our own, and repelled by the odour of someone who is genetically similar. If in doubt whether you want the attention, have a good scrub or douse yourself with garlic! 

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Full article: http://www.rsc.org/AboutUs/News/PressReleases/2008/LoveAndChemistry.asp

Photo: Chemistry World

Twelve Angry Lebanese was staged in a Beyrut prison before government and judicial officials

 

Twelve Angry Lebanese being staged 

Lebanese prisoners stage drama, at Roumieh Central Prison, Beirut

Magdi has spent 15 years on death row, waiting for his execution in an airless, overcrowded prison cell.

The jail where his life is supposed to end is wrapped in miles of barbed wire, surrounded by checkpoints and perched on top of the mountain that overlooks the Mediterranean.

Roumieh Prison is Lebanon’ s biggest high-security jail, notorious for bloody riots and terrible conditions, and home to some of the country’s most dangerous criminals.

But Magdi, a thin, greying man, says he never committed the murder he was charged with, and that the trial that put him on death row was rushed and unfair.

Over the years, he says, he has written countless letters to the authorities begging them to review his case, but he never received a reply.

Then one February afternoon in 2009, he suddenly had a chance to tell his story face to face, to some of the country’s most senior officials.

“I was so nervous,” Magdi recalls. “Just imagine – the prosecutor general, the minister of the interior, high ranking generals – they were all right here.”

Magdi, along with his fellow inmates, was on the stage while the officials were the guests of honour at the opening of the Twelve Angry Lebanese, a theatre play of a kind the Arab world has never seen before.

Role reversal

For two hours, seated just inches away from the improvised stage, the representatives of Lebanon’s government listened as inmates questioned the country’s judicial system, talked about prison conditions and told personal tales through their adaptation of Twelve Angry Men, a play by Reginald Rose in which a jury of 12 men meets to decide the fate of a boy who is accused of murder.

The performance was, the prisoners recall, a mind-boggling role reversal.

For Zeina Daccache, a young Lebanese actress and director with a passion for drama therapy, it was also a real triumph.

“The problem was that no-one believed in the project, in fact everyone thought I was crazy,” she said.

Lebanese prisons are closed to the public and the media, and Zeina Daccache’s proposal of drama therapy was turned down twice.

But eight months after being rejected she secured funding from the EU she managed to gain access to the jail.

Prison authorities agreed to turn a former prayer room into an improvised theatre, and soon the 200 prisoners who applied to take part in the project began attending daily drama therapy sessions.

Within months of workshops and play sessions the group shrank to 45 inmates with whom Zeina began working on the actual play.

“I picked Twelve Angry Men because it’s the perfect play for this situation. It gives the inmates a chance to reverse roles, to be the jury, which is therapy in itself,” she says.

The group was diverse. The crimes of the inmates ranged from drug dealing to rape and murder. The sentences varied from a few years to life, and death row.

Commitment

The only requirement for participation was commitment – of which there was plenty.

One of the inmates taught himself how to read so he could join the project, and another refused to quit despite serious health problems. Seated on benches in their barbed wire theatre, the inmates explain that the reason behind their enthusiasm is simple.

“This is the first time I have been treated as a human being,” said Mullah, who has been in Roumieh for 15 years.

“There is nothing for us to do here,” adds 28-year-old Joseph. “There is no exercise area, there is no entertainment, there is no proper food. It’s just us crammed together in the rooms.”

Zanelo, a 60-year-old drug dealer, added: “Others made fun of us for coming to work with Zeina, but I felt I suddenly had a reason to wake up in the morning.”

All of them say that in one way or another the project changed their life.

“After the premiere, I cried. For the first time in my life,” says Hassan, a 30-year-old with piercing green eyes, who is in prison for a brutal murder of two friends.

But the group bursts out laughing, when Abu Abdul, whose trimmed beard and thick glasses makes him look like a professor, launches into a long speech on how he has become a better man.

“It made me rethink my crimes,” says Abu Abdul. “I used to sell drugs and forge money, but I will never do it again when I get out.”

His jail-mates laugh, clearly sceptical of Abu Abdul’s ability to reform.

Call for reform

But they are using the play to call for the reform of Lebanon’s prison system. In the monologues in the play they question the very way justice here is done.

They ask why the Lebanese authorities do not enforce the law that allows prisoners to appeal for the early release on grounds of good behaviour.

They raise the issue of long term pre-trial detention through the real-life story of a prisoner who has been jailed, without charges, for nine years.

The Roumieh authorities, who were at first sceptical about the project, are now full of praise for it. They say it brought unprecedented and much needed attention from the government in Beirut.

The inmates say they want the project to continue, but Zeina Daccache is waiting to see whether she can get the funding and the permissions to carry on.

And Magdi, the prisoner on the death row, is also waiting – no longer for an execution but a decision on his future.

After the opening of the Twelve Angry Lebanese, some officials, clearly moved by the play, went backstage and talked to him personally. He says they promised to look into his case.

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Full article: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/middle_east/7914973.stm

Photo: BBC News

Germany Asked to Boycott UN Racism Conference

Germany Asked to Boycott UN Racism Conference

The US, Canada and Italy have said they will not attend the United Nations Conference on Racism out of fear that it will be used primarily for attacks on Israel. With states like Iran, Libya and Cuba dictating the agenda, calls are growing for Germany to join the boycott too.

It was one of the low points in the history of the United Nations. In September, 2001, the South African city of Durban was playing host to the UN World Conference against Racism. The aim had been to officially declare slavery and colonialism as crimes.

However, both in the conference room and outside it, one state repeatedly came in for diatribes: Israel, accused of being the spawn of racism and apartheid. It became clear that the attacks on Israel had been orchestrated by authoritarian regimes in the Muslim world. “The hate contingent has prevailed,” wrote German newspaper Frankfurter Rundschau at the time. The memory of the meeting was soon eclipsed, however, by the terror attacks of Sept. 11, which took place just four days after the conference ended.

Now this sad spectacle may repeat itself. The UN will hold a follow-up conference to the Durban meeting in Geneva, Switzerland, between April 20 and 24. Not only Jewish organizations fear that states like Iran, Libya or Saudi Arabia might turn the event into an anti-Israeli forum — Canada, Italy and the United States have said that they will keep away from the event. The Obama administration has said the conference threatens, again, to unfairly single out Israel.

Now the German government is coming under pressure to pull out of the conference, too. The group “Boycott Durban II” — an alliance of non-profit organizations, journalists and former politicians — has gathered 1,300 signatures calling for a boycott, including those of well-known figures in Germany such as the writers Peter Schneider and Ralph Giordano, and the lawyer and women’s rights activist Seyran Ates. “A boycott should be a matter of course,” thinks Alex Feuerhardt, a Berlin journalist who helped set up the group. “One does not speak with anti-Semites,” he says.The call for the boycott has been provoked by a draft of the conference’s closing statement. The current 60-page document condemns only one state explicitly: Israel. The paper focuses on one conflict, in the Middle East, and Israel appears as the only aggressor in that dispute. The draft accuses Israel of torture, apartheid and human rights crimes.

“This ties Durban II directly with Durban I,” Feuerhardt says.

The draft is “unbelievably one-sided,” says German parliamentarian Klaus Faber, a Social Democrat (SPD), who supports the boycott movement. He says it’s astounding that other trouble spots and specific human rights abuses aren’t on the conference’s agenda. “It is hard to believe. No word about the mass murders in Darfur, nothing about genital mutilation, stonings or racist terrorism,” he says.

One reason for the boycott movement is that the UN Human Rights Council is organizing the conference. The council emerged in 2006 from the ashes of the UN Commission on Human Rights, which had been accused of providing a platform for totalitarian states. The successor body doesn’t seem much better. Some states that sit on the council — there are 47 in all — have dubious human rights records, like Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Cuba and China.

The meetings of the new body have proved to be just as contentious. In June 2008, when the British human rights activist David Littman wanted to address the council, he was heckled by Egyptian and Pakistani representatives. The council president stepped in to rule that there could be no mention of Sharia law in the context of a debate about human rights. Meanwhile the council seems obsessed with Israel: “It was discussed 120 times there in 2007,” says Feuerhardt.

The impetus for the German boycott alliance was provided by the so-called preparatory committee for the April conference. The committee is made up of 20 states who work together to draft the final document. Libya currently chairs the committee, and it includes Iran, Pakistan and Cuba. “It is incomprehensible that Germany is still planning to take part in the conference,” says Faber of the SPD.Germany’s Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, who received a protest letter from the Central Council of Jews in September 2008, is currently still slated to attend, but he may cancel the trip. “The draft at this point is by no means satisfactory,” a spokeswoman for the German Foreign Ministry told SPIEGEL ONLINE, adding: “Our aim is to prevent the conference being misused.” That is why the draft is being “continuously examined,” she explained. Steinmeier has also pushed for the issue to be debated at the European Union’s General Affairs and External Relations Council next week. “It is important for us to reach a European consensus,” the spokeswoman said.

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navanethem Pillay cannot understand the uproar. Last Thursday she argued that fears about misuse of the conference by Israel’s enemies were unwarranted.

Meanwhile, in Geneva, work has begun on a new closing statement, which is due in the next few days. “We are in the midst of a negotiating process,” a spokeswoman for the Human Rights Council told SPIEGEL ONLINE. “We hope that common ground can be reached in the end.”

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Full article: http://www.spiegel.de/international/world/0,1518,613193,00.html

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US and Canada may boycott UN racism conference

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The UN conference on racism is expected to open in Geneva in April

 

The US is likely to boycott a UN racism conference, reports suggest, saying a text drawn up for the event criticises Israel and restricts freedom of speech.

An unnamed state department official said the draft document for April’s forum in Geneva was “unsalvageable”.

Canada and Israel have also said they plan to boycott the meeting.

In 2001, US and Israeli delegates walked out of a similar conference in Durban, South Africa, when a draft document likened Zionism to racism.

The 2001 draft expressed “deep concern” at the “increase of racist practices of Zionism and anti-Semitism”.

It talked of the emergence of “movements based on racism and discriminatory ideas, in particular the Zionist movement, which is based on racial superiority”.

‘Unsalvageable’

A US delegation travelled to Geneva for negotiations earlier in February to try to agree the conference’s final document.

“Unfortunately, the document being negotiated has gone from bad to worse,” the unnamed state department official was quoted as saying by the Washington Post newspaper.

“The current text of the draft of the outcome document is, in the United States government’s estimation, unsalvageable.

“As a result the United States will not participate in the forthcoming negotiations on this text, nor will we be able to participate in a conference that is based on this text,” the official said.

Washington says the proposed text unfairly singles out Israel for criticism.

US officials say they are also concerned that some sections of the draft – which call for restrictions on the defamation of religions – could threaten free speech.

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Full article: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/americas/7916191.stm

Photo: BBC News

Biotech mogul’s yard yields ancient history

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This photo release by the University of Colorado shows Douglas Bamforth, left, and Patrick Mahaffy, right, show a portion of more than 80 artifacts unearthed about two feet below Mahaffy’s front yard during a landscaping project this past summer.

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Colorado landscapers uncover a weapons cache in a planned koi pond, and they phone a nearby archaeologist instead of police. Good call: The blood-spattered tools were abandoned 13,000 years ago.

Landscapers excavating for a koi pond in Boulder, Colo., found a cache of blood-spattered weapons and tools, but instead of calling the police, they summoned an archaeologist from the University of Colorado, six blocks from the site.

Douglas B. Bamforth initially thought the stone implements might have been a few hundred years old, but further studies showed that they were left behind about 13,000 years ago, making them one of only two caches of tools from that period known to exist, the university announced Wednesday. The other cache was found in Washington state.

An analysis by anthropologist Robert Yohe of Cal State Bakersfield showed that the blood came from horses, sheep, bears and a now-extinct camel — the first time a camel’s blood has been found on such a tool.

Workers building the pond for Pharmion Corp. founder Patrick Mahaffy discovered 83 items packed into an area about the size of a shoe box.

The find was made in May, but was not announced until the blood was analyzed.

The tools are known as the Mahaffy cache. The biotech mogul — whose firm was acquired in 2007 by Celgene Corp. — paid for the analysis.

Among the flint implements were a salad-plate-size bifacial knife; a tool resembling a double-bitted ax; small blades; and flint scrapers.

Bamforth initially suspected that the tools were ceremonial, but the blood indicates that they were used for more practical purposes.

“It looks like someone gathered together some of their most spectacular tools and other scraps of potentially useful material and stuck them into a small hole in the ground by a stream, fully expecting to come back at a later date and retrieve them,” Bamforth said.

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Full article: http://www.latimes.com/technology/la-sci-tools28-2009feb28,0,3130751.story?track=rss
Photo: Los Angeles Times

Fragments of Ancient Egyptian Papyrus Found

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The fragments belong to a 3,000-year-old unique document, known as the Turin Kinglist.

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Some newly recovered papyrus fragments may finally help solve a century-old puzzle, shedding new light on ancient Egyptian history.

Found stored between two sheets of glass in the basement of the Museo Egizio in Turin, the fragments belong to a 3,000-year-old unique document, known as the Turin Kinglist.

Like many ancient Egyptian documents, the Turin Kinglist is written on the stem of a papyrus plant.

Believed to date from the long reign of Ramesses II, the papyrus contains an ancient list of Egyptian kings.

Scholars from the British Museum were tipped off to the existence of the additional fragments after reviewing a 1959 analysis of the papyrus by a British archaeologist. In his work, the archaeologist, Alan Gardiner, mentions fragments that were not included in the final reconstruction on display at the museum. After an extensive search, museum researchers found the pieces.

The finding could help more accurately piece together what is considered to be a key item for understanding ancient Egyptian history.

“This is one of the most important documents to reconstruct the chronology of Egypt between the 1st and 17th Dynasty,” Federico Bottigliengo, Egyptologist at the Turin museum, told Discovery News.

“Unlike other lists of kings, it enumerates all rulers, including the minor ones and those considered usurpers. Moreover, it records the length of reigns in years, and in some cases even in months and days.”

Written in an ancient Egyptian cursive writing system called hieratic, the papyrus was purchased in Thebes by the Italian diplomat and explorer Bernardino Drovetti in 1822. Placed in a box along with other papyri, the parchment disintegrated into small fragments by the time it arrived in Italy.

Some 48 pieces of the puzzle were first assembled by French Egyptologist Jean-Francois Champollion (1790-1832). Later, some other hundred fragments were pieced together by German and American archaeologist Gustavus Seyffarth (1796-1885).

One of the most important restorations was made in 1938 by Giulio Farina, the museum’s director. But in 1959, Gardiner, the British Egyptologist, proposed another placement of the fragments, including the newly recovered pieces.

Now made of 160 fragments, the Turin Kinglist basically lacks two important parts: the introduction of the list and the ending.

“Some of the finest scholars have worked on the papyrus last century, but disagreement about its reconstruction has remained,” Bottigliengo said. “It has been a never-ending puzzle.”

“The enumeration of the kings does not continue after the 17th Dynasty. We are confident that the recovered fragments will help reconstruct some of the missing parts as well as add new knowledge to Egyptian history and chronology.”

“It is possible that some dates will have to be changed and names of pharaohs will have to be added,” Bottigliengo said.

The newly recovered fragments have been examined by the experts of the British Museum, following a collaboration begun by the museum director Eleni Vassilika. She drew on the experience of Gardiner, in conserving and mounting papyri.

“A preliminary visit revealed that there is huge potential to conserve and reconstruct the papyrus, including many small fragments that were left unplaced in Farina’s arrangement of the 1930s.”

“We are confident that a new examination with modern scientific techniques will enable a much improved reconstruction to be achieved,” Richard Parkinson, curator in the Department of Ancient Egypt and Sudan at the British Museum, told Discovery News.

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Full article: http://dsc.discovery.com/news/2009/02/27/egyptian-papyrus.html

Photo: Discovery News

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See also:

A little piece of the afterlife

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The fragile papyrus scroll remained in the museum’s vault for almost 100 years.

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The scroll of spells a rich Egyptian took to his grave to guide him through the afterlife remained tightly wound, hidden from prying eyes for 2,300 years. Until now.

The Book of the Dead of Amen-em-hat, a newly unveiled treasure belonging to the Royal Ontario Museum, is a seven-metre papyrus scroll written and illustrated with excruciating care by a scribe for Amen-em-hat to take with him to his tomb.

It offers a striking glimpse into the precautions the ancient Egyptians took to travel smoothly through the afterlife. The dire consequences of a heart laden with sins – murder, theft or just sullenness and eavesdropping – are clear for all to see on the scroll: The sharp teeth and fearsome demeanour of the monsters of the Netherworld await the unworthy.

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Full post: https://abluteau.wordpress.com/2009/02/24/a-little-piece-of-the-afterlife/

Amazon lets publishers and writers disable Kindle 2’s read-aloud feature

Amazon.com. reversed course Friday on the device’s controversial text-to-speech feature, which reads digital books aloud in a robotic voice. The company gave rights holders the ability to disable the feature for individual titles.

The Kindle 2, which shipped this week, is a faster and smaller version of Amazon’s gadget. It can hold more than 1,500 books and has 25% more battery life than its predecessor.

But the Authors Guild objected to the text-to-speech function, saying Amazon doesn’t have the right to essentially turn e-books into audio books. Guild President Roy Blount Jr., well-known for his role on the NPR quiz show “Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me,” wrote an opinion column in the New York Times denouncing the function.

“They created a hybrid product,” Paul Aiken, executive director of the Authors Guild, said when reached by phone late Friday. “It was being used in a way they had not been given permission for.”

Amazon made it clear Friday that its reversal didn’t mean it agreed with that interpretation of copyright law.

“Kindle 2’s experimental text-to-speech feature is legal: no copy is made, no derivative work is created and no performance is being given,” the company said. “Nevertheless, we strongly believe many rights holders will be more comfortable with the text-to-speech feature if they are in the driver’s seat.”

Ben Sheffner, a Los Angeles copyright attorney and author of the blog Copyrights & Campaigns, said Amazon probably reversed course to maintain good relationships with authors, not because of legal concerns.

Sheffner said that Amazon probably wouldn’t need different rights to sell an e-book with the text-to-speech function enabled, but that book contracts could differ dramatically so there was no way to know for sure.

“I think this announcement was 95% motivated by business and relationship concerns,” he said. “The copyright claims were speculative at best.”

The two sides haven’t completely mended their relationship yet. Aiken, of the Authors Guild, said he would have to wait to see how the changes were implemented before giving them his blessing.

Seattle-based Amazon said it had already begun to alter its systems to give publishers and authors the choice to disable the text-to-speech function, and that they could decide for themselves whether it was in their commercial interests to leave it enabled.

“We believe many will decide that it is,” Amazon said.

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Full article: http://www.latimes.com/technology/la-fi-kindle28-2009feb28,0,3485995.story?track=rss
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See also:
 
The Kindle Swindle?

Being president of too many well-meaning organizations put my father into an early grave. The lesson in this was not lost on me. But now I am president of the Authors Guild, whose mission is to sustain book-writing as a viable occupation. This borders on quixotic, given all the new ways of not getting paid that new technology affords authors. A case in point: Amazon’s Kindle 2, which was released yesterday.

The Kindle 2 is a portable, wireless, paperback-size device onto which people can download a virtual library of digitalized titles. Amazon sells these downloads, and where the books are under copyright, it pays royalties to the authors and publishers.

Serves readers, pays writers: so far, so good. But there’s another thing about Kindle 2 — its heavily marketed text-to-speech function. Kindle 2 can read books aloud. And Kindle 2 is not paying anyone for audio rights.

True, you can already get software that will read aloud whatever is on your computer. But Kindle 2 is being sold specifically as a new, improved, multimedia version of books — every title is an e-book and an audio book rolled into one. And whereas e-books have yet to win mainstream enthusiasm, audio books are a billion-dollar market, and growing. Audio rights are not generally packaged with e-book rights. They are more valuable than e-book rights. Income from audio books helps not inconsiderably to keep authors, and publishers, afloat.

You may be thinking that no automated read-aloud function can compete with the dulcet resonance of Jim Dale reading “Harry Potter” or of authors, ahem, reading themselves. But the voices of Kindle 2 are quite listenable. There’s even a male version and a female version. (A book by, say, Norman Mailer on Kindle 2 might do a brisk business among people wondering how his prose would sound in measured feminine tones.)

And that sort of technology is improving all the time. I.B.M. has patented a computerized voice that is said to be almost indistinguishable from human ones. This voice is programmed to include “ums,” “ers” and sighs, to cough for attention, even to “shhh” when interrupted. According to Andy Aaron, of I.B.M.’s Thomas J. Watson research group speech team: “These sounds can be incredibly subtle, even unnoticeable, but have a profound psychological effect. It can be extremely reassuring to have a more attentive-sounding voice.”

When I read that quotation, it hit me: Hey, I know Andy Aaron. Years ago, he said he was working on some sort of voice simulation, and asked to work my Southern accent into the mix. I don’t remember whether we got around to that or not, and this new I.B.M. software is designed, at any rate, not for audio books but for computer help lines. So no part of my voice is competing with my own audio books yet. But people who want to keep on doing creative things for a living must be duly vigilant about any new means of transmitting their work.

What the guild is asserting is that authors have a right to a fair share of the value that audio adds to Kindle 2’s version of books. For this, the guild is being assailed. On the National Federation of the Blind’s Web site, the guild is accused of arguing that it is illegal for blind people to use “readers, either human or machine, to access books that are not available in alternative formats like Braille or audio.”

In fact, publishers, authors and American copyright laws have long provided for free audio availability to the blind and the guild is all for technologies that expand that availability. (The federation, though, points out that blind readers can’t independently use the Kindle 2’s visual, on-screen controls.) But that doesn’t mean Amazon should be able, without copyright-holders’ participation, to pass that service on to everyone.

The guild is also accused of wanting to profiteer off family bedtime rituals. A lawyer at the Electronic Frontier Foundation sarcastically warned that “parents everywhere should be on the lookout for legal papers haling them into court for reading to their kids.”

For the record: no, the Authors Guild does not expect royalties from anybody doing non-commercial performances of “Goodnight Moon.” If parents want to send their children off to bed with the voice of Kindle 2, however, it’s another matter.

Roy Blount Jr. is the author, most recently, of “Alphabet Juice.”

The Winter’s Spring

The winter comes; I walk alone,
       I want no bird to sing;
To those who keep their hearts their own
       The winter is the spring.
No flowers to please—no bees to hum—
       The coming spring's already come.

I never want the Christmas rose
       To come before its time;
The seasons, each as God bestows,
       Are simple and sublime.
I love to see the snowstorm hing;
       'Tis but the winter garb of spring.

I never want the grass to bloom:
       The snowstorm's best in white.
I love to see the tempest come
       And love its piercing light.
The dazzled eyes that love to cling
       O'er snow-white meadows sees the spring.

I love the snow, the crumpling snow
       That hangs on everything,
It covers everything below
       Like white dove's brooding wing,
A landscape to the aching sight,
       A vast expanse of dazzling light.

It is the foliage of the woods
       That winters bring—the dress,
White Easter of the year in bud,
       That makes the winter Spring.
The frost and snow his posies bring,
       Nature's white spurts of the spring.
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John Clare

On the Gift of a Book to a Child

Child! do not throw this book about!
   Refrain from the unholy pleasure
Of cutting all the pictures out!
   Preserve it as your chiefest treasure.

 

Child, have you never heard it said
   That you are heir to all the ages?
Why, then, your hands were never made
   To tear these beautiful thick pages!

 

Your little hands were made to take
   The better things and leave the worse ones:
They also may be used to shake
   The Massive Paws of Elder Persons.

 

And when your prayers complete the day,
   Darling, your little tiny hands
Were also made, I think, to pray
   For men that lose their fairylands.
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Hilaire Belloc

Time zones: 15, 30 minutes

As time and tide wait for no man, we’ll go straight to Newfoundland for this week’s first question.

THE QUESTION: How did Newfoundland get its own time zone on the half-hour? asked Paul Everest of Toronto. And are there any other places in the world that have a half-hour time zone?

THE ANSWER: “Each time zone is, generally, centred on a meridian of longitude,” writes Atul Kapur of Ottawa.

“At the centre of each zone, noon local time is when the sun is at its highest point (solar noon). At the edges of the time zone, solar noon is half an hour off from local time.” The island of Newfoundland, he says, is entirely in the eastern half of the Atlantic time zone. And, if CW may interject here, St. John’s is close to the zone’s eastern border, and therefore 31/2 hours behind Greenwich Mean Time.

From here, Chris Livadas of Toronto takes up the story.

Newfoundland was a separate dominion when standardized time zones were developed, he says, and it simply chose to adopt its own time zone 31/2 hours behind GMT.

Meanwhile, Carla Hagstrom of Toronto points out that several other regions in the world have time zones that are off by a half-hour from their neighbours. India is half an hour ahead of Pakistan, which is on a standard time zone, while Afghanistan is half an hour behind Pakistan. Iran is a half-hour ahead of Iraq. And then there’s Nepal, which is 15 minutes behind Bangladesh, which is on a standard time zone.

And we haven’t even mentioned how some of these time zones are affected by daylight savings. And we’re not going to.

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Full article: http://www.theglobeandmail.com/servlet/story/RTGAM.20090227.wcollectedwisdom0228/BNStory/specialComment/home

Employee forced to steal millions from Bank of Ireland

A Bank of Ireland employee was coerced into stealing the equivalent of about $11-million (Canadian) from his own branch Friday, police said, after a gang took his family hostage and threatened to kill them unless he co-operated.

So-called “tiger kidnappings” — when gangs seize families of bank officials and force them to breach their employers’ security — are common crimes in Ireland, a close-knit society where criminals can closely track their targets. But they typically involve thefts below $1.6-million.

Friday’s operation represented by far the biggest robbery in the history of the Republic of Ireland. It nonetheless paled in comparison with a similar 2004 raid in the neighbouring British territory of Northern Ireland, when two Northern Bank employees were forced to help a gang take more than $47-million from the bank’s central Belfast vault.

Police Superintendent John Gilligan said six masked gang members armed with handguns and a shotgun targeted the Bank of Ireland official, Shane Travers, at his rural home southwest of Dublin on Thursday night.

They tied up and took away his partner Stephanie Smith, her five-year-old son and her mother and warned him not to call police before clearing out money from his branch the following morning.

Mr. Travers did as instructed, collecting cash from the safe in four laundry bags at sunrise Friday, hours ahead of opening time. Police did not explain how he avoided raising suspicion among the overnight-shift security guards or avoiding them. They said he delivered the cash to a gang member at a northwest Dublin train station.

His partner and her family, meanwhile, had been left in a van parked near Ashbourne, a commuter town north of Dublin. They managed to work themselves free from their restraints and raised the alarm, about an hour after Mr. Travers had handed over the loot.

Justice Minister Dermot Ahern and the police commander, Fachtna Murphy, discussed the police efforts to identify the gang, and how to compel banks to tighten their security arrangements.

Mr. Ahern emphasized that the bank branch at College Green, beside Trinity College in the tourist heart of Dublin, should never have permitted any single employee the ability to gain access to so much cash.

“Criminals are going for the line of least resistance, the human connection,” Mr. Ahern said.

He said Mr. Travers failed to follow bank rules requiring police to be informed, on the understanding police would not move in prematurely and jeopardize the lives of hostages.

He said there was “an onus on the banks and the financial institutions generally to ensure any gaps shown from this particular incident are closed and closed very tightly. It is a fact that the [police] didn’t know about the incident until the money had actually left the bank premises, and under normal protocols that shouldn’t be the case.”

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Full article: http://abcnews.go.com/International/wireStory?id=6972345

Posted in Law

Nurse may be linked to multiple suicides, tracker says

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Nadia Kajouji is shown in an undated image from Facebook.

A British woman who has been tracking the Internet footsteps of a Minnesota man for allegedly encouraging or advising young people to commit suicide through online chats and social-networking sites believes he may have played a role in a number of hanging deaths and attempted suicides in several countries over the last three years.

Celia Blay, an amateur historian living near Birmingham, said she has been in contact with Minnesota police, who this week took the unusual step of releasing the name of William Francis Melchert-Dinkel. The 46-year-old nurse and father is being investigated in relation to the suicide of 18-year-old Nadia Kajouji, a Carleton University student who was found drowned in Rideau River near the Ottawa school in April last year.

Shortly before her death, Ms. Kajouji conversed online with someone posing as a young woman – now alleged to be Mr. Melchert-Dinkel – who suggested that Ms. Kajouji hang herself and urged her to capture her final moments with a webcam, as part of a joint suicide pact.

In an eerily similar case, a British mother has come forward to say that Mr. Melchert-Dinkel allegedly attempted to make the same pact over the Internet with her 32-year-old son, Mark Drybrough, who hung himself in his Coventry home in 2005. After he died, the family discovered two months of online chats with someone going by the aliases Falcongirl and Li Dao. Elaine Drybrough said she has been co-operating with police in Minnesota since last year, after she failed to convince local authorities to pursue the case.

Several warnings about Falcongirl and Li Dao have been posted to a prominent pro-suicide newsgroup, cautioning members that the person behind the names is a male health-care worker in the United States, and not the depressed young woman he claims to be. In one online transcript – which mirrors conversations released by Ms. Kajouji’s family – Falcongirl recommends hanging as a pain-free option, often making references to medical experience to support this view, and proposes the person use a webcam so that she can help with “proper positioning.”

“It is really creepy stuff,” Ms. Blay says. “If you read the chat logs, it makes your hair stand up on the back of your neck. [This person] certainly knows how to push the right buttons.”

Some posts online link Falcongirl’s IP address to Minnesota. In Mr. Melchert-Dinkel’s hometown of Faribault, the local high school’s sports teams are called the Falcons.

Police have not said what online names Mr. Melchert-Dinkel uses. Though named as the subject of the investigation, no charges have been laid against him and he is not in custody.

Various online profiles indicate Mr. Melchert-Dinkle has a wife – a 54-year-old nurse – and two teen daughters. He has been under investigation since last March when Minnesota police seized his computer following a tip about his online interactions with teenagers and adults on suicide-related websites and newsgroups.

In February, after a long history of infractions, he was suspended from nursing by the state board for undisclosed reasons, with the decision saying his “continued practice would create a serious risk of harm to others.”

A former co-worker said yesterday the allegations of an online second life don’t seem like the nurse they knew.

“The Bill Dinkel I know wouldn’t have anything to do with that [sort of allegation]. But that’s all I can tell you,” said Trent Creger, who supervised Mr. Melchert-Dinkel’s work as a nurse for “several years” over a decade ago but hasn’t spoke to him since.

“But things change. Fifteen, 20 years ago is a long time ago.”

It is unclear what, if any, criminal charges Mr. Melchert-Dinkel may face. While counselling to commit suicide is illegal, the laws in North America and Britain have not been successfully used to prosecute someone for promoting suicide online.

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Full article and photo: http://www.theglobeandmail.com/servlet/story/RTGAM.20090227.wkajouji0227/BNStory/National/home

Posted in Law

Kenya sleaze book sparks shop ban

A new book about exiled Kenyan corruption whistleblower John Githongo is considered so potentially explosive that some major book shops in Nairobi are refusing to stock it.

Author Michela Wrong’s expose looks set to cause further embarrassment to Kenya’s public servants amid public anger at continued allegations of high-level corruption.

The title – It’s Our Turn to Eat – may evoke thoughts of sitting down to lunch or dinner for most readers around the world.

But in Kenya, this simple phrase is filled with sinister meaning that symbolises the rot crippling the East African country.

For years Kenyans have referred to corruption by the euphemism “eating”.

In the past, Kenya’s resources were known as the “national cake”, to be shared among its citizens by the government.

Political power was seen as an opportunity, even duty, to “eat” as much of the national cake as they could, and share with those closest to them.

‘Massive looting’

Perhaps this was the inspiration for the phrase that would later grace the cover of a book about Mr Githongo, the man who tried to stop the “eating” going on at the very top table.

Mr Githongo is described by Wrong as “a remarkable man who did something quite astounding”.

A former adviser to President Mwai Kibaki, Mr Githongo fled to the UK in 2005 claiming that his life was in danger after accusing top government officials of “massive looting”.

A former journalist and the founding director of Transparency International-Kenya, Mr Githongo had earned himself a stellar reputation in the fight against corruption.

When he was appointed, many in the country believed he was the only man who could fight the deadly scourge.

Instead, he faced decisions with huge personal consequences.

And he was called a traitor and coward by the officials who had put him in that awkward position in the first place.

Turbulence

One cold February morning, Mr Githongo turned up on the UK doorstep of Wrong, whom he had met while she was working as a foreign correspondent in Kenya,

In the days that followed, Wrong writes that she too was afraid, amid reports the Kenyan government had launched a manhunt for Mr Githongo in Kenya and in Britain.

Unrest in Kibera slum, Nairobi
When [tribalism and the inequitable distribution of wealth] are combined with corruption, politics is so poisoned that it results in the sort of violence we witnessed
John Githongo

“I was aware that he had left Kenya for a reason. He didn’t just turn up just like that. I assumed that the reason was because he was afraid for his life,” she says.

But she adds Mr Githongo played his cards close to his chest, as he contemplated what to do.

When he finally went public, the revelations of the man who formerly had the president’s ear sent shockwaves through Kenya.

“He had all his ducks lined up. He had his information in order – he wanted people to believe him and the better organised his evidence was going to be, the more likely that was,” says Wrong.

While those in power wished they could quickly discredit and dismiss his claims, audio recordings of government officials urging Mr Githongo to “go slow” in his investigations forced Kenyans, and the world, to listen.

It was a very turbulent time for Mr Githongo, and for Kenya, as several cabinet ministers were sacked pending investigations.

But the government “investigations” turned to naught, the sacked ministers were quickly reinstated and corruption allegations continued to rock the country.

‘Too hot to handle’

Years later, with the publication of the book, his allegations remain a sore spot for the government.

Mr Githongo still lives in the UK, and while he has stated that this is because of professional commitments, there is still an element of fear to the whole affair.

Nothing perhaps better illustrates this than the disclosure by some major book stores in Nairobi that they will not be stocking the book.

President Mwai Kibaki
President Mwai Kibaki came to power promising to end corruption

“We’ve decided not to stock it because it’s too political. It’s too hot to handle,” one store owner says.

“We don’t want any legal action so we’ve decided to stay away from it.”

“We don’t have it because of government controversy. It can bring problems, you never know with this government,” says another book store owner.

But in this day and age, readers will not find it difficult to lay their hands on a copy of the book.

Already the country’s top-selling newspaper, Daily Nation, has published portions of the book and this is sure to whet readers’ appetites.

Mr Githongo says he no longer lives in fear although he continues to be cautious.

In the last year, he has made several trips back to his home country.

“Last year’s election violence changed this country,” he says. “I thought about it in the UK and decided that even if I am afraid for my life, my brothers, my family fled from their homes.

“So I cannot say that I am in more danger than my fellow Kenyans.”

His revelations and refusal to turn a blind eye came at great personal cost, but he adds: “Right now, all of Kenya is in danger.”

‘Poison’

This may be one of the reasons why he agreed to reveal what he knew in the potentially-explosive book, published this month in the UK.

“The purpose of the book is to expose how corruption is destroying the country. If the country is developing the way it is supposed to, there must a be a situation where it can be said that it is time for every one to eat,” he says.

Inter-tribal post-election conflict in Western Kenya, 1 March 2008
Kenya is still recovering from last year’s violence

The violent aftermath of the disputed 2007 elections seems to have been an important turning-point for Mr Githongo.

After those polls, he said: “What makes corruption in Kenya a poison that damages politics is tribalism and the inequitable distribution of wealth.

“When these two are combined with corruption, politics is so poisoned that it results in the sort of violence we witnessed.”

Some 1,500 people were killed as the election dispute ignited deep-seated rivalries, largely over access to economic resources such as land.

The rival political leaders formed a power-sharing government to end the dispute but allegations of high-level corruption have continued.

Mr Githongo seems to want to use his status to give voice to public outrage.

But there are some in Kenya who think that he should fade gracefully from the spotlight.

Many feel that Mr Githongo and It’s Our Turn to Eat have nothing to add as most of the information surrounding the various scandals is already public knowledge.

But there is no ignoring Mr Githongo’s strong convictions of right and wrong and his hard-won reputation for integrity.

“Individuals can make a big difference,” says Wrong. “There have been a series of corruption scandals this year so you can’t say that he changed the system.

“But he caused huge embarrassment [to the government] and he put his mark down in history and he also showed other Kenyans that you don’t just have to go along with the system.”

In this way, Mr Githongo might become a compelling role model for Kenyans who are increasingly getting fed up with the entrenched and crippling culture of official corruption.

“There will be many other John Githongos, there are already many other John Githongos in Kenya. He’s not the only one,” the author says.

Those who wish to follow his example are likely to find the book of most value, and certainly not the Kenyan politicians who will once again find themselves in the spotlight.

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Full article and photos: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/africa/7911007.stm

Top 10 anti-Barack Obama conservatives

This week, Republican activists are meeting in Washington for the annual Conservative Political Action Conference. With President Barack Obama in the White House and Democrats in control of both houses of Congress, the Grand Old Party is at a low ebb.

So who are the figures who might help lead the American Right out of the wilderness? It’s a difficult question to answer because conservatives are so divided about how they got there as well as the possible routes out.

Setting aside politicians – that would be too easy – here is a Top 10 list of the anti-Obama activists and thinkers who are currently setting Right-wing pulses racing.

1. Rush Limbaugh

The undisputed king of talk radio, Limbaugh’s influence is colossal and enduring. He’s certainly got under the skin of the new president, who told Republican leaders: “You can’t just listen to Rush Limbaugh and get things done.”

Limbaugh’s take on Obama: “Why would I want that to succeed? I don’t believe in that. I know that’s not how this country is going to be great in the future, it’s not what made this country great. So I shamelessly say, no, I want him to fail, if his agenda is a far- left collectivism, some people say socialism, as a conservative heartfelt, deeply, why would I want socialism to succeed?

2. Matt Drudge

Despite liberal efforts to write him off, Matt Drudge’s eponymous aggregation website still attracts massive amounts of traffic and is a key factor in shaping news agendas across the world. Drudge’s deft selection of links helps build a conservative case against Obama every day. Headlines this morning include: “Economy shrinks at worst pace in 25 years…”; “Economists question budget’s economic assumptions…”; “THE $1 TRILLION TAX INCREASE…”; “Top Republicans rip into Obama budget proposal…”.

Andrew Breitbart, Drudge’s right-hand man on the Left Coast, is a growing power in his own right. A stand-in talk radio host for Dennis Miller and Michael Savage and aggregator of news wires he has just launched his Big Hollywood site – a survival guide and fightback manifesto for conservatives in LA-LA land – and now writes a weekly column for the Washington Times.

3. Sean Hannity

The Fox News and talk radio host pursued Barack Obama relentlessly during the election campaign and has not let up since the Democrat’s victory. Through sheer force of will, Hannity pushed Obama’s William Ayers association into the political mainstream and he will undoubtedly remain one of the president’s tormenters-in-chief for the next four or eight years.

Asked recently about Hannity, Obama said he was prepared to meet him. “I didn’t know he had invited me for a beer, but I will take that under advisement…I’m always good for a beer,” the president said.

Hours later, Hannity said he appreciated the president’s gesture. “It seems like he’s opened the door that he wants to meet with me,” he told his listeners. “Now if he does, I would go on your behalf.” Book a ringside seat and prepare for a YouTube classic if it ever happens.

4. Karl Rove

Known unaffectionately as President George W. Bush’s “brain”, the political strategist is a pundit and commentator who pops up everywhere from Fox News to Newsweek and the Wall Street Journal not to mention Twitter, where he debates and engages as well as telegraphing what he’s doing.

Rove on Obama: “Team Obama has been living off its campaign reputation for planning and execution. That reputation is now frayed…Barack Obama won the job he craved, now he must demonstrate that he and his team are up to its requirements. The signs are worrisome. The world is a dangerous place. The days of winging it need to end.”

5. Michelle Malkin

Columnist, commentator and prolific blogger, Malkin is rapidly establishing herself as a conservative movement leader. A leading user of Twitter, she describes herself in her Twitter profile as: “American. Conservative. Mom. Wife. Blogger.”

Malkin on Obama: “President Obama is back in messianic campaign mode. It is unbecoming. When he’s not snarling at conservative opponents of his endless spending programs, he’s pandering to supporters as the nation’s community organiser-in-chief…Like Mighty Mouse, President Obama is here to save the day. The government is here to help – and it is your patriotic duty to pay for it all without preconditions.”

6. Patrick Ruffini

Young political consultant, blogger, tweeter and new media evangelist, Ruffini is a rising Republican star who believes in the power of ideas and the need to marshal technology to harness them. Believes in learning lessons from Obama’s success as a route to defeating him.

Caused a stir this week when he wrote: “If you want to get a sense of how unserious and ungrounded most Americans think the Republican Party is, look no further than how conservatives elevate Joe the Plumber as a spokesman. His website ” title=”http://www.thenextright.com/…” target=”_blank”>www.thenextright.com/… bills itself as “the place for wired activists to build a new Republican Party and conservative movement”.

Ruffini on Obama: “If Obama looks like he’s throwing money at the wall – and undermining his own promise to build a green economy to boot – there is ample opportunity to reclaim the mantle of sane governance and fiscal responsibility.”

7. Michael Savage

“The “Savage Nation” talk show reaches more than 10 million listeners, making him the third most powerful host after Limbaugh and Hannity. Sums up his philosophy as “border, landguage and culture”. Confrontational and argumentative, his book include: “Liberalism is a Mental Disorder”.

Savage on Obama: “No one  has ever said no to Obama. From his childhood, through his early career, until now, no authority figure has said, ‘Stop, you can’t do that.’ So he has developed a sense of self-righteousness and political invincibility…until someone is silling to stand up to him and say, ‘Stop! Enough! You will not drain the Treasury! You will not socialise this country’, he will continue to steamroll our freedoms.

8. Ann Coulter

A Right-wing author, television pundit and rhetorical bomb thrower, Coulter revels in her role in the conservative movement as politically incorrect polemicist. Bitingly sarcastic, many grassroots activists love her; some believe she damages their cause by stepping over the line of decorum.

Coulter on Obama: “It’s shocking that … he’s probably going to be our next president, President Hussein.” His “first big accomplishment” was “being born half-black… he wouldn’t be running for president if he weren’t half-black.”

9. David Brooks

The egghead “New York Times” columnist and PBS broadcaster might seem like an unusual choice for any anti-Obama list because during the campaign the level of his ardour for the then Illinois senator was caricatured as a measure of conventional wisdom.

A moderate conservative drawn to Obama’s intellectualism and ability to inspire, Brooks already seems to be falling out of love. As the pet conservative of the nation’s liberal house organ, Obama cares about his views perhaps more than anyone else to the right of centre. If he develops into a persistent critic, he could damage the president.

10. Rick Santelli

An on-air editor for CNBC and former trader and financial executive, Santelli’s recent live broadcast – self-described as a rant – from the floor of the Chicago Board of Trade gave voice to populist rage about Obama’s economic policies and electrified conservatives. His suggestion there should be a modern-day version of the Boston Tea Party has inspired conservatives to hold protest tea parties across America today and instantaneously propelled him to national prominence.

Santelli on Obama: “This is America! How many of you people want to pay for your neighbors’ mortgage that has an extra bathroom and can’t pay their bills? … President Obama, are you listening?” Obama’s spokesman Robert Gibbs on Santelli: “I feel assured that Mr. Santelli doesn’t know what he’s talking about… I’d be happy to buy him a cup of coffee – decaf.”

Toby Harnden, The Telegraph

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Full article: http://blogs.telegraph.co.uk/toby_harnden/blog/2009/02/27/top_10_antibarack_obama_conservatives

Sarkozy isn’t the only person to collect things

Nicolas Sarkozy

Nicolas Sarkozy has taken up stamp collecting in order to cultivate a calmer image as French president.

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If anyone could pull off the trick of making philately cool – or at least mildly urbane – it would be the suave Nicolas Sarkozy. But I have to admit I was shocked to discover not just that the man in charge of the sixth-largest economy in the world collects stamps, but that he indulges in any sort of collecting while in office. If I were a French taxpayer I’d be worried, and I’d be asking questions.

The suggestion is that the president’s wife, Carla Bruni, is glad he’s found a way to relax. What’s the point of being married to a model, if you have to take a breather from the strain of sorting out the failure of the financial system by reclassifying your first-day covers?

Collecting is not about relaxing. Gardening is about relaxing. Painting is about relaxing. Listening to a Haydn string quartet is relaxing. Swapping lewd stories with your friends is relaxing.

Collecting is about more and more. Collecting is about stamping ruthlessly on the throats of your fellow collectors. Collecting is worrying constantly about the size and quality of your collection. Collecting is about waking up in the middle of the night with a scheme for acquisition. Collecting is about getting ahead. Being Number One. Collecting never ends.

Collectors, in my experience – at least, serious collectors – are usually people who have a lot of time on their hands and who have little responsibility in their employment, hence the collection to provide a boost, indeed, salvation to their lives.

There is, as in any endeavour, a hierarchy in collecting. Collecting art is probably the most respectable, anorakless and hip branch, though few of us will ever have the money (or more importantly the space). Stamp collecting is great for, say, eight-year olds because it can provide them with a colourful introduction to geography and history, indeed a proprietorial pride in territories and eras.

But it may be that I’m unfair on Sarkozy. Perhaps it isn’t a love of philately that drives his collection. Perhaps it isn’t personal, but business.

It must be tedious making all those state visits and being presented with some Finnish cheese, a framed picture of Balmoral, a bust of Beethoven and the other shoddy knick-knacks that get passed around in political circles. Perhaps Sarko has let it be known to his hosts that he collects stamps so he can end up with some folding stuff, something marketable that he can stick on eBay when it all goes pear-shaped politically.

As many money-launderers and smugglers know, stamps are wonderful things. It’s embarrassing to be sussed at an airport with an attaché case full of money, but no one’s going to spot the 20 stamps in your wallet that are worth just as much.

There are all sorts of collections: comics, Transformers, barbed wire, beer bottles, needles, venomous reptiles – you name it, it’s collected. But the collectors are always men. Women might buy a lot of shoes, but outside of a footwear museum, it’s only men who would collect them.

It’s curious how most men (me included) would sooner spend the weekend in jail than go shopping for clothes or furnishings on the high street, but for an item that is missing from their collection, a football programme, a first edition, Spider-Man #4, Bob Dylan’s first demo, they’d hike to the North Pole.

It is a hunting instinct. Long before the internet, I started collecting the Temple Shakespeare, beautiful little leather-bound red editions that you could find for a few pounds in second-hand bookshops. It took me years of criss-crossing the country to get a full set. But it always gave me something to do when I went somewhere new.

It was a strange mixture of achievement and disappointment when I purchased that last volume. I stretched that quest out a bit further by making sure I had a full set of virtually mint editions, but it was never the same.

Collecting can also be a statement of support, a creation of identity, a way of raising yourself above the herd. Are you really a Chelsea fan if you only have 40 programmes gathering dust in your attic? How can you say the Rolling Stones are your favourite band if you don’t own 500 bootlegs? I have friends (men, naturally) whose allegiance to the music they love is such they’ve had to hire storage space (usually without their wives knowing).

The irony of the internet is that it’s made collecting too easy. Too much like shopping. If it exists, it’s out there, a click or two away. A certain nous and alertness is required to make the most of the web, but for items like books and music (and stamps) the true thrill of hide and seek has gone. If Sarko can still get a kick from his stamps, that’s impressive.

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Full article: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/comment/personal-view/4864479/Nicolas-Sarkozy-isnt-the-only-man-to-collect-things.html

Photo: The Telegraph

Obama and Sarkozy ‘in running for Nobel peace prize’

The US president Barack Obama and his French counterpart Nicolas Sarkozy are believed to be among the record 205 nominations received for the 2009 Nobel peace prize.

The awards committee, based on Oslo, Norway, refuses to say who is nominated. It just says that 172 individuals and 33 organisations were on the final count released today.

The previous record was 199 in 2005.

Thousand of people have nomination rights for the coveted prize and sometimes announce their selections.

This year those names include Mr Obama, Mr Sarkozy, American musician Pete Seeger, Macedonian humanitarian Zivko Popovski-Cvetin, Austrian children’s charity SOS-Kinderdorf International, Vietnamese religious leader Thich Quang Do, and American Greg Mortenson for his Asian school-building charity.

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Full article: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/politics/obama-in-running-for-nobel-peace-prize-1633669.html

Anything you can do . . .

Challenging the conventional thinking about age and the law, at eight or eighty-eight

“This lawyer is useless,” thought Wang Jianbang. “I’m sure I could do better than that.”

He had been involved in an exasperating two-year litigation struggle and his lawyer had just screwed things up by confusing a civil case with an administrative one. Mr Wang, of Zhengzhou City, China, then resolved to study law so he applied to the Zhengzhou Justice School. He was duly admitted, although given a remission of his fees on account of his age. It wasn’t, though, that he was still in high school, it was because he is 88.

Others are also challenging conventional thinking about age and the law. While Mr Wang is sagely poring over his law books in China, Joao Victor Portellinha, from Goias state Brazil, is also preparing to reject age prejudice and the law. He has just passed his entrance examination to law school. “My dream is to be a federal judge,” he said recently, “So I decided to take the test to see how I would do . . . it was easy. I studied a week before the test.” Brazilian lawyers, though, are very uneasy about this success. They’d be happy if Mr Portellinha was 88. In fact he’s only eight.

Some English lawyers have achieved things at extraordinary ages. In 1760 Jeremy Bentham, the jurist, went up to Oxford aged 12, and the law lord, Lord Bridge of Harwich, gained his degree in mathematics from the Open University in 2003 when aged 87.

But law courts haven’t always been proficient at quickly telling people’s ages. In Lord v Thornton, a case in Yorkshire in 1616, an advocate argued heroically throughout the case that his client, the defendant, was an infant. There was some disagreement about this in court. When, ultimately, a church records book was consulted to resolve the matter, it turned out that the defendant was not an infant. He was 63. Never think that some cases are too difficult for a lawyer to argue.

Professor Slapper is Director of the Centre for Law at The Open University. His recent book How the Law Works is published by HarperCollins

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Full article: http://business.timesonline.co.uk/tol/business/law/article3550190.ece

The Starry Night

 

The town does not exist
except where one black-haired tree slips
up like a drowned woman into the hot sky.
The town is silent. The night boils with eleven stars.
Oh starry starry night! This is how
I want to die.

 

It moves. They are all alive.
Even the moon bulges in its orange irons
to push children, like a god, from its eye.
The old unseen serpent swallows up the stars.
Oh starry starry night! This is how
I want to die:

 

into that rushing beast of the night,
sucked up by that great dragon, to split
from my life with no flag,
no belly,
no cry.
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Anne Sexton

Breaking waves

clark-little-001-1

Clark Little, 39, grew up on the north shore of the Hawaiian island Oahu. Clark swims in terrifying seas and crouches on shorelines with his camera to capture views from inside breaking waves, also known as ‘tubes’,  images usually reserved for only the most intrepid surfers.

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Sun curl

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Sand Monster – Ke Iki

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Caramel

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Mohawk

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Full article and photos: http://www.guardian.co.uk/artanddesign/gallery/2009/feb/27/clark-little-photograph-waves?picture=343885006

Spend a penny, pay a pound with Ryanair

spend-a-penny-4-11

Ryanair is considering charging its passengers to use the toilet.

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It has long cost more than a penny to use a public lavatory but Ryanair is threatening to bring a whole new meaning to sky-high prices by charging passengers to use its aircraft’s toilets.

Michael O’Leary, the budget airline’s chief executive, revealed today that it is considering coin slots on cubicle doors.

“One thing we have looked at in the past and are looking at again is the possibility of maybe putting a coin slot on the toilet door so that people might actually have to spend a pound to spend a penny in future,” he told BBC Breakfast.

He insisted this would not inconvenience passengers. “We are always looking at ways of constantly lowering the cost of air travel and making it affordable and easier for all passengers to fly with us. I don’t think there is anybody in history that has got on board a Ryanair craft with less than a pound. What do you do at Liverpool Street station at the moment [when] you need to spend a penny? I think you have to spend 20p to go to the toilets.”

Ryanair recently announced it is to shut check-in desks at airports and have passengers check in online instead, and has also decided to end any prospect of peace and quiet on flights by introducing mobile phones. “Our flights are not cathedral-like sanctuaries,” O’Leary said last week. Now, it seems passengers might have to cross their legs while phoning home.

The company offers low headline fares but charges extra for items such as additional baggage. Earlier this month, it confirmed it is to charge passengers £30 if they cannot pack their duty free into their single piece of hand luggage.

“We’re all about finding ways of raising discretionary revenue so we can keep lowering the cost of air travel,” O’Leary said. “In the last year we have reduced our fares by 10% when British Airways and others were whacking up their fares and whacking up their fuel surcharges. We guarantee the lowest fares and guarantee no fuel surcharges as well.”

But consumer group Which? accused Ryanair of putting profit before the comfort of its passengers and being “prepared to plumb any depth to make a fast buck”. Rochelle Turner, head of research at Which? Holiday, said: “Charging people to go to the toilet might result in fewer people buying overpriced drinks on board. That would serve Ryanair right.”

Stephen McNamara from Ryanair said: “Michael makes a lot of this stuff up as he goes along and while this has been discussed internally there are no immediate plans to introduce it.”

He added: “Not everyone uses the toilet on board one of our flights but those that do could help to reduce airfares for all passengers. Then again, maybe O’Leary was just taking the piss this morning.”

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Full article: http://www.guardian.co.uk/money/2009/feb/27/ryanair-toilet-charge