Foreign envoys come in all shapes and sizes but rarely decked out in miniskirts, schoolgirl uniforms and polka dot dresses adorned with bunny rabbits – until now.
The dramatic new look for Japan's diplomatic corps was unveiled by the country's Ministry of Foreign Affairs yesterday, part of a plan to boost its soft power abroad with what it called "ambassadors of cute".
In place of the traditional buttoned-down male bureaucrat, trailing the whiff of stale cigarettes and mild distress, the perfumed power trio of Misako Aoki, Yu Kimura and Shizuka Fujioka were wheeled out for the foreign press. Representing Japan's Lolita, schoolgirl and gyaru (a youth fashion) sub-cultures, the three pop envoys from Japan's manga and animation world will be tested out at cultural festivals in Bangkok and Paris, said the ministry's head of cultural affairs, Tsutomu Nakagawa.
Saturday, March 14, 2009
The New Mexico Senate voted to abolish capital punishment, a measure already approved by the lower House that Governor Bill Richardson must sign before it goes into effect, the Senate said on its website.
The Democratic-controlled Senate voted 24-18 to strike the death penalty from its law books.
Democrat Richardson, who last month withdrew as President Barack Obama's pick to be commerce secretary, has not made clear whether he agrees with the repeal measure or plans to veto it, but lawmakers said they expect him to sign it into law.
Friday, March 13, 2009
From The Star and thanks to Dan the Canadian Cowboy for the heads up!
It won't come as a surprise to Canadian guys that Paul Rudd and Jason Segel cement their blossoming bromance to the music of Canuck power trio Rush in I Love You, Man.
The newfound friends jam to "Tom Sawyer" and "Limelight," not letting questionable musical talent dampen their enthusiasm.
Rudd's character hopes his fiancée, Zooey (Rashida Jones) – who has never heard of the band – will warm to his new pal Sydney (Segel) by going to a Rush concert with them. But she fails to fall under their spell.
The Rush scene was shot over 10 hours at the Avalon Hollywood when the band was on a one-day break in its 2008 tour.
But, as Rush bass player Geddy Lee told I Love You, Man director John Hamburg, women sightings are rare at a Rush gig.
"Geddy Lee told me they call them `Geddycorns.' Women at Rush concerts are mythical and seldom seen."
Seems Rudd is a mega-fan himself.
"He was as excited as a 12-year-old girl meeting the Jonas Brothers," quipped Segel.
Considering our economic vulnerability, China's really got the upper hand on us. They could cripple us by cashing in their loans, or simply by not keeping the money transfusion going. They could ask for anything from us and we will genuflect. They are the sole superpower in the world and our sugar daddy.
Let's see what happens when they no longer think we can make good on their loans...
From AP News:
BEIJING (AP) - China's premier expressed concern Friday about its massive holdings of Treasuries and other U.S. debt, appealing to Washington to safeguard their value, and said Beijing is ready to expand its stimulus if the economy worsens.
Premier Wen Jiabao noted that Beijing is the biggest foreign creditor to the United States and called on Washington to see that its response to the global slowdown does not damage the value of Chinese holdings.
"We have made a huge amount of loans to the United States. Of course we are concerned about the safety of our assets. To be honest, I'm a little bit worried," Wen said at a news conference following the closing of China's annual legislative session. "I would like to call on the United States to honor its words, stay a credible nation and ensure the safety of Chinese assets."
Wen's comments foreshadowed possible appeals to President Barack Obama, who will meet with Chinese President Hu Jintao at a London summit of leaders of the G-20 group of major economies on April 2 to discuss the global financial crisis.
Analysts estimate that nearly half of China's $2 trillion in currency reserves are in U.S. Treasuries and notes issued by other government-affiliated agencies.
Washington is counting on China to continue buying Treasuries to fund its $787 billion stimulus package. Last month, visiting Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton sought to reassure Beijing that government debt would remain a reliable investment.
"They are worried about forever-rising deficits, which may devalue Treasuries by pushing interest rates higher," said JP Morgan economist Frank Gong. "Inside China there has been a lot of debate about whether they should continue to buy Treasuries."
Japan's robot teacher calls roll, smiles and scolds, drawing laughter from students with her eerily lifelike face. But the developer says it's not about to replace human instructors.
Unlike more mechanical-looking robots like Honda Motor Co.'s Asimo, the robot teacher, called Saya, can express six basic emotions -- surprise, fear, disgust, anger, happiness, sadness -- because its rubber skin is being pulled from the back with motors and wiring around the eyes and the mouth.
In a demonstration, the robot's mouth popped open, its eyes widened and eyebrows arched to appear surprised. Saya pulled back on its lips to make a smile, and said simple preprogrammed phrases such as "Thank you," while its lips moved, to express pleasure.
Submitted by Larissa. Thanks!
Thursday, March 12, 2009
An octogenarian bicyclist who caught fire during a ride home from the grocery in Bethpage has been hospitalized in critical condition with burns over half his body, a fire official said Thursday.
Investigators believe that a lit cigarette Joseph Rusin was smoking or a lighter he was carrying caused his nylon jacket to burn, said Vincent McManus of the Nassau County Fire Marshal's Office.
"At some point, he becomes aware that his clothing is on fire," McManus said.
The flames were put out by a FedEx driver who saw the burning man near 40 Burkhardt Ave. and used an extinguisher from the delivery truck, McManus said.
The advent of modern appliances such as washing machines and refrigerators had a profound impact on 20th Century society, according to a new Université de Montréal study. Plug-in conveniences transformed women's lives and enabled them to enter the workforce, says Professor Emanuela Cardia, from the Department of Economics.
Within a short time-span, household technology became accessible to the majority. In the late 1910s, a refrigerator sold for $1,600 and 26 years later such appliances could be purchased for $170. Access to electric stoves, washing machines and vacuum cleaners was also generalized.
"These innovations changed the lives of women," says Professor Cardia. "Although it wasn't a revolution per se, the arrival of this technology in households had an important impact on the workforce and the economy."
Professor Cardia based her research on more than 3,000 censuses conducted between 1940 and 1950, from thousands of American households, across urban and rural areas. "We calculated that women who loaded their stove with coal saved 30 minutes everyday with an electric stove," says Cardia. "The result is that women flooded the workforce. In 1900, five percent of married women had jobs. In 1980, that number jumped to 51 percent."
In 1913, the vacuum cleaner became available, in 1916 it was the washing machine, in 1918 it was the refrigerator, in 1947 the freezer, and in 1973 the microwave was on the market. All of these technologies had an impact on home life, but none had a stronger impact than running water.
"We often forget that running water is a century-old innovation in North America, and it is even more recent in Europe. Of all innovations, it's the one with the most important impact," says Cardia.
I don't think torturing protesters is what the Clash had in mind with their music... From The Guardian:
Protesters gathered at Kingsnorth power station last August may have many reasons to feel aggrieved at their treatment by police. But they might concede that officers had a sense of humour. How else to explain the song police chose to blare out in an attempt to deprive activists of sleep: I Fought the Law and the Law Won.
A report into the policing of last year's Climate Camp demonstration, to be presented today in parliament, has criticised Kent police for its apparent use of "psychological operations".
To wake protesters during the week-long protest last August, police are accused of using vans to play loud music that included Wagner's Ride of the Valkyries and the theme from 80s sitcom Hi-de-Hi.
On the final day of the protest the van departed and - in what was taken as a smug gesture of triumphalism - blasted out "I fought the law and the law won", the lyrics to the Clash's rowdy cover.
The report, launched by the Liberal Democrats, said the music seemed "an attempt to deprive attendees of sleep".
Moviegoers might want to scoff a bit less when characters talk about the scent of fear. Women exposed to fear chemicals in male sweat tended to see ambiguous faces as being more fearful, according to a new study.
Such research shows for the first time how even the smell of fear can affect how people interpret what they see right in front of them. That fits with previous studies showing that visual and facial cues can affect human emotion and interpretation – but mainly when the situation seems uncertain.
"Our findings provide direct behavioral evidence that human sweat contains emotional meanings," said Denise Chen, a psychologist at Rice University in Houston.
NEW DELHI, March 11 (Xinhua) -- Nearly half of Indian women get married before reaching the age of 18, said a report by the local newspaper Times of India in its electronic edition Wednesday.
The report quoted a joint Indo-American study as saying in the international medical journal "Lancet" Tuesday that after surveying 22,807 Indian women aged from 20 to 24, the researchers have found that 44.5 percent of them got married before 18.
While India adopted a law banning child marriages in 1929, the "social ill" stays unabated after 80 years, said the report.
The researchers, who are from the Boston University School of Public Health, said economic and educational reforms in India "have failed to lower the prevalence of child marriages, fueling risks of multiple unwanted pregnancies, their termination and sterilization", according to the report.
The research also found that among those women who were surveyed, 22.6 percent got married before 16, while 2.6 percent were married before 13.
An Indonesian villager had to be rushed to hospital after a horse bit off one of his testicles.The 35-year-old man was unloading sand from a horse-drawn cart at a construction site in Sulawesi earlier this week when the attack occurred, Indonesia's state-run news agency Antara reported.
A witness said the animal suddenly lunged at the man, sinking its teeth into his crotch.
Shocked bystanders loaded the man into a car to take him to hospital, before one noticed a piece of flesh on the pavement.
"Luckily the horse did not chew up or swallow his testicle, but spit it onto the pavement," the bystander was quoted as saying.
"So I picked it up and brought it to the doctor at the hospital where the victim was being treated."
It was not know whether doctors attempted to sew it back on.
The Republican senator who found himself on a DC madam's client list is drawing new attention over "impulse control."
After missing a flight last Thursday from Washington to New Orleans, Louisiana Sen. David Vitter opened an armed security door and went off on a United Airlines employee, according to a report filed Wednesday by Roll Call.
The door sounded a security alarm.
Vitter had arrived at the gate for a flight from Dulles Airport, only to find that the door had been closed twenty minutes prior to departure.
After setting off the security alarm, the Louisiana senator proceeded to dress down an airline employee who told him entering the restricted area was forbidden. He invoked his standing as a senator, delivering a "do-you-know-who-I-am" tirade, the paper said.
The airline worker then announced he was going to summon security.
"Vitter, according to the witness, remained defiant, yelling that the employee could call the police if he wanted to and their supervisors, who, presumably, might be more impressed with his Senator's pin," the paper's Heard on the Hill column noted. "But after talking a huffy big game, Vitter apparently thought better of pushing the confrontation any further. When the gate attendant left to find a security guard, Vitter turned tail and simply fled the scene."
As California officials see it, global warming is happening so there's no time to waste in figuring out what to do.
California's interagency Climate Action Team on Wednesday issued the first of 40 reports on impacts and adaptation, outlining what the state's residents must do to deal with the floods, erosion and other effects expected from rising sea levels.
Hundreds of thousands of people and billions of dollars of Golden State infrastructure and property would be at risk if ocean levels rose 55 inches by the end of the century, as computer models suggest, according to the report.
The group floated several radical proposals: limit coastal development in areas at risk from sea rise; consider phased abandonment of certain areas; halt federally subsidized insurance for property likely to be inundated; and require coastal structures to be built to adapt to climate change.
"Immediate action is needed," said Linda Adams, secretary for environmental protection. "It will cost significantly less to combat climate change than it will to maintain a business-as-usual approach."
Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev on Wednesday proposed a common currency for five former Soviet republics, a slap in the face for Russia, which has been promoting the ruble for the role.
Senior government officials did not react to the proposal, but a State Duma deputy said Nazarbayev was sending a signal that Russia's neighbors harbored concerns about embracing the ruble.
Nazarbayev said the Eurasian Economic Community, a loose group of five former Soviet republics including Kazakhstan and Russia, could adopt a single noncash currency -- the yevraz -- to insulate itself from the global economic crisis.
Yevraz is a newly coined word that sounds close to "Eurasia" in Russian.
"Its exchange rate shouldn't depend on the fluctuations of the world currencies," Nazarbayev said in a speech to an economic forum in the Kazakh capital, Astana.
The Eurasian Economic Community also includes Belarus, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan.
A double-decker bus carrying dozens of passengers smashed into a car and a shop as its driver fought off two teenage hijackers who attacked him with knives.
Commuters endured a terrifying late-night ride as the driver of the bus refused to stop and hand over the contents of his cash box.
Onlookers watched in horror as the bus, which was carrying 27 passengers, swerved across a road before going through a red light and then into the path of another vehicle before careering into the front of a newsagents.
PSA: Retractable dog leashes can sever fingers, blind you.
Duh: Gwyneth Paltrow is better than you.
Sad: 26 students killed in Chicago so far this school year.
WTF: North Carolina barely penalizes businesses for dangerous child labor violations.
Lame: Black soccer star swarmed by police after looking at jewelry display.
Health: Kombucha tea: cure-all?
Booze: Illegal vodka accounts for half of all vodka sales in Russia.
Dorky: Illinois makes Pluto a planet again for a day, because they have nothing better to do.
Local: NYC cops behaving badly cost taxpayers $35 million.
Sad: Doctors Without Borders workers kidnapped in Darfur.
Dead: Billionaire philanthropist Leonore Annenberg.
D'oh: Power tool sex toy lands woman in the hospital. (Warning - this will make you queasy.)
Politics: Saudi Arabia and Egypt try to persuade Syria away from hanging out with Iran.
Sad: Crocodile decapitates girl paddling to school.
Hero: 101-year-old man wrestles robber.
WTF: British woman living in Dubai jailed over a cup of tea.
Sad: Retiring shuttle may doom 35,000+ space jobs.
Hero: Dog takes mighty stand against developers.
Awesome: Tax havens draw heightened scrutiny.
Saying he was "deeply sorry and ashamed," Bernard Madoff pleaded guilty Thursday to pulling off perhaps the biggest swindle in Wall Street history and was immediately led off to jail in handcuffs to the applause of his seething victims in the courtroom.
U.S. District Judge Denny Chin denied bail for Madoff, 70, and ordered him to jail, noting that he had the means to flee and an incentive to do so because of his age.
Madoff earlier spoke softly but firmly to the judge as he pleaded guilty to 11 charges in his first public comments about his crimes since the scandal broke in early December.
"I am actually grateful for this opportunity to publicly comment about my crimes, for which I am deeply sorry and ashamed," he said.
"As the years went by, I realized my risk and this day would inevitably come. I cannot adequately express how sorry I am for my crimes."
Madoff did not look at any of the three investors who spoke at the hearing, even when one turned in his direction and tried to address him.
The fraud, which prosecutors say may have totaled nearly $65 billion, turned a revered money man into an overnight global disgrace whose name became synonymous with the current economic meltdown.
Madoff described his crimes after he entered a guilty plea to all 11 counts he was charged with, including fraud, perjury, theft from an employee benefit plan, and two counts of international money laundering.
An Israeli hiker who wandered into a minefield fell to his death while being hoisted into a hovering rescue helicopter.
The man, who lost a foot when one of the mines exploded, slipped from a rescue harness just short of the air force helicopter's door late on Wednesday near the Israeli town of Beit She'an.
Israeli television stations broadcast video of the man falling and hitting the ground. The air force said it had opened an investigation.
For 10 years—including the boom times banks enjoyed in the first half of this decade—the FDIC was prevented from collecting fees from 95% of financial institutions, which it would have used to further build up its safety net in the event it would someday have to bail out a bunch of stupid losers who confused banking with alchemy.
[...] Of course the American Banking Association says it made no sense to pay into the FDIC during those 10 years because they had more than enough money. Congress, not surprisingly, agreed with them.
[...] At the end of 2008, the FDIC's insurance fund ratio was 0.40% of all insured deposits, far below the minimum 1.15% mandated by Congress.
Two prostitutes at once, in his child's playroom. Then has his petite wife arrested for hitting him. Now that's class. From the Chicago Sun-Times:
Inverness Police say former Cook County Republican Chairman Gary Skoien admitted having two prostitutes in his children’s playroom when his wife walked in on him early Sunday morning.
The allegation is in a domestic battery report from Skoien, 55, against his 36-year-old, 5-foot-4-inch, 110-pound wife. He said she beat him with her fists and an electric guitar.
But Skoien said the police report inaccurately stated that he had prostitutes in his home. Skoien said he and a friend were talking in the playroom when his wife came down and began beating him.
Eni Skoien spent two nights in a lock-up before being released on a $10,000 personal recognizance bond.
The police report said Skoien had cuts and blood on his hands and there was blood on the walls and stairs near the playroom.
The police report said Skoien “told [the responding officer] he did in fact have prostitutes with him in the playroom when his wife caught him.” The playroom looked like “a struggle of some kind took place there...There were items turned and tossed around the room,” the report said.
“That’s how it was reported to us,” Barrington/Inverness Police Deputy Chief Jerry Libit said.
A Japanese man who set fire to a hotel in a bid to buy himself time to chose whether to stay with his wife or marry his girlfriend was sentenced to five years jail Thursday, a court official said.
[...] Kawata, who had been married to his wife since 1994, had also been seeing another woman for about three years and promised to marry her last October at the Risonare hotel in the mountain resort of Hokuto, Yamanashi Prefecture.
However, on the eve of the ceremony, the still-married Kawata sought to delay the ceremony by spilling seven litres of petrol in the hotel and setting it on fire, causing minor damage and forcing the evacuations of several guests.
Way to screw up your suicide, dope! From BBC:
A man has survived despite plunging 180ft (55m) over Niagara Falls and spending 45 minutes in freezing waters resisting his rescuers.
The unnamed man was seen by tourists to scale a wall and leap into the rapids above the falls. Shortly afterwards he was spotted in the water near the base of the falls clinging to a log.
The man was eventually pulled from the icy waters and taken to hospital with hypothermia and a head injury. Canadian officials said he was in a critical condition.
[...] Local resident Phil Richmond, who witnessed the rescue, told The Toronto Star that the man clearly didn't want to be saved.
"It appeared he didn't want to come into shore. I thought he was an idiot to be honest with you," he said.
Fire crews have been called out four times to rescue a tiny pony - because its legs are so short people think it's stuck in mud.
Two fire engines and a specialist lifting vehicle have been despatched four times at a combined cost of about £8,000 to save the horse, called Mayflower.
The animal's stumpy legs are so out of proportion with its long body that people assume she's sinking in the salty marshland where she grazes by the River Test in Southampton
Hampshire Fire and Rescue Service have now nicknamed the 2ft 4ins tall pony 'Shorty', reports The Sun.
Wednesday, March 11, 2009
The Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) said on Wednesday it will take "every necessary measure" to protect its sovereignty, in response to a joint military exercise staged by South Korea and the United States.
A spokesman for the DPRK Foreign Ministry accused the United States and South Korea of posing threat to the country by staging the DPRK-targeted war drills, when answering questions of the official KCNA news agency.
"This situation hardens the will of the DPRK to bolster up its defence capability in every way no matter what others may say," the spokesman said.
He specially lashed out at the U.S. Obama administration, blaming it was "working hard to infringe upon the sovereignty of the DPRK."
About 26,000 U.S. and South Korean troops are participating in the annual drills, code-named the Key Resolve and the Foal Eagle, which started Monday and will last till March 20.
The DPRK has ordered its army to be on combat readiness, after the United States and South Korea went ahead with the drills, in spite of the DPRK's repeated calls for canceling the military exercises.
This is sad. Cmon, can't Cheers fans pony up? Woody Harrelson can fight for hemp clothing but not this dude's job?
Eddie Doyle, the Boston bartender who became famous as the inspiration for Ted Danson's Sam Malone character on "Cheers," has lost his job - laid off because of the moribund economy.
"Things are tough," said Doyle, 66, who started work at the Bull & Finch Pub nearly 40 years ago.
The pub became known as the "Cheers" bar after the comedy became a hit onin the 1980s.
If you have an American Express card, beware: your card could be put on hold at any moment, even if you think you've made all your payments on time. That means, you won't be able to charge anything on your Amex card.
That's exactly what happened to Cathy Jones, a businesswoman with three Amex charge cards. She got a call from Amex last week saying her cards were now on hold, while the company did a financial investigation to make sure she could pay her bills.
Jones was baffled. She's been an Amex cardholder since 1989 and can't remember being late on a payment. So, to get some answers, Jones and I got on the phone, and called the customer service number on the back of her card.
An Amex representative in New Delhi, India, said because of the bad economic times, American Express is now doing financial investigations of thousands of cardholders. The rep said Amex is insisting these customers fill out an IRS form 4506-T, authorizing the company to get their tax returns for the last three years. The rep told us if Jones didn't fill out the IRS form, they'd cancel her charge cards for good, within five days. And here's the part that concerned Cathy Jones: The rep said these "investigations" were being done, not in the US, but in India.
Jones didn't want someone overseas having access to her IRS tax returns, which contains a lot of confidential information, including her social security number. She told American Express she'd be happy to have her accountant provide notarized proof of her income and employment. But the Amex rep said they wouldn't accept that as proof of her ability to pay her bill.
There is a big risk in having your private information viewed by anyone abroad, according to Jay Foley, of the non-profit Identity Theft Resource Center. He says most foreign countries don't have strong privacy laws, like in the US, that prevent someone from selling your private information, like your social security number.
With his approval ratings at an all-time low, Gov. Paterson announced today that he will drop the so-called "iTunes" tax and other surcharges as potential revenue generators - and plans to use money from President Obama's stimulus package to help close the state's growing deficit.
In a bid to wipe out a $14 billion budget gap, Paterson had called for 88 new fees last December - including taxing the sale of downloaded music and other "digitally delivered entertainment services."
Movie tickets, taxi rides, soda, beer, wine, cigars, massages, health club memberships and Internet porn would have also been taxed under Paterson's controversial proposal.
Most people consume far too much salt, and a University of Iowa researcher has discovered one potential reason we crave it: it might put us in a better mood.
UI psychologist Kim Johnson and colleagues found in their research that when rats are deficient in sodium chloride, common table salt, they shy away from activities they normally enjoy, like drinking a sugary substance or pressing a bar that stimulates a pleasant sensation in their brains.
"Things that normally would be pleasurable for rats didn't elicit the same degree of relish, which leads us to believe that a salt deficit and the craving associated with it can induce one of the key symptoms associated with depression," Johnson said.
Funny: Protesters disrupt beauty pageant with stink bombs.
Follow-Up: Soldier charged with death of 16-year-old girl at army barracks.
Russian Crime Watch: Drunk cop hacks off subordinate's hand.
Science: Japanese astronaut to record the smelliness of his underwear. (Don't Japanese salarymen do this anyway?)
Local: American Airlines plane falls apart over Queens, makes safe emergency landing.
Science: Intelligence mapped in the brain.
Science: Researchers create "map of science."
Funny: Coulter, Maher spar in debates.
Lame: Phish narc'd on all their fans, even bankrolling 200 cops to make drug arrests. Oh, and their music sucks.
Sad: Man-made trash devastating world's oceans.
Lame: NASA won't commit to Colbert module. (I suspect the opposition is made up of Firefly fans who are pushing for "Serenity")
D'oh: Drunken man asks cop for hug, gets arrested.
WTF: Utah, Hawaii, and Wyoming top happiness poll.
Travel: With tourism down, Berlin launches a friendliness campaign.
WWIII Watch: Chinese president calls for "mighty" military support.
Great, now we have to worry about beetles... From CSM:
Billions of tiny mountain pine beetles are treating Canada’s boreal forest like a 3,000-mile-long salad bar, transforming a key absorber of carbon dioxide greenhouse gas into a CO2 emitter instead.
In just a decade, exploding beetle populations and a rise in wildfires have flipped Canada’s boreal forest from its longstanding role as a natural carbon vacuum – sucking up 55 million or more tons of CO2 annually – to that of a giant tailpipe emitting up to 245 million tons of CO2 each year, according to the Canadian Forest Service.
That sharp about-face is raising questions about the future of northern forests worldwide that are being hit hard by global warming – including Russia’s massive boreal expanse, where wildfires have risen dramatically.
We are on the verge – within 10 years – of a major collapse of evangelical Christianity. This breakdown will follow the deterioration of the mainline Protestant world and it will fundamentally alter the religious and cultural environment in the West.
Within two generations, evangelicalism will be a house deserted of half its occupants. (Between 25 and 35 percent of Americans today are Evangelicals.) In the "Protestant" 20th century, Evangelicals flourished. But they will soon be living in a very secular and religiously antagonistic 21st century.
This collapse will herald the arrival of an anti-Christian chapter of the post-Christian West. Intolerance of Christianity will rise to levels many of us have not believed possible in our lifetimes, and public policy will become hostile toward evangelical Christianity, seeing it as the opponent of the common good.
Millions of Evangelicals will quit. Thousands of ministries will end. Christian media will be reduced, if not eliminated. Many Christian schools will go into rapid decline. I'm convinced the grace and mission of God will reach to the ends of the earth. But the end of evangelicalism as we know it is close.
The US Defense Department on Wednesday denied accusations from rights activists it was undermining President Barack Obama's order to halt trials against detainees held in Guantanamo.
"I think there is no attempt by this department or anybody who works for us to, in any way, circumvent the president's executive order," Pentagon press secretary Geoff Morrell told reporters.
The comments came a day after a military judge presiding over the case of five men accused of plotting the September 11 attacks released a document in which the detainees expressed pride in killing Americans.
Lawyers for two of the detainees had sought to delay the release of the document and the American Civil Liberties Union accused the judge, Stephen Hadley, of flouting the president's order to halt proceedings at the special military commissions.
Investigative reporter Seymour Hersh dropped a bombshell on Tuesday when he told an audience at the University of Minnesota that the military was running an "executive assassination ring" throughout the Bush years which reported directly to former Vice President Dick Cheney.
The remark came out seemingly inadvertently when Hersh was asked by the moderator of a public discussion of "America's Constitutional Crisis" whether abuses of executive power, like those which occurred under Richard Nixon, continue to this day.
Hersh replied, "After 9/11, I haven’t written about this yet, but the Central Intelligence Agency was very deeply involved in domestic activities against people they thought to be enemies of the state. Without any legal authority for it. They haven’t been called on it yet."
Hersh then went on to describe a second area of extra-legal operations. the Joint Special Operations Command. "It is a special wing of our special operations community that is set up independently," he explained. "They do not report to anybody, except in the Bush-Cheney days, they reported directly to the Cheney office. ... Congress has no oversight of it."
"It’s an executive assassination ring essentially, and it’s been going on and on and on," Hersh stated. "Under President Bush’s authority, they’ve been going into countries, not talking to the ambassador or the CIA station chief, and finding people on a list and executing them and leaving. That’s been going on, in the name of all of us."
A group of Georgia Tech students has crafted a device that allows individuals to constantly compute the amount of calories they burn – even as they sleep.More here.
“It’s a completely converged device,” said Garrett Langley, 21, a senior in the School of Electrical and Computer Engineering (ECE) who spearheaded the project. “It’s a single unit that provides complete fitness monitoring and management.”
Dubbed HappyHR, the instrument is a personal monitor that allows users to measure and compare day-to-day physical and caloric activity. The name is a reference to the euphoric feeling that follows an intense round of exercise – the “happy hour.”
The small, rectangular-shaped instrument straps to the wrist or ankle, gathering data related to heart rate and exercise. The information is then transferred via Bluetooth to a PC, where the statistics can be analyzed through Web-based software.
A Texas agency is installing videocameras and hiring security officers at a state school for mentally handicapped adults after allegations emerged that workers there staged "fight club" battles among residents.
The Texas Department of Aging and Disability Services also announced Tuesday that it is suspending admissions to the Corpus Christi State School in Corpus Christi.
A cell phone containing videos of the alleged abuse at the school was turned over to police last week, and authorities are expecting to file arrest warrants this week, Corpus Christi Police Capt. Tim Wilson said Tuesday.
The incidents are believed to have taken place in a school dormitory, Wilson said, adding, "this has been going on for some time."
The school's workers "are charged with the care and custody of these clients, and they are exploiting [them]," he said.
[...] Seven school employees have been placed on paid leave by the agency, according to department spokeswoman Cecilia Fedorov. Those employees are barred from coming onto the campus but must sign in at the gate every day they are on leave, she said.
State officials are awaiting the outcome of the investigation to determine whether they should take further action, she said.
Things got way out of control after last Saturday night’s show in Mexico. The van shuttling the band back to the hotel was besieged by fans. While attempting to protect the band, a member of the touring party was injured. The security at the venue did their best, but was overwhelmed by the numbers of people and intensity of the situation. They never had to deal with anything like this before.
When attempting to leave the venue, fans rushed toward Marky Ramone and band. Surrounded by overzealous fans pounding on the windows of the band's vehicle, the fans eventually cracked the windshield. One fan was thrown into on-coming traffic trying to cling to the side of the moving van. He was not injured. A few moments later he and a friend were spotted in a taxi that caught up to the van, shouting and waving at their hero.
If anyone saw the DVD "RAW" when the band was besieged by fans in Argentina? Picture that, but much worse. It was a life threatening situation.
Sunday's show was to be in a larger venue, with the same amount of security. In the interests of everyone's safety and well being, it has been decided that Sunday's show in Mexico City will not go forward.
Marky apologies to all his fans in Mexico City and says he's really enjoyed everything about the shows and wants to make sure no one gets hurt moving forward. He promises to come back with The Blitzkrieg soon under safer circumstances.
Police in southwest China are spicing up drivers with raw chili in a bid to stop them falling asleep at the wheel, a newspaper said Wednesday.
Police in the Chongqing region have started serving drivers chili peppers at highway service stations, holding to the traditional Chinese belief that people often feel more sleepy in the Spring, the Chongqing Evening News said.
[...] "It's really good to have some hot peppers when you are tired from driving," van driver Chen Jun was quoted by the newspaper as saying. "They make you alert."
A Chinese woman says she has been howling like a wolf for 26 years - but can't help it.
Hong, 42, of Ganzhashan Qian village, Fuzhou, told Straits News: "My howls are like sneezes or yawns, they can't be controlled.
"Sometimes I can't help howling on the streets. Passers-by jump far away staring at me, thinking I am a psycho."
She says it all began when she began to suffer from back pains when she was 16: "Then I accidentally found when I howl the pain goes away."
Hong says that when she howls, she feels a "release of gas" inside her, and "can't stop it".
Dead bodies do the darnedest things! From Ananova:
Staff at a Philadelphia pet shop expecting a shipment of tropical fish were shocked to receive a dead body instead.
Mark Arabia, owner of Pets Pus, found the coffin when he went out to the delivery man's vehicle to collect the $1,000 fish delivery.
"At first when I looked at it, I said, 'Fish never come this way'," he said.
He eventually learned the body inside was that of a 65-year-old man from San Diego, California.
It was supposed to go to a laboratory in Allentown, Pennsylvania, but there was an "unfortunate mix-up" at Philadelphia airport, said US Airways.
The airline, which had brought the body from California, said the problem was caused by a "verbal miscommunication between a delivery driver and the cargo representative", adding that it was "deeply sorry".
Sad: DNA proves Bolsheviks killed all of the Romanovs, hurting my claim that I'm Anastasia.
WTF: Toddler, 20 months, crashes car.
Tech: Evil geniuses at Apple create talking iPod.
ZombieWatch: Man stages own funeral to ensure it goes to plan.
D'oh: "Look kids, Big Ben!" Woman saved from roundabout after going around it 50 times.
Creepy: Dracula fish, with sharp bone teeth, discovered.
Eats: Tasty Indian crackers celebrate their 50th year.
Neat: Museum finds secret message in Lincoln's watch. Soon to be an awful movie starring Nic Cage.
Hero: Yale student sues US Airways for $1m after they steal XBox 360 from his luggage.
Misc: In other airline bad behavior news, man sues American Airlines for revoking his lifetime fly pass.
Lame: Woman fired for reporting spanking.
Hot Cha Cha: Sermons are getting sexy in rural Alabama.
Awesome: Colonel Sanders rescued from river after 24 years. (Thanks JV!)
D'oh: Student stabbed with scissors at conflict resolution session.
Yipes: Chicago's nuclear waste now has nowhere to go. (Might I suggest a deep-dish pizzeria?)
A former New York City middle school teacher has admitted sending sexual videos and e-mails to three of his 12-year-old students.
Queens District Attorney Richard A. Brown said Tuesday that Umesh Ramjattan has pleaded guilty to disseminating indecent material to minors.
He is expected to get five years probation when he is sentenced on April 20. He also must surrender his teaching license and complete a sex offenders program.
Police were called after one of the girls' parents notified the school in South Ozone Park.
In other news, Powerslave and Seventh Son of a Seventh Son are the greatest albums of all time. From Colombia Reports:
Heavy metal group Iron Maiden openly criticized took part in riots during their concert in Bogotá last Saturday, but added that no one's safety was at risk at any point.
Tour manager Rod Smallwood commented on the matters, telling the BBC "we abhor the inane behaviour of a small minority of people outside".
The manager added that those responsible for the riots do "Iron Maiden, Metal and the real Colombian fans a disservice and sadly just provide a reason for the military to feel they need to be there".
But the actual size of the riots was "wildly exaggerated", according to Smallwood: "Everyone is just fine. The 'riots' were basically a lot of kids trying to break into the Simon Bolivar Park to see the show and the park has a big perimeter to protect.
Iron Maiden made two previous appearances in Bogotá in the last 13 months, and "neither performance was at all affected by the incidents of people outside trying to break in", according to Smallwood.
"None of the enjoyment of the show or safety of the band or our audiences was at all compromised."
Simon Bolivar Park is often the stage for major international artists and bands, but Bogotá authorities plan to discuss whether heavy metal concerts are to take place in the city again any time soon.Iron Maiden have moved on to Quito, Ecuador meanwhile, and are also expected to visit countries like Argentina and Brazil during the remainder of their Latin American tour.
Bourdain on "Semi-Homemade Cooking with Sandra Lee":
She makes her audience feel good about themselves. You watch her on that show and you think, "I can do that. That's not intimidating." All you have to do is waddle into the kitchen, open a can of crap and spread it on some other crap that you bought at the supermarket. And then you've done something really special. The most terrifying thing I've seen is her making a Kwanzaa cake. Watch that clip and tell me your eyeballs don't burst into flames. It's a war crime on television. You'll scream.Bourdain on "The Next Food Network Star":
It's an interesting window into the cynical and terrifying real criteria of how they grow their own talent on Food Network. I mean, they're pretty straight-forward about what you've got to do and who you've got to please and what the real priorities are to get a show there. You see the shear naked ambition of these often minimally talented cooks with the maximum ambitions of being television. The way they're judged is unattractive but fascinating just the same. You really see the process though: Media training trumps cooking every time. I used to be on the Food Network [A Cook's Tour -Cooz], but I think I slipped under the wire. The network at that point used to be run by a cabal of people getting bored with their own programming. For whatever reason, they gave me two years of traveling wherever I wanted, doing pretty much what I've been doing on "No Reservations." After two years, they wanted me riding around on a pony in a parking lot doing chili cook-offs instead of going to foreign countries. My feeling was, "Let someone else do that."
The Pentagon allegedly endangered U.S. soldiers by implementing and covering-up dangerously toxic waste-incineration practices at Balad Airbase in Iraq during years past, as revealed in a leaked Air Force memo.
[...] Though military officials say there are no known long-term effects from exposure to burn pits in Iraq and Afghanistan, more than 100 service members have come forward to Military Times and Disabled American Veterans with strikingly similar symptoms: chronic bronchitis, asthma, sleep apnea, chronic coughs and allergy-like symptoms. Several also have cited heart problems, lymphoma and leukemia.
Run to the hills! (Thanks JenK!)
The concert of British heavy metal group Iron Maiden in Bogotá, Saturday, became the scene of heavy unrest and riots.
Trouble started when a group of fans climbed the fence that separated the VIP space from the general public, and reportedly managed to get as close as 30 meters from the stage.
Later on, those that hadn't secured a ticket began causing troubles in the area around the Parque Simón Bolivar, where the concert was held.
A large group of heavy metal fans clashed with police forces and broke into private areas. Some were arrested and taken away. However, a City TV camera crew documented several of the arrested troublemakers managing to escape and run away.
The troubles are likely to spark a local debate as to whether Bogotá should host another heavy metal concert in the years to come.
From Colombia Reports.
Tuesday, March 10, 2009
2 tsp fresh marjoram
1 tsp fresh thyme (optional)
2 TB Olive oil
1 TB Butter
1. Trim the ends off the zucchinis and peel. Grate the zucchinis using the larger holes on the grater. Once grated, add some salt and let sit in a collander over your sink for 30 minutes. This will draw out excess water. But if you don't want to wait 30 minutes, just pat the zucchini dry, lightly salt, and move on.
2. Heat up the oil in a large pan and fry up the zucchini until golden. (If you didn't "sweat" the water out of them first, it'll be a little mushier and not fry as well.)
3. Remove from heat and put zucchini into a large bowl. Add the marjoram and thyme and let cool, about 10 minutes. While it cools, clean your pan and then melt the butter over low heat.
4. In the bowl with the zucchini, beat in the eggs and some fresh pepper. When the butter is sizzly, pour into the pan and cook as you would an omelet. (I recommend keeping the heat low and giving the omelet time to set before flipping it over.)
5. Even though it's only two eggs, this makes a massive, hearty omelet. The marjoram adds a Spring-like flowery taste that classes up the dish, making it something you could have for dinner or even to serve as smaller pancake-like rounds when entertaining (think Spanish tapas). This might also be good baked, frittata-style, if you're making a larger quantity.
6. The Gourmet recipe calls for it to be served at room temperature, but that's nasty.
Revered in India as "holy powder," the marigold-colored spice known as turmeric has been used for centuries to treat wounds, infections and other health problems. In recent years, research into the healing powers of turmeric's main ingredient, curcumin, has burgeoned, as its astonishing array of antioxidant, anti-cancer, antibiotic, antiviral and other properties has been revealed.
Yet little has been known about exactly how curcumin works inside the body.
Now, University of Michigan researchers led by Ayyalusamy Ramamoorthy have discovered that curcumin acts as a disciplinarian, inserting itself into cell membranes and making them more orderly, a move that improves cells' resistance to infection and malignancy.
"The membrane goes from being crazy and floppy to being more disciplined and ordered, so that information flow through it can be controlled," said Ramamoorthy, a professor of chemistry and biophysics. The findings were published online March 3 in the Journal of the American Chemical Society.
[...] In a related line of research, Ramamoorthy's team is using the same methods to investigate the effects of curcumin on the formation of amyloids---clumps of fibrous protein believed to be involved in type 2 diabetes, Alzheimer's disease, Parkinson's disease, and many other maladies. In addition, the researchers are looking to see whether other natural products, such as polyphenols (compounds found in many plant foods that are known to have antioxidant properties) and capsaicin (a pain reliever derived from hot peppers), interact with membranes in the same way as curcumin.
Smart 15-year-old boys? This may end the heavy metal and wrestling industries as we know it.
Fifteen-year-old males who ate fish at least once a week displayed higher cognitive skills at the age of 18 than those who it ate it less frequently, according to a study of nearly 4,000 teenagers published in the March issue of Acta Paediatrica.
Eating fish once a week was enough to increase combined, verbal and visuospatial intelligence scores by an average of six per cent, while eating fish more than once a week increased them by just under 11 per cent.
Swedish researchers compared the responses of 3,972 males who took part in the survey with the cognitive scores recorded in their Swedish Military Conscription records three years later.
"We found a clear link between frequent fish consumption and higher scores when the teenagers ate fish at least once a week" says Professor Kjell Torén from the Sahlgrenska Academy at the University of Gothenburg, one of the senior scientists involved in the study. "When they ate fish more than once a week the improvement almost doubled.
"These findings are significant because the study was carried out between the ages of 15 and 18 when educational achievements can help to shape the rest of a young man's life."
More brainy stuff here.
COLUMBIA, S.C. -- Three men charged in the attempted pizza robbery Saturday had their bond set this morning at $250,000 each by Magistrate Brian Jeffcoat.
Justin Towan Roundtree 18; Jason Todd Beckham, 18; and Carlos Renard Dates, 20, all were told to be back in court April 23 for a preliminary hearing. Each is charged with criminal conspiracy and strong armed robbery of Pizza Hut delivery man Christopher Steven Miller, 43.
Miller shot and killed one of the assailants who attacked him when he attempted to deliver a pizza to a house on Avery Place Lane near Irmo High School.
Paul Andrew Sturgill Jr., 17, was killed in the shooting.
[...] Miller had a concealed weapons permit and was trying to retreat from his attackers while being beaten by one of them, Metts said. Such a permit allows a person to carry a hidden gun.
Miller carried a .45-caliber Taurus handgun in a fanny pack and took it out and fired while being beaten backward, Metts said. Such large-caliber pistols are known for their "stopping power" -- the ability to bring down an attacker instantly.
No weapons were recovered from Sturgill, Metts said.
More at the Charlotte Observer.
By listening in on the chatter between neurons in various parts of the brain, researchers from the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) have taken steps toward fully understanding just how memories are formed, transferred, and ultimately stored in the brain--and how that process varies throughout the various stages of sleep.
Their findings may someday even help scientists understand why dreams are so difficult to remember.
Scientists have long known that memories are formed in the brain's hippocampus, but are stored elsewhere--most likely in the neocortex, the outer layer of the brain. Transferring memories from one part of the brain to the other requires changing the strength of the connections between neurons and is thought to depend on the precise timing of the firing of brain cells.
"We know that if neuron A in the hippocampus fires consistently right before neuron B in the neocortex, and if there is a connection from A to B, then that connection will be strengthened," explains Casimir Wierzynski, a Caltech graduate student in computation and neural systems, and first author on the Neuron paper. "And so we wanted to understand the timing relationships between neurons in the hippocampus and the prefrontal cortex, which is the front portion of the neocortex."
Monday, March 9, 2009
Three people bought peppers at a Queens store last night and found them even hotter than they expected - all of them had bags of cocaine inside, police sources said.
The peppers were sold at a store on Liberty Avenue in Ozone Park to three separate purchasers, none of whom apparently had any idea of what they were buying.
Store owners told authorities that the peppers had been imported from South America. Police notified the health department and cops were searching the store with K-9 units.
As International Women’s Day is celebrated, the Vatican had a novel message for the women of the world: give thanks for the washing machine. This humble domestic appliance had done more for the women’s liberation movement than the contraceptive pill or working outside the home, said the the official Vatican newspaper, Osservatore Romano.
“In the 20th century, what contributed most to the emancipation of Western women?” questioned the article. “The debate is still open. Some say it was the pill, others the liberalisation of abortion, or being able to work outside the home. Others go even further: the washing machine.”
The article is entitled, “The washing machine and the emancipation of women: put in the powder, close the lid and relax”, taking its name from the Washy Talky, the Electrolux bilingual-talking washing-machine launched in India seven years ago, which would remind the absent-minded housewife how to use the appliance.
Fast-forward two years: I'm sitting in a large dug-out canoe in the Ecuadorian jungle with three German guys and our guide, Marcelo. We're in the middle of a week-long trip to the Cuyabeno Nature Reserve, an Amazonian rainforest located in the northeastern part of Ecuador.We're on our way to visit a shaman (medicine man) and his family, when I turn to Marcelo and, remembering my paper from college, ask whether the religious groups around here ever use a tea called ayahuasca in their services. Marcelo pauses, looks at me with a half-smile, and says, "You want to try ayahuasca?"
[...] "That was the worst night of my life. I will, as always, blame someone else. Our guide Marcelo apparently thought we'd be okay without fasting before the ayahuasca. Turns out, all the food in my stomach absorbed the nasty tea, and instead of puking twenty minutes in-- like we were supposed to-- and returning to Earth three hours later, I writhed in agony for nine hours.... "It shouldn't go unmentioned, however, that I did manage to enjoy some of the positive effects of the ayahuasca: colorful open-eyed hallucinations, extreme visual mind-f***s, and an all-together giddy demeanor. But then, somehow, things began to turn south, or perhaps a better way to put it is that things turned into hell on Earth. It's difficult to describe with any precision, but I'll give it a go anyway. I began losing track of who I was; I couldn't form abstract thoughts; I turned into an animal looking only for survival...
"I couldn't wake up from the nightmare, couldn't return to anything resembling a functional human being. I had roughly a hundred false awakenings. They lasted forever... Never in my life have I felt so utterly alone, so helpless, so out of control, so insane. I remember asking a biologist from West Texas, as I was finally coming out of the daze, to tell me his life story so that I could latch on to someone else's coherent thoughts. So I could remember where I was, what I was doing.
"The most frightening part was not knowing if I'd ever return to normal. I imagined myself-- or rather, I would have imagined myself if I remembered how to imagine-- like Jack Nicholson at the end of Cuckoo's Nest when they wheel him in: the lights are on but nobody's home. It entered my mind that maybe I was dead, and that if I wasn't, maybe I wanted to be."
Yipes: Kangaroo ninja attacks family.
D'oh: 16 arrested in fight at nonviolence concert.
Awesome: Obama moving to ease restrictions on travel and trade with Cuba.
Awesome: Medical marijuana close to being legal in NJ.
D'oh: Spain's prime minister slips in "F" word, infers copulation with tourists.
Booze: NYC woman becomes youngest ever master sommelier.
Lame: Pregnant women to be laid off first in Israeli recession.
Creepy: Pluto has "upside-down" atmosphere.
A wide-ranging study on American religious life found that the Roman Catholic population has been shifting out o of the Northeast to the Southwest, the percentage of Christians in the nation has declined and more people say they have no religion at all.
Fifteen percent of respondents said they had no religion, an increase from 14.2 percent in 2001 and 8.2 percent in 1990, according to the American Religious Identification Survey.
Northern New England surpassed the Pacific Northwest as the least religious region, with Vermont reporting the highest share of those claiming no religion, at 34 percent. Still, the study found that the numbers of Americans with no religion rose in every state.
"No other religious bloc has kept such a pace in every state," the study's authors said.
A Romanian truck driver is in trouble after filming himself dancing behind the wheel while driving along a motorway.
In the clip, Iulian Breazu is seen singing and dancing wildly while standing on his seat - and steering with his feet.
Mr Breazu, 23, from Sibiu, may lose his job and could face police charges if officers can work out where it was filmed.
The film, posted on the internet by his brother as a joke, was screened by local TV stations who branded Breazu the "driving Tarzan" for his karaoke style acrobatics.
He said: "I know what I did was crazy and I wouldn't do it again. I apologise for that but that doesn't change much. I guess I was just too happy or too bored that day."