Thoughts Gallery April 2006
April 1
Image of the Day

Italian Mafia Boss Caught After 40 Years
PALERMO, Sicily - Italy's reputed No. 1 Mafia boss was arrested Tuesday at a farmhouse in the Sicilian countryside after frustrating investigators' efforts to catch him during more than 40 years on the run, the Interior Ministry said. Bernardo Provenzano, Italy's most wanted man, is believed to have taken over the Sicilian Mafia after the 1993 arrest of former boss Salvatore "Toto" Riina in Palermo. "Bastard! Murderer!" a crowd shouted as black-hooded policemen took the elderly man out of a sedan and rushed him into the courtyard of a police building in Palermo. The gray-haired Provenzano, wearing a windbreaker and tinted glasses, glanced aside at one point but made no audible comment. A Palermo police spokesman, Agent Daniele Macaluso, said Provenzano had been arrested in the morning near Corleone, the Sicilian town made famous in the "Godfather" movies. He was then driven to Palermo, 37 miles north of Corleone. He was being questioned by anti-Mafia prosecutors in police offices, but was saying little, answering only questions about his identity, the Italian news agency ANSA reported from Palermo.
Interior Ministry Undersecretary Alfredo Mantovano described Provenzano as "the most important person from Cosa Nostra" after Riina, the so-called "boss of bosses" who was also arrested after years as a fugitive. He called the arrest "an important step forward ... for the entire nation." Prosecutors describe Provenzano as a man who helped Cosa Nostra increasingly spread its tentacles into the lucrative world of public works contracts in Sicily, turning the Mafia into more of a white-collar industry of illegal activity less dependent on traditional revenue-making operations like drug trafficking and extortion rackets. Provenzano, on the run since 1963, has proven an elusive target. Turncoats have told investigators in recent years that he avoided capture for so long by sleeping in different farmhouses across the island every few nights and by giving orders with handwritten notes, not trusting cell phone conversations for fear they are monitored by police. Authorities were also hampered in their hunt for him because their last photo of Provenzano dated back nearly 50 years. However, personnel at a clinic in southern France where Provenzano is believed to have been treated for prostate problems under a false name a few years ago helped police to create a new composite sketch.
Italy's top anti-Mafia prosecutor, Piero Grasso, who for years as Palermo's chief prosecutor had personally led the hunt for Provenzano, said on RAI radio that he felt "great satisfaction, great emotion" at the arrest. As recently as last month, Provenzano's former lawyer was quoted as telling an Italian newspaper that he was dead. "I think he's dead, and has been dead for several years," Salvatore Traina was quoted as telling the Rome-based daily La Repubblica. "They have looked for him everywhere, they have looked intensely for years but they can't find him. This must mean something." Former Palermo Mayor Leoluca Orlando praised police and prosecutors. News of the arrest prompted similar praise from many politicians, including President Carlo Azeglio Ciampi.

April 2
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Mass protests highlight immigrant clout
WASHINGTON - Some call it "the browning of America." Others see it as an economic necessity. Hispanics have become the largest minority group in the United States and the target of anger in a national debate over immigration. The country built and populated by immigrants is wrestling with ways to tighten border controls and weighing the future of an estimated 11 million, mostly Mexican, illegal immigrants. Fresh protests on behalf of the immigrants are planned for Monday in 60 cities nationwide. Immigrant organizations are calling for a general strike on May 1 to show what would happen in the United States without immigrants, legal and illegal. Last month, more than a million immigrants took to U.S. streets, angry at a bill passed by the U.S. House of Representatives to make illegal immigrants felons and to build a 698-mile wall along parts of the Mexican border. The huge scale of those protests -- including at least 500,000 people in Los Angeles -- was a departure from the past when fear of being deported made illegal immigrants reluctant to engage in public activism. "What we are seeing in the streets is a naked assertion of power," Mark Krikorian, director of the Center for Immigration Studies in Washington, said. "This isn't really about immigration -- it's about power."
Immigrant activists prefer to call it strength in numbers -- and the numbers have been rising. So has the use of Spanish, which has become an unofficial second language, found on government forms and the menus of automatic teller machines. Hispanics, who numbered around 37 million in 2001, overtook blacks as the biggest minority group that year, according to the Census Bureau. The latest figures estimate 40 million Hispanics are living in the United States. By 2050, according to Census Bureau projections, there will be more than 100 million people of Hispanic origin in the country, almost a quarter of the population. "Most immigration opponents are loath to admit it, at least publicly, but they are worried that the huge influx of Hispanics will somehow change America for the worse," said immigration expert Linda Chavez, who heads the Center for Equal Opportunity near Washington. "But those fears are unfounded. Some may talk about the browning of America, but immigrants are a net positive."
U.S. history has been marked by divisive arguments over immigration at regular intervals. Anti-immigrant sentiment ran so high in the late 19th century that the government banned immigration from China, arguing that Chinese people were incapable of assimilating into American culture. Some of those views are echoed in today's debate. On Friday, the U.S. Senate failed to agree on a bill that would pave the way toward citizenship for 7 million illegal immigrants and introduce a guest-worker program to meet the U.S. demand for unskilled and low-skilled workers. Many of the arguments in favor of tighter border controls and punishment for illegal immigrants are rooted in a belief that Latin Americans in general and Mexicans in particular are unwilling to assimilate. "That ... could change America into a culturally bifurcated Anglo-Hispanic society with two national languages," Harvard professor Samuel Huntington says in his book on America's national identity, "Who Are We?" The last big national immigration debate took place in 1986. It featured many of the same disagreements as today, and resulted in amnesty for 3 million people, mostly Mexicans, who had crossed the border illegally.
To throttle future illegal immigration, the 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act stipulated stiff sanctions for employers who hired illegal immigrants. The provision was widely ignored. Along the 2,000-mile border with Mexico, capitalist market rules trumped border controls. Illegal crossings rose sharply.  Roughly half of Mexico's population lives on less than $5 a day, according to government figures. In the United States, the federal minimum wage is $5.15 an hour. "Migration is a question of supply and demand," said Jorge Bustamante of the Northern Frontier College in Tijuana. "Demand in the U.S. for Mexican labor has been growing. The money is better on the other (American) side. That's the main factor." In March, protesters waving flags from Mexico and other Latin American countries stirred angry reactions from Americans who saw the display as evidence of disdain for American values and loyalty to countries.  Organizers of Monday's protests seem determined to avoid a repetition. "Leave the flags of your countries at home," said messages on Spanish-language radio over the weekend. "Wave the flag of the country by which you want to be accepted."
April 3
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World's Strongest Glue! Available Only From Nature!
The bacterium Caulobacter crescentus uses the toughest glue on Earth to stick to river rocks, and now scientists are trying to figure out how to produce the stuff. The adhesive can withstand an enormous amount of stress, equal to the force felt by a quarter with more than three cars piled on top of it. That’s two to three times more force than the best retail glues can handle. The single-celled bacterium uses sugar molecules to stay put in rivers, streams, and water pipes, a new study found. It’s not clear how the glue actually works, however, but researchers presume some special proteins must be attached to the sugars. "There are obvious applications since this adhesive works on wet surfaces," said study leader Yves Brun, an Indiana University bacteriologist. "One possibility would be as a biodegradable surgical adhesive." Engineers could use the superior stickum too, Brun and colleagues say. But making it has proved challenging. Like a mess of chewing gum, the gunk globs to everything, including the tools used to create it. "We tried washing the glue off," Brun said. "It didn't work."
 
April 4
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Muhammad Ali Sells Marketing Rights
NEW YORK - Muhammad Ali, one of the world's most recognized people, has sold 80 percent of the marketing rights to his name and likeness to a firm for $50 million. The 64-year-old former heavyweight champion, who suffers from Parkinson's disease, will retain a 20 percent interest in the business. The new venture will be operated by a company called G.O.A.T. LLC, an acronym for "The Greatest of All Time." Ali and wife Lonnie are expected to work with CKX, Inc. to market his interests around the world. The deal includes trademarks owned by the boxing great. "This relationship with CKX will help guarantee that, for generations to come, people of all nations will understand my beliefs and my purpose," Ali said in a statement issued Tuesday by the company. "I am honored to be able to partner with CKX as they continue to grow." CKX has concentrated primarily on entertainment and holds the rights to the IDOLS television brand, which includes the show "American Idol." It also holds the rights to Elvis Presley's marketing, and has an interest in the operations of Graceland, Presley's Memphis, Tenn., home.
April 5
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Monster rabbit devours English veggie plots
LONDON - In a tale reminiscent of the last Wallace and Gromit movie, furious villagers in northeast England have hired armed guards to protect their beloved communal vegetable gardens from a suspected monster rabbit. Leeks, Japanese onions, parsnips and spring carrots have all been ripped up and devoured by the mystery were-rabbit -- prompting the 12 allotment holders in Felton, north of Newcastle, to hire two marksmen with air rifles and orders to shoot to kill. "It is a massive thing. It is a monster. The first time I saw it, I said: 'What the hell is that?'" the Northumberland Gazette newspaper quoted local resident Jeff Smith, 63, as saying. He claims to have seen the black and brown rabbit -- with one ear bigger than the other -- about two months ago, and at least three fellow allotment holders say they have seen it as well. "I have seen it and it is bigger than a normal rabbit. It's eating all our crops and we grow the best stuff here," said retired miner George Brown, 76, quoted by the domestic Press Association news agency. Smith could not be reached for comment Friday, but his mother said that the hare-raising story is true -- and no less an authority than the British Rabbit Council said it was credible. "Certain breeds do grow very big, like the Continental Giant" which can be 66 centimetres (26 inches) in length or more, a spokesman for the Nottinghamshire-based council, which represent rabbit breeders. In the last hit movie featuring Wallace and his dog Gromit, the two cartoon characters battled a monster rabbit that was cutting a swathe of destruction through locals' prize vegetable plots.
April 6
Image of the Day
Chef Scott MacDonald poses with his creation, which it is claimed is the world's most expensive sandwich, at Selfridges Department Store in London, Monday April 10, 2006. Named the McDonald Sandwich, after it's creator, the ingredients are Wagyu beef, fresh lobe foie gras, black truffle mayonnaise, brie de meaux, rocket, red pepper and mustard confit, and English plum tomatoes, all packed into 24-hour fermented sour dough bread - and it sells for 85 pounds (US$ 148.33: euro 122.53)
April 7
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Employer's joke dashes maid's Playboy hopes
KUALA LUMPUR - An Indonesian maid posed in her underwear for pictures her female employer promised would appear in the Indonesian version of Playboy, but complained after receiving no payment, a Malaysian social group said. Playboy magazine caused a stir at its launch in Indonesia last week, despite having less skin on display than U.S. issues of 50 years ago. Although banned in Malaysia, it became big news because the center spread featured a top Malaysian model named Amber Chia. In exchange for a promise of 1,000 ringgit ($272) and the use of her connections with the magazine to get the pictures printed, the woman took pictures of her 25-year-old maid in seductive postures while her family was away, the Star newspaper said. "It was a joke by the employer, but the maid took it seriously," said M. Ganesha, head of a complaints bureau run by the Malaysian Indian Youth Council, to which the maid turned for help in getting payment. He told Reuters he would settle the dispute within two days and get the photographs returned, but declined to elaborate. "In Malaysia posing for nude photographs or taking nude photographs is illegal, so if the maid complains to the police, both of them will face charges," said L. Krishnan, an official in southwestern Negeri Sembilan state, where the incident occurred. Indonesians account for 96 percent of the 320,000 licensed foreign housemaids in Malaysia. ($1=3.6736 ringgit)

April 8
Image of the Day
Meteorite Gets $93K at New York Auction
NEW YORK - A meteorite believed to have come from an asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter sold for $93,000 Tuesday at an auction of rare space sculptures. The 355-pound chunk of iron, thousands of years old and discovered in the Campo del Cielo crater field in Argentina, was one of 10 meteorites that went for high prices at a Bonhams' New York natural history auction. The pristine meteorite, known as "Valley of the Sky," was purchased by a private collector in the United States who bid by phone and plans to display it as a work of art, said Thomas Lindgren, acting director of the natural history division for Bonhams auction house. "This is art, not from man, but from outer space," Lindgren said. The auction house had expected it to sell for between $40,000 and $50,000. "He was absolutely ecstatic," Lindgren said of the buyer. "There was no way he was going to walk away without it." The high bids reflect the soaring interest in meteorites not just for their scientific value but also their natural beauty. Lindgren said the bids for the space rocks come mainly from private art collectors and interior home designers. "They have found their place in the art marketplace," Lindgren said.
The meteorites came from the Macovich Collection, considered the finest collection of aesthetic meteorites in the world. Most sold above their estimated pre-auction value. A two-gram piece of the Moon sold for $4,250, and a space rock with an unique naturally formed hole that was found in Africa went for $42,000, nearly twice the pre-sale estimate. The second highest price for a meteorite at the auction was for one with naturally occurring glittering gemstones. It sold for $11,950, well above its estimate of $3,200. One of the auction's featured extraterrestrial items was a tiny slice from the Williamette meteorite, the crown jewel of meteorites. The piece sold for $12,000. The Williamette is North America's largest meteorite, deposited by the last ice age and discovered in Oregon in 1902. The entire 15.5 ton Williamette was purchased in 1905 by Mrs. William E. Dodge for $26,000 and donated to the American Museum of Natural History in New York where it is now on display. The prices of the meteorites include the actual purchase price plus a 19.5 percent purchaser's premium paid to the auction house. Darryl Pitt, primary owner and curator of the Macovich Collection, said he was delighted with the tremendous response to the sale. "These are matchless sculptures from outer space," Pitt said. "The high values being afforded these exquisite specimens show they have penetrated the art market."
April 9
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Winnie the Pooh gets star on Hollywood Walk of Fame
LOS ANGELES - Squealing fans lined up ten deep on Hollywood's Walk of Fame on Tuesday, a few hurling themselves through a phalanx of minders to get close to their idol -- who wore only a red T-shirt over his yellow fur. "Nobody went this crazy over Britney Spears," a photographer marveled, as he and others snapped off shot after shot of the star. "Winnie -- to your right!" another yelled. The scene was the unveiling of the Hollywood Walk of Fame star for Winnie the Pooh, who is marking the 80th anniversary of the publication of his story in the London Evening News with an 18-month-long celebration hosted by the Walt Disney Co.
Pooh is among about a dozen animated stars, including Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck and Snow White, to merit a star on the famous sidewalk, where it joins nearby markers for Tim Allen, Rod Serling and Jane Russell. "They're an important part of the industry now," Hollywood's Honorary Mayor Johnny Grant said of cartoon characters like Pooh. "Some of the movies (the studios) are putting out don't do so well, but animated characters are doing great business." As a brass band played the "Winnie the Pooh" theme song and confetti fluttered down around Pooh and his pint-sized fans, Disney Chief Executive Bob Iger assured the shy pot-bellied star that "you really are worth all the bother."Pooh generated $6 billion in retail sales for Disney in 2005 -- topped only by Mickey Mouse.
Longtime pals and castmates Rabbit, Eeyore and Tigger flew in from the Hundred Acre Wood to attend the star ceremony and a screening of the 1997 video "Pooh's Grand Adventure: The Search for Christopher Robin," was held at the nearby El Capitan Theater. A digitally remastered DVD of that video was also released on Tuesday. But there were a couple of no-shows -- Piglet and Christopher Robin. Presumably they had "other commitments."

April 10
Image of the Day
Shop worker finds cocaine instead of bananas
MUNICH - A supermarket worker's discovery of 20 kilograms (44 lb) of cocaine hidden in a case of fruit had German police going bananas. A spokesman for Bavarian state police said officers dug through 4,600 cartons of bananas after a man working at a Munich grocery store found the drugs in a shipment of fruit from Colombia. "A worker unloading a case saw that there weren't any bananas under the first layer," a spokesman for Bavarian state police said Monday. In their place, he said was 20 kilograms of drugs. Around 30 police officers were set to search through the remainder of the shipment but found no more suspicious packages. The bananas originally came from Colombia and were shipped through the Belgian port of Antwerp before being trucked into Germany. The investigation is under way.
April 11
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Frog in salad a bit too French for Aussie barbecue
SYDNEY - An Australian woman came close to tasting more French cuisine than she cared for after finding a dead frog in a pre-mixed supermarket salad. Julie Lumber found the unwanted ingredient in her Caesar salad "with the works" when preparing for a barbecue at home with friends, the Australian Associated Press reported. "I opened up the bag and the frog fell out on the side of the plate," Lumber said. "I just went 'oh my god' and then we had a laugh about it. I couldn't stomach French food with the frogs legs and snails and I wasn't about to try it," Lumber said. Luckily for the reluctant gourmand, the five-centimetre (two-inch) frog was found before the barbecue got underway, still clinging to a green lettuce leaf with its left leg outstretched. "There were a few of us in the kitchen -- luckily other people were with me to see it because you wouldn't want people to think you put it in there," she said. Lumber took a photo of her unusual salad before returning the package, frog and all, to the supermarket in the east coast city of Brisbane, where she "got a full refund". "I'll make my own salads from now on because at least I can wash the lettuce myself. I love French dressing, I always put it on my salads -- just not that type," she said.
April 12
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Czech beer baths challenge traditional spas
CHODOVA PLANA, Czech Republic - Wearing only his gold necklace and grasping a large beer, Andrei relaxed voluptuously in a herbal beer bath, the latest Czech "therapeutic" offering which the rich Moscovite spa lover would not miss for anything. "We Russians love natural products. Here, the beer is the best quality, brewed in the old style without any chemicals," he explained with enthusiasm.The Russian businessmen, a frequent visitor to the renowned Marianske Lazne (Marienbad) spa in west Bohemia -- the destination of Europe's kings, emperors and nobility at the turn of the 20th century -- could not resist the temptation to try the country's first "beer spa" in the nearby town of Chodova Plana. Owners of the town's Chodovar brewery, still producing along artisanal lines, launched the beer baths with the target of tempting tourists to their new hotel rather than boosting production.
Tourists have been flocking for years to a "traditional Czech" restaurant converted from the brewery's ancient cellars, which along with the brewery represents the principal source of jobs in the town of around 1,300. With West Bohemia's six traditional spa resorts competing vigorously for custom with special health programmes and weekend health breaks, the brewery decided it required a different recipe. "We had the beer, we had a mineral spring nearby and we came up with the idea of beer baths," explained Mojmir Prokes, the young manager of the hotel and adjoining beer spa, who enthused over their "reinvigorating effects," especially for the skin. A doctor from Marianske Lazne was drafted in to test the concoction -- a fifty-fifty mix of beer and water. Permission was obtained from local authorities, six large tailor made metal baths ordered and a qualified local nurse recruited. Klara Kovacsova, who previously worked in balneotherapy, says the idea is "brilliant." "These baths are not competition for traditional spa treatments," said the nursing sister. She greets clients behind a bar and dispenses the free beer that comes with the 550 koruna (around 20 euro) price of a single beer bath session.
Kovacsova is also responsible for mixing the slightly sulphuric mineral water, dark beer -- classical lager was tried but did not smell so good -- and aromatic herbs, testing the temperature and installing "patients" for their 20 minute dip. "The Czech Republic is known worldwide for its beer, Czechs are fanatical about it: a beer bath is an excellent concept for getting yourself known," commented Jitka Pouzorova, charged with promoting the country's spas at the state tourist office, CzechTourism, in Prague. A few local newspapers articles, some television programmes and a multilingual Internet site was all that was required for the first curious Czechs, Russians and Germans to starting turning up at Chodova Plana to test the water, and beer. "Russians have money, they want the best, irrespective of whether it is mineral water or beer," Andrei, who had arrived with a group of friends, explained. Each year his compatriots arrive at Czech spas in ever greater numbers, drawn in particular to the Czech Republic's biggest, Karlovy Vary (Carlsbad).
In 2005, Czech spas attracted around 315,000 visitors, of which a third were foreigners. Although Russians are still outnumbered by Germans and Austrians, they usually stay longer and spend without counting the cost. Chodova Plana's beer spa seeks to attract well-heeled Czechs as much as foreigners. Official figures show that in spite of cuts in health insurance reimbursements for spa treatment, more and more Czechs are signing up and are prepared to pay out of their own pockets. But beyond the well developed traditional spa treatments, "the country has started to be won over by the fashion for 'health, beauty and wellness'," Pouzorova said. As the biggest per capita beer drinkers in the world, that health and beauty message might still take some selling to Czechs, but it presents no danger at all to the wider ambitions of the Chodovar brewery.
April 13
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It's interesting to see how the politics of sex are being used to re-write animal history and behavior, to justify current political trends in human society.
Couple of ducks 'come out' in Sweden

STOCKHOLM - In the middle of mating season, a couple of male ducks returned to a park in southern Sweden, for the third consecutive year, ignoring the siren calls of all the lady ducks around them. Far from the torments of bird flu and temptations of the opposite sex, the two common shelducks appear only to have eyes for each other -- in a sort of ducky gay marriage. "We can state that they act exactly like a couple (composed) of a man and woman, the bigger one always defending the smaller duck," Lennarth Blomquist, in charge of bird management in the southern city of Malmo, told the TT news agency. "Shelducks mate for life," he said, indicating that these two ducks have found in each other the love of their lives.
April 14
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Cheeky monkeys told to get off the phones
LONDON - A troop of mischievous monkeys at London Zoo has had to be retrained after showing too much interest in visitors' mobile phones, officials said. Visitors who held out the phones to take pictures or video of the squirrel monkeys in their no-barrier enclosure found the inquisitive primates could not resist the devices' ring tones and bright lights. A short training programme using old mobile phones covered in a sticky substance the monkeys dislike was then developed to prevent the animals trying to grab the phones. Malcolm Fitzpatrick, curator of mammals at the Zoological Society of London, said: "They soon learned not to touch the phones. They are back to their usual pastimes of sleeping and foraging now." Squirrel monkeys are native to South America where their status in the wild is threatened. They are used for biomedical research, as pets, and for bait and food. London Zoo, along with other zoos in England, is currently involved in breeding programmes aimed at increasing numbers of the species. Opened early last year, the new walk-through enclosure at the zoo has been designed to mimic the forests of Bolivia.

April 15
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Chameleon clothing lets you vanish into the background
PARIS - A chemist in the United States is reportedly working on "chameleon clothing" that at the touch of a switch would mimic the wearer's surroundings. Greg Sotzing, associate professor of the University of Connecticut at Storrs has invented threads of so-called electrochromic polymers that change colour in response to an applied electrical field, the British weekly says. The threads work because the electrons in their chemical bonds can absorb light across a range of visible wavelengths. When a voltage is applied, it changes the energy levels of the electrons, causing them to absorb light in a different wavelength and thus changing the material's colour.
So far, Sotzing has been able to change fibres from orange to blue and from red to blue. His next step is to create threads that switch from red, blue and green to white. Ultimately, says New Scientist, Sotzing hopes to weave differently coloured threads into a criss-cross pattern so that, connected by metal wires to a battery pack, each crosspoint becomes a pixel -- the tiny point of light in a TV or computer screen. The fabric could be made into clothing whose colour be switched by a microcontroller according to the wearer's mood. Or, by connecting the microcontroller to a camera, the pixels could display the pattern and colours of the wearer's surroundings, thus helping him to melt into the background. The report appears in this Saturday's issue of New Scientist. Other scientists in this field are working on electrochromic polymer films that could change the colour of a surface. The films could darken window panes automatically in response to bright light, or be used to display ads in packaging or personal messages or greeting cards.
April 16
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April 17
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April 18
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April 19
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April 20
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April 21
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April 22
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April 23
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April 24
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April 25
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April 26
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April 27
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April 28
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April 29
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April 30
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