Thoughts Gallery February 2006
February 1
Image of the Day

British 'spy rock' a miracle of technology
MOSCOW - Russia's intelligence agency described the communications device disguised as a rock allegedly used by British spies in Moscow as a "miracle of technology" worth tens of millions of pounds. "It's a piece of space-age technology, a machine that can withstand a fall from from nine floors up and prolonged submersion in water," said Sergei Ignachenko, spokesman for the FSB agency, as he showed off the object to the media.

On Monday, the FSB accused four British diplomats of involvement in a spy ring in which agents allegedly passed secrets through the device, located in a Moscow park and the subject of a programme broadcast by a state-run television channel. "According to our experts, this rock, this miracle of technology, costs several tens of millions of dollars," the spokesman said. He said FSB agents were systematically searching the capital to locate similar devices they believed British agents had planted.

He added that the device shown to the media was found six weeks after an alleged British spy removed another one. On Wednesday, Russian President Vladimir Putin said the exposure of the alleged British spy ring justified a hotly debated new law on the financing of non-governmental organisations in Russia. Putin's critics have accused Russia's intelligence services of using the spy scandal as a way of putting pressure on NGOs but supporters of the legislation say foreign spy agencies often use non-governmental groups for intelligence-gathering.

February 2
Image of the Day
Newspapers Republish Muhammad Caricatures
PARIS - French and German newspapers on Wednesday republished caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad that have riled the Muslim world, saying democratic freedoms include the "right to blasphemy." The front page of the daily France Soir carried the headline "Yes, We Have the Right to Caricature God" along with a cartoon of Buddhist, Jewish, Muslim and Christian gods floating on a cloud. Inside, the paper reran the drawings. "The appearance of the 12 drawings in the Danish press provoked emotions in the Muslim world because the representation of Allah and his prophet is forbidden. But because no religious dogma can impose itself on a democratic and secular society, France Soir is publishing the incriminating caricatures," the paper said.
Germany's Die Welt daily printed one of the drawings on its front page, arguing that a "right to blasphemy" was anchored in democratic freedoms. The Berliner Zeitung daily also printed two of the caricatures as part of its coverage of the controversy. The Danish daily Jyllands-Posten originally published the cartoons in September after asking artists to depict Islam's prophet to challenge what it perceived was self-censorship among artists dealing with Islamic issues. A Norwegian newspaper reprinted the images this month. The depictions include an image of Muhammad wearing a turban shaped as a bomb with a burning fuse, and another portraying him holding a sword, his eyes covered by a black rectangle. Islamic tradition bars any depiction of the prophet to prevent idolatry.
Angered by the drawings, masked Palestinian gunmen briefly took over a European Union office in Gaza on Monday. Syria called for the offenders to be punished. Danish goods were swept from shelves in many countries, and Saudi Arabia and Libya recalled their ambassadors to Denmark. The Jyllands-Posten — which received a bomb threat over the drawings — has apologized for hurting Muslims' feelings but not for publishing the cartoons. Its editor said Wednesday, however, that he would not have printed the drawings had he foreseen the consequences. Carsten Juste also said the international furor amounted to a victory for opponents of free expression.
"Those who have won are dictatorships in the Middle East, in Saudi Arabia, where they cut criminals' hands and give women no rights," Juste told The Associated Press. "The dark dictatorships have won." Demonstrations and condemnations across the Muslim world continued. The Supreme Council of Moroccan religious leaders denounced the drawings on Wednesday. "Muslim beliefs cannot tolerate such an attack, however small it may be," the statement said. In Turkey, dozens of protesters from a small Islamic party staged a demonstration in front of the Danish Embassy. About 200 riot police watched the crowd from the Felicity Party, which laid a black wreath and a book about Muhammad's life at the gates of the embassy building.
Despite the show of solidarity among Europe's newspaper editors, not all Europeans appreciated the drawings. Norway's deputy state secretary for foreign affairs, Raymond Johansen, said they encourage distrust between people of different faiths. "I can understand that Muslims find the caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad in the Norwegian weekly ... to be offensive. This is unfortunate and regrettable," Johansen said on a visit to Beirut. There was also anger in France, which has Western Europe's largest Muslim community with an estimated 5 million people.
Mohammed Bechari, president of the National Federation of the Muslims of France, said his group would start legal proceedings against France Soir because of "these pictures that have disturbed us, and that are still hurting the feelings of 1.2 billion Muslims." French government spokesman Jean-Francois Cope struck a neutral tone, saying France is "a country that is attached to the principle of secularism, and this freedom clearly should be exercised in a spirit of tolerance and respect for the beliefs of everyone." France Soir, which is owned by an Egyptian magnate, has been struggling to stay afloat and bring in readers in recent years. French theologian Sohaib Bencheikh spoke out against the pictures in a column in France Soir accompanying them Wednesday. "One must find the borders between freedom of expression and freedom to protect the sacred," he wrote. "Unfortunately, the West has lost its sense of the sacred."




February 3
Images of the Day
Alaskans Battle Over Invasive Weed
JUNEAU, Alaska - Activists scored a minor victory when their Hawkweed Manifesto — urging people to "be prickly and hard to eradicate, join the resistance" — helped stop the spraying of weedkiller on an aggressive, nonnative plant. They even advertised a place to buy seed for the botanical alien, orange hawkweed, which flaunts its presence with showy, bright-orange blossoms. But now the battle has moved to the Alaska Legislature, where a bill has been introduced that could make garden outlaws out of the activists by banning the import and cultivation of that and another plant invader, purple loosestrife. Officials say the two plants could invade Alaska's wildlands and choke out native species. They're both considered threats elsewhere in the nation, too, and various state and federal agencies are trying to control them.
The Upper Susitna Soil and Water Conservation District set out last year to spray herbicide on orange hawkweed at the Talkeetna airport, 120 miles north of Anchorage, a springboard for climbers heading to Mount McKinley. The weed, Hieracium aurantiacum, also known as the "devil's paintbrush" and "grim-the-collier," was blanketing the gravel helicopter pad and district officials feared its barbed seeds would catch on a helicopter, ride into the wilderness and muscle out native plants. The project was stopped, in part because of opposition by the authors of the Hawkweed Manifesto, who scoffed at the idea of the weed going wild and didn't want herbicides sprayed around. "These plants spread into disturbed areas, not wilderness," said Paul Bratton, a Talkeetna homesteader, commercial fisherman and occasional lawyer.
There is a native Alaskan hawkweed, but Blythe Brown of the Kodiak soil and water conservation district said orange hawkweed probably arrived in Alaska more than 40 years ago as someone's potted plant. Under the proposed legislation, having that potted plant or seeds could net an offender as much as a $10,000 fine and a year in jail. Brown said the island town of Kodiak is overrun by orange hawkweed. Larry DeVilbiss, director of the state Division of Agriculture, said the legislation might not be broad enough. Rather than focusing on just two weeds, DeVilbiss said the state should develop a regulatory list of plants that can be adjusted as needed. Outside Talkeetna, R.G. Denny owns a few empty acres where he has posted a pair of 8-foot signs declaring: "ORANGE HAWKWEED PRESERVE."  Denny rails at a law that would tell him what he can and cannot plant.  "How's that law going to work?" he asked. "Are they going to raid garden shops? Are they going to go through the post office and print up posters that say "No ammunition, no explosives and no orange hawkweed seeds?'"

February 4
Image of the Day
Whale Meat Glut a Problem for Japan
TOKYO - Japan has enticed children with whale burger school lunches, sung the praises of the red meat in colorful pamphlets, and declared whale hunting "a national heritage." But Tokyo has a dilemma: by rapidly expanding its whale hunt, Japan now kills more of the giant mammals than its consumers care to eat. The result is an unprecedented glut of whale meat. Prices — once about $15 a pound — are plunging, inventories are bursting, and promoters are scrambling to get Japanese to eat more whale. It's a tough sell. "To put it simply, whale meat tastes horrible," said 30-year-old Kosuke Nakamura, one of the diners at a Hana No Mai restaurant in Tokyo who turned their noses up at whale meat.
Young people are put off by the tough, pungent meat, Nakamura said, while older Japanese are reminded of the lean years after the country's defeat in World War II. And while few Japanese voice environmental concerns over hunting whales, some younger people say it has brought the country unfavorable publicity. "Whaling's so bad for Japan's image. I don't know why we still hunt," Nakamura said. Some 1,035 tons of whale meat hit the market in Japan last year, a 65 percent increase from 1995, the Fisheries Agency says. And sluggish demand means inventories have almost doubled in five years to 2,704 tons in 2004.
In the same period, the average price of whale fell almost 30 percent, to just over $10 a pound in 2004. That's more than the average price for beef — about $9 a pound — and far higher than for chicken or pork. But the glut of whale meat hasn't stopped the harpoon guns. Tokyo plans to kill — under a research program — some 1,070 minke whales in 2006, over 400 more than last year. Japan will also hunt 10 fin whales, and a total of 160 Bryde's, sei and sperm whales, fisheries official Kenji Masuda said.
The International Whaling Commission banned commercial whaling in 1986, approving limited hunts for research purposes a year later. Opponents have called Japan's hunts merely a way for it to dodge the whaling ban. Tokyo says its program is needed to establish reliable information on whale populations and habits — data Japan says can only be gleaned by killing the animals. The government, which distributes the meat and uses profits to fund research, is working to promote whale meat and secure new distribution channels.
"Is it OK to eat whale meat? Of course it is," reads a pamphlet titled "Delicious Whales" that is distributed by the government-affiliated Japan Whaling Association. "Even if we capture 2,000 whales a year for 100 years, it's OK because whale numbers are growing," the pamphlet says. The association acknowledges whale is a hard sell. The meat was considered a rich source of protein in the lean years after World War II, but people moved on to other meats — notably beef — as they became more affluent. Some local governments have begun offering whale meat in school lunches.
Wakayama, a prefecture with a whale-hunting tradition 280 miles southwest of Tokyo, has been aggressive in getting youngsters to eat whale, introducing whale meals at 270 public schools in 2005. Nutritionists have even developed child-friendly whale dishes, including whale meatballs, hamburgers and whale spaghetti bolognese, said Tetsuji Sawada of Wakayama's education board. Chimney Co., which runs the Hana No Mai eateries, acknowledges customers are wary of new whale dishes. Still, Hana No Mai will keep selling whale meat. And a trader at one of Tsukiji market's biggest wholesalers, Daito Gyorui Co., was equally optimistic. "The fall in prices is a good thing because it will make whale meat more accessible," Yoshiaki Kochi said. "Japanese will never forget the taste of whale. It's part of our culture. It's in our DNA."
February 5
Image of the Day
 
U.S. Trade Deficit Hits All-Time High
WASHINGTON - The U.S. trade deficit soared to an all-time high of $725.8 billion in 2005, pushed upward by record imports of oil, food, cars and other consumer goods. The deficit with China hit an all-time high as did America's deficits with Japan, Europe, OPEC, Canada, Mexico and South and Central America. The Commerce Department reported Friday that the gap between what America sells abroad and what it imports rose to $725.8 billion last year, up by 17.5 percent from the previous record of $617.6 billion set in 2004. It marked the fourth consecutive year that America's trade deficit has set a record as American consumers continued their seemingly insatiable demand for all things foreign from new cars to televisions and electronic goods.
The increased foreign competition has helped to keep the lid on prices in this country, but critics say the rising trade deficit is a major factor in the loss of nearly 3 million manufacturing jobs since mid-2000 as U.S. companies moved production overseas to lower-waged nations. Many economists believe those manufacturing jobs will never come back. "Such a huge trade gap undercuts domestic manufacturing and destroys good U.S. jobs," said Richard Trumka, secretary-treasuer of labor's AFL-CIO. "America's gargantuan trade deficit is a weight around American workers' necks that is pulling them into a cycle of debt, bankruptcy and low-wage service jobs." Sen. Byron Dorgan (news, bio, voting record), D-N.D., said the new deficit figure showed that "our trade policy is an unbelievable failure that is selling out American jobs and weakening our economy."
Last year's deficit reflected the fact that imports rose by 12.9 percent to an all-time high of $2 trillion, swamping a 10.4 percent increase in exports, which reached a record high of $1.27 trillion. For December, the trade deficit edged up a slight 1.5 percent to $65.7 billion, the third highest monthly figure on record. Bush, in an effort to counter the growing anxiety over America's ability to compete with such rising economic powers as China and India, unveiled a new American Competitiveness Agenda in his State of the Union address to double government spending on basic research, extend tax breaks for company spending on research and hire thousands of new math and science teachers for the nation's high schools.
But critics contend that the trade deficit will keep growing unless the administration takes a harder line against unfair trade practices in low-wage countries such as China, a country they contend has gained a huge advantage over America by artificially depressing the value of its currency, which makes Chinese goods cheaper for American consumers and American products more expensive in China. The U.S. trade deficit with China rose to a record $201.6 billion last year, the highest deficit ever recorded with any country and 24.5 percent above the previous record of $161.9 billion set in 2004. Part of that increase reflected a 42.6 percent increase in imports of Chinese clothing and textiles, which soared at the beginning of the year after the removal of global quotas.
American manufacturers, arguing that the U.S. textile and clothing industries were losing thousands of jobs, got the administration to negotiate a three-year agreement with China to reimpose quotas in a number of categories. The United States also recorded record deficits with Japan at $82.7 billion. Until it was surpassed by China in 2000, Japan was the country that had the largest trade gap each year with the United States. America's trade deficit set records with much of the rest of the world as well. Among those records was a $122.4 billion gap with the 25-nation European Union, a $92.7 billion deficit with the nations that belong to the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries, a $76.5 billion deficit with Canada and a $50.1 billion deficit with Mexico. Canada and Mexico are America's partners in the North American Free Trade Agreement. The deficit with the countries of South and Central America rose to a record $50.7 billion last year. A huge 39.4 percent jump in petroleum imports, which rose to $251.6 billion, was a major factor contributing to last year's deficit increase. The price of those imports rose to an all-time high, reflecting tight global supplies. The United States was forced to import more oil in the fall after Hurricane Katrina caused widespread shutdowns of Gulf Coast production. The rising trade deficits must be financed by increased borrowing from foreigners, who so far have been happy to sell us their products and hold U.S. dollars in payment which they invest in U.S. stock, bonds and other assets. The concern is that at some point foreigners will want to reduce their dollar holdings. If the change occurs at a rapid pace it could send the value of the dollar, U.S. stocks and bond prices all plunging.
February 6
Image of the Day
I was having a covversation about divorce and after a quick google search found a conversation about LDS divorces.  It's interesting to see how many people voice their 2 cents worth on the internet, the modern day journal keeping record of choice..
At one point in the meeting the senior GA (who was one of the seven presidents of the quorum at the time) went on sort of "we're going to hell in a handbasket" tirade. He was bemoaning the youth of zion. His exact statement which I wrote down verbatim and am now retyping from my notes of the meeting was, "we live in a throw away quick fix society, if a problem can't be fixed in the time it takes to drive through a McDonalds it's not worth fixing." "Our young peole have grown up having everything right now and throwing everything away, and now they throw their marriages away too." "The divorce rate for temple married 18 to 35 year olds is higher than the national average."
February 7
Image of the Day
Judge Tosses Case of Atheist Vs. Priest
ROME - An Italian judge has dismissed an atheist's petition that a small-town priest should stand trial for asserting that Jesus Christ existed, both sides said. Luigi Cascioli, a 72-year-old retired agronomist, had accused the Rev. Enrico Righi of violating two laws with the assertion, which he called a deceptive fable propagated by the Roman Catholic Church. "The Rev. Righi is very satisfied and moved," Righi's attorney, Severo Bruno, said. "He is an old, small-town parish priest who never would have thought he'd be in the spotlight for something like this."
Cascioli, a former schoolmate of Righi's, said he had not expected the case to succeed in overwhelmingly Roman Catholic Italy. "This is not surprising but it doesn't mean it all ends here," he said, adding that he's considering taking the case to the European Court of Human Rights. "This is an important case and it deserves to go ahead," he said. Judge Gaetano Mautone said in his decision that prosecutors should investigate Cascioli for possible slander. The ruling was released Thursday in Viterbo, a town north of Rome where the priest is based. Cascioli filed a criminal complaint against Righi in 2002 after Righi wrote in a parish bulletin that Jesus existed, that he was born to a couple named Mary and Joseph in Bethlehem and that he lived in Nazareth.Righi, 76, said substantial historical evidence proves Jesus' existence. Cascioli claimed that Righi's assertions violated two Italian laws: one barring "abuse of popular belief," or fraudulently deceiving people; and another barring "impersonation" or personal gain from attributing a false name to someone.
February 8
Image of the Day
$10,000 Bill Sent to N.Y. for Safe Keeping

GREEN BAY, Wis. - A rare $10,000 bill is getting a new home. The bill — one of 15 large-denomination bills at a Chase Bank branch in Green Bay — was shipped to the bank's corporate archives in New York for safe keeping. The $10,000 bill bears the likeness of Salmon P. Chase, for whom the bank was named. Chase was a U.S. senator who served as treasury secretary under President Lincoln. The large bill was discovered in a bank customer's safety deposit box after the owner died 20 years ago. The woman's family exchanged the currency at face value, and the bank stored the bill in a plastic sleeve for protection. But bank officials decided the bills would be safer at the JP Morgan Chase & Co. corporate office in New York. The bank sent the bills there last month by armored truck. The government stopped printing bills larger than $100 in 1945 and hasn't issued any since 1969. The Green Bay bills were printed in 1934. "The bills had been in our vault so long that many of us were sad to see them go, but we're glad to know that historic bills will be properly preserved," said Green Bay branch manager Carrie Liebhauser.

February 9
Image of the Day
Pair Suing Hotel Over Bedbugs Bites
NEW YORK - A couple who claim they were bitten by bedbugs while staying at a Catskills resort in July returned for another stay later that month, according to the hotel's lawyer. But Leslie Fox says she went back to the Nevele Hotel because her husband, Stephen Cohen, was under contract to give a lecture and she wanted to go with him. "I was absolutely loath to have to go back there, and I went back with great apprehension," Fox said Wednesday. Joseph O'Connor, a lawyer for the resort, didn't buy the explanation. "I think he probably could have done it without her," he told the Daily News. Fox and Cohen sued the resort for $20 million on Tuesday, saying her body and mind were scarred after she suffered some 500 bedbug bites at the 700-room hotel.
Fox's lawyer, Alan J. Schnurman, said Tuesday that when the couple reported to hotel officials that their room was infested, the officials offered two free nights but Fox and Cohen declined because they just wanted to leave. O'Connor said the couple stayed at the hotel again from July 24 to July 29. "The claim for a $20 million injury is not substantiated by her willingness to stay in the same section of the hotel two weeks later," he said. O'Connor said the hotel denies any liability and is conducting a full investigation.
February 10
Image of the Day
This photo released by the IFREMER (French Research Institute for Exploitation of the Sea) shows a new crustacean, called 'Kiwi hirsuta'. The eyeless shellfish, about 15cm long was discovered in March 2005 during a diving mission led by American researcher Robert Vrijenhoek, of the MBARI Institut, Cal., in hydrothermal vents of the Pacific Antartic Ridge, south of Easter Island.
February 11
Image of the Day
This image provided by the Journal Science shows a Laonastes, the only living representative of the otherwise extinct Distomydae, a family of rodents that lived in south Asia and Japan. It has the face of a rat and the tail of a skinny squirrel _ and scientists say this creature discovered living in central Laos is pretty special: It's a species believed to have been extinct for 11 million years. The long-whiskered rodent made international headlines last spring when biologists declared they'd discovered a brand new species, nicknamed the Laotian rock rat. It turns out the little guy isn't new after all, but a rare kind of survivor _ a living member of a species until now known only from fossils. Nor is it a rat.
February 12
Image of the Day
European toilet paper gets passionate
LISBON - After launching black toilet paper last year, one of Europe's biggest producers of household paper products has introduced a new red version for those wanting to inject more passion into their bathrooms. Portugal's Renova introduced its new line of red toilet paper -- along with black paper handkerchiefs -- at upscale stores in Austria, France, Germany, Portugal, Spain and the Netherlands last month and it plans to make the items available in other markets, including the US, over the coming months. "It is a red that makes a huge impact, like a Ferrari," Renova international brand manager Jose Manuel Pinheiro said.
A company statement said the new shade of toilet paper would "target the most hip points in town," adding that red "is the colour of our hearts, of passion, lust, fury, laughter, anger, love, fire." The prime targets of the black paper handkerchiefs are "pop stars, fashion models, football players, film producers or Hollywood actors," it added. The company decided to launch the two new products because the black toilet paper it put on the market in 2005 posted strong sales, Pinheiro said. "We are trying to create a niche market for value-added household products in nations with a high purchasing power," he said.
World-famous department store Harrods put the black handkerchiefs and toilet paper on sale along with gourmet food and drinks at a new "luxury convenience" store it opened earlier this month opposite its main store in London. Renova charges 2.50 euros (2.98 US dollars) per roll of the coloured toilet paper and six euros for six packages of the black handkerchiefs when the items are ordered through its Internet site. The company, based in Torres Novas located some 120 kilometres ( 75 miles) northeast of Lisbon, posted sales of nearly 120 million euros last year, about half of it outside of Portugal. It has introduced novelty household products in the past, including toilet paper with moisturising lotion and multi-coloured paper towels.
February 13
Image of the Day
One-inch Japanese footballer ready for World Cup
TOKYO - Some say the beauty of soccer is that players of any size can compete. But one World Cup contender from Japan is an extreme case -- a one-inch (2.5-centimeter) robot.  However, legends such as David Beckham don't need to worry about this tiny new footballer just yet. Eco-Be, developed by Japan's Citizen Watch, will match its skills against other robots during the 2006 RoboCup in Bremen, Germany in June, as its human counterparts take part in the World Cup, the sport's most prestigious tournament.
Run on a watch motor and a lithium-ion battery and remote-controlled through infrared rays, the robot can move at 1.5 meters (five feet) per minute. That speed is too slow to kick a ball, so Eco-Be will play on a horizontally-laid television screen using a virtual ball, the major watch maker said. The robot aims to use a real ball in the 2007 RoboCup competition, Citizen Watch spokesman Yoichi Kashiwa said. "We are still at the outset of development but our future image is to have football games between 11 robots vs 11 robots which would make formations by their own judgment," Kashiwa said Thursday. In developing the robot, the company will also be able to "hit upon new ideas" that can be used in manufacturing other electronics devices, he added. The RoboCup is a Japanese-led initiative to promote study of artificial intelligence and robotics using football games. Citizen Watch wants to create a Eco-Be league, where the differently-programmed tiny robots would compete.
February 14
Image of the Day
Naked wedding photos a hit in once conservative China
BEIJING - Forget the Mao suits of a generation ago. Actually, forget about any clothes at all. Naked wedding photos are the hot new trend among young couples in once deeply conservative China. Even in Anhui, a largely rural province in the east, many newly-weds are having their pictures taken in the nude, to the fury of their parents' generation, the Xin'an Evening News said. "Some photo studios are just going too far. They allow young women to have their photos taken in bikinis or with nothing on at all," said an irate woman from the Anhui capital of Hefei. "I hope the authorities will do something." She had just found out that her daughter had taken two sets of wedding photos, one to show the family, and another considerably more intimate one for her own private consumption. Previous reports in the state media suggested nude wedding photos were a trend that began in the south of China that was gradually spreading to the rest of the country. "Not a few young people think that the nude pics are a welcome renewal to the stale unchanging traditions of the wedding photo," the Xin Wenhua Bao newspaper reported in November last year. This attitude is now prevalent even in northwest China's Xi'an, a proud ancient capital and home to the -- fully dressed -- terracotta soldiers.
The Xi'an Evening News did a random check of five photo studios, and found that all of them would be willing to take nude photos of soon-to-be-married couples, should they so wish. "Most of the people who come here to have the bold, naked photos taken are young, trendy and unconventional," said a studio owner. "There are still lots of people who don't like it." The China Radio International news website even carried an article on the trend showing some images of naked newlyweds. One bride wore nothing but a veil and bouquet of flowers while another couple embraced in a provocative position, although the photos were carefully taken to avoid displaying full-frontal nudity.
** February 15 **
Image of the Day
The Porter family, Colleen Porter, in this photo taken in Kailua-Kona, Hawaii, in October 2005 shows off her record-setting mango, which was harvested in October. Porter has a certificate from the Guinness Book of World Records for growing the world's heaviest mango, 5 pounds, 7 ounces (about 2.5 kilograms).
February 16
Image of the Day
A picture released by the Egyptian Council of Antiques, shows black granite statues found in the 18th dynasty (1580-1314 BC) temple of pharaoh Amenhotep III in the Kom Hitan area on the west bank of the ancient city of Luxor in Upper Egypt. A team of German archeologists has unearthed 17 statues of the lion-headed goddess Sekhmet during restoration work at an ancient temple in the southern city of Luxor, Culture Minister Faruq Hosni announced.
February 17
Image of the Day
CIA personnel, offices easily found on Internet
CHICAGO - The names of CIA personnel, including covert operatives, internal telephone numbers and locations of two dozen CIA installations can be found through Internet searches, a US newspaper reported. Through online services that provide public, legally obtained information for a fee, a reporter netted a directory of 2,600 Central Intelligence Agency employees and 50 internal phone numbers, according to a Chicago Tribune investigation.
The Chicago daily also discovered the identities of CIA operatives assigned to US embassies in Europe. At the request of the CIA, the newspaper did not release the names of the operatives. It did quote an unnamed source saying CIA director Porter Goss was "horrified" at the discovery. "Cover is a complex issue that is more complex in the Internet age," chief CIA spokeswoman Jennifer Dyck told the Tribune.
"There are things that worked previously that no longer work. Director Goss is committed to modernizing the way the agency does cover in order to protect our officers who are doing dangerous work." She did not tell the daily what those remedies would be "since we don't want the bad guys to know what we're fixing". The discoveries included some of the so-called front companies set up for CIA operatives and the airplanes they use to secretly take terror suspects to countries where torture is used, a method called "renditions". Several of the listings of those front companies have disappeared from their Internet since the CIA found out about the security leaks, the newspaper said.
February 18
Image of the Day
Peru museum has diseases on the brain

LIMA - Thousands of human brains float in jars of formaldehyde at a unique museum that gives visitors to Lima an up-close view of brain diseases, from trichinosis to stroke. More than 2,500 brains are on display in a modest museum in Lima sponsored by the National Institute of Neurological Sciences (INCN). Visitors can see brains of persons felled by AIDS, Alzheimers, clots, hemorrhages, heart attacks and a myriad of tumors. The museum is the proud owner of a brain that died of Creutzfeld-Jacob disease, the human variant of "mad cow," which results in progressive dementia and loss of muscle control. Also on exhibit: the brains of people who died of trichinosis, the most common brain disease in Peru, caused by eating undercooked meat, usually pork. One brain, donated by US physicians, is sliced in half and the right hemisphere dissected to show the skin, bone, arteries and veins. The brains, collected since 1942, are crammed onto shelves covering the walls from floor level to the four-meter (13-foot) high ceiling. A nearby autopsy room holds only a concrete table, a hose, and a 30-centimeter (12-inch)-long knife for slicing open skulls.
Museum director Diana Rivas, a slight neuropathologist, supervises 100 autopsies each year. That allows her to consider each brain for inclusion in the collection. "For me, cutting brains is like peeling potatoes," Rivas said as she toyed with the giant knife. The museum also has deformed fetuses. One fetus has one eye, another a hole instead of a nose, and a third a brain but no skull. Animal brains in the collection, of chickens, monkeys, cats and dogs, are distinguished by their cream color, distinct from the gray of the human brains. A healthy human brain weighs 1.2 kilos (2.6 pounds) and is like hard jelly at death, Rivas said. "One month later it dries up and becomes as tough as a (pencil) eraser," she said. The museum is inside the Santo Toribio de Mogrovejo hospital, a single-floor clinic in Lima built in the early 20th century and modeled after a 19th century French hospital.

February 19
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U.S. Spending Billions to Stop Iraq IEDs

BAGHDAD, Iraq - The United States is pouring billions more dollars and fresh platoons of experts into its campaign to "defeat IEDs," the roadside bombs President Bush describes as threat No. 1 to Iraq's future. The American military even plans to build special, more defensible highways here, in its frustrating standoff with the makeshift munitions — "improvised explosive devices" — that Iraqi insurgents field by the hundreds to hobble U.S. road movements in the 3-year-old conflict. Out on those risky roads, and back at the Pentagon, few believe that even the most advanced technology will eliminate the threat. "As we've improved our armor, the enemy's improved his IEDs. They're bigger, and with better detonating mechanisms," said Maj. Randall Simmons, whose Georgia National Guard unit escorts convoys in western Iraq that are regularly rocked, damaged and delayed by roadside blasts. Lt. Col. Bill Adamson, operations chief for the anti-IED campaign, was realistic about the challenge in a Pentagon interview. "They adapt more quickly than we procure technology," he said of the insurgents.
Casualty charts show a growing problem. Better armor and tactics lowered the casualty rate per IED attack last year. But attacks almost doubled from 2004, to 10,593, meaning the U.S. death toll from IEDs still rose. Since mid-2005, an average of about 40 Americans a month have been killed by improvised explosives, twice the rate of the previous 12 months, according to icasualties.org, an independent Web site that tracks casualties in Iraq. Meanwhile, the overall U.S. death rate held steady from 2004 to 2005, making IED fatalities comparatively more significant. Last month, for example, 36 of 55 American military personnel killed in Iraq were IED victims.
The bomb makers have the White House's attention. In a radio address on Saturday, Bush said roadside bombs "are now the principal threat to our troops and to the future of a free Iraq." Bush said in a speech Monday that Iran had supplied IED components to Iraqi groups, but U.S. officials have presented no evidence to support that, nor did Bush explain why Shiite Muslim Iran would aid Iraq's Sunni-dominated insurgency. For their IEDs, Iraqi insurgents, who are believed under the direction of former military and intelligence officers, rely on the tons of military ordnance left over from the era of Saddam Hussein, and on store-bought electronic and other items for ignition systems.
The Pentagon's upgraded Joint IED Defeat Organization is getting a sharply increased $3.3 billion this year to foil the often rudimentary weapons, which the Iraqi resistance generally fashions from artillery and mortar rounds. The "JIEDDO" staff of explosives experts and others will almost triple, to 365. From 2004 to 2006, some $6.1 billion will have been spent on the U.S. effort — comparable, in equivalent dollars, to the cost of the Manhattan Project installation that produced plutonium for World War II's atom bombs.

The investment has paid dividends in Iraq: in "jammers" installed on hundreds of U.S. vehicles to block radio detonation signals; in massively armored Buffalo vehicles whose mechanical arms disable roadside bombs. Forty-five percent of emplaced bombs are cleared before detonation, the U.S. command says. In one initiative showing how seriously it takes the threat, the Defense Department proposes spending $167 million to build new supply roads in Iraq that bypass urban centers where convoys are exposed to IEDs. But experts like the Air Force's Bob Sisk, an explosives-disposal specialist whose teams are daily disarming IEDs north of Baghdad, said the most important investment is in intelligence. "The idea is to get the pieces of an IED to `Sexy,'" said this senior master sergeant. "Sexy" is CEXC, the Counter Explosive Exploitation Cell, a secretive group at Baghdad's Camp Victory that is building a database on IED incidents, in search of patterns and defenses.
"The initiation system" — detonators — "is always of interest," Sisk said. The bomb makers have progressed from using washing-machine timers and pressure switches for initiating explosions, to cell phone and walkie-talkie signals, and even infrared beams.  The IED analysts are vitally interested in placement-concealment tactics. The bombs can be found in roadside garbage bags or sandbags, in piles of rocks, buried in holes, in sheep or dog carcasses. One was recently discovered disguised as concrete street-side curbing. Hoaxes are a peril. "The enemy's very smart," said Capt. Peter Weld, Sisk's commander. "They plant a harmless device that soldiers find and gather around, and then they hit them with a real device nearby." "Shaped charges" are also proliferating — killer explosives that direct armor-piercing projectiles into U.S. vehicles.

The Pentagon's Adamson said new ways to neutralize IEDs on the ground are critically important. But "we'll never keep up with the enemy's agility," and the top priority must be "taking down the human component — the financiers, the suppliers, the bomb makers."

For that, he said, "our goal is to get better technical and forensic data off the ordnance" — from digital photos, measurements, explosive residue, fingerprints, debriefings of troops on the scene.

The U.S. command claims significant success, saying it has captured or killed 41 bomb makers since November. But soldiers still face the bombs at seemingly the same rate. The Georgia National Guard's Sgt. Robert Lewis couldn't help being impressed while on duty in central Iraq. "There's a road we called IED Alley that the ordnance disposal guys would clear regularly," Lewis, 47, of Carrollton, Ga., said at his current post in western Iraq. "But no sooner would they reach the end of that stretch" — eight miles — "than the insurgents would be planting IEDs again at the beginning."

February 20
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Tougher toilets planned for fatter Australians
SYDNEY - Australians are getting so fat that toilet seats may have to be made stronger to bear their weight, the country's standards association said. Standards Australia said it had begun looking into the problem and expected to recommend "an increase in the strength of toilet seats to accommodate the increasing size of humans". The percentage of Australians who are overweight or obese has jumped around 10 percent in the past decade, to 62 percent of men and 45 percent of women, the Australian Bureau of Statistics announced recently. Toilet seats are currently required to meet a rigidity test of 45 kilograms (99 pounds), which supports most people's weight in a seated position, Standards Australia chairman Colin Blair told national radio. A committee including manufacturers and consumers would assess whether that standard was still adequate, he said.
February 21
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'Crow lady' Marian Fritz dresses up plastic crows in green garb near her South Hero, Vt. home, in honor of St. Patrick's Day. Fritz' flock of crows, which she regularly arranges in fanciful and creative ways to recognize holidays and local events, has become a very popular attraction for commuters on nearby U.S. Rt. 2. When she discontinued the practice after some of the birds were stolen, a wave of protest from those who missed the displays encouraged Fritz to resume the placement of her flock
February 22
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South Korea issues warning as yellow snow falls
SEOUL - South Koreans were advised to stay home or wear masks outside as yellow sand mixed in snow fell across the western part of the Korean peninsula. The Korea Metrological Administration issued a rare health warning against a yellow snow storm in Seoul and nearby provinces. A yellow dust warning was issued in other regions. The Korean peninsula has been hit by yellow dust blowing in from northern China every spring but a yellow snow storm is rare.
February 23
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China's "politicians" speak out
BEIJING - China's parliament is widely seen as a rubber-stamp for the nation's Communist Party rulers, but that doesn't stop delegates and advisors from raising bold and sometimes wacky proposals. This year has seen calls to introduce the mandatory use of edible toothpicks, pleas to professional footballers to avoid sex with prostitutes and proposed laws to legalize same-sex marriages and euthanasia. The appointed 3,000-delegates to the parliament, or National People's Congress (NPC), that wraps up its annual 10-day session on Tuesday are often ridiculed as a "toothless tigers." The accompanying 2,000-odd delegates to the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), an advisory body, are regarded as even more impotent. Sounding like tape recorders, the non-elected "legislators" tend to repeat what China's top leaders say during the session. But that doesn't mean they don't have their own ideas on how to improve the country, however bizarre. One of the quirky, but perhaps environmentally far-sighted, proposals came from a legislator who wanted people to use toothpicks made from corn instead of wood, to save trees.
One CPPCC delegate, meanwhile, came up with an untraditional solution to corruption: a law to control civil servants' weight. The idea was to prevent them squandering public money on wining and dining. Another CPPCC delegate proposed replacing pictures of the late communist leader Mao Zedong on some banknotes. The delegate proposed that Sun Yat-sen, a non-communist who led a revolution that toppled China's imperial system in 1911, and Deng Xiaoping, the father of the nation's economic reforms, would also appear on the currency. While not put forward as potential laws, other issues raised by China's legislators and advisors included calls for professional footballers to stop "going whoring" and a push for many more national holidays.
Unusual motions and ideas aside, many proposals this year touched on hot topics in the public spotlight. Legislator Yu Min proposed videotaping police interrogations in death penalty cases to stop the use of torture to extract confessions. Prompted by a growing public debate, a CPPCC member also urged euthanasia to be allowed on a trial basis. For the third time, CPPCC member Li Yinhe called for same-sex marriages to be legalized, despite her two previous proposals on the issue being shelved because she failed to get the minimum support of 30 fellow conference members. Other suggestions included a law to ban animal abuse as well as a wide range of proposals to protect the environment. This year NPC members submitted 1,006 proposals, up from 991 last year, while the members of the CPPCC submitted 5,030, according to Xinhua news agency.
Suggestions once focused on smaller local issues, but now address larger national problems, said Zhu Lihou, a longtime NPC delegate quoted by Xinhua. Another NPC delegate, Wang Li, who proposed amending labor laws to ensure migrant workers got insurance, said that delegates were increasingly looking to put forward ideas to parliament. "Since we are the people's representatives, we're supposed to reflect the situation at the bottom, echo the voices of the people," Wang said. But as to how many proposals become law, that is another story. Although statistics are unavailable, it is widely know that few do. Those that do make it involve issues already on the government's priority list. However Wang said some proposals were rejected not because they were politically sensitive, just poorly written. Meanwhile, ordinary citizens appear unimpressed with their political system. "Hah! That's what they're doing with their time?" scoffed a Beijing taxi driver upon hearing about the edible toothpicks.
February 24
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This graphic provided by NASA illustrates the idea that the expansion of the universe over most of it's history has been relatively gradual. The notion that a rapid period 'inflation' preceded the Big Bang expansion was first put forth 25 years ago. The new WMAP (Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe) observations favor specific inflation scenarios over other long held ideas.
February 25
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Canadian baby boomers prefer television over sex
OTTAWA - A new study suggests Canadian baby boomers are more likely to fall asleep watching television than to have sex with their partner at night. The Ipsos-Reid survey published Thursday found Canadians between 40 and 64 years old dedicate an average of just 15 minutes a day to sex and romance. They said they were too stressed or too tired or simply did not have enough time for a romp in bed. But, the protagonists of the 1960s sexual revolution said they spent about four or five hours per day watching television or surfing the Internet, more than 30 hours per week in total. Almost half found sex intimate and tender, maybe a bit predictable now, but 80 percent agreed it made them feel "loved and appreciated" and said it deepened intimacy in their relationship. A majority also said sex is no less enjoyable now than in their twenties. Only 28 percent of those surveyed said their sex life was not as "wild and hot" or less fun. The survey of 2,498 Canadians in late November was commissioned by Pfizer, the manufacturer of Viagra, with a two percent margin of error.
February 26
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Busts turn up drug-laced candy and 'Toka-Cola'
OAKLAND, United States - US federal agents that busted a marijuana ring were disturbed to find pot-laced candy and soft drinks potentially tempting to children, officials said. Marijuana-infused treats and beverages were seized during a series of raids at indoor pot farms that netted 12 arrests, according to Javier Pena, a special agent with the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). Confiscated items reportedly bore labels including Stoney Ranchers, Munchy Way, Rasta Reece's, Buddafingers, Pot Tarts, Double Puff Oreo, Keef Kat, Twixed, Budtella, Puff-A-Mint Pattie, Puffsi, Bong's Root Beer, and Toka-Cola.
"In a way, this case sort of answers the question 'What will they think of next?'," Pena said. "What so many people don't realize is that innocent children will somehow get their hands on these products and think they are just normal candy or soft drinks - making this action not only illegal, but potentially tragic." DEA agents began the investigation in 2005, after getting word that Kenneth Affolter was running an Oakland business, Beyond Bomb, that made marijuana candy mimicking the appearance and mocking the names of popular brands.
DEA agents searched Affolter's home in the town of Lafayette and at four warehouses in the cities of Oakland and Emeryville, east of San Francisco, according to DEA agent Casey McEnry. Thousands of plants were reportedly found in what agents described as "sophisticated indoor marijuana grows" in the warehouses. The plants were seized along with guns and a large amount of cash, according to Pena. Affolter, 39, and the others were arrested on suspicion of illegal distribution of marijuana, according to McEnry.

Heat sensitive color changing wine glasses
February 27
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Going, going, gone... a load of snow
BERLIN - A German village in the grip of winter raised thousands of euros for cancer charities by auctioning off a load of pristine snow on the Internet. The mayor of Steinach, home to 4,700 people in the former communist east, stumbled upon the idea one night. "It was completely by chance, like so much in life. But it was worth its weight in gold," Maria Greiner said. She placed an advertisment on the eBay Germany site, that read: "Snow, impeccably white, soft, without any signs of use, fresh from the heavens and as much as you want." Bidding was brisk, with a mail order clothes company in Frankfurt making the top bid of 1,420 euros (1,700 dollars) and smaller bidders securing smaller lots as hundreds of residents gathered in the village square to cheer on the auction. Donations were added to swell the final receipts to around 4,000 euros, which will go towards treatment for child cancer victims. The main load of snow -- equivalent to a van load -- is now waiting for its buyer to collect it. Freezing temperatures should ensure it lasts a while. Meanwhile, there was good news for anyone else who can make it to the town. "For the next three weeks, we've got enough snow for everyone," Mayor Greiner said.
February 28
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The RI-MAN robot carries a life-sized doll at the Riken laboratory in Nagoya, central Japan. The RI-MAN is a seeing, hearing and smelling robot that can carry human beings and is aimed at helping care for the country's growing number of elderly. A Japanese-led research team said it had made a seeing, hearing and smelling robot that can carry human beings and is aimed at helping care for the country's growing number of elderly. Government-backed research institute Riken said the 158-centimeter (five-foot) RI-MAN humanoid can already carry a doll weighing 12 kilograms (26 pounds) and could be capable of bearing 70 kilograms within five years. "We're hoping that through future study it will eventually be able to care for elderly people or work in rehabilitation," said Toshiharu Mukai, one of the research team leaders. Covered by five millimeters (0.2 inches) soft silicone, RI-MAN is equipped with sensors that show it a body's weight and position.
The 100-kilogram (220-pound) robot can also distinguish eight different kinds of smells, can tell which direction a voice is coming from and uses powers of sight to follow a human face. "In the future, we would like to develop a capacity to detect a human's health condition through his breath," Mukai said. Japan is bracing for a major increase in needs for elderly care due to a declining birth rate and a population that is among the world's longest living. The population declined in 2005 for the first time since World War II as more young people put off starting families.