Thoughts Gallery May 2006
May 1
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Opus Dei strikes back before "Da Vinci Code" movie

NEW YORK - Every time Barbara Falk walks past a billboard for the movie "The Da Vinci Code," the elegant 50-year-old teacher who has been a celibate member of Opus Dei for 26 years wants to accost people to tell them "I'm normal." The Catholic organization is portrayed in Dan Brown's bestseller as a secretive cult willing to murder to defend a 2,000-year old Catholic cover-up. The face of Opus Dei in the book is Silas, an albino monk with a masochistic streak. "We're very normal," Falk said, wearing a suit and pearls and sipping a glass of wine at a reception Tuesday in New York to celebrate the publication of a new edition of Opus Dei founder Jose Maria Escriva's book of reflections, "The Way," timed to coincide with the film's release this month. "That's why it's hard to suddenly be thrust in the limelight and have all this crazy stuff said about you," said Falk, a "numerary" member of Opus Dei who chose at the age of 24 to live a celibate life in the service of God.
Opus Dei is a conservative Catholic organization founded in 1928 in Spain by Escriva to teach Catholics to strive for holiness through work. It has 85,000 members worldwide, of which 2,000 are priests. Escriva was made a saint in 2002. Opus Dei has different levels of membership, numeraries who live at an Opus Dei residence and choose a celibate life, and super-numeraries, who are often married and have regular jobs.
Estranged members have complained of coercive recruitment tactics and corporal mortification, notably the use of the cilice, a spiked metal belt strapped tight around the thigh.
Falk has been the head of a girls' school and now lectures on parenting around the country. She grew up in Milwaukee, Wisconsin and originally planned to be a teacher and a mother. "I'm one of those weird people that was willing to have a big family," Falk said, adding that her sister has eight children. "There's no human explanation. I never wanted to give up a husband, sex and babies. It only makes sense for God." "We're kind of used to being not understood," Falk added, saying that she had not read much of "The Da Vinci Code," one of the most popular books in publishing history with more than 40 million copies in print worldwide in 44 languages. "I'm feisty and really a strong character (and) I don't want to get mad," she said. The book has angered Christians because it is based on the idea Jesus was married to Mary Magdalene, and had children.
Opus Dei has launched a publicity blitz to counter the negative image of the book, hence the reprinting of "The Way" which was first published in Spain in 1939. It has since been printed in 46 languages, with 4.6 million copies in print. Published by Doubleday which also happens to be Brown's publisher, "The Way" is a collection of 999 short nuggets of advice, exhortation and philosophy. Doubleday has set a first print run of 10,000 for the North American market. Bill Barry, publisher of Doubleday's religious books division, introduced it to a curious mix of priests and publishers, nuns and lay members of Opus Dei, casually-dressed reporters and slick press officers -- and a black banker named Silas whom Opus Dei likes to call "the real Silas." Barry declined to comment to Reuters on the merits of Brown's novel, but he picked out this excerpt from "The Way" in his speech: "Books. Don't buy them without advice from a Catholic who has real knowledge and discernment. It's so easy to buy something useless or harmful."

May 2
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A hostess at a stand pours glasses of Breizh Cola at a 2003 trade fair in Paris. Breton native Stephane Kerdode says he created Breizh Cola in 2002 at a small brewery in the Breton village of Le Roc Saint Andre as a symbol of the struggle against a certain form of globalisation.
May 3
Image of the Day
Dr Ronald Sherman holds a dish with maggots from his medical maggot breeding facility and lab at the University of California at Irvine, in August 2004. A US court awarded 1.27 million dollars to a woman whose leg had to be amputated after surgery left it infected and filled with maggots.
May 4
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Mother withdraws daughter from school offering massages
LONDON - A mother withdrew her five-year-old daughter from a British school which introduced massages for pupils in order to improve their concentration levels, The Daily Telegraph newspaper said. Children at St Leonard's Community Infant School in Horsham, southern England, gently massage each other's heads, necks, backs and shoulders while the teacher reads a story. Susan Barraclough, 41, reckoned the sessions were inappropriate and vowed to teach her daughter from home instead. "It's all very concerning, particularly as the sessions are cross-sex involving girls and boys. What will be the long-term effect?" she asked. "I'm concerned that the skills they are learning could be used inappropriately in the playground or outside of school." However, the school's headteacher Helen Cobbin insisted: "It's not just some weird or wacky thing. "People hear the word massage and worry what that means, but as soon as they see what happens they are completely at ease. "It has had a positive impact on social skills and we have fewer incidents to resolve between children. "The children enjoy it."
May 5
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Workers clean the water-filled acrylic sphere of magician David Blaine at Lincoln Center in New York. Blaine, who has spent almost a week in the aquarium shirtless and with an oxygen tube in his mouth, plans to end the stunt tonight by holding his breath under water longer than 8 minutes, 58 seconds.
May 6
Image of the Day

California bank debuts 50-year mortgages
The monthly payments are lower, but the total cost is astronomically higher than a 30-year loan.
Think of it as a mortgage that has been supersized. Like that other supersizer, McDonald's, the massive 50-year mortgage was born in California.  Statewide Bancorp of Rancho Cucamonga began offering the loan in March to California residents. There have been "quite a few applications," vice president Alex Diaz Jr. says. Half of first-time home buyers are 32 or older, according to the National Association of Realtors. If those buyers get 50-year mortgages and never refinance or make extra payments, they won't pay off their loans until they're well into their 80s. But Diaz says a 50-year loan is a rational way to avoid an interest-only or payment-option adjustable-rate mortgage. With an interest-only loan, the minimum monthly payment doesn't put any money toward principal. A payment-option ARM goes a step beyond that: In some circumstances, the minimum payment doesn't even cover the interest accrued that month.
Regulators and consumers worry that foreclosures will surge in coming years, especially among homeowners who got interest-only and payment-option ARMs. The 50-year loan is a lifeline for them, Diaz says. About a quarter of new mortgages in California are 40-year loans. This is the next logical step, Diaz says. The interest rate is fixed for the first five years; after that, it fluctuates based on a benchmark. Some financial experts are dubious. "If you run the amortization out, it basically is an interest-only loan, in all practical terms," says Jason Flurry, president of Legacy Partners Financial Group in Woodstock, Ga. "If a person is considering something like that, they're probably trying to squeeze into too much house to begin with." But that's hard to avoid in California, where the median home price is $535,470.
The loan isn't necessarily the best alternative to an interest-only loan. "You're not talking about a significant savings, in any event," says Jim Sahnger, mortgage consultant for Palm Beach Financial Network in Sewall's Point, Fla. The monthly payments are lower, but the total cost is astronomically higher than a 30-year mortgage because the payments are stretched out for more than two decades. It's impossible to guess how much higher because the rate changes annually for the last 45 years of the loan. Sahnger points out that few people live in one house for 30 years, and hardly anyone for 50 years.

May 7
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How to kill two birds with one wind farm
I've come up with the working solution to the problem of migratory birds flying into wind turbines off the coast of Galveston and being chewed to pieces. Never mind that they'll provide a wonderful spot for saltwater fishermen. All those dead birds dropping out of the sky will attract the fish. Every Cajun in Louisiana will be anchored next to these rigs and setting up a trotline. The General Land Office last fall signed a deal to create a $220 million wind farm near Galveston. This operation would consist of 50 huge turbines with 250-foot-wide rotors that together could power 40,000 homes — and knock off God knows how many tufted titmice. The concern is that the whirring blades will sit in the way of Nearctic-Neotropical birds that breed in the United States and Canada and winter in Latin America, making it necessary for them to cross the Gulf of Mexico twice a year. The fear is that these birds — a diversity of warblers, scarlet and summer tanagers, orioles, vireos, and fly catchers among them — will fly into the blades and get mulched. So? Let's put in a bulk songbird cat food factory.
Think of all the cats the Humane Society could feed from the birds that are fixing to be Soprano'ed by these wind machines. Just place a large funnel underneath the blades, collect the dead birds in large plastic buckets underneath these enormous whirligigs and set to canning 'em up. If a bird is too stupid to migrate, it deserves to die. I can hear it now as the birds, on their way to and from, fly into the blades and plop into the containers below: cathunk cathunk cathunk cathunk cathunk. This would require the implementation of the popular but noisy Black & Decker plucking machine.  You know these nutty little old ladies who get busted by the county sheriff for having 99 cats at home? Take the cat lady's cats out below the wind farm and let them dine. This would clean up the old bag's yard back in town. You know, you forest-friendly fruitcakes can't have it both ways.
See, here's the deal. People who want to stop global warming — and I'm one of them because I hate breaking a sweat — are all in favor of putting up these wind turbines. After all, they would create an alternative source of energy. But now the chickadee coddlers at the Audubon Society have their feathers in a pile, because they're afraid some of the millions of birds that migrate across the Gulf of Mexico will eat the big one.  I'm sorry, but doesn't survival of the fittest count for something?  Your smart birds have been avoiding obstacles for years. A smart bird would see that turbine and think, "You know, that's a great place to perch. I think I'll just sit here overnight and catch my breath before I move on to Canada." If a bird is too dumb to take this approach and just keeps truckin' full-tilt boogie into the machinery, what's the loss?
May 8
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Bears Eat Monkey in Front of Zoo
AMSTERDAM, Netherlands - Bears killed and ate a monkey in a Dutch zoo in front of horrified visitors, witnesses and the zoo said Monday. In the incident Sunday at the Beekse Bergen Safari Park, several Sloth bears chased the Barbary macaque into an electric fence, where it was stunned. It recovered and fled onto a wooden structure, where one bear pursued and mauled it to death. The park confirmed the killing in a statement, saying: "In an area where Sloth bears, great apes and Barbary macaques have coexisted peacefully for a long time, the harmony was temporarily disturbed during opening hours."
"Of course the habitats here in the safari park are arranged in such a way that one animal almost never kills another, but they are and remain wild animals," it said. Witness Marco Berelds posted a detailed report on the incident, including photos, on a Dutch Web site. He said one Sloth bear tried unsuccessfully to shake the monkey loose after it took refuge on the structure, built of crossing horizontal and vertical poles. Ignoring attempts by keepers to distract it, the bear climbed onto a horizontal pole, and, standing stretched on two legs, "used its sharp canines to pull the macaque, which was shrieking and resisting, from its perch."
The bear then brought the animal to a concrete den, where three bears ate it. The zoo said it "usually wasn't possible" for keepers to intervene when an animal killed another. The park plans now to move the Barbary macaques — which are large monkeys but often inaccurately called "Barbary Apes" — to another part of the park, it said.

May 9
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Tattooed Mummy With Jewelry Found in Peru
WASHINGTON - A female mummy with complex tattoos on her arms has been found in a ceremonial burial site in Peru, the National Geographic Society reported Tuesday. The mummy was accompanied by ceremonial items including jewelry and weapons, and the remains of a teenage girl who had been sacrificed, archaeologists reported. The burial was at a site called El Brujo on Peru's north coast near Trujillo.
They said the woman was part of the Moche culture which thrived in the area between A.D. 1 and A.D. 700. The mummy was dated about A.D. 450. The presence of gold jewelry and other fine items indicates the mummy was that of an important person, but anthropologist John Verano of Tulane University, said the researchers are puzzled by the presence of war clubs, which are not usually found with females. The woman had complex tattoos, distinct from others of the Moche, covering both arms and other areas. Bone scarring indicated the woman had given birth at least once. The cause of her death was not apparent.
Verano said she would have been considered an adult in her prime. Some Moche people reached their 60s and 70s. The grave also contained headdresses, jewelry made of gold and semiprecious stones, war clubs, spear throwers, gold sewing needles, weaving tools and raw cotton. "Perhaps she was a female warrior, or maybe the war clubs and spear throwers were symbols of power that were funeral gifts from men," Verano said. In the thousands of Moche tombs previously exposed, no female warrior has been identified. The find is described in the June issue of National Geographic magazine.
May 10
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Saudis Nix Pictures of Women in Newspapers
RIYADH, Saudi Arabia - King Abdullah has told Saudi editors to stop publishing pictures of women as they could make young men go astray, newspapers reported. The king's directive, made in a meeting with local editors, caused surprise as the monarch has been regarded a quiet reformer since he took office in the ultra-conservative country last August. In recent months, newspapers have published pictures of women — always wearing the traditional Muslim headscarf — to illustrate stories with increasing regularity. Usually the stories have had to do with women's issues. The papers have also started publishing a range of views on causes that are not generally accepted in Saudi Arabia — such as women having the right to drive and vote.
The king told editors on Monday night that publishing a woman's picture for the world to see was inappropriate. "One must think, do they want their daughter, their sister, or their wife to appear in this way. Of course, no one would accept this," the newspaper Okaz quoted Abdullah as saying. "The youth are driven by emotion ... and sometimes they can be lead astray. So, please, try to cut down on this," he said.
Although the king has broached topics — such as women eventually acquiring driving licenses — that were previously seen as nonstarters, his instruction to editors indicates that Islamic conservatives remain a powerful force in the kingdom and brake on reform.
The country adheres to a strict interpretation of Islamic law. Women are not allowed to vote and stand in municipal elections — the only type of election permitted in the kingdom. The king also called on editors to stop printing stories that portray the country in a negative light. "Don't write anything that can be harmful to the country. Some reporters, they want to stand out and they end up going too far and this should not be allowed to happen," Abdullah said according to Okaz. The king added that newspapers should ignore the foreign press, especially when what it publishes is "against Islam or against Arabs." All media in Saudi Arabia are either state owned or state guided.
May 11
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Golfer Not Liable for Errant Golf Ball
HONOLULU - A golfer may not be held liable for mistakenly hitting another golfer with an errant golf ball, the Hawaii Supreme Court ruled. The court unanimously upheld a lower court ruling to dismiss Ryan Yoneda's lawsuit against Andrew Tom, whose wayward ball hit Yoneda in the left eye at Mililani Golf Course in 1999. Chief Justice Ronald Moon wrote Yoneda assumed the risk of the injury when he played golf. It is "common knowledge that not every shot played by a golfer goes exactly where he intends it to go," the ruling said, adding there wouldn't be much "sport" in the "sport of golf," if golf balls went exactly where the player wanted.
The April 28 ruling makes clear a golfer who intentionally hits a ball to inflict injury, or recklessly hits the ball knowing that injury is highly likely, would not be exempt from liability. The court considered whether golfers should have to shout "fore" or other warnings to protect other players. The justices concluded, however, that doing so was golf etiquette, not a requirement recognized by law. "With the ruling that warning is like an option, that's not too good," said Yoneda, who suffered permanent vision damage. "I know what it's like to be hit and I don't want anybody to go through what I went through."
May 12
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A model presents Sony Corp.'s new handheld personal computer Vaio 'Type U' in Tokyo. Sony said the new palm-top computer that works on Microsoft's Windows XP operating system and is equipped with both a touch screen and small built-in key board.
May 13
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Sat-nav directs British ambulance off-course
LONDON - A British ambulance crew was driven to distraction by an on-board satellite navigation system, whose misdirections made what should have been a routine call-out a two-hour round trip, ambulance service officials said. Because a local crew was not available, paramedics from Sunderland, northeast England, were sent to attend to a 10-year-old girl on April 21 who had been knocked down by a car near Gateshead, 21 miles (38 kilometres) away. The ambulance was called at 1:30 pm (1230 GMT) but the computer device sent them down a narrow road and they had to resort to more conventional, map-reading methods, arriving 56 minutes later. But it took them another 40 minutes to arrive at a hospital -- a trip which, at emergency speed, should have taken no more than 15 minutes -- because the computer again directed them on a looping journey down country roads.
They eventually arrived at 3:20 pm (1430 GMT). North-East Ambulance Service officials apologised to the girl's mother for the delay Tuesday, laying the blame on the crew's unfamiliarity with the area. "Crews are frequently reminded that satellite navigation systems are an aid and should not be relied upon," a spokesman said. The delay is the latest in a string of sat-nav mix-ups reported in the British media. Others have seen heavy trucks becoming stuck up steep, narrow hills and one where drivers were directed up a virtually impassable mountain track to the edge of a 100-foot (30.5-metre) cliff.
May 14
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A busdriver walks through a bus depot in Berlin. A knife-wielding mugger was reduced to pleading with a pensioner for his bus fare home after she refused to hand over her purse, police in northern Germany said.
May 15
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Buyer springs for pricey strings: 3.5 million dollars
NEW YORK - An anonymous buyer shelled out 3.54 million dollars for a Stradivarius violin known as the "Hammer", smashing the previous world record for a musical instrument sold at auction, Christie's said. The earlier record was held by another Stradivarius, nicknamed "The Lady Tennant", which sold for 2.03 million dollars in April 2005 at Christie's New York. The new record-breaker gets its nickname from Christian Hammer, an 18th century Swedish collector. It had been expected to fetch 1.5 million to 2.5 million dollars when it went on the block Tuesday. The violin was made by luthier Antonio Stradivari in 1707, during a period seen as the golden age for his "Strads", 1700-1720. Privately owned, it was used by the New York-based violinist Kyoko Takezawa. Stradivari worked in Cremona, Italy, making harps and guitars as well as violins until he died in 1737. He is believed to have made more than 1,100 instruments, of which some 650 have been preserved. But not all violins dubbed "Stradivarius" are the work of Stradivari himself; thousands more were made in his style and so named.
May 16
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Latin singer Soraya succumbs to cancer at 37
MIAMI - Colombian-born singer/songwriter Soraya, one of the first artists to write and record in both English and Spanish, has died after a battle with breast cancer, sources said. She was 37. Although details were not clear, published reports and sources say the Latin Grammy winner died Wednesday morning in Florida. Soraya, whose mother, aunt and grandmother died of breast cancer, was diagnosed with stage three of the disease in June 2000. She successfully underwent treatment, but sources say she relapsed at the beginning of the year. A soulful singer whose music ranged from romanticism to social conscience, Soraya won the first ever Latin Grammy for best singer/songwriter album with her self-titled 2003 release. She released her last album in 2005.
Raised in the United States, she launched a promising career in the late 1990s by mixing Spanish and English. A charismatic performer, from the onset, she was able to open concerts for the likes of Sting even as her songs topped the Billboard Latin Pop airplay charts. Soraya went on to become one of the most acclaimed female voices in Latin pop and rock. This week, she posted a goodbye letter to fans on her Web site. "I know there are many questions without answers, and that hope doesn't leave with me, and above all, that my mission does not end with my physical story," she wrote. A public memorial service will take place at 6:30 p.m. EST on Friday at Unity on the Bay in Miami. Donations may be made in Soraya's name to the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation.
May 17
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Old Master Tiepolo promises art bargain for Italy
MILAN - Three perfectly preserved paintings by Old Master Giambattista Tiepolo that have been hidden from public view for centuries will go on sale for a fraction of their international market price later this month. The snag? They can never leave Italy. Italy's government denied the required export license to the paintings because it considers them works of cultural and national significance. While that considerably reduces the number of potential buyers, the fact that the paintings have always stayed close to home is also part of their appeal.
The Tiepolos were commissioned by the Sandi family of lawyers for their Venetian palazzo in the 1720s, and have remained in the same family, which moved them to a villa in mainland Veneto in the early 20th century. Auction house Sotheby's will offer them for sale on May 30 and has shown them in Rome and Milan over the past few weeks. "They always had the same owners so that was the first time they were shown to the public," said Sotheby's spokeswoman Wanda Rotelli. "That's also why they are so well preserved, it is really extraordinary."
The works are part of a series of five paintings, two of which are by Nicolo Bambini, depicting Greek and Roman myths as allegories on the power of eloquence and virtue. Tiepolo's works are titled "The Flaying of Marsyas," "Hercules and Anteus," and "Ulysses discovering Achilles among the daughters of Lycomedes." The biggest Tiepolo painting measures 2.5 metres (8 ft) by 5.2 metres. Tiepolo was in his 20s when he took on the commission, at the start of a career that made him one of the most important Italian Rococo artists and took him to Germany and Spain.
Sotheby's will offer the five paintings as a single lot and expects them to fetch 4 million euros ($5.12 million) at the auction, which Rotelli said was far below their estimated international market price -- which could be around $20-30 million. She expected private Italian collectors or museums to bid for the paintings, or banks planning to make a donation -- although she also did not exclude that an American millionaire might be looking for a nice addition for his Venetian palazzo.
May 18
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Border states more bitter than sweet on troop plan
LOS ANGELES - President George W. Bush's plan to put troops on the U.S.-Mexico border to stem illegal migrants met mixed reactions in stressed border states -- from support in Arizona to skepticism in California and New Mexico to outrage among Hispanic activists. Bush told the nation Monday he would dispatch 6,000 National Guard troops to the 2,000-mile border as part of a new plan to tighten security and placate those who want a crackdown on the millions of poor who seek work each year in the world's richest nation. California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, a fellow Republican and one of America's most famous immigrants, walked a careful line by endorsing more border security, but said it is a federal, rather than a state, responsibility. "I am concerned asking National Guard troops to guard our nation's border is a Band-Aid solution and not the permanent solution we need," Schwarzenegger said in a statement.
Addressing fears of militarization of the border, Bush said troops will be there for one year and will not engage in law enforcement, but rather assist the 12,000-member U.S. Border Patrol with administration and surveillance. New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson said he was also skeptical and criticized the White House for failing to consult with border governors in developing "this last-minute plan." "Military support is a stopgap measure that will have little practical effect," Richardson said in statement.
The National Guard is made up of part-time troops who fall under the command of state governors and often are called to active duty to respond to natural disasters or other emergencies. They also can be summoned to active duty by the Pentagon for military deployment. Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano, whose desert state sees the biggest inflow of migrants, showed her support for the plan and said she had called for "enhanced use of the Guard in exactly the fashion described tonight by the president." Immigration promises to be a key issue in November elections, and politicians seeking re-election are mindful of not alienating the large Hispanic vote that mostly favors a soft approach to migrants.
Some of the most strident anti-immigration lawmakers and activists have called for building a wall to deter migrants. While most governors reject this move, they worry about the consequences of their porous borders, not just illegal immigration, but also the flow of drugs and criminal gangs. Nevertheless, a local law enforcement officer on the border said new troops might cause more harm than good. "It sends a bad message that we on our side of the border can't do our jobs and that we need the troops in," said Rick Flores, sheriff of Webb County in Texas, across the Rio Grande from the crime-wracked Mexican city of Nuevo Laredo. Latino activists were incensed by the plan to put troops on the border, but hoped it would further mobilize immigrants to push for rights and amnesty as Congress debates reform that could curb their ambitions to work and live in the country.
"It's nothing short of militarization," Southern California immigrant rights activist Nativo Lopez said. "It's an incredible affront to the national integrity to Mexico and all Mexicans on both sides the border." One Arizona immigration activist, however, lauded Bush for trying to find a middle ground with his plan so that immigrants can pursue citizenship, come as guest workers and do the jobs Americans won't do. "The public obviously is pushing for the troops along the border," said Roberto Reveles, president of the Somos America/We Are America coalition in Phoenix. "That doesn't scare me. I realize that has to be included in order to make this whole thing work."
May 19
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Errors in 'Da Vinci' covered
Three BYU professors tackle assertions found in popular work of fiction If there is one topic of particular interest to Latter-day Saints in "The Da Vinci Code," it is the assertion that Jesus was married to Mary Magdalene, because many believe it could well be true. Formal doctrine and scripture unique to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints teaches that, in order to obtain the highest level of "exaltation" in the afterlife, members must be "sealed" or married in one of the faith's temples for "time and all eternity," and that such unions are a central part of God's plan for humanity. So while the question of Christ's marital status isn't new among Latter-day Saints, a trio of LDS scholars who have fielded numerous questions about it since the book's release three years ago decided to address the topic head-on in the first LDS book to answer queries sure to be raised again with the film's premiere next week.
"What Da Vinci Didn't Know," a 124-page book explaining what LDS doctrine does and doesn't say about Christ's marital status and other issues, has been published by Deseret Book. Authored by three Brigham Young University religion professors — Richard Neitzel Holzapfel, Andrew C. Skinner and Thomas A. Wayment — it contains a list of factual errors in the book and details the historical documents and context used by author Dan Brown. In discussions with students, family members, friends and strangers about the novel, the authors found "excitement fades" when they outline how the book was based more on "imagination than solid historical foundation."
They sometimes find they are not just correcting misinformation but dismissing "a precious facet of a reader's inner life, having given him or her some sort of 'gnosis' or special knowledge. Somehow, pop history, obtained with little effort or thought, helps some people define themselves and their relationships to others," they write. Skinner, a professor of ancient scripture at BYU with a master's degree in theology from Harvard and a Ph.D. in history from the University of Denver, said part of the reason is the general decline in readership of non-fiction works and primary source documents among the population in general, rather than Latter-day Saints in particular.
"There is a lot of truth out there, but not all truth is of equal value ... That's certainly true with documents that were produced in the Christian age up to about 600 A.D.," including the Gnostic gospels, on which parts of Brown's novel were based. "Some of them are spurious — from an LDS point of view, we know them to be patently false. It takes more effort than it used to, to keep up with all information we're being deluged with," Skinner said. As for questions about Jesus' marital status, there's nothing wrong with asking the question, "but when the debate focuses solely on the question of his marriage, that does us a great disservice" by deflecting attention away from Christ's role as the Savior of mankind. The book notes that many LDS leaders, including church founder Joseph Smith, "have inferred or believed that Jesus was married," including former church president Joseph F. Smith, who taught that Christ was married and "fulfilled the entire law of God and asked men and women to follow him."
Other LDS leaders, including Orson Hyde and former president Wilford Woodruff, concurred, while others have been more cautious on the subject. "In recent years, we have, in fact, been counseled by current prophets and apostles ... that where the scriptures are silent, we should pass over them with reverence and focus on those doctrines that are revealed with clarity." As for future discovery of extra-biblical texts referenced in "The Da Vinci Code," Skinner said LDS scholars expect "a continual discovery of records from the Earth and other religious documents" to surface in years go come. As director of BYU's Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship, Skinner said the school is leading out in preservation and translation of ancient religious texts from a variety of faith traditions. "They are not going to go away, but will continue to flood the market."
May 20
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Mo. Town Denies Unmarried Couple Permit
BLACK JACK, Mo. - The city council has rejected a measure allowing unmarried couples with multiple children to live together, and the mayor said those who fall into that category could soon face eviction. Olivia Shelltrack and Fondrey Loving were denied an occupancy permit after moving into a home in this St. Louis suburb because they have three children and are not married. The town's planning and zoning commission proposed a change in the law, but the measure was rejected Tuesday by the city council in a 5-3 vote. "I'm just shocked," Shelltrack said. "I really thought this would all be over, and we could go on with our lives."
The current ordinance prohibits more than three people from living together unless they are related by "blood, marriage or adoption." The defeated measure would have changed the definition of a family to include unmarried couples with two or more children. Mayor Norman McCourt declined to be interviewed but said in a statement that those who do not meet the town's definition of family could soon face eviction. Black Jack's special counsel, Sheldon Stock, declined to say whether the city will seek to remove Loving and Shelltrack from their home.
May 21
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A street worker passes in front of an election billboard in Ostrava. A Czech businessman launched a discount on purchases from his chain of outdoor equipment stores to voters bringing in unused ballot papers for the left-wing Social Democrat and Communist parties as voting in general elections commenced.
May 22
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A Sydney City Council sign advises the public of a brothel in the inner city suburb of Pyrmont. Australian brothel owners want an exemption to anti-smoking laws for sex workers and their clients because, they say, one thing leads to another.
May 23
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3G phones banned in anti-porn drive
PHNOM PENH - Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen has banned 3G mobile phones after a complaint from his wife and her friends about receiving pornography on them. "I have written to the Minister of Telecommunications to delay the use of certain mobile phones," Hun Sen told an assembly of Buddhist monks in Phnom Penh Friday. "We can wait 10 more years until we have managed to improve morality in society." Hun Sen, a one-eyed former Khmer Rouge soldier who has been in charge for the past 20 years, said his wife had signed a petition asking him to act against the phones, which can send video as well as still images.Sexual violence and abuse are common in the war-scarred Southeast Asian nation. Cambodia's first 3G (third-generation) mobile network opened earlier this year, but few people can afford the phones.
May 24
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Drought order leaves British clowns high and dry
LONDON - Circus clowns have fallen foul of a drought order granted to a British utility because of diminishing stocks of water, a number of newspapers reported. Entertainers from Zippo's Circus were told they risked heavy fines if they continued to throw up to 20 buckets of the increasingly precious resource over each other in their slapstick "slosh" shows, Saturday's papers said. With a hosepipe ban also in place, the funnymen and women will not be able to squirt each other with water from plastic flowers in their buttonholes, either. The circus is currently pitched in Wallington, southeast England, where the drought order granted to Sutton and East Surrey Water to restrict the "non-essential use" of water comes into force.
It was granted because a series of dry winters has left reservoirs and underground aquifers in the densely-populated, water-hungry southeast severely depleted. "The water board has had a complete sense of humour failure," said Zippo the Clown Martin Burton. "I called them up to check the act was okay and they said it broke the rules and threatened me with hefty fines and cutting off our water supply. "It is ridiculous and they need to chill out. The great British public don't like getting wet themselves but absolutely love seeing others getting drenched. And this treat is confined to the circus. "I could collect rainwater or use mineral water but the water board are so zealous. I can't be sure they won't just cut off our water without investigating if someone reports it." Stuart Hislop, from the water company, was quoted by the Daily Telegraph as saying: "No one else is allowed to fill buckets from a hose in their back garden and throw them over each other, so why should the clowns? "It's a total waste of water."
May 25
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Philosopher farmer crack chicken-egg question
LONDON - Which came first, the chicken or the egg? According to a scientist, a philosopher and a chicken farmer, it was the egg, British newspapers reported. The key to the age-old question apparently lies in the fact that since genetic material does not change throughout an animal's life, the first bird that evolved into a chicken must have initially existed as an embryo inside an egg. Professor John Brookfield, from England's University of Nottingham, concluded that because of this, the living organism inside the eggshell would have had the same DNA as the chicken it turned into.
The specialist in evolutionary genetics was quoted in a number of newspapers as saying: "Therefore the first living thing which we could say unequivocally was a member of the species would be this first egg. The egg came first." Brookfield's conclusion was backed up by Professor David Papineau, of King's College, London, and the chairman of the trade body Great British Chicken, Charles Bourns. Papineau, an expert in the philosophy of science, argued that the first chicken must have emerged from an egg even though it was laid by a different species of bird, but it was still a chicken egg because it had a chicken in it. "The conclusion therefore must be that the egg came first and the chicken afterwards," he stated. Bourns' methodology was not explained in The Times, the Daily Mail and the Independent, who all carried the story. "Eggs were around long before the first chicken arrived," he affirmed.
May 26
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Power cut at museum after seven years of unpaid bill
SAO PAULO - Sao Paulo's renowned art museum was being powered by generators after the local utility company, unable to collect seven years of unpaid bills, pulled the plug. Museum officials are negotiating with the Eletropaulo utility company to pay their 1.3 million dollar debt. Officials at the Sao Paulo Art Museum insisted that their important collection of modern Latin American art and a visiting Edgar Degas exhibit were all safe, with proper illumination and climate control. "The works of art run no risk because three generators are supplying energy," a museum spokesman said. The museum, best known as Masp, has 7,517 works of art, including work by Vincent van Gogh, Claude Monet and Pablo Picasso. Of the 196 Degas items on display, 84 are on loan from US and European galleries. The non-profit museum is financed through entrance ticket sales and art courses. It also receives grants from private corporations and the city government. "The museum cannot be treated as if it were a restaurant," huffed Luiz Marques, the museum's former head curator and an art critic.
May 27
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An overweight mouse sits in a human hand in this undated handout photograph provided by the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA). Australia is a nation of pet lovers but it may be loving its animals to death as pet owners pass on rising levels of obesity by overfeeding their cats and dogs, says the country's main animal welfare body
May 28
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Counterfeiting has Japanese firm on its knees
TOKYO - The problem of counterfeit money is bringing at least one Japanese firm to its knees. In a new technology to detect counterfeit dollars from North Korea, a Tokyo hi-tech company is zooming bills 400 times and spreading them onto the ground, with experts examining the notes on their knees with magnifying glasses. "The only clues we can get are by finding marks made by the counterfeiters so they can distinguish between the real and the fake notes for themselves," said Yoshihide Matsumura, 56, president of Matsumura Technology Co. Lo. "Otherwise, everything is the same as the real one, including the ink, quality of paper and a printing machine used to make it," he said.
"If a new kind of counterfeit bill is discovered, it takes us about a month to finish the whole process of detecting it. But once we get used to a counterfeit bill, we can detect it in just a second or two," he said. The firm has found a number of clients for its new detection method, mostly from the financial sector and hotels. The United States has slapped financial sanctions on North Korea for allegedly counterfeiting dollars and money-laundering. The impoverished communist state has refused to return to talks on ending its nuclear program unless the sanctions are lifted.
May 29
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Thieves take 270-kilo Buddha from restaurant
MIAMI - A bunch of thieves in Florida may be in for a serious dose of bad karma after they made off with a 270-kilogram (600 pound) Buddha statue from a Japanese restaurant in southeastern Florida. "I don't think they're going to have good luck," the distraught restaurant owner said. "It can't be good luck to steal the Buddha," Ako Tarallo told AFP. She said she paid 1,500 dollars when she bought the gold-painted statue for the garden of her Sakura restaurant in Stuart six years ago, but that it's not the money she worries about. Customers have come to associate the serene figure, sitting in a lotus position, with the restaurant, said Tarallo. "Maybe the Buddha also brought us good luck: we had no damage in the hurricanes last year and before that." Tarallo believes it would have taken at least three thieves to carry off the heavy sculpture.
May 30
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Pleasure centre: sex theme park coming to London lovers
LONDON - A sex theme park designed to enhance its visitors' lovemaking skills will open in the heart of London within months, the academy's director announced. "Amora -- The Academy of Sex and Relationships" is hoping to seduce up to 600,000 visitors through the doors in its first year once it opens on September 7. Although the theme park will have no rides, thousands of visitors are expected to swing through its seven sectors, including the Pleasure and Orgasm areas. Instead of "real exhibits", they will be treated to tactile displays of life-sized silicone models designed to stimulate interest in erogenous zones.
The seven million-pound (10.2-million-euro, 13-million-dollar) pleasure centre central London's Piccadilly district is out to "separate fact from myth in the world of sex and educate everyone into being better lovers", said Doctor Sarah Brewer, its director of exhibits. "The more sex we have, the more we want and the less sex we have, the more we want," she said. "This academy does push boundaries back and whatever your prowess when you come in. we will give you all the information you need to become a fantastic lover."
Although many would benefit from enhanced lovemaking techniques, its location in the British capital may be apt. In a poll in the Wall Street Journal Europe newspaper last year, only three percent of Europeans voted Britons the best lovers. Brewer added: "There is an overwhelming need for an outlet that not only celebrates human sexuality and reproduction in an entertaining and accessible way, but one which provides health education within a format that makes it easy, and fun, to assimilate. The seven zones of self-discovery explore attraction, love and relationships as well as sexual well-being, which looks at the dangers of unsafe sex. Both sexes have the chance to learn how best to kiss and how to talk in a more sexy fashion. But if these prove ineffective, visitors are able to build their ideal partner from a series of body parts. The theme park is expected to appeal mainly to the under-25s, but no one under 18 will be admitted. It is predicted that women visitors will tend to be in groups of three or more, while men will be on their own or with another male friend. Tickets will cost 15 pounds (22 euros, 28 dollars).
May 31
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Here's your grenade -- you want fries with that?
YORK - Workers at a British factory making French fries were evacuated two days running last week after bomb parts turned up in potatoes imported from France and Belgium, the site of battles in World War One and Two. The Scarborough plant, owned by Canada's McCain Foods, the world's largest producer of frozen fries, was emptied Friday after a worker spotted a shell tip among the potatoes as they were being cleaned for slicing. "The police were called and the bomb squad advised a 100 meter exclusion zone should be set up," said a McCain spokesman. Saturday, an entire hand grenade was discovered in the potatoes and the plant in northern England was evacuated again.
"The army took the device away and blew it up in a controlled explosion in a field nearby," a spokeswoman for the North Yorkshire police said. The Scarborough plant was opened in 1969 and uses 1,400 tons of potatoes every week. Production is back to normal. McCain's Whittlesey plant near Peterborough in eastern England has also been evacuated several times this year after World War Two ordnance was found in batches of potatoes. "Occasionally during the use of imported potatoes from Belgium and northern France, ordnance debris from the First and Second World War is found," McCain said in a statement.