Thoughts Gallery August 2004
August 1
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Today our car was broken into as we made a walk around auditorium shores with our two dogs and Noah.  The thieves manages to make off with my wallet and Erin's purse and phone.  They made a quick getaway to the local Shoppers Mart #4 (Texaco) and proceeded to camp out at the register and buy numbers things for $75 a transaction.  So as fast as we could cancel the cards they were out charging them.  The police were not that helpful, our car was plastic we were told so no prints could be made, and because we didn't know the exact address of our location they came to our house 6 hours later instead of coming to the crime scene.  Apparently the fact that all the transactions came from 1 location wasn't enough to get a car to go get surveillance video, we had to have the exact address of Shoppers Mart #4 in Austin, TX 78702 for them to bother to visit that store.
August 2
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Spent the day reordering my life, new drivers license, credit cards, bank accounts, debit card, video rental cars, insurance cards.  Tranisitioned Noah to a new day care center today also. 
August 3
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Why Is Najaf So Holy? From the man buried in Ali's tomb.
American troops are engaged in fierce combat with insurgents near Najaf, one of Iraq's holy cities. Why is Najaf considered so sacred? Because it's the site of the tomb of Ali, the first imam of the Shiites. When Mohammed died in A.D. 632, there was a schism over who should be his successor. A learned council called a shura selected Abu Bakr, one of the prophet's closest friends and allies. But many of the faithful insisted that Mohammed had wished to pass the mantle to Ali, his cousin, adopted son, and son-in-law. They claimed that the prophet had expressed this desire in a sermon delivered during his last hajj, or holy pilgrimage. Those who revered Ali as Mohammed's rightful heir became known as the Shi'at Ali, or "faction of Ali"—the forefathers of today's 150 million Shiites.
Ali eventually did become Islam's fourth caliph, succeeding the murdered Uthman in 656. His reign, however, was brief. An extremist sect known as the Kharijites, which advocated death for moderate Muslims, orchestrated Ali's assassination in 661. He was killed in a mosque at Kufa, approximately 6 miles from Najaf. At that time Najaf was just a minor village. But Muslim tradition held that Abraham—who is a venerated figure in all three of the world's major monotheistic faiths—once visited the area, and he predicted that it would someday host a shrine of great importance. Abraham also stated that those buried in Najaf would be guaranteed entry to paradise. So Ali had requested that, when he died, he be buried not in his capital of Kufa but rather in neighboring Najaf.
Najaf's founding as a city dates back to 791, when the Abbasid caliph Harun al-Rashid supposedly passed through during a hunt. When the villagers informed him that he'd encountered Ali's resting place, he ordered that a grand mausoleum be built atop the grave. That shrine, the Meshed Ali, soon attracted pilgrims and clerics, and the city became the pre-eminent center of Shiite scholarship. In addition to Ali's tomb, the city also boasts one of the world's largest cemeteries, the Wadi-us-Salaam ("Valley of Peace"). Several Shiite prophets are buried there, and some believe that Ali himself endorsed the site as part of heaven. Shiites from around the world long to be buried there.
The city's religious importance diminished somewhat during Saddam Hussein's rule, as he brutally persecuted the Shiites; many pilgrims opted instead to visit the Iranian city of Qom. The pilgrimage trade has perked up significantly since Saddam's defeat, and the tithes from visitors now go to local clerics rather than the Baathists. Abraham wasn't Najaf's only famous ancient visitor. According to Muslim lore, one of Noah's sons refused to board the Ark, choosing instead to sit atop a mountain that covered present-day Najaf. But the mountain crumbled, drowning the son, and a river appeared in its place. The river eventually dried up, giving the city its name—Najaf means "dry river."
August 4
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Man Trips Over Woman; Her Family Eats Him?
MANILA - A man and his two sons have been arrested on suspicion of murdering a neighbor and then eating parts of his body after he tripped over a woman relative at a dance, Philippine police said. The three men are suspected of stabbing neighbor Benjie Ganoy to death last month in a remote village in the southwestern island of Palawan. They ate his ears, tongue and arms after roasting the body over a fire, provincial police chief Michael Garraez said. "They stabbed him repeatedly, cut off the man's ears, pulled out his tongue and ate it," Garraez told Reuters by telephone. He was quoting a sworn statement by a witness, who said he had been forced to eat some flesh taken from the victim's arms. Garraez said there was no tradition of cannibalism in the area. He said the father had apparently been angry after Ganoy accidentally tripped over his daughter during a dance party. Police said the victim disappeared after the dance party on July 17. The witness led them to the burned body almost a week later.
August 5
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Flight Turns Back After Cat Scratches Pilot
BRUSSELS - A cat running loose on a Belgian commercial flight attacked a pilot and forced the crew to turn back to the airport. The gray cat, named "Gin," broke out of its cage about 20 minutes after take-off and scurried to the cockpit where it scratched the co-pilot, SN Brussels Airlines said. The flight with 62 crew and passengers had left Brussels for Vienna Monday when the cat, a prized animal that travels to cat shows around the world, started wandering around the passenger cabin. "The passenger was asleep and at that point the cat managed to escape the cage," an airline spokesman said. The cat managed to slip through the cockpit door as a flight attendant served lunch to the pilots. The scared animal was "very aggressive and scratched the co-pilot," forcing the crew to return to the airport, the spokesman said. The passengers were put on another flight to Vienna, without the cat and its owner, who had to take a separate flight there.
August  6
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Court Approves Public Shaming of Mail Thief
SAN FRANCISCO - A man required to wear a signboard stating "I stole mail. This is my punishment," outside a San Francisco post office was reasonably sanctioned, a U.S. federal court said.  The U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed a lower court's order that required mail thief Shawn Gementera to wear the sign, noting the public humiliation was intended to "break" him of an illusion he had committed a victimless crime. Paired with requiring Gementera to write apologies and lecture at a high school, the "somewhat crude" condition he wear the signboard provided an opportunity to "repair his relationship with society," the court ruled. Gementera had argued the signboard served no purpose other than to humiliate him.
August 7
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How Long Can YOU Sit in a Sauna?
HEINOLA, Finland - A Finnish man and a Belarussian woman won a competition for sitting in a blisteringly hot sauna Sunday, with both nations keeping the world titles in the bizarre endurance test. Leo Pusa, 56, a three times former champion took back the title won by a fellow Finn last year, spending almost 12 minutes in the 110 degrees Celsius (230 degrees Fahrenheit) heat. Natalya Tryfanava from Belarus held onto the title she won last year in the women's contest, managing to stick it out for just over eight minutes. Ninety competitors from 12 countries took part in the contest, held for the sixth time in the small Finnish town Heinola, some 130 kilometers (80 miles) north of the capital Helsinki. Competitors sat in sauna cabins set up on a stage for as long as they could take the heat before running out to cool down. Water was poured onto the sauna stove every 30 seconds to keep the temperature up. A crowd of several thousand followed their favorites on a big video screen, cheering on every competitor as they rushed out. "In the sauna, my head was almost empty, no thoughts about victory or anything," said 36-year-old Tryfanava, her face and limbs red from the heat. "I was just trying to relax as much as possible, keep my breathing in check and not get burned, and still enjoy it." Tryfanava said she and her team mates, who came third and fourth, underwent a special training program, but declined to reveal details. The men's contest has always been won by a Finn. Pusa said it would be hard for foreigners to beat Finns as saunas are the country's favorite pastime. Finland has more than 2 million saunas for a population of 5 million.
August 8
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Crashes Tarnish Houston Rail Reputation
HOUSTON - Once called the "train to nowhere," Houston's new rail line between downtown and the Astrodome is earning a few new nicknames — "Danger Train," the "Wham Bam Tram," "A Streetcar Named Disaster." More than 50 collisions have occurred along the 7.5-mile route since it opened in November, most of them with cars making illegal turns across the tracks.  Rail promoters promised the sleek, gray trains would take cars off the road — "they've just done it one car at a time," said John Gaver, who started the Wham-Bam-Tram counter, a Web site that tallies each crash.
The MetroRail averages six crashes a month — a rate 20 times worse than the national average for the nation's 17 light rail systems, according to the Federal Transit Administration. Most of the wrecks are minor and injury-free, and the soft rubber noses on the quiet, 200-passenger trains usually don't suffer much damage. All but one of the crashes was blamed on error by the car drivers, leaving motorists and their insurance carriers liable for any medical costs or damage to vehicles or trains. Joe Kittrell, a 65-year-old barber, is among the few people injured in a crash. Kittrell was leaving the downtown Sears store on Dec. 19 and took an unfamiliar route when he turned left on a green light. His next memory is waking up in a hospital a day and a half later with broken ribs. He learned that a train smacked into his truck, pushing it at least 75 yards. To this day, Kittrell insists he never saw a no-left-turn sign. "When I was healed enough to get up, I drove from Sears all the way downtown and I could easily see no-left-turn signs and the positions of the traffic lights were changed," Kittrell said.

The Metropolitan Transit Authority of Harris County, known as Metro, initially blamed drivers, saying Houstonians are 2 1/2 times more crash-prone than motorists elsewhere, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Still, Metro commissioned the Texas Transportation Institute to see if there was anything the transit authority could do to help reduce crashes. The institute suggested the transit authority change the route's traffic light sequences, warning signs and other markers, which it did. If the transit authority, however, had followed an early recommendation to elevate the tracks, like Chicago did for its trains, crashes wouldn't be a problem, said Ned Levine, lead traffic safety researcher for the Houston-Galveston Area Council of Governments. But key suburban congressmen blocked federal funding for the train project, so former Metro chairwoman Shirley DeLibero soldiered ahead with local money — meaning the line was built as inexpensively as possible. "They were told repeatedly by transportation planners, anytime you do an at-grade rail line you're asking for trouble," Levine said.
City councilman Michael Berry said Metro should have anticipated problems, since the track runs through downtown, the Museum District, the Texas Medical Center and the Astrodome-Reliant Park complex — all busy areas with dozens of crossings. "You will notice in Colorado when you're driving around steep cliffs, they put a guardrail around it," Berry said. "It technically would be driver error to drive off the cliff, but public safety concerns are such that they put a guardrail there." Levine said sections of Main Street already had a crash rate of four times the national average without the rail line. If cars continue to collide with the trains, transit authorities may have no choice but to rebuild the line, raising the tracks above the streets, he said.
Despite the crashes, the transit authority says the $320 million project has been a success. There were more than 3 million boardings in the first six months of the year and nearly 680,000 in June after bus routes were altered to funnel passengers to the railcars. The line's debut followed a successful November ballot proposition that authorizes up to $640 million in bonds to start building the rail line's next 22 miles. If current usage trends hold, weekday ridership could approach 35,000 — less than 1 percent of the metropolitan area's population — by year's end, said David Wolff, chairman of the transit authority. He believes the wrecks will diminish with time. "We're really making progress on this," Wolff told reporters shortly after a Wisconsin tourist notched the 50th collision by smacking his rental car into a train before baseball's All-Star game in Houston last month. "We hope you will report this as carefully as you've reported the incidents."

August 9
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U.S. Olympic team eats burgers to win
ATHENS - Fuelled by a diet that includes cheeseburgers and chocolate chip cookies, the United States team will eat their way to victory at the Olympics if their chief caterer is to be believed. "You might have seen a lot of media saying (the U.S. will win) 100 medals, well we feed them every day and I can tell you we are going home with more than 100 medals," said Terri Morman, director of food services for the U.S. team. Morman said nothing was off limits for the competitors. However, items like cheeseburgers are rotated on the daily menus together with healthier options such as chicken, fish and pasta to prevent them being eaten every day. "Our philosophy on feeding athletes is there are no forbidden foods and everything has its appropriate place in the diet," she told reporters. "We do have cheeseburgers on the menu but it's on a cycle. Hamburgers are an essential part of the daily diet, believe it or not...and we're still making America's favourite dessert, chocolate chip cookies." Morman said the average U.S. competitor consumed around 5,000 calories daily, with weightlifters guzzling up to 10,000 -- four times the typical consumption of an ordinary person. "When an athlete comes in and sees that chocolate chip cookie, he's pretty excited to be here," she added.
August 10
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Japanese electronics maker Seiko Epson Corp.'s 'Micro Flying Robot,' that looks like a miniature helicopter about the size of a giant bug, is adjusted by Wang Wei, a Chinese postgraduate student studying mechanical engineering at Japan's Tsukuba University, during its demonstration at the company's Tokyo office Wednesday, Aug. 18, 2004. The still-not-for-sale 12.3 gram (0.4 ounce) 85 millimeter (3.35 inch)-tall robot, the company hopes will be used for security, disaster rescue and space exploration in the future, flies autonomously according toa flight-route program sent by Bluetooth wireless from a computer.
August 11
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Jim Lewis, president of eMachineShop.com looks at a machine part at his company's office in Midland Park, N.J. eMachineShop.com provides software that companies can use to design machine parts on a computer and have them manufactured.
August 12
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Church Says Girl's Communion Not Valid

BRIELLE, N.J. - An 8-year-old girl who suffers from a rare digestive disorder and cannot eat wheat has had her first Holy Communion declared invalid because the wafer contained no wheat, violating Roman Catholic doctrine. Now, Haley Waldman's mother is pushing the Diocese of Trenton and the Vatican to make an exception, saying the girl's condition should not exclude her from the sacrament, which commemorates the Last Supper of Jesus Christ before his crucifixion. The mother believes a rice Communion wafer would suffice. "It's just not a viable option. How does it corrupt the tradition of the Last Supper? It's just rice versus wheat," said Elizabeth Pelly-Waldman. Church doctrine holds that Communion wafers, like the bread served at the Last Supper, must have at least some unleavened wheat. Church leaders are reluctant to change anything about the sacrament. "This is not an issue to be determined at the diocesan or parish level, but has already been decided for the Roman Catholic Church throughout the world by Vatican authority," Trenton Bishop John M. Smith said in a statement last week.
Haley was diagnosed with celiac sprue disease when she was 5. The disorder occurs in people with a genetic intolerance of gluten, a food protein contained in wheat and other grains. When consumed by celiac sufferers, gluten (pronounced GLOO'-ten) damages the lining of the small intestine, blocking nutrient absorption and leading to vitamin deficiencies, bone-thinning and sometimes gastrointestinal cancer. The diocese has told Haley's mother that the girl can receive a low-gluten wafer, or just drink wine at Communion, but that anything without gluten does not qualify. Pelly-Waldman rejected the offer, saying her child could be harmed by even a small amount of the substance.  Haley's Communion controversy isn't the first. In 2001, the family of a 5-year-old Massachusetts girl with the disease left the Catholic church after being denied permission to use a rice wafer. Some Catholic churches allow no-gluten hosts, while others do not, said Elaine Monarch, executive director of the Celiac Disease Foundation, a California-based support group for sufferers. "It is an undue hardship on a person who wants to practice their religion and needs to compromise their health to do so," Monarch said.
The church has similar rules for Communion wine. For alcoholics, the church allows a substitute for wine under some circumstances, however the drink must still be fermented from grapes and contain some alcohol. Grape juice is not a valid substitute. Haley, a shy, brown-haired tomboy who loves surfing and hates wearing dresses, realizes the consequences of taking a wheat wafer. "I'm on a gluten-free diet because I can't have wheat. I could die," she said last week.
Last year, as the third grader approached Holy Communion age in this Jersey Shore town, her mother told officials at St. Denis Catholic Church in Manasquan that the girl could not have the standard host. After the church's pastor refused to allow a substitute, a priest at a nearby parish volunteered to offer one, and in May, Haley wore a white Communion dress, and received the sacrament alongside her mother, who had not taken Communion since she herself was diagnosed with the disease.
Last month, the diocese told the priest that the church would not validate Haley's sacrament because of the substitute wafer. "I struggled with telling her that the sacrament did not happen," said Pelly-Waldman. "She lives in a world of rules. She says `Mommy, do we want to break a rule? Are we breaking a rule?' Pelly-Waldman is seeking help from the Pope and has written to Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in Rome, challenging the church's policy.
"This is a church rule, not God's will, and it can easily be adjusted to meet the needs of the people, while staying true to the traditions of our faith," Pelly-Waldman wrote in the letter. Pelly-Waldman — who is still attending Mass every Sunday with her four children — said she is not out to bash the church, just to change the policy that affects her daughter. "I'm hopeful. Do I think it will be a long road to change? Yes. But I'm raising an awareness and I'm taking it one step at a time," she said.

August 13
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A red-footed Falcon sits on a sign in Martha's Vineyard. Until about two weeks ago the red-footed falcon, a bird of prey that breeds in eastern Europe and winters in the savannas of Africa, had never been seen in North America. But on August 8, 2004, Vernon Laux, an ornithologist on Martha's Vineyard, photographed what he thought was an exotic bird. Days later, Harvard University museum curatorial assistant Jeremiah Trimble identified the bird and, in the words of one local newspaper, 'turned the birding community in North America upside down.'
August 14
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A work of origami, or paper folding, is shown on display during the origami convention in Tokyo. Showcasing a renaissance in the ancient Japanese art of origami, some of the best paper-folders in the world descended on Tokyo on Friday for a three-day competition and convention to celebrate the artistic possibilities of origami, which is believed to have been used to create sacred ornaments at the Grand Shrines of Ise, the center of Japan's native shinto religion.
August 15
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Gail Devers of the US prepares to start her women's 100 meter heat of the 2004 Olympic Games in the Olympic Stadium in Athens
August 16
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The world's most pierced woman, Elaine Davidson from Brazil, a resident in the Scottish city of Edinburgh, poses for a photographer during the 6th Ti-Tattoo Convention in Lugano, Switzerland. Davidson claims to have upwards of 1,900 piercings, and has an entry in the Guinness Book of World Records.
August 17
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Store Clerk Accepts Fake $200 Bill, Makes Change

PHILADELPHIA - At first glance it looked like the real thing, so store clerk Kathryn Miller was happy to accept the $200 bill as payment -- and even make change. The bill did carry a picture of President Bush, but he is not one of the presidents who appear on the U.S. currency and in any case there is no such thing as a $200 bill. That did not stop Miller, who works at Fashion Bug, a women's clothing store in Greensburg, Pennsylvania, from taking the bill in payment for an item costing $99. She also gave change to Deborah Trautwine, a resident of nearby Jeanette, said Jeanne Martin, a spokeswoman for the state police in Greensburg. "Anyone with any bit of knowledge should have recognized that it wasn't the real thing," Martin said. Trautwine, who was located by police on the basis of information from the clothing store, was charged on Wednesday with forgery, theft by deception, and receiving stolen property. The bill was probably a joke rather than a forgery, said Martin. "It was some sort of gag money," she said. She didn't know whether Miller still works at Fashion Bug.

August 18
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Coast Guards Use Popcorn for Oil Slick Drill

STOCKHOLM - Coast guards from Scandinavia and the Baltic delighted seagulls Wednesday by using popcorn to simulate an oil slick as they carried out an oil-spill emergency drill. The area is permanently on high alert for spills because of intense tanker traffic -- which the World Wide Fund for Nature estimates could double in the next 10 years in the Baltic alone. "Popcorn is good...as we don't want to cause any more pollution and nature will take care of what we don't pick up," Swedish Coastguards spokesman Karl Gustav von Konow told Reuters. "It also spreads like oil on the water's surface." Ten cubic meters of popcorn were used -- of the unsalted and unbuttered variety. The seagulls did not seem to mind, flocking around the oil tanker, nine coastguard vessels and two tugboats taking part in the drill near the Brofjorden refinery on the west coast of Sweden.

August 19
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Tour de Lunch
August 20
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Hungary Destroys 60 Tons of Tainted Paprika
BUDAPEST - Hungarian authorities have destroyed 60 tons of imported paprika, the fiery red spice which is an essential ingredient in the nation's national dish, goulash, Hungarian newspapers reported. Newspapers quoted Dr Zoltan Molnar, manager of the Bacs-Kiskun County Animal Health and Food Control Department, as saying aflatoxins and ochratoxins had been found in the paprika imported from Spain and Brazil. Hungarians consume 6,000 tons annually of the spice, which was introduced by Turkish invaders in the 16th century. Hungary itself produces just 10 percent of the world's paprika.
August 21
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August 22
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August 23
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August 24
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August 25
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August 26
Homestead Image of the Day
August 27
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August 28
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August 29
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Pentagon Censors Gov't Openness Videotape
WASHINGTON - The Pentagon censored some footage in public versions of a Humphrey Bogart-themed videotape that cost $70,500 to produce and was intended to teach government employees to respond to citizens' requests for information. Parts of the training video, "The People's Right to Know" were blacked out and replaced with the message, "copyrighted material removed for public viewing." Defense Department officials said they did so because they worried the government did not have legal rights to some historical footage that was included.
      
Citing the Freedom of Information Act, The Associated Press asked the Pentagon for a copy of the video nearly 18 months ago. The department released an edited version of the tape and acknowledged the irony of censoring a video promoting government openness. "We knew it would be embarrassing," said Suzanne Council of the Army Office of the Chief Attorney, which gave advice to censor the scenes because of copyright concerns. The 22-minute video features a narrator in a trench coat who resembles Sam Spade, the detective played by Bogart in the 1941 classic "The Maltese Falcon." The narrator follows mysterious characters known only as "veiled lady" and "large man" as he describes Pentagon rules under the open records law. It mandates disclosure of most federal documents, e-mails, photographs and videotapes. "Releasing or denying access to records can be a tricky business," the narrator says, impersonating Bogart. "In the end it will be up to you to do the right thing and provide as much help as you can.
       
The Pentagon produced the video in 2001 and internally distributed about 100 copies. It explains, for example, that photos of military airplanes and buildings should not be turned over to the public under the open records law. The video includes historic clips from the 1996 Olympics, the exploration of Titanic wreckage in 1986 and Hank Aaron hitting his record-breaking 714th home run in 1974. Those clips and others were copyrighted by organizations that would not give permission to release them, said C.Y. Talbot, chief of the Defense Department's Office of Freedom of Information and Security Review. The Army lawyer, Council, said her staff recently asked the organizations again for their permission and were denied. "We couldn't get approval; we did our darnedest," she said. Legal experts challenged the Pentagon's refusal to release the entire video, arguing it was improper under the Freedom of Information Act — the subject of the videotape itself — for the government to withhold records because they include copyright material. The video lists reasons for withholding government documents under the law but does not mention copyright. It cites seven categories of information that can be withheld, including classified documents and "trade secrets and commercial and financial information given by companies in their bids for contracts." "This makes no sense. This is silly," said David A. Schulz, a First Amendment lawyer in New York who has represented the AP. "This is a novel effort to apply a provision that clearly has no proper application here." Schulz said the Pentagon's assertion would allow the government to keep secret any records that contained material the government itself did not produce, such as letters or e-mails to U.S. officials from outside organizations. The tape's existence was first uncovered by Michael Ravnitzky, an open records advocate and private investigator in Washington; he withdrew his request for a copy before he ever received one.
August 30
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Swedish Burglars Steal Fish Cakes, Shrimp
STOCKHOLM, Sweden - Burglars tore down part of a wall to get into a grocer's shop in central Sweden, but apparently were only after fish cakes and a little shrimp — they didn't touch the cash. "It puzzles both me and police why they took the trouble to tear down a wooden panel in the wall without taking anything of real value," storekeeper Yvonne Holm told the AP. She said the burglars escaped early Tuesday with some batteries, fish cakes, shrimps and fishegg spreads. "There was cash lying on a table in the office and neither the cash register nor the tobacco storeroom were touched," she said. She did not say how much money was in the shop. Police spokesman Nils-Erik Nilsson said Wednesday he had no suspects in the burglary in the small community of Laangemaala, near Kalmar, 250 miles south of the capital, Stockholm.
August 31
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Three Killed in Rush for IKEA Vouchers in Saudi
JEDDAH - Three men were trampled to death in a rush to claim vouchers at the first IKEA furniture showroom in Saudi Arabia Wednesday, hospital officials said. Sixteen shoppers were injured at the Sweden-based furniture store opening in Jeddah. Medics revived some 20 customers who had fainted in the crush. IKEA said two were killed. The rush was triggered by an offer for the first 50 shoppers to receive $150 in vouchers. An IKEA statement said more than 20,000 people showed up. Hospital officials said two of the dead were a Pakistani and a Saudi national. The IKEA statement said the company had worked closely with Saudi security officials to plan the opening. IKEA is known for simple, reasonably priced products.