Thoughts Gallery February 2004
February 1
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Wife-Poisoner Hired as Ethics Lecturer
A scientist dubbed the "Safeway poisoner" and jailed for trying to poison his wife has been employed by a British university to lecture students on ethics, the institution said on Thursday. Paul Agutter served seven years of a 12-year sentence for attempted murder after he laced his wife's gin and tonic with deadly nightshade in 1994 and then tried to cover his tracks by spiking drinks in a Safeway supermarket. The University of Manchester said it followed "due process" in hiring Agutter to teach adult education classes, including a one-day course on "Therapeutic Cloning: Ethics and Science." Medical ethics lecturer Piers Benn told Reuters criminal convictions and teaching ethics were not necessarily mutually exclusive. "Normally people who get into moral philosophy do so because they care about making the world a better place or putting things right," said Benn, of Imperial College London. "But I can't see any logical contradiction between being able to think about ethical questions and being able to do rather criminal acts." Manchester University said it had not decided whether an April course on evolution taught by Agutter would go ahead.
February 2
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Nun Faces Jail for Drunk Tractor Driving
A Polish Benedictine nun is facing jail for driving a tractor into a car while drunk outside her convent in southwestern Poland, police said on Friday. The 45-year-old nun will be charged with drunk-driving and causing an accident, which carries a prison sentence of up to two years, Dariusz Waluch, police spokesman in the southwestern Polish town of Dzierzoniow, told local news agency PAP. He said the nun was 17 times over the country's legal alcohol limit for driving.
February 3
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This seems like such an off way to protest fur and to draw attention to your cause.
Lisa Franzetta, clad in a fur coat, drinks from a toilet in New York's Times Square during a People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) protest. PETA has made a series of TV ads that show people in fur coats engaging in behaviors that animals may naturally do and the protest was a reenactment of the ads.

February 4
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This Sounds About Right....
Americans spend far more time driving cars and watching television than they do exercising, researchers said on Thursday in a study that helps shed light on the country's obesity epidemic. Americans also spend more time in the office than people in other countries, found the report from a team at the University of California, Berkeley. The report came the same week federal government researchers said deaths caused by poor eating habits and a lack of exercise were fast catching up to smoking as a leading cause of death. In 2000, 400,000 people died from eating badly and laziness, compared with 435,000 who died from smoking-related illness. "This study provides a wake-up call for the nation, particularly in light of rising obesity rates in this country," said Linda Dong, a student of epidemiology at UC Berkeley's School of Public Health, who led the activity study. "A lot of people aren't fully aware of how sedentary their lives are. This paper shows that, as a population, leisure-time physical activities are at the bottom of our priority lists." Writing in a new publication called the International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity, Dong and colleagues said they looked at surveys of 7,515 adults questioned from 1992 to 1994 for the National Human Activity Pattern Survey. They reported on everything they did and how long they did it during the prior 24 hours. Dong's team analyzed the information and assigned energy output for each activity. On average, those surveyed spent 170 minutes a day watching TV and movies -- nine times the minutes spent on all leisure exercise. The average time spent driving was 101 minutes a day. The U.S. Health and Human Services Department launched an advertising campaign on Tuesday aimed at encouraging people to exercise a bit more and eat healthier foods such as fruits and vegetables. But Dong's team noted Americans may not have as much free time for exercise as citizens of other countries. They cited U.S. Labor Department statistics that showed workers in the United States clocked in 1,821 hours in 2001, while those in Germany logged 1,467 hours. "People are supposed to work in 60 minutes a day of moderate physical activity, but given the way our society is now, we don't have a lot of extra time on our hands to go out and jog," said Gladys Bock, a professor of epidemiology and public health nutrition who oversaw the study.
February 5
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Cuban Graciela Gonzalez, 80, smokes a cigar in the center of Old Havana. Gonzalez earns a living posing for tourists, charging them one dollar for them to take her picture.
February 6
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Rampant Rhino Gets Amorous with Car
LONDON - A rampant rhinoceros gave a group of visitors a glimpse of nature in the raw at a British safari park when he tried to have sex with their car. Sharka, a two-ton white rhino, got amorous with Dave Alsop's car when he stopped with three friends to take pictures of the animal mating with his partner Trixie at the West Midland Safari Park. The 12-year-old rhino tried to mount the Renault Laguna from the side, denting the doors and ripping off the wing mirrors before Dave drove away with a puffing Sharka in pursuit. "He was a big boy and obviously aroused," Alsop told the Sun newspaper on Thursday. "He sidled up against us. The next thing I know he's banging away at the car and it's rocking like hell." A spokeswoman for the park, which says "rhinos are not particularly intelligent animals" on its Web site, said Sharka was a hit with the female rhinos and had fathered two calves in the last five years. "He's got a bit of a reputation this lad and he was obviously at it again," she added.
February 7
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Six month-old cat Konomi wears colorful soft caps on his claws in Tokyo. Japanese cat owners are snapping up colourful claw caps that can stop their pets scratching furniture or merely decorate a pampered puss's nails.
February 8
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A one-month-old baby Silver Langur (presbytis cristata) is carried by his mother at the Taman Safari park in Bogor, West Java. In Indonesia, the rare Silver Langur, which is found on the Sumatra, Java and Kalimantan islands, is one of the protected animals under a Forestry Ministry decree.
February 9
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A British Telecom red phone box in front of Westminster Abbey in London, one of the 75,000 boxes nationwide. BT are to scrap 10,000 phone boxes over the next 18 months, due to the increase in mobile phone use, 23,000 of the 20th century icons have already been scrapped since 1999.
February 10
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Study Blames Corn Syrup for Rise of Diabetes in US
WASHINGTON - Corn syrup and other refined foods may be much to blame for the huge increase in type-2 diabetes in the United States over the past few decades, U.S. researchers said. A study of nearly 100 years of data on what Americans eat show a huge increase in processed carbohydrates, especially corn syrup, and a large drop in the amount of fiber from whole grains, fruits and vegetables. It parallels a spike in the number of cases of type-2 diabetes, caused by the body's increasing inability to properly metabolize sugars. "We are seeing this big jump in the number of calories," that people are eating, Dr. Lee Gross, a family physician at the Inter-Medic Medical Group in North Port, Florida, who led the study, said in a telephone interview.
"We tried to break down where are these calories coming from? We have heard everyone debating is it because of fat, is it because of carbohydrate and it is not really clear," Gross added. "This shows the increase in the past 20 years is almost exclusively carbohydrates and certainly corn syrup consumption has increased dramatically." Gross said he was not "picking on the corn syrup industry," but added, "It is hard to ignore the fact that 20 percent of our carbohydrates are coming from corn syrup -- 10 percent of our total calories." An estimated 16 million Americans have type-2 diabetes, the sixth leading cause of death overall. And many studies have linked a high intake of refined carbohydrates and other foods with a high "glycemic index" with the development of diabetes. Foods with a high glycemic index cause a spike in insulin production. Many experts agree that, over time, repeatedly eating foods in this pattern can cause insulin resistance, which in turn leads to diabetes.
       Writing in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Gross and colleagues said they used data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to show that people have eaten about the same amount of carbohydrates a day on average -- 500 grams -- since 1909. But instead of whole grains and vegetables, people are getting more and more of those carbs in the form of processed grains and sugars -- most of all, in corn syrup, they said. Gross, with colleagues at the Harvard School of Public Health and the CDC, found that starting in 1980, people started consuming steadily more calories, with an average increase in total calories of 500 calories a day. "Specifically, 428 calories (nearly 80 percent of the increase in total energy) came from carbohydrates," they wrote. Gross said people are probably not eating all those 500 calories. Some could be wasted. "It's an estimate. It's hard to interpret," he said. But the trend was clear. "During the same period, the prevalence of type-2 diabetes increased by 47 percent and the prevalence of obesity increased by 80 percent," they wrote.
February 11
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Value of Boston Parking Spots Soars
As real estate spaces go, it's quite small. Still, it comes with heat and valet service, sits in a tony Boston neighborhood and costs a mere $160,000. Your car will thank you. The escalating cost of parking, long a premium in Boston, hit home for many when it was learned that a 180-square-foot parking spot sold last month for $160,000 at the Brimmer Street Garage in the Beacon Hill neighborhood. As prices for some spaces exceed the cost of a single-family house in other parts of the state, even seasoned real estate agents are muttering, "Whoa." "I've said that on a number of occasions," said Richard Phipps, owner of Boston Real Estate Agents.
Since January 2003, seven spots have sold at the Brimmer Street Garage for at least $140,000, with one spot selling for a record $167,500 last August. By comparison, a three-bedroom home in Westfield was listed for $159,900 this week, one of several listed under $160,000 in that western Massachusetts city. Eye-popping as the prices are, broker John Forger, a 35-year veteran of the Boston real estate market, noted that people who pay $3 million for a Beacon Hill residence aren't going to worry much about a high-priced parking space. "It's a lifestyle," he said. Boston's prices, though high, don't top the national market. In New York, spots range from $150,000 to $250,000 and in crowded San Francisco they max out at about $200,000, said Dick Delaney, a developer at Chicago-based Mark Goodman & Associates who specializes in the parking market. In Chicago, spots range from $30,000 to $80,000, he said.
The high prices are also found overseas. In February, a Londoner made headlines by listing a spot at $187,500. Not all parking spots in Boston's exclusive neighborhoods are worth the equivalent of 12 Honda Civics. Spots in the South End can be had for a much more reasonable $39,000 to $100,000, according to data from the Listing Information Network Inc., a real estate information service that tracks the downtown condo market. Phipps said the pricey spots can sometimes make good financial sense. The cost of frequent parking tickets — $15 to $120, depending on the offense — or daily parking rates in the $20 to $30 range can approach the monthly payment on a mortgage for some spaces, he said.
Beacon Hill's high prices reflect its desirability, tight parking aside, Forger said. The neighborhood of brick row houses and gas street lamps is packed with history, beautiful architecture and money. It's where Democratic presidential hopeful John Kerry and his wife Teresa Heinz Kerry have a home. But even here, six-figure parking spaces are beyond the reach of most residents, said Tom Cullinane, 44, a stay-at-home dad who lives on Beacon Hill. "That's another solar system," he said.
February 12
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Remind me how many billions of dollars a year we spend on our military budget, are we really that poor a nation that we need to request 5 howitzers go into service to fight the war in Iraq.  If so I think we are spreading ourselves way too thin, and would be surprised to see the US protect it's borders if any group ever became daring enough to attack our homelands.
Arm Wants Howitzers Back From Ski Areas
RENO, Nev. - The U.S. military is demanding the return of five howitzers that two Sierra Nevada ski resorts use to prevent avalanches, saying it needs the guns for the fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan. Alpine Meadows and Mammoth Mountain received the artillery pieces on loan from the Army and began using them last year to fire rounds into mountainsides and knock snow loose. But the ski resorts received word earlier this month that the Army's Tank Automotive and Armaments Command at the Rock Island Arsenal in Illinois needs the howitzers back immediately. "I need to have them back in the troops' hands within 60 to 90 days," said Don Bowen, the Army command's team leader in charge of the howitzers. "It's a very short timeframe to get them serviceable and back into the theater in southwest Asia. Afghanistan-Iraq is the immediate concern." The ski resorts said they will comply. "Given it's a war effort, their needs are greater than ours," said Larry Heywood, Alpine Meadows director of mountain operations.
       Howitzers are short-barreled cannons that can be pulled by a vehicle. They fire three to 10 rounds per minute at a range of 9,600 to 12,330 yards. Replacing one would cost around $1 million, Bowen said Tuesday. The military lent two to Alpine Meadows and three to Mammoth Mountain. Alpine Meadows and Mammoth Mountain are the only ski resorts in the nation using the 119-A howitzer, the most modern model available, said Bob Moore, a U.S. Forest Service specialist in Truckee, Calif. Other resorts have older 105 mm howitzers. Pam Murphy, senior vice president at Mammoth Mountain just east of Yosemite National Park, said the military has provided the ski resort with recoilless rifles and other guns for avalanche control for 30 years. The howitzers are the most effective, Murphy said. "It was designed to kill people, but it's a very valuable safety tool for us," said Rachael Woods, a spokeswoman at Lake Tahoe's Alpine Meadows, where seven people were killed in an avalanche in 1982.
Resort officials said they spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to transport the guns, reimburse the Army for training and build firing platforms. But Murphy said she understood the Army's decision: "We're certainly at a different place in the world than when we first got the guns." The Forest Service said it is working to secure older howitzers for the ski resorts, and the Army's Bowen said he is optimistic that will happen.
February 13
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Supreme Court Weighs Enemy Combatant Case

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By ANNE GEARAN, Associated Press Writer

WASHINGTON - President Bush (news - web sites) has overstepped his authority since the Sept. 11 attacks by jailing American citizens suspected of links to terrorism and denying them access to lawyers and courts, an attorney for a U.S.-born terrorism suspect told the Supreme Court on Wednesday.

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"Never before in history has this court granted the president a blank check to do whatever he wants to American citizens," lawyer Jennifer Martinez argued on behalf of Jose Padilla, a former Chicago gang member and alleged al-Qaida associate arrested at the O'Hare airport.

Government lawyer Paul Clement countered that Congress gave the president broad power to go after terrorists and head off future threats at home or abroad. He likened Padilla to a "latter-day, citizen version of Mohammed Atta," the suspected ringleader of the Sept. 11 hijackings, who died in the 2001 attacks.

The justices heard back-to-back cases about the detentions of Padilla and Yaser Esam Hamdi, the U.S.-born son of a Saudi oil industry worker seized during fighting in Afghanistan (news - web sites) more than two years ago.

"We could have people locked up all over the country tomorrow, with no opportunity to be heard. ... Congress didn't intend for widespread, indefinite detentions," Hamdi lawyer Frank Dunham told Justice Sandra O'Connor, who wondered whether the president was granted detention power when Congress approved the use of military force shortly after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks.

"Nowhere does the (statute) have 'detention' in it," Dunham said.

Clement, arguing for the Bush administration in both cases, argued that a president as commander in chief has wide latitude to detain suspected terrorists as "enemy combatants" if they pose a national security risk.

"It has been well-established, and long established, that the government has the authority to hold unlawful enemy combatants ... in order to prevent them from returning to the field of battle," he said.

Hamdi was born in Louisiana while his Saudi father worked there, but grew up in the Middle East. Padilla is a convert to Islam who was raised in Chicago and spent time in prison.

Both are U.S. citizens.

The Bush administration says they also are "enemy combatants," dangerous enough to warrant open-ended military detention, perhaps for the duration of the open-ended war on terror.

The line for scarce seats in the courtroom to hear arguments began forming early Tuesday evening. Would-be spectators camped out in 40-degree weather, huddled in blankets and parkas.

Brian Swenson, 24, of Washington, said he came out to see "whether the Constitution can be manipulated."

"I'm sympathetic to Padilla," he said. "If you're locked up you ought to be given a trial."

The government is holding Hamdi and Padilla in near isolation at a Navy brig in South Carolina. Until recently neither had seen his lawyer or known that his case was before the Supreme Court.

Hamdi was captured weeks after the Sept. 11 attacks. The government says he was fighting with Taliban forces in Afghanistan, home base of the al-Qaida terrorist network, and calls him a classic battlefield detainee.

He initially was housed with hundreds of alleged foreign fighters at a Navy base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, but transferred to the United States when authorities verified his citizenship claim.

Padilla was arrested two years ago in Chicago on suspicion of plotting to detonate a radioactive bomb. He was first placed in custody of civilian authorities, but was transferred to military detention in June 2002.

In legal filings, the Bush administration said it has unilateral authority to order enemy combatant seizures and detentions, even inside the United States, but added that Congress also signed off on that course. Congress approved use of military force a week after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

"Congress was acting in immediate response to attacks carried out within the nation's borders" when it voted to endorse broad White House authority to go after terrorists, administration lawyers argued in a court filing.

Lawyers for Padilla say Congress did no such thing and the White House has overstepped its authority.

"If the government's position were accepted, it would mean that for the foreseeable future, any citizen, anywhere, at any time, would be subject to indefinite military detention on the unilateral order of the president," their filing said.

The Bush administration won its arguments in lower courts in the Hamdi case, but lost a federal appeals court fight in the Padilla case.

The Hamdi and Padilla cases echo World War II-era cases about prisoners of war and war criminals, but also take the Supreme Court into uncharted waters. No one knows when the war on terror will end, and it is unclear if the justices will view it as a war at all.

The cases argued Wednesday are Hamdi v. Rumsfeld, 03-6696, and Rumsfeld v. Padilla, 03-1027.


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February 28
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Krispy Kreme Plans Low-Sugar Alternative
Hot. Now. Healthy? AP Photo Krispy Kreme Doughnuts, long known for its high-calorie treats, says it plans to offer a low-sugar doughnut to attract dieters and diabetics. Exactly how low the sugar content would be was unclear. Krispy Kreme spokeswoman Amy Hughes said the new doughnut is still in the early stages of development. It is set to debut before the end of 2004. One of Krispy Kreme's Hot Original Glazed doughnuts has 10 grams of sugar and 200 calories. More than half those calories come from fat, 12 grams of it. Krispy Kreme lover Nathan Painter said he would give one of the newfangled doughnuts a try. Still, he found the whole idea strange. "It just seems odd they're trying to be healthy," he said.