Thoughts Gallery July 2006
July 1
Image of the Day
Blogger's quest ends with keys to house
Taking a paper clip and turning it into a house sounds like a cheesy magic trick or a phony instance of resourcefulness on the 1980s TV show "MacGyver." Kyle MacDonald, however, has pulled it off. One year ago, the 26-year-old blogger from Montreal set out to barter one red paper clip for something and that thing for something else, over and over again until he had a house. On Wednesday the quest is ending as envisioned: MacDonald is due to become the proud owner of a three-bedroom, 1,100-square-foot home provided by the town of Kipling, Saskatchewan. MacDonald and his girlfriend, Dominique Dupuis, expect to move there in early September. "This is such a cool community project. It feels right," MacDonald said. "And now that I think about it, I can't believe that another small town didn't think of it. It will literally put them on the map." What's in it for the town? The answer requires a quick MacDonald recap, featuring a menagerie of friendly folks, radio talk show hosts and aging celebrities, all bound together by the Internet.
It began when MacDonald, an aspiring writer, doer of odd jobs and apartment dweller, advertised in the barter section of the Craigslist Web site that he wanted something bigger or better for one red paper clip. He traded it for a fish-shaped pen, and posted on Craigslist again and again. Roaming Canada and the United States, he exchanged the pen for a ceramic knob, and in turn: a camping stove, a generator, a beer keg and Budweiser sign, a snowmobile, a trip to the Canadian Rockies, a supply truck and a recording contract. Next, in April, he got himself really close, obtaining a year's rent in Phoenix. His adventure became an Internet blockbuster. He did Canadian and Japanese TV and "Good Morning America." He made dozens of local radio appearances — one of which, in Los Angeles, was heard by a man who ended up as a pivotal figure. That man is Corbin Bernsen. You may remember him from his roles in "L.A. Law" and "Major League."
Hip to the publicity-generating machine that is Kyle MacDonald, Bernsen contacted him to say he was writing and directing a movie and would offer a paid speaking role as an item available for trade. MacDonald was thrilled. But he feared the integrity of his journey would be compromised if he accepted the role without trading Bernsen something he really could use. Say what you want about "Major League 3," but Bernsen has done well enough that he doesn't need a free apartment in Phoenix. So MacDonald kept Bernsen's offer off his blog, but plowed ahead with an eye to finding something Bernsen would legitimately want. Seemingly disregarding good economic sense, MacDonald traded the year's rent for an afternoon with rocker Alice Cooper. (MacDonald's response: "Alice Cooper is a gold mine of awesomeness and fun.") Then in a move that really confused his blog readers, MacDonald bartered time with Cooper for a snow globe depicting the band Kiss.
Re-enter Corbin Bernsen. You see, since the days when he'd get free stuff on promotional tours for "L.A. Law," Bernsen has amassed a collection of 6,500 snow globes. "One off, they look sort of goofy," Bernsen said. "Put them all together and they sort of look like pop art." So MacDonald gave Bernsen the Kiss model and encouraged his blog readers to send the actor even more globes in exchange for autographed pictures. All this delighted the elders in Kipling, a town of 1,140 believed to have been named in honor of author Rudyard Kipling.  Like many rural towns, Kipling is eager to stave off the perils of dwindling population by attracting new businesses, tourism and above all, attention. When the local development coordinator, Bert Roach, heard about MacDonald's odyssey, he suggested at the next council meeting that Kipling lure him.  Quickly the town purchased an unoccupied rental house on Main Street and offered it to MacDonald. Roach won't disclose the price because MacDonald says he doesn't want to know. But Roach says it was well under the going rate in Kipling, which is about $50,000 Canadian (US$45,000).
The town also pledged to put a giant red paper clip at a highway rest stop and hold an "American Idol"-style competition for the movie role. Participants will have to make a donation to the town's parks department and a charity. When MacDonald agreed last week, "I was holding back tears, I was so bloody happy," Roach said. "It's going to be such a great project for our community." Bernsen says that if the right person emerges in the talent show, he'd be willing to cast him or her as a lead. "Maybe a career is going to get started. Maybe it's going to be huge. Maybe that's the magic of Kyle." MacDonald doesn't expect to live in Kipling forever. But he says he'll make it home at least while he settles down to write a book.  Of course, even if the house came free, he'll have the usual homeowner headaches: taxes, utilities, upkeep. It should come as no surprise that MacDonald isn't worried. "I'll figure something out," he said. "I can get a job. There's three grocery stores in town."

July 2
Image of the Day
Matsushita to sell record 103-inch plasma
TOKYO - Matsushita Electric Industrial Co. Ltd. (6752.T), the maker of Panasonic brand electronics, said it hoped to start selling the world's largest plasma television by early next year. Measuring 2.4 metres by 1.4 meters and weighing 215 kg, the 103-inch panel is bigger than a double-sized mattress and almost as heavy as an upright piano. The world's largest consumer electronics maker has yet to set the price but Matsushita's 65-inch plasma TVs, its largest available now, sell for about $7,500 in Japan. The plasma panel used in the Matsushita TV will be just one-inch larger measured diagonally than a 102-inch model developed by Samsung SDI Co. Ltd. (006400.KS). The South Korean company has not launched the model commercially. Matsushita is the world's largest plasma TV maker competing with smaller rivals such as South Korea's LG Electronics Inc.
As liquid crystal display (LCD) TVs encroach on the market for 40-inch TVs and above -- which had previously seen as plasma TV's turf -- developing even larger-sized panels is important for plasma TV makers to remain competitive. Sharp Corp. (6753.T) plans to bring on stream the world's first plant that cuts LCD panels from eighth-generation glass. Eighth-generation glass is bigger than seventh-generation glass now used by Sony Corp (NYSE:SNE - news). (6758.T) and Samsung Electronics Co. Ltd. (005930.KS) in their joint venture, and allows LCD makers to produce large-sized panels economically.
Matsushita also said it had started taking orders for the 103-inch panels in the United States for business use, such as studio monitors at broadcasting companies and electronic billboards, and planned to deliver them from this autumn. Matsushita aims to sell 5,000 units of the 103-inch panels a year, with TV demand accounting for little less than 20 percent, which can be calculated into annual sales of some 1,000 103-inch TVs. The new panels will meet full high-definition specifications, meaning they can produce images at the highest standard of 1,920 by 1,080 pixels of resolution.
Osaka-based Matsushita controlled 21.6 percent of the global plasma TV market in the January-March quarter, followed by LG Electronics with 17.8 percent, according to DisplaySearch.
July 3 
Image of the Day
Undersea gas could speed global warming
NEW YORK (Reuters) - If the world continues to get warmer, vast amounts of methane gas trapped in ice under the sea could belch up and worsen climate change, according to a study. "We may have less time than we think to do something (about the prospect of global warming)," Dr. Ira Leifer, a marine scientist at University of California Santa Barbara, said in an interview. Leifer is the main author of a study that looks at how "peak blowouts" of melting undersea formations called methane hydrates could release the potent greenhouse gas into the atmosphere. The study was published on Thursday in Global Biogeochemical Cycles, a climate science publication. The distribution of methane hydrates throughout the world is so vast that energy companies hope one day to tap the resource. The U.S. Department of Energy estimates that such formations could harbor as much as 200,000 trillion cubic feet of natural gas.
Hydrate formations exist under hundreds of meters of water in places like the Gulf of Mexico and closer to the surface in permafrost areas of the Arctic. Methane, the main component of the fossil fuel natural gas, has two faces. When burned it releases less carbon dioxide, the main greenhouse gas that scientists believe are warming the earth, than any other fossil fuel. But if it escapes to the atmosphere without being burned, it can trap heat rapidly because it is a greenhouse gas at least 20 times stronger than carbon dioxide. The study measured the amount of methane that escaped to the atmosphere from a peak blowout from small volcanoes on the ocean floor off of California. It found that virtually all of the methane escaping from the deep water reached the atmosphere, countering some theories that methane seeps out in tiny bubbles that harmlessly dissolve in the ocean.
Leifer said rising temperatures could warm the oceans, creating a feedback loop in which warm temperatures make global warming even worse. Most scientists believe emissions of heat-trapping gases from cars, industrial sources and the burning of forests are warming the earth. NASA has said that 2005 was the warmest year at the earth's surface since records began in the 1860s. While deep ocean temperatures have been more stable, currents of gradually rising sea-surface temperatures could eventually warm the ocean's depths and release gas, said Leifer. "If you expose a hydrate to water that's warmer than normal it starts destabilizing," he said. "I have no doubt that if we warm the atmosphere too much the oceans will follow and will cause the problem to become severe at some point."
July 4 
Image of the Day
Massive chunk falls from Eiger mountain
GRINDELWALD, Switzerland - A large section of stone broke away and tumbled down a famous Swiss Alps mountain Thursday, shrouding a resort in dust but causing no injuries, officials said. Stone from the east face of Eiger mountain fell hundreds of feet in a thundering, 15-minute avalanche, Grindelwald rescue chief Kurt Amacher told TV station SF DRS.  The more than 20 million cubic feet of stone came to rest on a mountainside, sending up a cloud of dust that shrouded nearby Grindelwald resort for hours. Amacher said no one was injured and no buildings were hit in the rock fall. Rock on the Eiger had been crumbling in recent days because glacial ice that had been holding it together had melted, geologists said. A 100-foot-high rock formation on the Eiger known as the "Madonna" collapsed earlier. The Eiger's north face, which towers over Grindelwald, with a mile-high sheer wall and a summit at 13,025 feet is considered one of Europe's greatest challenges to mountaineers.
July 5
Image of the Day
Giant panda gives birth to giant cub
      BEIJING - A giant panda in China has given birth to the heaviest cub born in captivity after the longest period in labor and elsewhere twin pandas each gave birth to twins, Xinhua news agency reported. Six-year-old Zhang Ka delivered the baby on Monday at the Wolong Giant Panda Research Center in the mountainous southwest, Xinhua said. The cub weighed just 218 grams (half a pound), but was still the heaviest panda ever born in captivity, where most cubs are born at between 83 and 190 grams, Xinhua said. "It is very rare for them to be even near 200 grams," it said in a report late on Monday. But the size and the fact that it was Zhang Ka's first meant a "painstaking and eventful" birth for the mother, who was born in the wild. "The whole process lasted about 34 hours and was the longest in the history of panda reproduction," Xinhua quoted Zhang Hemin, head of the Wolong center, as saying. Both mother and baby were doing well, the agency said.
Two twin panda sisters, also aged six, gave birth to two pairs of twin male cubs -- with much less drama -- on Sunday and Monday respectively in the Chengdu Giant Panda Reproduction and Research Center near Wolong, Xinhua said. It brought the number of panda cubs born in captivity in China so far this year to six, it said. The giant panda is one of the world's most exotic and endangered species and is found only in China, where it is a national treasure. An estimated 1,600 wild pandas live in nature reserves in Sichuan, Gansu and Shaanxi provinces. It is extremely hard to breed giant pandas in captivity. Females only ovulate once a year, with a slim 24- to 48-hour window for breeding when artificial reproduction methods are usually adopted. Infant mortality is also high. Pandas eat bamboo shoots and spend a lot of time sleeping. They usually wean their young at around 18 months, and healthy pandas live into their late 20s or early 30s.
July 6
Image of the Day
Ancient Peruvian artwork found in London
     Fashioned from a sheet of embossed gold and centuries old, a prized headdress renowned as Peru's equivalent of the "Mona Lisa" has been seized by police. With a feline face at its center and eight curving tentacles, the ancient artifact — which collectors claim could be among Peru's most valuable treasures and worth close to $2 million — has been kept from public view for as along as a decade. Police said Thursday that it was found hidden in a dusty cabinet of a London law firm. Specialist art detectives seized the antiquity in a raid on the central London lawyer's office after a lengthy investigation into looted works, the capital's Metropolitan police said. Officers said the golden headdress was made in the image of an ancient sea god and could date back to around 700 A.D., making it a prized example of artwork by the Mochica civilization that inhabited northern Peru.
Detective Constable Michelle Roycroft said the work had been seized on Monday, and that officers hoped to hand the valuable over to Peruvian authorities at a ceremony at London's Scotland Yard on Aug. 29. Michel van Rijn, a London-based art dealer, alerted officers to the existence of the piece after he was asked to facilitate its sale and realized it had likely been stolen. Rijn said the artifact was looted from an archaeological dig at a royal tomb in 1988 and later stolen from the office of an art dealer in Peru in 1996. A London lawyer had been holding the piece for several months for a client and was unaware it was stolen, police said. Officers added that the law firm did not know how the client had acquired the work. Roycroft said the seizure was hugely significant and that inquiries were ongoing in Britain and Peru to trace similar valuable works, but said British authorities had filed no arrest warrants in the theft of the headdress. "Without a doubt this is a very important moment in the worldwide war against illicit art and the looting of my country," Walter Alva, of Peru's Royal Tombs of Sipan Museum, said in a statement.

July 7
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Judge nixes warrantless surveillance
DETROIT - A federal judge ruled Thursday that the government's warrantless wiretapping program is unconstitutional and ordered an immediate halt to it. U.S. District Judge Anna Diggs Taylor in Detroit became the first judge to strike down the National Security Agency's program, which she says violates the rights to free speech and privacy as well as the separation of powers enshrined in the Constitution. "Plaintiffs have prevailed, and the public interest is clear, in this matter. It is the upholding of our Constitution," Taylor wrote in her 43-page opinion.
The American Civil Liberties Union filed the lawsuit on behalf of journalists, scholars and lawyers who say the program has made it difficult for them to do their jobs. They believe many of their overseas contacts are likely targets of the program, which involves secretly listening to conversations between people in the U.S. and people in other countries. The government argued that the program is well within the president's authority, but said proving that would require revealing state secrets. The ACLU said the state-secrets argument was irrelevant because the Bush administration had already publicly revealed enough information about the program for Taylor to rule on the case. "By holding that even the president is not above the law, the court has done its duty," said Ann Beeson, the ACLU's associate legal director and the lead attorney for the plaintiffs. The NSA had no immediate comment on the ruling.
Taylor dismissed a separate claim by the ACLU over data-mining of phone records by the NSA. She said not enough had been publicly revealed about that program to support the claim and further litigation could jeopardize state secrets. Beeson predicted the government would appeal the ruling and request that the order to halt the program be postponed while the case makes its way through the system. She said the ACLU had not yet decided whether it would oppose such a postponement.

July 8
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Sebastian the cat gets 'grilled'
ALEXANDRIA, Ind. - This cool cat has traded in his catnip for some bling. Sebastian, a one-year-old Persian with long black hair, sports gold crowns on his two bottom canines, which grew sticking out from his lips in an underbite similar to a bulldog's. His owner, dentist David Steele, said he gave Sebastian gold crowns to help strengthen the fanged feline's teeth. Steele said he was worried the unique canines would break off or become a problem. "It's possible to work on animals the same way we do humans," he said. "I did it to strengthen (Sebastian's) teeth, but it had an excellent cosmetic result. The cat gets a lot of attention now. Everyone is tickled to death when they see him." Sebastian's two gold teeth protruding from his furry face make him seem a little menacing, like a hip-hop star's guard-cat or a movie villain's pet. The feline didn't seem too happy with his new look at first. "He's normally around me all the time," Steele said. "After I put the crowns on, he didn't 'speak' to me for two days." When Sebastian was tranquilized about a month ago to get his coat trimmed, Steele used the occasion to take impressions of his teeth. He then sent those impressions to a company that prepares crowns for his human patients. "They called back and asked me what I was up to," Steele said. Two weeks ago, veterinarian Larry Owen tranquilized the cat at the Alexandria Animal Hospital about 30 miles northeast of Indianapolis so Steele could do the dentistry work, which took about 15 minutes to complete. Owen said putting gold crowns on teeth can be done for any pet with a dental problem. "Mostly, though, it was a fun thing to do," Owen said. "(Steele is) always up to something or trying something new." Steele said he has put a crown on a cat once before, after the animal was hit by a car. He also put a gold crown on his Boston terrier. Steele said the cost for each gold tooth is about the same as for humans — about $900 each.
July 9
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UN rights body tells US to shut "secret" jails
GENEVA - A United Nations human rights body told Washington to close any "secret detention" centers for terrorism suspects, saying they were banned by international law. Declaring it had "credible and uncontested" reports of such jails, the U.N. Human Rights Committee said the United States appeared to have been detaining people "secretly and in secret places for months and years." "The state party should immediately abolish all secret detention," it said, echoing a similar demand in May by the U.N. Committee Against Torture.In its findings on U.S. observance of the U.N.'s main political rights' treaty, the committee said that the International Committee of the Red Cross must be given access to anybody held during armed conflict.
The U.N. body also expressed concern at the acknowledged past use of interrogation techniques like prolonged stress positions and sleep deprivation that could be seen as torture. While welcoming assurances that they were no longer used, it said it was worried the United States did not seem to see them as violations of international law. It also questioned the "impartiality and effectiveness" of investigations into abuse. It called for reform of the Patriot Act, which granted the government expanded police powers after September 11, so that steps such as phone tapping or email monitoring were taken only when really warranted. "We consider that the major violations were to do with the fight against terrorism," French magistrate Christine Chanet, who chairs the committee of 18 internationally recognized independent experts, told journalists. The committee, whose opinions carry moral not legal weight, rejected Washington's view that the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights only applies on U.S. soil. In reply, the U.S. administration stuck to its line  "We can understand the committee's desire to have the convention apply outside the territory ... but we must accept ... the way it was written," said State Department legal adviser John Bellinger. Washington accused the committee of spending too much time on the United States.

"The recent committee conclusions on North Korea were about half the length of that on the United States," the U.S. mission to the United Nations in Geneva said in a statement. The U.N. treaty lays down individual rights, including the right to equality before the law and protection against torture and inhumane treatment as well as from arbitrary arrest. Rights groups urged the United States to heed the committee. "If U.S. agents deliver detainees to countries where they face torture or keep people in secret prisons, they are violating fundamental human rights," said Alison Parker, acting director of the U.S. Program at Human Rights Watch. The U.N. committee asked the United States to respond to its comments within a year. Asked what would happen if Washington took no notice, Chanet, said: "There is a strong chance that they will ignore many of the recommendations. They are so certain about their position (but) we can always hope for a change of attitude." The next formal U.S. review is due in 2010, but the latest U.S. report to the committee was seven years late.

July 10
Image of the Day
Several common squirrel monkeys grab for ice stick in a zoo of Hefei, capital of east China's Anhui Province. Various methods were adopted here to relieve heat for animals in the scorching summer.
July 11
Image of the Day
Boy George scrubs up in Manhattan
NEW YORK - British pop icon Boy George has traded in his microphone for a broom, at the start of a week of community service in New York over an incident at his apartment last year, officials have said. The singer turned club DJ was cleaning up a public garage in the gentrified Lower East Side of downtown Manhattan, the city's Department of Sanitation said. "He's cleaning inside the Manhattan garage of district three," department spokeswoman Kathy Dawkins told AFP. "He came in this morning on time at seven o'clock. He checked in. We attempted to put him on the street, as the court had mandated, but there was a concern for public safety" due to the number of journalists following the pop star, she said. "He's going to be with us until Friday. He's working a seven to three day."
The 45-year-old singer, whose real name is George O'Dowd, was sentenced after pleading guilty in March to filing a false police report over a non-existent burglary. Boy George was warned by a judge in June that he faced jail if he refused to comply with the terms of the community service order. The singer had balked at the idea of sweeping leaves, arguing that his talent could be better used organising a music event to benefit AIDS charities. "It would have been more useful to make 30 grand with a concert, rather than be prancing around in a park," he told Britain's Press Association after the judge's warning. The former Culture Club frontman stressed it wasn't the idea of menial work that bothered him. "I don't care about doing cleaning up. My mum was a cleaner. I've always been a scrubber (British slang for someone who is promiscuous)," he joked. Boy George was arrested in October last year after calling police to report a burglary at his downtown Manhattan apartment. Police detected no sign of a break-in but said they found a small amount of cocaine. As part of a plea deal, New York prosecutors dropped a cocaine possession charge that could have sent him to jail in exchange for his guilty plea to a false reporting charge. As well as the community service, he agreed to undergo drug rehabilitation. Boy George briefly embarked on a solo singing career after leaving Culture Club in 1987, before beginning a successful career as a DJ and launching fashion line B-Rude.
July 12
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Carmakers must tell buyers about "black boxes"
WASHINGTON - The government will not require recorders in autos but said on Monday that car makers must tell consumers when technology that tracks speed, braking and other measurements is in the new vehicles they buy. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration regulation standardizes recorder content and sets guidelines for how the information should be disclosed. It also requires recorders to be more durable. Privacy experts complained that consumer interests are not fully protected and information captured by recorders can be exploited. Safety experts, consumer groups and insurance companies have long pressed the agency to mandate recorders in cars, but industry has responded voluntarily in recent years. About two-thirds of the new vehicles now produced each year contain the device that is connected to air bag systems. General Motors equips all its vehicles with recorders, a company spokesman said. Regulators sought on Monday to set basic standards for their use, saying that uniform safety data will help make future auto safety regulation more precise.
Automakers have until September 1, 2010, to comply with the notification and other requirements in the new regulation, if they choose to equip their vehicles with recorders. The rules governing auto recorders, which are similar to the "black boxes" that store information about mechanical flight systems on commercial airliners, are intended to give law enforcement, emergency medical personnel, auto companies and safety regulators a minimum set of mechanical measurements in the seconds leading up to and during a crash. Under the new rules, auto recorders must track vehicle speed, acceleration, and deceleration, braking, steering and some air bag functions. In some cases data on vehicle roll angle, steering inputs, and passenger safety belt use will be recorded.
Privacy experts criticized the decision to use the owners' manual to notify consumers that the vehicle contains a recorder, arguing that many people do not look at it. They also raised concerns that data could be misused for legal or insurance purposes. "They basically punted on the privacy issues," Jay Stanley, a privacy expert with the American Civil Liberties Union, said of the NHTSA regulation. "This is a technology that is powerful and rapidly advancing and we need to bring our laws up to date." Rae Tyson, a NHTSA spokesman, said the owner's manual is suitable for notifying consumers and stressed that recorder information is private property that cannot be downloaded without permission of the vehicle owner. Tyson said most privacy concerns should be addressed by the courts and Congress, not by NHTSA.
July 13
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The National Security Agency (NSA) is shown in May 2006 at Fort Meade, Maryland, near Washington, DC. A US judge halted warrantless wiretapping by the National Security Agency and ruled that President George W. Bush overstepped his authority when authorizing an unconstitutional program.
July 14
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Hundreds of naked volunteers pose nude for an installation of US photographer Spencer Tunick, at the Ehrenhof museum complex in Duesseldorf, western Germany, on the building's roof is seen the sculpture "Aurora" by German artist Arno Breker. Tunick is known for his photographs that feature large numbers of nude people posed in artistic formations, often situated in urban locations.
July 15
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Man trapped waist-deep in chocolate
KENOSHA, Wis. - It might sound like a chocoholic's dream, but stepping into a vat of viscous chocolate became a two-hour nightmare for a 21-year-old man this morning. Darmin Garcia, an employee of a company that supplies chocolate ingredients, said he was pushing the chocolate down into the vat at Debelis Corp. because it was stuck. But it became loose and he slid into the hopper. "It was in my hair, in my ears, my mouth, everywhere," said Garcia, who has worked at the company for two years. "I felt like I weighed 900 pounds. I couldn't move." The chocolate was 110 degrees, hotter than a hot tub, said Capt. Greg Sinnen of the Kenosha Fire Department. Co-workers, police and firefighters tried to free the man but couldn't get him loose until the chocolate was thinned out with cocoa butter. "It was pretty thick. It was virtually like quicksand," said police Capt. Randy Berner. Garcia was treated for minor injuries and released. After more than two hours in the chocolate, does he still have a taste for it? "Not so much anymore," Garcia said.

July 16
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Chocolatiers see image of Virgin Mary
FOUNTAIN VALLEY, Calif. - As a chocolatier to the rich and famous, Martucci Angiano has posed with many celebrities. But on Thursday she held in her hand a figure that dazzles her more than any Hollywood star: a 2-inch-tall column of chocolate drippings that workers at her gourmet chocolate company believe bears a striking resemblance to the Virgin Mary. Since the discovery at Bodega Chocolates, Angiano's employees have spent much of their time hovering over the tiny figure, praying and placing rose petals and candles around it. "I was raised to believe in the Virgin Mary, but this still gives me the chills," Angiano said as she balanced the figure in her hand. "Everyone should see this."
Kitchen worker Cruz Jacinto was the first to spot the lump of melted chocolate when she began her shift Monday cleaning up drippings that had accumulated under a large vat of dark chocolate. Chocolate drippings usually harden in thin, flat strips on wax paper, but Jacinto said she froze when she noticed the unusual shape of this cast-off: It looked just like the Virgin Mary on the prayer card she always carries in her right pocket. "When I come in, the first thing I do is look at the clock, but this time I didn't look at the clock. My eyes went directly to the chocolate," Jacinto said. "I thought, 'Am I the only one who can see this? I picked it up and I felt emotion just come over me. "For me, it was a sign," she said.
The chocolate, on display for most of the week in the front of the company gift shop, now rests in a plastic case in a back room. It is brought out for curious visitors. The confection has a wide base and tapers gently toward a rounded top, giving the appearance of a female figure with her head tilted slightly to the right. The dark brown melting chocolate hardened into subtle layers that resemble the folds of a gown and a flowing veil. A tiny white circle, about the size of a pencil eraser, sits in the upper center of the creation. Cruz said the white speck is the head of the Baby Jesus as he is held in Mary's folded arms. For Jacinto, the discovery came just in time. Raising a son on her own, she has struggled with marital problems for months and said she was about to lose her faith. "I have big problems right now, personally, and lately I've been saying that God doesn't exist," she said, pulling the dog-eared prayer card out of her pocket. "This has given me renewed faith." Angiano, who co-owns the 10-year-old company with her sister, has rubbed shoulders with plenty of stars in her job.
The gourmet boutique runs booths at all the big awards shows, including the Emmys, the Golden Globes, the Oscars, the Country Music Awards and the Latin Grammys. Pictures of Angiano with top celebrities — and her chocolates — line the office walls. But this week's brush with the image of a 2,000-year-old idol has left even Angiano star-struck. "That's our Oscar right there," she said.
July 17
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Ayla, a service monkey for the disabled, throws out the first pitch prior to a baseball game between the Boston Red Sox and Detroit Tigers at Fenway Park in Boston.
July 18
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Fish swim in the Mediterranean sea on the south coast of the Balearic island of Mallorca, Spain. South American 'red Devil' squid found off Alaska and jellyfish plaguing the Mediterranean may point to vast disruptions in the seas linked to global warming, pollution or over-fishing, experts say.
July 19
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Jail-theme teahouse becomes prisoner of own success in China
BEIJING - A Chinese teahouse disguised as a jail, complete with cells, locks and wardens, has become the prisoner of its own success, as critics say it may corrupt young minds. The venue, in the city of Suzhou in east China's Jiangsu province, has been a hit with the locals since it started a week ago, the China Daily reported. Waitresses dressed as female police officers lock customers up in cages that carry the fictional names of the inmates and describe the crimes they have committed. One fictional sign describes the criminal inside as a man who was arrested after getting drunk and raping a pig. While some patrons think the concept is a great way to bond with friends, others dismiss the ethics behind it.
"The signs should not be seen by under-aged people," said Dong Jian, a 25-year-old office worker. Lu Shucheng, a Suzhou University sociologist, said that while it could not be banned, the teahouse's negative impact should be limited by forbidding young people from the premises. Meanwhile, a restaurant in the southern Chinese city of Shenzhen is reportedly flush with success after opening with a toilet theme. Customers sit on toilets covered with colorful glass, while the dining tables are shaped like squat toilets, the Xinhua news agency said. "No. 1 toilet ice", the most popular dish, is made of ice balls, rice dotted with coconut and is served in a small toilet-like platter. "The dish looks like something someone would flush down a toilet," Xinhua said, adding "the food is supposed to be kind of crappy."
July 20
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Smoking ban for 'Tom and Jerry' in Britain
LONDON - Smoking scenes in "Tom and Jerry" cartoons are now banned in Britain, following a viewer's complaint to the government agency that polices the airwaves. In one episode of the classic US cartoon series, Tom is seen smoking a roll-up cigarette in a bid to impress a female cat. In another, Tom's opponent in a tennis match was seen smoking a large cigar. Following an investigation prompted by the anonymous viewer's complaint, regulator Ofcom said Monday that children's TV channel Boomerang has agreed to edit out scenes deemed to glamorise or condone smoking.
"We note that, in 'Tom and Jerry', smoking usually appears in a stylised manner and is frequently not condoned," said Ofcom, recalling how the cartoons were made in the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s when smoking was not so controversial. "However, while we appreciate the historic integrity of the animation, the level of editorial justification required for the inclusion of smoking in such cartoons is necessarily high."
July 21
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Israel calls up troops, warns Lebanese
BEIRUT, Lebanon - Israel called up reserve troops Friday and warned civilians to flee Hezbollah-controlled southern Lebanon, as it prepared for a likely ground invasion to set up a deep buffer zone. Hezbollah militants fired at least 11 rockets at Israel's port city of Haifa, wounding three people. Israeli warplanes pounded Lebanon's main road link to Syria, collapsing part of Lebanon's longest bridge. A U.N.-run observation post near the border was hit, but no one was hurt. Ships lined up at Beirut's port as a massive evacuation effort to pull out Americans and other foreigners picked up speed. U.S. officials said more than 8,000 of the roughly 25,000 Americans who live or work in Lebanon will be evacuated by the weekend.
After 10 days of the heaviest bombardment of Lebanon in 24 years, Israel appears to have decided that a large-scale incursion is the only way to push Hezbollah back. But mounting civilian casualties and the displacement of hundreds of thousands of Lebanese could limit the time Israel has to achieve its goals, as international tolerance for the bloodshed and destruction runs out. An Israeli military radio station warned residents of 12 border villages in southern Lebanon to leave before 2 p.m. Friday. It was the latest in a series of recent warnings from the Al-Mashriq station, which has said Israeli forces would "act immediately" to halt Hezbollah rocket fire. At least 335 people have been killed in Lebanon in the Israeli campaign, according to the Lebanese health minister. Thirty-four Israelis also have been killed, including 19 soldiers.
The United States — which has resisted calls for it to press its ally to halt the fighting — was sending Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to Israel on Tuesday or Wednesday after stopping over in Arab nations, Israeli officials said. They spoke on condition of anonymity because the schedule was not yet confirmed. The mission would be the first U.S. diplomatic effort on the ground since the Israeli onslaught against Lebanon began. "We are all very concerned about the situation in the Middle East, and want to find a way forward that will contribute to a stable and democratic and peaceful Middle East," Rice said Friday as she met a three-member U.N. team. Two Apache attack helicopters collided in northern Israel near the Lebanon border, killing one air force officer and injuring three others, two seriously, Israeli officials said. Israel's air force began an investigation. French Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy, meanwhile, said his country was sending urgent aid to Lebanon by air and sea and he called for safe passage. His comments came a day after U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan warned of a humanitarian crisis in Lebanon and called for an immediate cease-fire, even as he admitted "serious obstacles" stand in the way of even easing the violence. "We are setting up a humanitarian air and sea port," Douste-Blazy said in Beirut. "At the same time, we demand the establishment of humanitarian corridors."
Top Israeli officials met Thursday night to decide how big a force to send in, according to senior military officials. They said Israel won't stop its offensive until Hezbollah is forced behind the Litani River, 20 miles north of the border — creating a new buffer zone in a region that saw 18 years of Israeli presence since 1982. Israel has stepped up its small forays over the border in recent days, seeking Hezbollah positions, rocket stores and bunkers. Each time it has faced tough resistance. Israeli warplanes fired missiles that partially collapsed a 1.6-mile suspension bridge linking two steep mountain peaks, part of the Beirut-Damascus highway in central Lebanon. The bridge has been hit several times since the fighting began. The bombing also set ablaze three buses that had just dropped off passengers in Syria, but the drivers escaped, police said.
Renewed attacks struck the ancient city of Baalbek, a major Hezbollah stronghold, and security officials said two people were killed and 19 wounded. They also attacked Hezbollah strongholds in south Beirut and elsewhere overnight.  Strikes in south Beirut killed one person, and missiles that hit a village near the border with Israel, Aita al-Shaab, killed three, officials said. A house in the border village of Aitaroun was flattened, with 10 people believed inside, but rescuers could not reach it because of shelling, security officials said. Air raid sirens wailed in Haifa, Israel's third-largest city, and at least 11 rockets struck in two barrages. Three people were wounded, with 16 suffering from shock. More rockets were fired elsewhere into northern Israel, the army said, with strikes reported in Rosh Pina, Safed and in several communities near the Sea of Galilee. Hezbollah has fired hundreds of rockets from the Lebanese border since fighting began, forcing hundreds of thousands of Israelis to take cover in underground shelters. Eight people in Haifa were killed July 16.
A U.N. official, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the situation, said an artillery shell fired by the Israeli military made "a direct hit on the U.N. position overlooking Zarit." An Israeli military spokesman said the position was hit by rockets fired by Hezbollah guerrillas at northern Israel. The differing accounts could not immediately be reconciled. During an Israeli offensive against Lebanon in 1996, artillery blasted a U.N. base at Qana in southern Lebanon, killing more than 100 civilians who had taken refuge with the peacekeepers. The U.N. mission, which has nearly 2,000 military personnel and more than 300 civilians, is to patrol the border line, known as the Blue Line, drawn by the U.N. after Israel withdrew troops from south Lebanon in 2000, ending an 18-year occupation. Hezbollah said three of its fighters had been killed in the latest fighting with Israeli troops, bringing to six the number of guerrillas killed since Israel launched the massive military campaign against Lebanon after the militant Shiite Muslim group captured two of its soldiers on July 12.
Annan denounced Israel for "excessive use of force" and Hezbollah for holding "an entire nation hostage" with its rocket attacks and capturing the Israeli soldiers. Neither side showed any sign of backing down. The Israeli army issued a call-up of reserves. The exact number of troops was not disclosed, but a military official, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the information, said it would be several thousand. Hezbollah leader Sheik Hassan Nasrallah shrugged off concerns of a stepped-up Israeli onslaught, saying the captive soldiers held by his guerrillas would be freed only as part of a prisoner exchange brokered through indirect negotiations. He spoke in an interview taped Thursday with Al-Jazeera to show he had survived an airstrike in south Beirut that Israel said targeted a Hezbollah leadership bunker. The guerrillas said the strike only hit a mosque under construction and no one was hurt.
Lebanese, meanwhile, streamed north into Beirut and other regions, crowding into schools, relatives' homes or hotels. Taxi drivers in the south were charging up to $400 per person for rides to Beirut — more than 40 times the usual price. In remote villages of the south, cut off by strikes, residents made their way out over the mountains by foot. The price of food, medical supplies and gasoline rose as much as 500 percent in parts of Lebanon as the bombardment cut supply routes. The World Food Program said estimates of basic food supplies ranged from one to three months. The U.N. estimated that a half-million people have been displaced, with 130,000 fleeing to Syria and 45,000 believed to be in need of assistance. More than 400,000 people — perhaps as many as a half-million — are believed to live south of the Litani, according to Timur Goskel, the former top U.N. adviser in the south. The river has twice been the border line for Israeli buffer zones. In 1978, Israel invaded up to the Litani to drive back Palestinian guerrillas, withdrawing from most of the south months later. Israel invaded Lebanon again in a much bigger operation in 1982 when its forces seized parts of Beirut. It eventually carved out a buffer zone that stopped at the Litani. That zone was reduced gradually but the Israeli presence lasted for 18 years until 2000, when it withdrew its troops completely.

July 22
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Designer creates floating bed
AMSTERDAM - A young Dutch architect has created a floating bed which hovers above the ground through magnetic force and comes with a price tag of 1.2 million euros ($1.54 million). Janjaap Ruijssenaars took inspiration for the bed -- a sleek black platform, which took six years to develop and can double as a dining table or a plinth -- from the mysterious monolith in Stanley Kubrick's 1968 cult film "2001: A Space Odyssey." "No matter where you live all architecture is dictated by gravity. I wondered whether you could make an object, a building or a piece of furniture where this is not the case -- where another power actually dictates the image," Ruijssenaars said. Magnets built into the floor and into the bed itself repel each other, pushing the bed up into the air. Thin steel cables tether the bed in place. "It is not comfortable at the moment," admits Ruijssenaars, adding it needs cushions and bedclothes before use. Although people with piercings should have no problem sleeping on the bed, Ruijssenaars advises them against entering the magnetic field between the bed and the floor. They could find their piercing suddenly tugged toward one of the magnets.
July 23
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A mother giraffe 'Anqi' kisses her four-day-old baby in a zoo of Jinan, capital of east China's Shandong Province. The 180-centimeter (5.9-feet)-tall and 80-kilogram (176-pond)-weight baby giraffe made its debut. 'Anqi' has given birth to two babies successfully within three years.
July  24
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Members of Pekings National Acrobatic Circus from China perform balancing feats in Roquetas del Mar, southern Spain.
July 25
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Sex sells AIDS prevention message at conference
TORONTO - Lessons in erotic art, pornography and talking dirty have been a spicy addition to the global AIDS forum here as campaigners try to make safe sex, well, sexy. A workshop on finding a woman's G-spot, a display of explicit artworks and studies showing that great sex can be pivotal in halting the spread of HIV have been hugely popular at the 16th International AIDS Conference. "Sex sells," commented one of over 100 delegates who crammed into a tiny room for a seminar entitled "Where is the Pleasure in Safe Sex?" "People are tired of hearing about the doom and gloom of AIDS. This workshop seemed fun," explained another. Wendy Kerr is a worker with the Pleasure Project, which has helped health educators in Cambodia to break the shyness barrier in talking about sex and enabled priests in Mozambique to counsel couples to have better sex so that husbands do not stray and possibly become infected with HIV. Twenty-five years of AIDS activism has neglected that "sex is fun," Kerr said. "Safe sex doesn't have to be dull." Her crew compiled a list of dozens of groups worldwide pushing the Kama Sutra to teach prostitutes how to pleasure clients without penetration and other tricks, and showed British film directors how to use condoms in porn movies "in a sexy way," Kerr said. A 15-minute movie clip at the workshop showed women how to apply condoms on penises with their lips and other sex stunts.
      Alexandra Lutnick of San Francisco-based St. James Infirmary promoted questioning prostitutes about their sexual or work satisfaction in counseling to help them open up, then share safe sex practices with them. Many assumed they have to be victimized to access social services. Some 70 percent in a poll had never told health care providers about their jobs fearing they would be shamed, she said. "If people feel good about sex, it minimizes risk (of getting sexually transmitted diseases)," said activist Neha Patel. But cultural and language barriers to chats about sexuality in South and Southeast Asia, where such topics are "taboo" with a heavy emphasis on morality, make linking it to public health problematic there, she said.As well, some sex terms are not easily translated into all languages, she said. Men often refuse to use condoms because it reduces their pleasure, commented a male observer. "The way men think about condoms is a big barrier," Wendy Kerr conceded. One person offered to share tricks taught to prostitutes in Montreal to make condom use more fun for men, but mostly the issue was left unresolved.
      Lebogang Ramafoko of non-profit Soul City in South Africa said a May poll of hundreds of African men found that they would seek out daring sex with women other than their wives because they dared not talk to their wives about sex. "All said: 'I can't have this discussion with my wife about pleasure, what makes me happy and experimentation,'" she told AFP. "This inability to talk about sex is fueling the spread of AIDS." A new study presented at the conference found that men would likely welcome HIV-thwarting creams, called microbicides, that now being tested to stop AIDS. "Using condoms is like eating wrapped sweets ... (but) gel use added a certain sweetness to sex," said one unnamed participant in the study which unfolded in South Africa, Zambia, Uganda and Tanzania. But some men worried that if women equally enjoyed sex with the gel, they may seek out more sexual partners, according to researcher Charlotte Watts of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine in Britain.
July 26
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Mystery 9/11 rescuer reveals himself
NEW YORK - For years, authorities wondered about the identity of a U.S. Marine who appeared at the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001, helped find a pair of police officers buried in the rubble, then vanished. Even the producers of the new film chronicling the rescue, "World Trade Center," couldn't locate the mystery serviceman, who had given his name only as Sgt. Thomas. The puzzle was finally solved when one Jason Thomas, of Columbus, Ohio, saw a TV commercial for the new movie a few weeks ago as he relaxed on his couch. His eyes widened as he saw two Marines with flashlights, hunting for survivors atop the smoldering ruins. "That's us. That's me!" thought Thomas, who lived in Long Island during the attacks and now works as an officer in Ohio's Supreme Court.
Thomas, 32, hesitantly re-emerged last week to recount the role he played in the rescue of Port Authority police officers Will Jimeno and Sgt. John McLoughlin, who were entombed beneath 20 feet of debris when the twin towers collapsed. Back in New York to speak of his experience and visit family, Thomas provided the AP with photographs of himself at ground zero. As further proof of his identity, the movie's producer, Michael Shamberg, said Thomas and Jimeno have spoken by phone and shared details only the two of them would know. Thomas, who had been out of the Marine Corps about a year, was dropping his daughter off at his mother's Long Island home when she told him planes had struck the towers. He retrieved his Marine uniform from his truck, sped to Manhattan and had just parked his car when one of the towers collapsed. Thomas ran toward the center of the ash cloud. "Someone needed help. It didn't matter who," he said. "I didn't even have a plan. But I have all this training as a Marine, and all I could think was, 'My city is in need.'"
Thomas bumped into another ex-Marine, Staff Sgt. David Karnes, and the pair decided to search for survivors. Carrying little more than flashlights and an infantryman's shovel, they climbed the mountain of debris, skirting dangerous crevasses and shards of red-hot metal, calling out "Is anyone down there? United States Marines!" It was dark before they heard a response. The two crawled into a deep pit to find McLoughlin and Jimeno, injured but alive. Jimeno would spend 13 hours in the pit before he was pulled free. Thomas stayed long enough to see him come up, but left due to exhaustion before McLoughlin, who remained pinned for another nine hours, was retrieved. Thomas said he returned to ground zero every day for another 2 1/2 weeks to pitch in, then walked away and tried to forget. "I didn't want to relive what took place that day," he said. Shamberg said he apologized to Thomas for an inaccuracy in the film: Thomas is black, but the actor cast to portray him, William Mapother, is white. Filmmakers realized the mistake only after production had begun, Shamberg said. Thomas laughed and gently chided the filmmakers, then politely declined to discuss it further. "I don't want to shed any negativity on what they were trying to show," he said. As for his story, Thomas said he is gradually becoming more comfortable telling it. "It's been like therapy," he said.
July 27
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Australian thief steals motorbikes after leaving dogs as security
SYDNEY - Australian police warned motorbike owners to be wary of a brazen thief who is failing to return from test rides after leaving a pet dog behind as security. Western Australia Police said the man had stolen two expensive bikes advertised in the classified section of newspapers, each time taking them for a test drive and abandoning a dog. Both animals were being kept in a local authority pound and faced being put down if they were not claimed, police added.

July 28
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Customers withdraw money from an ATM in Kuala Lumpur in a a file photo. Malaysian thieves used a net and rope to haul an ATM cash dispenser through a glass wall and down a flight of stairs, only to discover they had grabbed a check deposit machine by mistake.
July 29
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A man talking on mobile phone walks in Tokyo. A Japanese man was arrested this week after making 37,760 silent calls to directory inquiries because he wanted to listen to the 'kind' voices of female telephone operators.
July 30
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Lobster pinches Briton's missing wallet
LONDON - A British swimmer who felt the pinch after losing his wallet during a late-night dip in the sea was convinced it had vanished -- until it turned up clamped between a lobster's claws. The wallet was recovered by a diver who caught the crustacean red-handed on the sea bed. After picking up the offending lobster, he pried the wallet from the creature's claws and after finding a business card inside, handed it into a hairdressing salon.Swimmer Paul Westlake, 30, from Plymouth on the southwest English coast, received a surprise telephone call from a staff member at the salon he uses, who told him the wallet had been salvaged from a lobster's pincers. Westlake said he wanted to thank the diver-cum-good Samaritan in person, but his identity remains a mystery. "I have never eaten a lobster and I never will now," vowed the grateful swimmer. "The wallet is intact, but it looks a bit messed up," he told the Plymouth Evening Standard newspaper. Westlake lost his wallet when he and his brother dived into Plymouth Sound for a long-distance swimming race following a boozy evening in a local pub. Realising their limitations, the washed-out brothers aborted the mission and returned to the shore -- where they realized a wallet had slipped into the sea. A relieved Westlake collected it from the salon and found the bank cards still worked despite their plunge into the briny sea and subsequent seizure. Amy Harvey, a salon employee, said: "We were contacted by a diver who said that he had found a wallet with our details inside. "We actually thought it was a joke when he rang. He said it was found in the claw of a lobster -- which has now been eaten."

July 31
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Holocaust cartoon fair opens in Iran
TEHRAN - An international contest of cartoons on the Holocaust opened in Tehran in response to the publication in Western papers last September of caricatures of the Prophet Mohammed. "We staged this fair to explore the limits of freedom Westerners believe in," Masoud Shojai, head of the country's "Iran Cartoon" association and the fair organizer, said. "They can freely write anything they like about our prophet, but if one raises doubts about the Holocaust he is either fined or sent to prison," he added. "Though we do not deny that fact that Jews were killed in the (second world) war, why should the Palestinians pay for it?" Shojai told the opening ceremony of the month-long fair in Tehran's Palestine Contemporary Art Museum.
He added that around 1,100 cartoons were submitted by participants from more than 60 countries and that more than 200 are on show. He said the top three cartoons will be announced on September 2, with the winners being awarded prizes of 12,000, 8,000 and 5,000 dollars respectively. Shojai did not elaborate on the source of the prize money, but emphasized that it did not come from any governmental body. The fair is being staged by Iran Cartoon and the country's largest selling newspaper Hamshahri newspaper, which is published by Tehran's conservative municipality.
The contest was announced in February in a tit-for-tat move after caricatures of the Prophet Mohammed were first printed in Denmark and then picked up and published worldwide, enraging Muslims. Iran's fiercely anti-Israeli regime is supportive of so-called Holocaust revisionists, who maintain that the systematic slaughter by the Nazis of mainland Europe's Jews and other groups during World War II was either invented or exaggerated. Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has also prompted international anger by dismissing the Holocaust as a "myth" used to justify the creation of Israel.