Thoughts Gallery June 2006
June 1
Image of the Day
AIDS no longer taboo in Latin America
PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti - Standing beneath a towering crucifix, the Rev. Andre Pierre thundered at the faithful crowded elbow-to-elbow in the Sacred Heart Church to show mercy for the poor and the elderly. Then he did something that until recently would have been close to heresy: He urged his flock to pray for people with AIDS. "Today, we stand in solidarity with them," Pierre intoned, lighting a candle in remembrance of AIDS victims and passing it through the crowd, which spilled onto the church steps. Such sentiment was virtually unheard of a few years ago in socially conservative Latin American and Caribbean countries, where open debate about sex is rare and many still consider AIDS a punishment for deviant behavior.
But 25 years after the pandemic began, a new spirit of openness is emerging, spurred by education and by a growing awareness that AIDS touches every sector of society. While discrimination persists, the stigma of HIV is diminishing as more people contract the disease.
Haiti's AIDS rate is the highest in the Western Hemisphere. The Caribbean HIV rate is second only to that of sub-Saharan Africa, and the virus is now the main killer of adults under 50. Throughout Latin America and the Caribbean, the number of new HIV infections increased from 200,000 in 2003 to 230,000 in 2005, U.N. officials say. Most of the new patients were between 15 and 24, and health officials worry that awareness campaigns may not be reaching youths who are becoming sexually active earlier. "Eighty to 90 percent of new infections are contracted sexually, so this clearly indicates we need to do something to reduce risky behavior," said Dr. Rafael Mazin, Western Hemisphere adviser on HIV/AIDS for the Pan-American Health Organization. He said young people were most at risk. "They were not in contact with the ravages of the AIDS epidemic in the early days. They are becoming sexually active but without the awareness of the ... severity of the scourge," he said.
"Now people are willing to talk about AIDS. ... It's a radical change," said Dr. Eddy Genece, director of POZ, a Haitian group that lobbies church leaders to discuss AIDS with their followers. "The stigma is still there, but it's less strong." In Brazil, where more than a third of Latin America's 1.8 million HIV-positive people live, officials credit an aggressive prevention campaign with limiting the cases to fewer than half the number the World Bank estimated Brazil would have by 2000. The campaign has been helped by widespread discussions about the virus — and by the Roman Catholic church's low-key approach to its opposition to condom use. "One of the things that's really helped is that the Catholic Church hasn't come out aggressively against condom use," said Paulo Teixeira, a former director of Brazil's anti-AIDS program. "In some cases, they've even supported it quietly," despite the church's birth control prohibition.
While Haiti's HIV rate remains the highest in the Americas, it has fallen from 9 percent of the population in 1993 to about 4 percent today — a drop health workers credit to greater awareness and the aggressive promotion of condoms. POZ officials said informal surveys indicate that the overwhelming majority of Haitians would care for a friend or relative with AIDS, while just a few years ago few said they would. But the tolerance hasn't caught on everywhere. In Ecuador, which has a relatively low HIV rate, students and workers often must submit to HIV tests despite a 2000 law to crack down on AIDS discrimination, said Xavier Alvarado of the Kimirina Foundation, an AIDS research center in Quito. Meanwhile, in Haiti's state-run hospitals, many patients lie on the floor for lack of beds. Doctors still regularly turn away people with AIDS, said Jean Sorel Beajour, head of Haiti's National Association for Solidarity with People with AIDS. "For someone living with AIDS in Haiti, it's still a very degrading existence," said Beajour, a gay man who has HIV and was denied treatment for a cut three years ago. He said the stigma will continue as long as the virus is associated with immorality. "It's not just one group that is affected by AIDS," he said. "It's all of us."
June 2
Image of the Day
An art installation, made of thousands of pairs of jeans, is displayed in Shanghai. The installation has a diameter of about 5 m (16 feet).
June 3
Image of the Day
A copy of the Mona Lisa made from hundreds of computer parts is displayed at a high tech exhibition in Beijing. The work is titled Technology Smiling. Images of the Mona Lisa, by Leonardo da Vinci (1479-1528), have been seen around the world in recent days in promotions for the movie 'The Da Vinci Code'.
June 4
Image of the Day
Experts say US funding Somali warlords
WASHINGTON - The United States has been funneling more than $100,000 a month to warlords battling Islamist militia in Somalia, according to a Somalia expert who has conferred with the groups in the country. The U.S. operation, which former intelligence officials say is aimed at preventing emergence of rulers who could provide al Qaeda with a safe haven akin to Taliban-ruled Afghanistan, appeared to be seriously set back when an Islamic coalition claimed control of Mogadishu. U.S. government officials refused to discuss any possible secret U.S. involvement in the strategically placed Horn of Africa state, which has been wrecked by years of fighting. But former U.S. intelligence officials, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the subject, said an operation to support the warlords' alliance appeared to involve both the CIA and U.S. military.
John Prendergast, who monitors Somalia for the think-tank International Crisis Group, said he learned during meetings with alliance members in Somalia that the CIA was financing the warlords with cash payments. Prendergast estimated that CIA-operated flights into Somalia have been bringing in $100,000 to $150,000 per month for the warlords. The flights remain in Somalia for the day, he said, so that U.S. agents can confer with their allies. The Bush administration has maintained a silence over allegations in recent months of a U.S. proxy war against Islamist radicalism in the country. Pentagon spokesman Navy Lt. Commander Joe Carpenter reiterated the administration's position that the United States stands ready to "disrupt the efforts of terrorists wherever they may be active."
Claims of clandestine U.S. support for secular warlords who call themselves the "Alliance for the Restoration of Peace and Counter-Terrorism" have been aired by Somali President Abdullahi Yusuf and independent analysts. A United Nations team charged with monitoring a U.N. arms embargo against Somalia has also said it is investigating an unnamed country's clandestine support for the warlords alliance as a possible violation of the weapons ban.
The former intelligence officials said the operation was controlled by the Pentagon through U.S. Central Command's Combined Joint Task Force for the Horn of Africa, a counterterrorism mission based in neighboring Djibouti established after the September 11, 2001 attacks.
After months of fighting that has killed around 350 people, the Islamic militia claimed control of Mogadishu and a warlord militiaman said his coalition's leaders were fleeing the capital. U.S. intelligence has produced no conclusive evidence of an active al Qaeda presence in Somalia, experts said. But there have been reports of al Qaeda members in the country, including suspects in the 1998 U.S. embassy bombings in East Africa. "The Pentagon, and now the U.S. government as a whole, is convinced these are elements for establishing a religious-based government like the Taliban, that could be exploited by al Qaeda," said a former intelligence official knowledgeable about U.S. courterterrorism activities. The CIA has given its warlord allies surveillance equipment for tracking al Qaeda suspects and appeared to view the warlords as a counter to the influence of Afghanistan-trained Islamist militia leader Aden Hashi Aryo, Prendergast said. "By circumventing the new government and going straight to individual warlords, the U.S. is perpetuating and even deepening Somalia's fundamental problems, and compromising long-term efforts to combat extremism," Prendergast said.
Somalia, a country of 10 million people, has had no effective central authority since 1991 when warlords overthrew military dictator Mohamed Siad Barre. The central government is based temporarily in the town of Baidoa and has been unable to control events in Mogadishu. Americans have bad memories of U.S. involvement in Somalia in 1993, when 18 U.S. soldiers were killed and 79 injured in a battle with guerrillas loyal to warlord Mohamed Farrah Aidid after entering the country to support a relief effort.
June 5
Image of the Day
Residents debate windmills on Great Lakes
ALGOMA, Wis. - A little red lighthouse. Boardwalks. The blue-green waters of Lake Michigan stretching to the horizon. It's just another pretty-as-a-postcard view on the shores of this sleepy town of 5,700 a half-hour east of Green Bay. But how long the unspoiled vista in Algoma and in other communities along the Great Lakes will last is anybody's guess. Government and industry officials are set to meet in Madison and Toledo, Ohio, this month to talk about the prospects for installing giant electricity-generating windmills out in the Great Lakes.
Advocates say offshore wind turbines would be an efficient means of producing power. Opponents fear the windmills would harm the lakes' natural beauty and hurt tourism and fishing. "I'll fight this every way I can," said Algoma Alderman Ken Taylor, chairman of the city's marina committee. "The beautiful view we have would be destroyed. ... How many are going to come here if we have these things off our coastline?" The rows of windmills would tower as high as 400 feet and float or stand in relatively shallow water.
Winds over water are generally stronger, less turbulent and more consistent than those on land, said Walt Musial, senior engineer and offshore programs leader for the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, a U.S. Department of Energy contractor. Major population and industrial centers such as Cleveland, Chicago, Gary, Ind., and Milwaukee are situated on the Great Lakes' shores, reducing the need for long-distance transmission. "Offshore machines can make about twice as much as onshore," said Musial, who will make a presentation at a June 14 conference at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. "It's a potentially big resource for renewable energy. You want to generate the electricity close to where people are going to use it." The UW-Madison conference will look at such things as efforts to gather wind data on the Great Lakes, technological barriers to offshore wind farms, and the political policies needed to spur their development.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Environmental Protection Agency are among the agencies sponsoring the June 27-29 session in Toledo. Discussions are set on how to protect birds, bats and fish from the windmills. European countries such as Denmark and Britain have developed wind farms in the North and Baltic seas. A Houston energy company plans to build a 170-turbine farm in the Gulf of Mexico off Texas' Padre Island. An additional 50 turbines are planned off Galveston, Texas. East Coast offshore projects have been proposed off Long Island and Cape Cod. But the idea has been slow to catch on around the Great Lakes. Michigan and Wisconsin regulators said they have yet to be approached by any energy companies with proposals for offshore windmills in the Great Lakes.
Some utilities consider the technology unproven and say the financial risks and the bureaucratic hurdles are too high. Rob Benninghoff, director of renewable and special projects for Wisconsin Public Service Corp., which supplies power to much of northeastern Wisconsin, including the Green Bay area, said the utility is reluctant for now to pour ratepayers' money into what would be a difficult approval process. "I see it as a high-risk proposition," Benninghoff said. "I don't know of anyone who's got any plans to do anything in Lake Michigan or the bay or anything. Not to say it won't move in that direction ultimately."
Besides having to shoulder the construction costs — the Padre Island project, for example, is expected to cost $1 billion to $2 billion — developers also would have to get federal and state permits. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has jurisdiction over structures in the lakes. Developers also would have to lease tracts of lake bottom from the states, and state utility regulators would have to sign off. Hanging over every proposal would be concerns about fish, lake bottoms and migratory birds. And then there are worries about the view.  "That's the No. 1 problem we face today in getting this industry started," Musial said. "Visual pollution is preventing the country from embracing them."
June 6
Image of the Day
A customer removes clothes from the dryer at the World's Largest Laundromat in Berwyn, Illinois. Located on the roof of the laundromat, 36 solar panels lead to savings of about 2,000 dollars a month in energy costs by shouldering the bulk of the work of heating the water for 157 washing machines.
June 7
Image of the Day
Lovesick swan falls in love with swan paddle boat
BERLIN - A swan has fallen in love with a plastic swan-shaped paddle boat on a pond in the German town of Muenster and has spent the past three weeks flirting with the vessel five times its size, a sailing instructor said Friday. Peter Overschmidt, who operates a sailing school and rents the two-seat paddle boat on the Aasee pond, said the black swan with a bright red beak has not left the white swan boat's side since it flew in one day in early May. "It seems like he's fallen in love," said Overschmidt. "He protects it, sits next to it all the time and chases away any sail boats that get anywhere nearby. He thinks the boat is a strong and attractive swan."Overschmidt said the swan will figure it out sooner or later but hopes he won't be too heartbroken. "I'll wish him all the best and hope that he doesn't make the same mistake again," said Overschmidt."
June 8
Image of the Day
Ports row may have hit Arab investment in US: IMF
ABU DHABI - The International Monetary Fund warned on Tuesday that the Dubai Ports row may have had an impact on investment flows to the United States from Arab countries, an increasingly important source of financing for the U.S. trade deficit. Dubai Ports World, a state-owned company in the United Arab Emirates, agreed to relinquish control of facilities at six major U.S. ports earlier this year after American politicians viewed it as a threat to U.S. national security.
Since the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States, Arab investors have feared that their assets in the West could be targeted for security reasons. The row sparked by Dubai Ports takeover of British firm P&O, which operated the ports in the United States, reinforced those fears. "Clearly that was a very political issue," said Mohsin Khan, director of the IMF's Middle East and Central Asia department. "It may well have had some impact on investment in the U.S. but hasn't had an impact on Arab investment in Europe," he told a news conference in Abu Dhabi, capital of the UAE.
Khan said Arab investment in the West began declining after September 11, 2001 and may have accelerated after the ports row. "The one factor that we have noticed is that there are less funds going into the U.S and Western markets from the Middle East and Arab countries," Khan said. "We don't have information on withdrawals but we know there is less (investment) going directly. But indirectly it may be going," he said. Data from U.S. Treasury International Capital flows show that OPEC holdings of U.S. Treasury notes and bonds stood at $84.9 billion in February, up from $52.7 billion in July. But analysts say an even bigger chunk of petrodollars may be getting recycled through London, pointing out that many oil-exporting countries buy foreign securities via British banks.
With oil prices near record highs Arab capital is set to play an increasingly important role in financing the burgeoning U.S. trade deficit. Khan told Reuters earlier this week that the surpluses of oil exporters would exceed those of Asia's emerging economies this year. He urged Middle Eastern policymakers spend more of their oil cash to help tackle global trade imbalances. With crude oil at more than $70 a barrel, Khan said the six Gulf Arab countries, Libya, Iran and Algeria would earn about $500 billion this year. He said major Gulf Arab investments in the future would target the Middle East and South Asian regions, not the United States, long the main destination for petrodollars which Gulf states were once content to park exclusively in banks and bonds. He cited a recently announced $18 billion investment in Pakistan by Emaar Properties (EMAR.DU), the Middle East's largest real estate firm, as an example of investments closer to home.
Dubai-state owned firms have acquired well-known assets in Europe such as Tussauds Group, owner of the famous London waxworks museum, and One Trafalgar Square, a prominent London property. Emaar said last week that it had bought the U.S. homebuilder John Laing Homes for $1.05 billion. "There are high profile investments (in the West), but the big investments are being made in the region, in Saudi or in Pakistan," Khan said. "You will see a continuing trend of major investments in the region.
June 9
Image of the Day
Students find ring tone adults can't hear
NEW YORK - Students are using a new ring tone to receive messages in class -- and many teachers can't even hear the ring. Some students are downloading a ring tone off the Internet that is too high-pitched to be heard by most adults. With it, high schoolers can receive text message alerts on their cell phones without the teacher knowing. As people age, many develop what's known as aging ear -- a loss of the ability to hear higher-frequency sounds. The ring tone is a spin-off of technology that was originally meant to repel teenagers -- not help them. A Welsh security company developed the tone to help shopkeepers disperse young people loitering in front of their stores while leaving adults unaffected. The company called their product the "Mosquito." Donna Lewis, a teacher in Manhattan, says her colleague played the ring for a classroom of first-graders -- and all of them could hear it, while the adults couldn't hear anything.
June 10
Image of the Day
Tamara Hoover: Caught in the Flash
Austin High art teacher Tamara Hoover, as photographed by Celesta Danger. Nude photos of Hoover taken by Danger may cost Hoover her job. Austin High art teacher Tamara Hoover can explain, without a hint of shame, how she went from award-winning teacher to scandal of the week in the click of a shutter. The story begins with a heartfelt declaration. "I'm an artist, and I collaborate with other artists," she says. "That's how I want to live my life." That's why it was business as usual when photographer Celesta Danger, her girlfriend, pulled her out of the bedroom with nothing on but knee-high striped socks, and thrust her into a brightly-lit studio with several partially dressed and nude models. "I like to capture life as its happening," says Danger. "She had just gotten out of the shower, and had put on her socks before the rest of her clothes. It was not premeditated at all."
Click. Hoover and friends are captured dancing chorus line-style. Her striped socks fly high, and a quartet of pink shadows skip across the wall. Click. Hoover laughs and jostles with a nude male model, her butt pressed against him in a flirty jest. Click. Candlelight paints the room red. Danger kisses Hoover as she leans back onto a bed. She's now wearing a spiked dog collar and no socks at all. Danger posted a dozen or so nude photos of Hoover on her photography Web site, where they sat among thousands of portraits of friends and fellow hipsters (Danger is a photographer for the Texas Rollergirls). Hoover and Danger's relationship is chronicled in loving detail; browsers can view the couple leaping from bed to bed in a mattress store, hanging out at a Chinese restaurant and, apparently, playing street hockey with sponge mops. In context, the nude photos are but a brief hint of carnal moments in a life lived goofy and sweet.
The photos, however, took on a very different context when they were viewed in a high school classroom. That happened in mid-May, after Hoover and fellow Austin High art teacher Gayle Andrews got into a spat over a shared kiln. Shortly afterward, a student told Andrews about a way to get Hoover in trouble and brought up the Web site. The news reached the administration and Hoover was escorted off campus. The district soon began the process of firing her. The controversy takes place among a growing worry that tech-savvy minors are being corrupted by online solicitations and pornography. There are strict laws, both federal and state, that prohibit exposing students to any Web site deemed "harmful to minors." Hoover could even have been charged with a crime if it turned out she sent students to the site. Within that context, it's not surprising that even vaguely erotic photos of a teacher and her lesbian lover on a public Web site would bring condemnation. Still, Hoover maintains the photos are not "sexual," and remains mystified by the reaction. "I don't consider these photos inappropriate," she says. "I was never concerned about students coming across them. My students are beginning artists, and they see nudes all the time. There are nudes in the Sistine Chapel. The human form has always been a part of art study."
The controversy has had the inevitable result of corrupting the intimate nature of Danger's work, a fact that she takes personally. "It disturbs me that people now see me as a pornographer," Danger says, adding that people have been surfing her site searching for nudes. "These photos have been taken out of context. I realize I can't change other people's perspective of my work, but I really don't like people visiting my Web site with lascivious intentions." Danger has since taken the nude photos of Hoover off her site.  It doesn't take a museum curator to tell the difference between artistic nude photography and smut, and the district is not trying to claim the photos are pornography. Instead, the district is accusing Hoover of a "failure to meet the District's standards of professional conduct," and engaging in an activity that "because of the publicity given it, or knowledge of it among students, faculty and community, impairs or diminishes the employee's effectiveness in the district." The district declined to comment further about the case.
Hoover is requesting a hearing, which will give her the chance to argue her case in front of an independent hearing examiner. Her lawyer, Jay Brim, says the district's vague justifications about "standards of professional conduct" give it some wiggle room. "It's an easy platitude to say that teachers should be held to a higher standard," says Brim. "But how do you apply that? How are these photos outside the realm of what she teaches? I want the district to prove that teachers have been told this kind of activity is wrong." Hoover blames the district for any publicity brought on by the photos. She wrote a letter to administrators asking that they not inform students and parents about her case. Instead, they sent a letter home that implied she had posted photos on a pornographic site. She says ensuing media attention has had the effect of distorting something beautiful into something nasty. "I do worry about how all the media attention is affecting my kiddos," she says. "They are impressionable, and I wouldn't want their ideals to be crushed by what's happening to me."
In a signed affidavit presented to the AISD board, Andrews claims a 15-year-old boy told her that "hundreds" of Austin High students knew about the Web site. Brim intends to challenge that claim. "One student certainly knew about site," he says. "But we have no reason to believe it was common knowledge until AISD sent out that letter and exposed the issue to the community." As it stands, AISD's broad justifications leave little room for Brim to argue what he believes the case is really about: Hoover's First Amendment right to free expression. "I'm asking for more specific allegations," he says. "I hope to get it tied down to that." Hoover remains hopeful that she can return to Austin High in the fall and turn the whole mess into a valuable lesson. "It could really spark a great dialogue," she says. "What are the boundaries around art? How is art perceived? How can art affect the artist? What does it mean to stand your ground as an artist?" Unfortunately, Hoover knows the answers to these questions aren't always pretty.
June 11
Image of the Day
Americans' circle of close friends shrinking
WASHINGTON - Americans are more socially isolated than they were 20 years ago, separated by work, commuting and the single life, researchers reported on Friday. Nearly a quarter of people surveyed said they had "zero" close friends with whom to discuss personal matters. More than 50 percent named two or fewer confidants, most often immediate family members, the researchers said. "This is a big social change, and it indicates something that's not good for our society," said Duke University Professor Lynn Smith-Lovin, lead author on the study to be published in the American Sociological Review. Smith-Lovin's group used data from a national survey of 1,500 American adults that has been ongoing since 1972. She said it indicated people had a surprising drop in the number of close friends since 1985. At that time, Americans most commonly said they had three close friends whom they had known for a long time, saw often, and with whom they shared a number of interests. They were almost as likely to name four or five friends, and the relationships often sprang from their neighborhoods or communities.
Ties to a close network of friends create a social safety net that is good for society, and for the individual. Research has linked social support and civic participation to a longer life, Smith-Lovin said. People were not asked why they had fewer intimate ties, but Smith-Lovin said that part of the cause could be that Americans are working more, marrying later, having fewer children, and commuting longer distances. The data also show the social isolation trend mirrors other class divides: Non-whites and people with less education tend to have smaller social networks than white Americans and the highly educated. That means that in daily life, personal emergencies and national disasters like Hurricane Katrina, those with the fewest resources also have the fewest personal friends to call for advice and assistance.
"It's one thing to know someone and exchange e-mails with them. It's another thing to say, 'Will you give me a ride out of town with all of my possessions and pets? And can I stay with you for a couple or three months?" Smith-Lovin said. "Worrying about social isolation is not a matter of nostalgia for a warm and cuddly past. Real things are strongly connected with that," added Harvard University Public Policy Professor Robert Putnam, author of "Bowling Alone," a book on the decline of American community. He suggested flexible work schedules would allow Americans to tend both personal and professional lives.
June 12
Image of the Day
Highway robbers show leap of inspiration
BEIJING - Beijing police have detained a gang of thieves who pulled off a high-speed, highway heist straight out of a Hollywood action movie. Police patrolling a Beijing freeway saw several people "surfing" on top of a van as it pulled alongside a truck loaded with cargo, the Beijing News said. "The men leapt from the van onto the truck's trailer and started throwing back bags of a white-colored substance" into the moving van, the paper said. After several kilometres, the men leapt back on to the van and sped away. Police later intercepted the van, the thieves and a one-ton cache of polyethylene, used originally in making hula hoops, worth more than 10,000 yuan ($1,250). The newspaper did not say how the thieves managed to grab their loot undetected by the driver. The polyethylene grab was not the first of its kind -- police have reported several incidents of leapfrog larceny on Beijing's highways in the last couple of years.
June 13
Image of the Day
Beijing curbs disco to cramp "crazy" drug takers
BEIJING - Beijing has banned disco and other dance music in private rooms of nightclubs and karaoke bars to curb the flood of illegal drugs into the capital's entertainment venues, Chinese newspapers reported. "Because many drug takers regularly dance and go crazy to upbeat 'disco' music in private rooms, police have specially requested karaoke machines not have this music," the Beijing Times newspaper said. Club owners were now expected to delete disco and "other forms of vulgar entertainment" from karaoke machines in private rooms, the Beijing News said, as part of a "responsibility agreement" written up by police. The agreement, signed by more than 1,100 club owners, is the latest in a general crackdown on crime in nightlife venues launched this month, prompted by a sharp rise in drug trafficking and violence involving customers and staff. The Beijing News said Thursday police were planning random urine tests for employees at Beijing's clubs, citing employees' "addiction" as a major source of drug trafficking.
June 14
Image of the Day
Taiwan anti-nuke group to stage nude protest
TAIPEI - Members of a Taiwanese conservation group will stage a nude protest next week in the hope of pressuring the government to cease construction work on a nuclear power station, its spokesman said. "We demand the government stop building the Fourth Nuclear Power Plant to preserve the Fulung beach," said Ho Tsung-hsun, secretary general of the Taiwan Enviromental Protection Union. The protest, titled "Rather Nude than Nuke," is set to take place Monday at Funlung beach in northern Keelung county where the plant is under construction. Ho said 25 people, including 22 men and three women, had signed up for the event to form the English words "No Nuke" with their bodies.
Construction of the island's fourth nuclear plant has been mired in controversy due to strong opposition from environmentalists and the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) before it took government in 2000. Abolishing the project was one of President Chen Shui-bian's major policy platforms during his campaign for the March 2000 presidential election, which he won. In October 2000, the DPP scrapped the partly built 5.6-billion US dollar plant without consulting parliament, as required by Taiwan's constitution, plunging the island into months of political turmoil. The government reinstated the project in February 2001, having added billions of dollars to its cost from delay compensation and extra expense. The plant is scheduled to be completed in five or six years with its two reactors carrying a combined capacity of 2,770 megawatts.
June 15
Image of the Day
An employee of Japanese pillow maker Lofty displays a prototype model of the "Sleep Doctor" pillow, at the company's headquarters in Tokyo. Japanese researchers have developed a new type of pillow talk -- a cushion that offers pointers on how to get a good night's sleep.
June 16
Image of the Day
40 years ago, FOIA vexed president Johnson
WASHINGTON - President Lyndon Johnson had deep reservations when he signed the law that opened the government's filing cabinets to its citizens, worrying that it might force the disclosure of damaging national secrets, newly disclosed records show. Forty years later, the Freedom of Information Act still creates tension between the government and citizens, corporations, researchers and journalists. The law's staunchest advocates believe its principles are imperiled, threatened by what they describe as the Bush administration's penchant for secrecy and concerns about revealing strategies to terrorists. "This is the worst of times for the Freedom of Information Act in many ways," said Paul K. McMasters of the First Amendment Center, which studies issues of free speech, press and religion. McMasters cited large backlogs of unresolved citizen requests for records, and new Bush administration strategies to withhold documents.
When he signed the law on July 4, 1966, Johnson was so uneasy about the new legislation he refused to conduct a public signing ceremony that would draw attention to it. He also submitted a signing statement that some researchers believe was intended to undercut the bill's purpose of forcing government to disclose records except in narrow cases. Draft language from Johnson's statement arguing that "democracy works best when the people know what their government is doing," was changed with a handwritten scrawl to read: "Democracy works best when the people have all the info that the security of the nation will permit." This sentence was eliminated entirely with the same handwritten markings: "Government officials should not be able to pull curtains of secrecy around decisions which can be revealed without injury to the public interest." Another scratched sentence said the decisions, policies and mistakes of public officials "are always subjected to the scrutiny and judgment of the people."
The 1966 papers were discovered in the Lyndon Baines Johnson Library and Museum in Austin, Texas, by the National Security Archive at George Washington University. The group's researchers make more than 1,500 requests for government records under the Freedom of Information Act every year on U.S. national security and foreign policy. The archive's director, Thomas Blanton, said it was unclear from the documents whether Johnson personally edited his statement or directed his press secretary, Bill Moyers, to make changes. Moyers, who later became a prominent PBS journalist and frequent critic of conservatives, has recounted Johnson's unease about signing the new information law in 1966. Tension over the law continues. Seeking records can be a hair-pulling experience, with requests often taking months or even years before paperwork — if any — is returned, and the government is under orders to improve its system.
"The Freedom of Information Act is embattled and at risk," said Meredith Fuchs, the top lawyer at the security archive. "The federal government is really shutting down the taps on information." But when President Bush instructed agencies to review their information programs, many of them — including the CIA and Pentagon — boasted about their performance. The Justice Department said its handling of FOIA requests for records was working "exceptionally well," although officials acknowledged there was "room for improvement."
The CIA, famously loath to open even its historical files, cited its "strong record" on disclosures. The Pentagon — where records requests can languish for over a year — said its "customer responsiveness is generally good." The Homeland Security Department and State Department did not complete the mandatory reviews ordered by Bush. Brian Martin of Denver, a private computer-security consultant, submitted two requests for records to the Homeland Security Department more than a year ago — and never heard back. Martin sought information about how much the government spends tracking software problems exploited by hackers and others. "This process is supposedly there to get me information about how my tax dollars are being spent," Martin said. "I'm curious how it's all being used. I'm left just to wonder." When he sent a similar request to the Commerce Department, it told him he could have the records he wanted — if he would pay more than $1,800 for copying and search fees.
June 17
Image of the Day
Smile! A new Canadian tool can re-grow teeth
OTTAWA - Snaggle-toothed hockey players and sugar lovers may soon rejoice as Canadian scientists said they have created the first device able to re-grow teeth and bones. The researchers at the University of Alberta in Edmonton filed patents earlier this month in the United States for the tool based on low-intensity pulsed ultrasound technology after testing it on a dozen dental patients in Canada. "Right now, we plan to use it to fix fractured or diseased teeth, as well as asymmetric jawbones, but it may also help hockey players or children who had their tooth knocked out," Jie Chen, an engineering professor and nano-circuit design expert, told AFP.
Chen helped create the tiny ultrasound machine that gently massages gums and stimulates tooth growth from the root once inserted into a person's mouth, mounted on braces or a removable plastic crown. The wireless device, smaller than a pea, must be activated for 20 minutes each day for four months to stimulate growth, he said. It can also stimulate jawbone growth to fix a person's crooked smile and may eventually allow people to grow taller by stimulating bone growth, Chen said. Tarek El-Bialy, a new member of the university's dentistry faculty, first tested the low-intensity pulsed ultrasound treatment to repair dental tissue in rabbits in the late 1990s.
His research was published in the American Journal of Orthodontics and Dentofacial Orthopedics and later presented at the World Federation of Orthodontics in Paris in September 2005. With the help of Chen and Ying Tsui, another engineering professor, the initial massive handheld device was shrunk to fit inside a person's mouth. It is still at the prototype stage, but the trio expects to commercialize it within two years, Chen said. The bigger version has already received approvals from American and Canadian regulatory bodies, he noted.
June 18
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Mobile phone doubles as a metal detector
PARIS - The Finnish phone maker Nokia has devised a mobile handset that can also double as a metal detector, enabling the owner to look for concealed guns, hidden electrical cables and lost car keys, the British weekly New Scientist reports. The US patent application filed by Nokia says the phone is fitted with an induction coil whose main use is to get a clear audio signal for people with hearing difficulties. But it can also be used to detect metal at short distances, says the report, carried in next Saturday's issue of the British science weekly.

In this undated handout photo from the new book 'Using History' by photographer Greta Pratt, a cleaning lady pushes her vacuum cleaner past the concrete tee-pees at the Wigwam Motel in Holbrook, Arizona The book depicts the intersection of America's past and present in a variety of situations from history.
June 20
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"Chocolate Factory" theme park to open in Amsterdam
AMSTERDAM - Amsterdam will get a theme park dedicated to chocolate and inspired by Roald Dahl's children's book "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory," city officials and entrepreneurs said. Just like Dahl's fictional "Chocolate Factory" owned by Willy Wonka, the main part of the "sweets park" will be located underground, in a disused railway tunnel which was handed over by the city of Amsterdam in a ceremony. The attraction, which is expected to open to the public in two to three years, will feature a glass elevator and a chocolate fountain, similar to the book. It will also produce small amounts of chocolate.
"Ten years ago I made a radio play of the 'Chocolate Factory' and ever since I've been fascinated by it," said audio books publisher Maurits Rubinstein who started the project.  The city of Amsterdam and Dutch construction company BAM are supporting the plan, which will cost 20 million euros, partly raised with bonds that parents and grandparents can buy for their children and grandchildren.
Amsterdam is the world's biggest cocoa port, processing around 30 percent of the world's cocoa beans from countries like Ghana and Ecuador. It supplies the key ingredient, cocoa paste, to major chocolate manufacturers throughout Europe. Amsterdam is also the place where Coenraad Johannes van Houten invented the hydraulic cocoa press in the 1820s, enabling the production of eating chocolate alongside the already available drinking and cooking varieties. He also came up with the process known as "dutching" to create a mildly flavored cocoa powder that mixes more easily with water. An impression of how the Chocolate Factory will look can be found by clicking on Impressie on
June 21
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Vietnamese woman survives after eating kilo of snails
HANOI - A mentally-ill Vietnamese woman who ate 119 snails weighing more than one kilogramme (2.2 pounds) has survived an emergency operation to remove the objects from her stomach, doctors said. Nguyen Thi Manh, 43, was admitted to a military hospital in southern Vinh Long province on Wednesday after complaining of intense stomach pain. "I had never seen a patient like her," Doctor Colonel Ly Viet Hung told AFP. "We took from her stomach 119 snails measuring between seven and eight centimetres (2.8 and 3.2 inches) in an hour-long surgery." The doctor said the woman had suffered severe injuries but added that her life was no longer in danger.
June 22 
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Seems that the big argument there days is in the definition of "marraige" what about the definition of a church or non-profit entities.
Sex church preaches how 'Jesus loves porn stars'
LOS ANGELES - A Christian missionary group making the rounds at US adult entertainment conventions hands out Bibles with "Jesus loves porn stars" stamped on their covers. Jesus loves porn stars just as much as he does pastors and soccer moms, XXXchurch contends. The outreach team from XXXchurch, calling itself a "porn ministry," distributes paperback New Testaments with a gaudy purple-and-yellow cover reading: "Jesus loves porn stars."
Its website, billed as the number-one Christian porn site, includes downloadable Bible studies and an array of "prayer software," including "accountability programs" designed to help users resist pornographic temptation. The Bible's text, in everyday conversational English, includes this introduction from XXXchurch: "Jesus loves pornographers as much as he loves pastors, soccer moms, liars, thieves and prostitutes. We're all just people who need God to save us from the mess we're in, and lead us to a better way."
Pornography brings in more revenue in the US than all of professional football, baseball and basketball franchises combined, according to the conservative research group Family Safe Media. XXXchurch has taken its message on the road for "porn Sundays," a traveling seminar "to bring healing and recovery to those struggling with pornography." The group estimates that over half of Christian ministers use pornography regularly, and are determined to expose "America's dirty little secret." It is not made explicitly clear how XXXchurch arrived at this number. Its pastor, J.R. Mahon, and founding pastor Craig Gross, have published a book titled "Starving Jesus" outlining their unorthodox missionary views. The cover features a cartoon image of an emaciated Jesus with blinking bug eyes dragging a cross. Their mission: to change church culture inside out. "We're sick of pastors with planes, pastors with record deals, pastors with bodyguards," writes Mahon. "Give to the poor, evangelize on a city street, bring the hooker to church, just get off your butt and do something."
At the recent Los Angeles Erotica convention, Mahon spent three days spreading his message. One convention visitor, armed with a camera for snapshots of favorite pornographic actresses, was perplexed by the pastors' gift of a pocket-sized Bible. "It's the real deal, no naked chicks in there, just the word of the lord," said Mahon. "Well, I don't really read, but thanks," the conventioneer replied before rushing off to collect autographs. "We're not here to tell people they're going to hell," said Mahon. "We just want people to know that we dig God and we want them to dig him too." But some believe there are better ways to attract potential converts.
"Christ would never compromise or stoop to their level. Mary came to him, remember? He didn't go to the whore house using words like sex and porn," said a typical entry in the hate mail section of the XXXchurch website. "It's nothing but a gimmick to you, an excuse to mingle with the perverts. You talk more about porn than you do Jesus Christ," it said. Mahon admits his ministry has received mixed reactions in the Christian community. "When we first started this thing four years ago, some people looked at us and thought we were working for the devil," Mahon said. The young ministers also had trouble finding a publisher for their porn-fighting Bible. The American Bible Society, one of the oldest Bible publishers in the US, refused to print it.  "Out of a sense of propriety, ABS felt that the wording 'Jesus Loves Porn Stars' was misleading and inappropriate for a New Testament cover," the company said in April.  Despite flaps over its methods, XXXchurch continues to make the rounds of porn conventions and congregations nationwide in its "porn mobile" -- a black, customized SUV splattered with an eyebrow raising logo.  "These are the perfect places to find people to love God," said Mahon. "If Jesus was here today, he'd go to the porn shows."

June 23
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Australian claims world record for 20,000 km pizza delivery
SYDNEY - An Australian movie director claimed a new world record after travelling 20,000 kilometers (12,500 miles) to deliver a pizza. Paul Fenech, the writer and director of the movie "Fat Pizza," undertook the three-day journey from Australia to New Zealand via Spain to raise awareness of the youth cancer charity CanTeen. "The pizza isn't spring fresh, but I have eaten a piece to show it is edible," said Fenech on Saturday, after delivering the cold margherita, bought in Madrid, to 13-year-old non-Hodgkin's lymphoma sufferer Niko Apostolakis in Wellington. Penny Jones, of CanTeen New Zealand, a charity that supports young people with cancer, was thrilled by the effort. "It just broke the current Guinness World Record. It is fantastic," she said, adding the previous record was a delivery from London to the set of the Australian soap opera "Neighbours" in the state of Victoria. Guinness World Records was not immediately available to verify the claim.
June 24
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Speeding fine? Just switch the road sign
LONDON - British motorist John Hopwood concocted a novel scheme to avoid payment when he was given a speeding fine -- simply switch the road signs. Hopwood, 44, had been snapped by a speed camera breaking the 30 miles per hour limit. So he went to a 40 mph area, removed a red "40" warning sign, drove back to the 30 mph area, attached it to a lamp post and took a photo as "proof" that his offence of driving at 48 mph had not been so bad.
However, suspicion soon arose when other drivers started querying the sign. "This was a stupid act, bound to fail," Judge Anthony Ensor at Manchester Crown Court was quoted by media as telling Hopwood, who admitted trying to pervert justice. He was ordered Tuesday to serve an intermittent custodial sentence of 28 weeks which requires him to spend his weekends behind bars and told to pay 2,763 pounds in legal costs.
June 25
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Tickets for World Cup final trading for 1,500 euros
BERLIN - Four days before the football World Cup final, tickets for the match in Berlin were selling on the black market for 10 times their original price. "It is going for 1,500 euros (1,900 dollars) at the moment," a dealer who declined to give his name said in Munich where France and Portugal were playing each other on Tuesday night for a place in the final against Italy. The young man, who says he started selling tickets even before the championship kicked off here on June 9, was offering last-minute tickets for the semi-final for 600 euros a pair. A second trader confirmed that a ticket for the final would cost "at least 1,500 euros".
By Sunday though, they said, the price for tickets to Berlin's Olympic Stadium will have dropped dramatically to about 600 euros a piece. Though FIFA has tried to avoid black-marketeering by printing spectators' names on their tickets, the dealers said the system was far from foolproof because tens of thousands of people attended each match. "It is not possible to check because of the sheer size of the crowds," the first dealer said. He said he has done a roaring trade during the tournament and that his best customers were Mexican fans followed by the English and Argentinians. "One day I made 12,000 euros. That was with the Mexicans. They come from far but they are also the biggest spenders."
June 26
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Police horse rides heatwave with sun cream
LONDON - An albino British police horse is coping with this summer's heatwave with the help of 30 bottles of sun cream every day. Humberside Police horse "Blue," nicknamed "Sunny," has a rare genetic condition which means that he has no melanin and therefore little or no pigmentation to protect him from the sun. Mounted officers put out an Internet appeal for help to get Sunny through Britain's current heatwave. A pharmacy donated five gallons of factor 50 lotion in huge drums. "We have been so worried about Sunny, especially now the temperature is soaring," a police spokeswoman said. Britain has been experiencing a heat wave, with temperatures Tuesday reaching above 30 degrees centigrade (86.00F) for the fourth day running.
June 27
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Police arrest cement soccer ball pranksters
BERLIN - Police in Berlin said they had arrested two men on suspicion of placing cement-filled soccer balls around the city and inviting people to kick them. At least two people injured themselves by kicking the balls, which were chained to lampposts and trees alongside the spray-painted message: "Can you kick it?" Police said they had identified a 26-year-old and a 29-year-old and had found a workshop in their apartment where they made the balls. The two are accused of causing serious physical injury, dangerous obstruction of traffic and causing injury through negligence, police said.
June 28
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Piece of man's skull falls off, draws crowds
KOLKATA, India - Hundreds of people are thronging a hospital in the eastern Indian city of Kolkata to see a patient holding a piece of his own skull that fell off. Doctors say a large, dead section of 25-year-old electrician Sambhu Roy's skull came away Sunday after severe burns starved it of blood. "When he came to us late last year, his scalp was completely burned and within months it came off exposing the skull," Ratan Lal Bandyopadhyay, the surgeon who treated Roy said.
"Later, we noticed that the part of his skull was loosening due to lack of blood supply to the affected area, which can happen in such extensive burn cases." The piece came off Sunday and hundreds of people and dozens of doctors now crowd around his bed, where he lies holding the bone. Bandyopadhyay said the skull's inner covering and the membrane which helps produce bone was miraculously unaffected, allowing fresh bone to grow. "When the skull came off, I thought he will die, but we noticed a new covering on his head forming and that might have pushed the 'dead skull' out," he said. While possible, such cases are extremely rare. Roy was injured and almost killed when he was electrocuted while repairing a high voltage wire last October. "Doctors say a new skull covering has replaced the old one, but I am not letting go of this one," said. He intends to keep his prized possession for life and not hand it over to the hospital when he leaves: "My skull has made me famous," he says.
June 29
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A mouse rides on the back of a frog in floodwaters in the northern Indian city Lucknow.
June 30
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NASA to study foam crack before launch
CAPE CANAVERAL, Florida - A pencil-sized crack in the foam insulation on space shuttle Discovery's external tank cast doubt on NASA's plan to launch on Tuesday and sent experts scrambling to determine how serious it was. The crack, about 5 inches by about 1/2 inch (12.7 cm by 1 cm), was discovered during a routine overnight inspection and was the latest case of NASA being troubled by the foam insulation that protects the shuttle from extreme temperatures.
Discovery's launch was delayed twice during the weekend, largely because of unfavorable weather at Cape Canaveral. The launch window extends until July 19 so any repairs would need to be made by then. The crack was located on a bracket on the tank that holds the super-cold liquid oxygen fuel line in place -- an area that is stressed during the fueling process and when fuel is drained from the tank every time a launch is canceled.