Thoughts Gallery March 2004
March 1
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Santa Fe Considers Doggie Seat Belt Law
Santa Fe is considering requiring doggie seat belts. A major rewrite of the city's animal control ordinance proposes that Santa Fe dogs be buckled up when riding in trucks and other vehicles. The ordinance endorsed Tuesday by a City Council committee would require an animal in the bed of a truck to be "crated or restrained ... so it cannot fall or jump from the truck or be strangled." It also would require that any animal "in or on" a vehicle be restrained to keep it from falling out. Santa Fe pet stores stock devices to restrain animals in vehicles, although managers said they don't sell many. Shops carry a "pet safety sitter," selling for $13.69 to $21.69, that holds dogs in a vehicle's seat via a strap across their chests; a restraint that has a loop that attaches to a seat belt; and "pickup tie-outs" that attach to a dog's collar to keep it from jumping out of the bed of a truck. There's even a little booster seat for dogs so they can see out of the window, complete with an attachment so the dog can't jump around in the car. The proposed ordinance also addresses restraining animals while walking them on public property. It would require dogs and cats to be on a leash no more than 8 feet long and would no longer consider voice commands as acceptable restraint.

March 2
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She Closed Airport to Avoid Vacation with Boyfriend
DUESSELDORF, Germany - A Croatian woman was convicted Thursday of disturbing the peace for phoning a bomb threat to Duesseldorf airport to get out of a vacation with her boyfriend.The woman was given a suspended sentence after admitting in court that she called authorities and, in a hoax, made an al Qaeda bomb threat because her parents disapproved of her boyfriend. "I didn't know how I would be able to tell my parents about a holiday with him and I couldn't really say to him 'Listen, my parents wouldn't approve'," the woman, 28, identified only as Marina B., told the Duesseldorf state court Wednesday. "Then I had the idea that if the trip could somehow be blocked by someone else, for example a bomb threat, then that would solve all the problems," she added. Her flight departed anyway, several hours late. The threat prompted authorities to shut down Germany's third busiest airport on a busy Sunday in September, stranding 64,000 people for hours, while police searched in vain for a bomb. Police initially arrested her boyfriend, after tracing the threatening phone calls to his cell phone, when the couple returned from Spain. He denied making the calls. Prosecutors had demanded a three-year jail sentence for the woman. But the court opted to give her a two-year suspended sentence. Separately, she faces a damage claim of 1.5 million euros ($1.9 million) from the airport and airlines.
March 3
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Tycoon Said to Buy London House for $128M
LONDON - A British newspaper reported that an Indian steel tycoon paid $128 million for a mansion in the British capital, breaking the world record for the most expensive house purchase. The Sunday Times said Lakshmi Mittal, named by Forbes magazine as one of the richest people in the world, bought the 12-bedroom house in London's Kensington district from Formula One car racing boss Bernie Ecclestone. Mittal's spokesperson was unavailable for comment Monday and a call to Ecclestone's Formula One Management company went unanswered. The Sunday Times reported that three real estate agencies were involved in the sale. Guinness Publishing also could not be contacted for comment on the report. The Sunday Times said the sale of the property near Kensington Palace, the former home of Princess Diana, broke the record for the world's most expensive house sale. It said the previous record was set in Hong Kong in 1997 when a property sold for $101.6 million. Mittal, 53, owns the LNM Group, one of the world's biggest steelmaking companies, and is based in Britain. In February, Forbes magazine ranked him 62nd in its list of the globe's richest billionaires with a fortune worth $6.2 billion. The Sunday Times reported that Mittal exchanged contracts with Ecclestone for the house earlier this month. It said the property has garage space for 20 cars, Turkish baths, a ballroom, an oak- paneled picture gallery and an ornate basement pool.
March 4
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Rising property taxes scare off homeowners
Andy Sanders would like to build a new home on his 2.6-acre lot in Orangeburg, S.C. But he's afraid he couldn't afford the taxes. The property taxes on his small house have nearly tripled to $800 a year since he bought the home in 1997. The tax on a new house could exceed $3,000, and he fears it could rise to $4,000 or $5,000. "I can afford the house payment, but I'm afraid of the taxes," says Sanders, 29, who works at his father's tire dealership. For now, his family will stay in its old home, appraised at less than $100,000. Property taxes are taking center-stage in the debate over taxes. Many homeowners are grumbling about skyrocketing tax bills, which are driven by higher home prices. And many state legislatures are looking for new ways to tame the most unpopular of all taxes. But lowering property taxes isn't easy. State legislatures have been reluctant to raise other taxes to replace money from the property tax. And spending cuts for schools - where most property tax money goes - are unpopular with legislators and voters, too. "We've got a real problem," says economist Charles Gilliland of the Texas A&M University Real Estate Center. "But it's not easy to figure out a solution." More than 40 states have property tax limits of some kind. Most were passed after 1978, when California voters approved Proposition 13. Prop 13, as it was called, cut property taxes 53%. The effectiveness of those laws has been tested in recent years by soaring property values and expanded tax breaks that have shifted the tax burden to middle- and upper-income homeowners.  Business, in particular, has won important property-tax reductions in recent years - some by challenging assessments, others by getting laws passed. Ohio reduced taxes on utilities and business inventories. New Hampshire approved an exemption for telephone poles. Oklahoma eliminated taxes on pollution control equipment in oil refineries, one of 17 exemptions added in recent years. Still, businesses pay higher property-tax rates than homeowners in most states, which can hurt a state's economy.
     The Arizona Legislature has created zones where property taxes are low to attract businesses such as Intel to the state. State law there normally taxes businesses at 2½ times the rate of homeowners. "The fact that we have to create these special zones shows we have a big problem with our property-tax system," says state Rep. Steve Huffman, a Republican, who is trying to lower the business property tax. Seniors, farmers and first-time homeowners have been granted tax breaks, too. "The tax base has been whittled away over the years, so the burden has shifted to fewer homeowners," Gilliland says. Property-tax laws vary widely across the country. State legislatures set laws that govern property taxes, but generally, local governments collect the money and spend it on schools, police and fire, and other city and county operations. Local voters and elected officials set the rates within guidelines set by the legislature. In some states, such as Virginia, higher values automatically translate into tax increases. But most states prohibit or limit this. California, for example, limits increases to 2% a year, Kentucky to 4%. Other states - Illinois, Ohio, New York, Tennessee and Maine among them - lower tax rates automatically to offset any rise in property values, so the total amount of tax collected remains the same. Even so, the tax burden shifts constantly, raising taxes for people in some neighborhoods and reducing taxes elsewhere. Along the East Coast, property values have soared near the water, making it hard for some longtime residents to stay in their homes. At the same time, taxes often decline in less desirable neighborhoods. Portland, Maine, recently completed its first reassessment in 12 years. The values of many homes near the water rose 200% or more, causing huge tax increases in these popular neighborhoods. Elsewhere in town, values rose modestly. Homeowners whose property rose 70% or less will get a tax reduction. "People will see the increased assessment and panic," says Peter Dewitt, the city official who handles complaints. "But we explain that an increased assessment doesn't always mean higher taxes."
     Real estate taxes are generally highest in the Northeast and lowest in the South. New Hampshire, Maine and Vermont have the nation's highest. Alabama has the lowest, and voters rejected an effort to raise them last September. Property taxes are resented even in states where they are relatively low. South Carolina's property taxes are below the national average. But when Sanders published a letter in his local newspaper, more than 200 people contacted him about his complaints about the tax. "They wanted me to lead a crusade against property taxes, but I have a young child and a baby on the way, so I have no time," he says. Carol Palesky, 64, a tax accountant from Topsham, Maine, did have the time. After two failed efforts, the grandmother who works out of her home gathered the 51,000 signatures to put an anti-property-tax measure on the ballot, probably in November.
    
Modeled after California's Proposition 13, it would roll back property taxes to 1% of a home's 1997 value. Today, the tax rate averages 1.5% of a home's value in 2002. The proposal would limit future increases to 2%.  Palesky is a citizen activist in the tradition of Howard Jarvis, the 76-year-old retiree who got Prop 13 on the ballot, and was a national symbol of the 1978 tax revolt. The political establishment from both the Republican and Democratic parties has lined up against her. The Maine Legislature is trying to develop a property-tax relief law to help defeat Palesky's proposal. The property tax funds 47% of public education in the state. "If this passes, there will be massive layoffs - not just teachers, but sheriffs, police and firefighters, too," says Rob Walker, president of the Maine Education Association. The Maine Municipal Association, which represents local governments, says the proposal will cut property-tax collections by 30% to 50%. Palesky estimates the cut at 17% to 20% of the $1.6 billion collected in property taxes. Palesky says her campaign began seven years ago while waiting in a line to pay her taxes. Behind her, a burly man with calloused hands had tears in his eyes and a check in his hand. "He told me, 'If I pay my taxes, I won't be able to buy medicine for my wife or put oil in my furnace,' " she recalls. That night, while brushing her teeth, she asked herself: Why doesn't somebody do something about this? "Looking at myself in the mirror, I knew I had to do something," she says. It's unclear whether the revolt will spread from Maine. But Palesky says people from other states have called to ask about her campaign.
March 5
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A new vodka-flavored ice cream launched in Australia provoked an outcry from groups worried it would give children a taste for alcohol. The booze-flavored Illicit Vodka Cranberry Magnum ice creams hit the shelves just months after biscuit-maker Arnott's new Tia Maria Tim Tams and Kahlua Slices prompted fears that the liquor-laced biscuits would encourage children to drink.
March 6
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Asian children riding camels in a race. Robots have been used as jockeys in Qatar for camel races because wof idespread criticism over the use of young children from the Indian sub-continent in such races
March 7
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The Comoro black flying fox, shown in this photo, is a fruit bat found only on the Indian Ocean's Comoros islands. Hundreds of imperiled species around the world, including the Comoro, lack protection from human encroachment despite the vast amount of land set aside for conservation, a new study warns.
March 8
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Apologetic Arkansas Peeping Tom Leaves Cash, Note
LITTLE ROCK, Ark - An apologetic Peeping Tom in northern Arkansas left a $20 bill and a note for his victim asking if she would not mind if he peered at her outside her window, police said. The note and the cash were found at an apartment complex in Mountain Home, Arkansas. Police said the writer of the letter apologized for looking into the window. They said the letter appeared to have been written on a personal computer. Police would not release the note because the case is under investigation. "It's kind of an odd case," said Mountain Home police Sgt. Nevin Barnes
March 9
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March 10
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Cell Phones Alter National Park Landscape
When Sean Morrissey scaled California's 14,491-foot Mount Whitney for the first time a few years ago, he couldn't wait to take in the view. A woman who made the climb at the same time couldn't wait to dial her cell phone. "This one woman was making call after call," said Morrissey, who is from Los Gatos, Calif. "It seemed very out-of-place. It seemed out-of-place to go through all that effort to make an outbound call." Cell phones have long been virtually unavoidable on city streets and in shopping malls. But they now are showing up in some of the very places people go to get away from it all: national parks. For park managers, this is a challenge. Officials with the National Park Service say they want to meet the needs of visitors and provide for their safety. But they also must protect the park and the visitor experience. And there is no set policy on how to strike this balance.
     
To some degree, the Park Service is complicit in the problem: At least 15 National Park Service sites have allowed telecommunications companies to put up cell towers within their boundaries. Yellowstone has five. (Also, many towers are situated just outside national parks, enabling park visitors to place calls even from some backcountry areas.) Some conservationists complain that cell phone technology is ruining nature — not only by scarring the landscape with cell towers (one tower in particular, near Yellowstone's Old Faithful, has been criticized as an eyesore), but also by contributing to the death of solitude. "It's possible you could come to a trail in Yellowstone and see someone yakking on the phone to their stockbroker," said Dennis McKinney, development director at Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility.
     
"When you're trying to give a tour, that's kind of annoying," Courtis said. "It kind of ruined the tour" for the others. Lane Baker, Yellowstone's deputy chief ranger, said many people expect to be able to use cell phones and that Park Service officials cannot dictate how tourists use them. "You can't control what they do at Old Faithful like you can't control what they do in downtown New York," she said. And Baker said cell phones in the park have a definite positive side, making a difference in the way officials receive and respond to emergency calls. "I wouldn't want to do my job without one," Baker said.
March 11
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March 12
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Intoxicated Man Seeks Job With Police
ORCHARDS, Wash. - A man who stopped by Washington State Patrol headquarters to ask about a job didn't get what he wanted — but he did find out how a hand-held alcohol tester works. Robert Gulley, an unemployed radio technician, was ticketed for alleged drunken driving as he drove away from the patrol office in this city near Vancouver. He had asked for a job application. "I guess it was a bad time to go there," Gulley, 25, of nearby Sifton, told The Columbian newspaper. "It was a bad judgment call." When Gulley walked into patrol headquarters Wednesday afternoon, he was slurring his words, had glassy eyes and his breath smelled of alcohol, Trooper Maureen Crandall said. When she told him it wasn't a good idea to apply to be a trooper while intoxicated, Gulley denied drinking, another trooper said. So Trooper Rich Bettger, who'd overheard what was going on, offered to measure Gulley's blood alcohol level with a hand-held breath tester. Gulley blew a 0.095, above the state's legal limit for driving of 0.08, indicating he'd had at least three drinks, March said. Gulley said he had only had one drink — a Long Island iced tea — and that it likely caused a high alcohol reading because he hadn't eaten in more than a day. When the troopers asked Gulley how he got to the station, they said he told them he'd been given a ride. The officers said they warned Gulley not to drive home. But after leaving the office and pacing back and forth on a nearby side street for 10 minutes, Gulley got into his car and drove away, troopers said.He was promptly pulled over and ticketed. Gulley was given two more alcohol-breath tests, which both gave readings of slightly over 0.08, Trooper Garvin March said. The troopers then arranged for Gulley's sister to drive him home."I actually still want to join the police department," Gulley said. "Those guys are doing their job keeping the roads safe." But state troopers said Gulley's career prospects with the patrol appear dim."I guarantee he's not going to get a job with us," March said. "We've arrested drunks in unexpected ways and places before, but this one just blew me away."
March 13
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March 14
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March 15
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March 16
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March 17 
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I finally passed my real estate license exam after much studying and many classes. I delayed taking the test for too long, it was nice to finally get in there and get that milestone completed.
March 18
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Body piercing and tattoos make way
The latest fashion trend to hit the Netherlands is eyeball jewelry.
Dutch eye surgeons have implanted tiny pieces of jewelry called "JewelEye" in the mucous membrane of the eyes of six women and one man in cosmetic surgery pioneered by an ophthalmic surgery research and development institute in Rotterdam. The procedure involves inserting a 3.5 mm (0.13 inch) wide 1 piece of specially developed jewelry -- the range includes a glittering half-moon or heart -- into the eye's mucous membrane under local anaesthetic at a cost of 500 to 1,000 euros ($1,232). "In my view it is a little more subtle than (body) piercing. It is a bit of a fun thing and a very personal thing for people," said Gerrit Melles, director of the Netherlands Institute for Innovative Ocular Surgery (www.NIIOC.nl). The piece of jewelry is inserted in the conjunctiva -- the mucous membrane lining the inner surface of the eyelids and front of the eyeball -- in sterile conditions using an operating microscope in a procedure taking about 15 minutes. "Without doing any harm to the eye we can implant a jewel in the conjunctiva," Melles said. "So far we have not seen any side effects or complications and we don't expect any in the future." The Rotterdam-based institute, which develops new ocular surgical techniques in corneal, cataract and retinal surgery, developed and patented the jewelry made with special materials and the surgical procedure. The institute, which carries out the procedure in cooperation with an eye clinic near the city of Utrecht, said it has a waiting list for people who wanted the implant.

March 19
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March 20
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Lilly, a six-month old black and white house cat with four ears is seen in a home for animals in Murnau, southern Germany on March 24, 2004. A four-eared German kitten has been given a new home after a German animal shelter was deluged with requests to adopt the animal born six months ago with the genetic defect.
March 21
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U.S. consumers can expect to pay a record average $1.76 a gallon for gasoline during this summer's busy driving season, 20 cents more than last year, and the national pump price could top $1.80, the government said. 'High crude oil costs, strong gasoline demand, low gasoline inventories and more stringent gasoline specifications this year have increased gasoline supply costs and retail prices to high levels well before the peak driving season,' the Energy Information Administration said in its annual summer forecast. A motorist leaves a gas station charging over $3 a gallon for high performance fuel in Menlo Park, California, April 1. Gas prices are high throughout the U.S. with some of the highest prices being recorded in Northern California.
March 22
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German tom cat Mikesch, weighing an impressive 18.5 kilos ( nearly 41 lbs) sits in his enclosure, where he was dropped off at the animal home in Berlin. The six-year-old became overweight after his owner fed him with two kilos ( 4.4 lbs) of minced meat per day. Shelter officials said Mikesch is so fat he cannot clean himself and suffers from heart trouble.
March 23
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9-Year-Old Girl Arrested for Rabbit Theft
NEW PORT RICHEY, Fla. - A 9-year-old girl accused of stealing a rabbit and $10 from a neighbor's home was arrested, handcuffed and questioned at a police station.A Pasco County sheriff's deputy found the black-and-white rabbit, named Oreo, hopping around in the girl's living room, according to the arrest report. She was read her rights and taken away in the back of a patrol car. The girl began to cry during questioning Tuesday. She admitted taking the rabbit belonging to another child, but denied taking two $5 bills and some change, according to reports.  Sheriff's spokesman Kevin Doll defended the arrest, and said if the victim of a crime wants an arrest, deputies are required to act if there is enough evidence. Lori Ventura, the mother of the child who owns the rabbit, said the girl has been involved in other incidents and needs help. The deputy could have taken a report and referred the charges to the state attorney, said Pasco-Pinellas Public Defender Bob Dillinger. The girl was released to her mother from a juvenile assessment center about an hour after her arrest, which she said was scary. She also didn't like the deputy. "He put one handcuff on me really tight," she said Thursday. In the patrol car, "He just stared at me in the mirror."
March 24
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America Online said its members have submitted more than one million AOL screen names in the Internet company's unorthodox drawing for a spammer's seized sports car. Last week, AOL announced it had confiscated a red Porsche Boxster S convertible as part of a settlement with a spammer who made more that $1 million from sending unwanted junk e-mail. AOL, a unit of Time Warner Inc., launched a sweepstakes for the car on March 30 as "a gesture of support and thanks" to its members for their help in the fight against spam. At one point during the first 24 hours of the sweepstakes, AOL processed several hundred entries per minute, the company said. The drawing has generated 3 million pageviews of the sweepstakes promotion in just over eight days. AOL will stop taking names at 11:59 p.m. EDT Thursday. The winner will be selected in a random drawing on Friday or soon after, and will likely be announced publicly during the week of April 19.

March 25
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Whiskey Swigging Bride Wants Photo Killed
DAYTON, Ohio - Most women are eager to show off their wedding photos. But Michele Hemphill is suing to get a picture of her drinking whiskey and smoking a cigarette in her wedding dress off store shelves. The photo was taken 22 years ago while Hemphill was with her bridesmaids before her wedding. It's featured on a greeting card with the caption: "Intoxicating Love." Inside it says, "Isn't love intoxicating? Congratulations on your special day." Hemphill, a mother of three who works at an assisted living community and is active in her church, seeks damages of more than $25,000 for invasion of privacy, publication of private matters, intrusion upon seclusion and slander in her lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court. She asks that all copies of the photograph be destroyed and the card be removed from retailers. Named as defendants are Wallace McNamee of Hilton Head, S.C., who took the photo; Corbis Corp. of Olympia, Wash., an online digital image company; and Portal Publications Ltd. of Novato, Calif., a greeting card publisher. Defense attorney David Shough said his clients did not want to comment. McNamee was on assignment for Newsweek doing a story about families in the Springfield area when he took the picture, which Hemphill never authorized to be used on greeting cards, the lawsuit says. He licensed the photograph to Corbis, which licensed it to Portal in January 2003 for "nonexclusive use on greeting cards and postcards for worldwide distribution for a three-year period," the lawsuit says. Hemphill learned of the card on July 31, 2003, when a friend received it. The card is available at retailers in the Dayton and Springfield areas, the lawsuit says. Hemphill's attorney, Richard Schulte, said Portal has removed the picture from its Web site, but not from store shelves.
March 26
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Mexican Woman Performs Own Caesarian to Save Baby
A woman in Mexico gave birth to a healthy baby boy after performing a Caesarian section on herself with a kitchen knife, doctors said. The unidentified 40-year-old woman, who lived in a rural area without electricity, running water or sanitation and was an eight-hour drive from the nearest hospital, performed the operation when she could not deliver the baby naturally. She had lost a previous baby due to labor complications. "She took three small glasses of hard liquor and, using a kitchen knife, sliced her abdomen in three attempts ... and delivered a male infant that breathed immediately and cried," said Dr R.F. Valle, of the Dr. Manuel Velasco Suarez Hospital in San Pablo, Mexico. Valle recounted the event in a report in the International Journal of Gynecology and Obstetrics. Before losing consciousness, the woman told one of her children to call a local nurse for help. After the nurse stitched the wound with a sewing needle and cotton thread, the mother and baby were transferred and treated by Valle and his colleagues at the nearest hospital. "This case represents an unusual and extraordinary decision by a women in labor who, unable to deliver herself spontaneously, and with no medical help or resources, decided to perform a Caesarian section upon herself," Valle said.
March 27
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Australians Set Tractor Plow Record
COOTAMUNDRA, Australia - For a moment there were furrowed brows when organizers of an assault on the world plowing record realized they did not have enough tractors. But farmers in and around the Outback town of Cootamundra, 220 miles west of Sydney, quickly mustered the necessary vehicles Sunday and claimed a world record for the largest number of tractors to plow a 500-yard stretch simultaneously. Organizer Vic Muscat said 1,862 tractors took part and said that number broke the previous record of 1,833 tractors held by a group in Ireland. At the set time for the great plow, Muscat was 200 tractors short, but within two hours, farmers had enough horsepower on hand to break the record. "It was bloody brilliant the way people worked together. We had about 150 trucks leave here in 15 minutes to get those tractors, and they came back with them," Muscat said.
March 28
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Young buddhist monks with a cat at their monastery. Man tamed the cat around 9,500 years ago, more than 5,000 years than previously thought, according to a find of an ancient feline skeleton in Cyprus.
March 29
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Betting It All on Vegas Roulette Spin
A British man who has sold all his possessions, including his clothes, will stand in a rented tuxedo on Sunday and bet everything on a single spin of the roulette wheel.  If he wins, he doubles his money. If he loses, he will be left with only the television crew documenting his every move. Ashley Revell, a 32-year-old Londoner, said he was worth about 75,000 pounds ($138,000) after he sold everything in March.  "I thought I was worth at least 100,000 pounds," he said in a telephone interview from Las Vegas, where he is putting in a week gambling about $3,000 in a bid to raise his pot. By Wednesday, he was down $1,000. Revell said he had planned to have a friend videotape his bet-it-all spin, but Britain's Sky One television decided it was worth a short reality series, called "Double or Nothing." Sky will not pay him, he says, but a crew has followed his preparation and will cover the spin live on Sunday at the Hard Rock casino in Las Vegas. It also plans to follow him for a month afterward, win or lose. Revell, recently a professional gambler, said he decided to take a big plunge while he was still young and raised the stakes as high as possible, including selling his clothes. "I like to do things properly," he said. He had not decided yet whether to place his money or red or black on Sunday afternoon. "I don't know man," he said. "One of them is going to be the right thing to say and one is going to be the wrong thing." He added that if he won he would probably take his winnings rather than spin again.
March 30
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For the first time the government has cleared a commercial aviator to fly to the edge of Earth's orbit in an experimental aircraft that could become the model for taking tourists into space, regulators said. The Federal Aviation Administration issued the license for a suborbital manned flight to Burt Rutan's Scaled Composites group of Mojave, California. Scaled Composites is competing in a privately run, $10 million contest to send a reusable craft carrying three people on a suborbital round-trip. Rutan's SpaceShipOne is seen during a test flight.
March 31
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Ruben Enaje, 43-years old and on his 17th year to be nailed on the cross grimaces after a nail pierces his palm in the village of San Pedro Cutud in Pampanga province, north of Manila. This ritual is performed yearly during Holy Week by Filipino penitents as they observed the life and sufferings of Jesus Christ and on the belief that it will atone them of their sins.