Thought Gallery October 2006

October 1
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Vegemite crackdown fears roil expats
Reports that U.S. customs agents are searching people from Australia and New Zealand for Vegemite, a popular yeast extract spread, has created consternation among antipodean expatriates living in America. The Australian Embassy in Washington said it was looking into Australian media reports that customs officials were checking people for the salty brown spread. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has long prohibited imports of Vegemite because it contains folate, a B vitamin approved as an additive for just a few foods, including breakfast cereals. But until recently there was no difficulty bringing in a few jars for personal use. Nearly 100,000 Australians and New Zealanders live in the United States. Like a similar British favorite called Marmite, it is usually spread on toast with butter or cheese. "Vegemite made me the man I am today," said Brad Blanks, a reporter with a New York breakfast radio show. "In Australia the slogan is that Vegemite puts a rose in every cheek; but today America has slapped the cheek of every Australian." Weekend reports from Australian and New Zealand media said some people had been searched or asked by U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents if they were carrying Vegemite. Agency officials were not immediately available for comment. "From our perspective there is no food safety issue with Vegemite and we had been advised recently by US authorities that Vegemite was not of concern to them," an Australian embassy spokeswoman told Reuters. Vegemite is made in Australia by U.S.-based Kraft Foods Inc.
October 2
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Wild rides on Aussie outback roads face speed curbs
Wild rides on the open road in Australia's vast outback may be numbered, with a call for speed limits to be introduced for the first time to curb a soaring death toll. Casualties from road accidents in the Northern Territory are three times higher than anywhere else in the country, where speed limits are set at around 110 kilometres (68 miles) an hour, a state government report said Tuesday. "We as territorians drink and drive, travel very fast, we take risks when we travel and we run red lights," said Chief Minister Clare Martin. Launching the report's "appalling and shocking" findings, she said that despite community opposition the government needed to make "tough decisions" such as imposing a speed limit similar to those in other states. The sparsley-populated territory, where roads stretch straight and seemingly endlessly between settlements, sees one person killed and nine seriously injured every week. The report by the road safety taskforce said one in every 42 Northern Territory drivers was found to be over the legal alcohol limit. Apart from a speed limit, the taskforce also recommended a demerit points system similar to those in other states where repeated offences lead to the loss of a driving licence. "We do need to change the rules, we need to change the culture of (the) way territorians get in our cars and go on the roads," she said.
October 3
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Inmate won't use "get out of jail free" card
A 59-year-old German man who has spent the last 34 years in jail has turned down offers to be let out, an official said. "He rejected an offer to leave in 1992," Thomas Melzer, a spokesman for the Brandenburg state justice ministry, told Bild newspaper. "We can't do anything if someone sentenced to life in prison doesn't want to leave." The man, identified only as Gerold H, was convicted of murder and sentenced to life imprisonment in 1972 when the area was part of communist East Germany. German prisoners have no obligation to agree to leave jail before their sentences have been completed.
October 4
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Stop singing in the shower, Australians told
Australians should stop singing and daydreaming in the shower because they are wasting money on hot water, one of the country's largest power suppliers said. Energy Australia has conducted research showing that the average Australian showers for seven minutes, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation reported. The time is taken up by activities such as shaving, playing with toys, singing, daydreaming and brushing teeth, spokesman Anthony O'Brien said. "That's an activity that perhaps people can look at whether they need to do that in the shower or whether they can just do it over the sink," he told ABC. O'Brien said half a million shower timers had been sent to families in the country's biggest city Sydney and surrounding areas to remind them to be more energy efficient. Families could save 100 dollars (75 US dollars) a year on their electricity bills if they cut back their shower times, he said. Australia is also in the grip of the worst drought in living memory and some up-market Sydney suburbs have recently been "outed" in the media as using more water than most -- but big gardens are the suspects, rather than long showers.
October 5
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Lawyer invents way to spy on nannies
Just as trucking companies put signs on their vehicles asking the public to report unsafe drivers, parents can now put license plates on their baby strollers to get feedback on the behavior of their nannies. Jill Starishevsky, a mother of two and a New York prosecutor, launched, which sells stroller license plates that have a unique number and include the Web site address so the public can anonymously report good or bad nanny behavior. The parents, who pay $50 for a plate, receive an e-mail alerting them to the report, which they access on the Web site ( using a password. "It's a tool to empower the parents and to protect the parents and the children, it's not a tool to work against nannies. It's just a tool to give parents peace of mind," said Starishevsky, a lawyer who prosecutes child abuse and sex crimes. Starishevsky said she came up with the idea after she saw a nanny in a New York city park who for at least an hour ignored the two young girls she was looking after. "I was so frustrated," said Starishevsky. "How do I tell the mother that these kids could have run into the street, they could have been taken away at the hand of a stranger." The most recent data from the U.S. Department of Labor shows that in 2004 there were about 1.3 million childcare workers across the United States, of which about 21 percent worked in private households. "People keep asking me if this is because I am a mom do I want to do this or is it because I am a prosecutor? My answer is I think it's both," Starishevsky said.
October 6
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Scales of justice weigh heavy for dieting escapee
An Australian prisoner who went on a crash diet so he could squeeze his way out of jail escaped to show authorities that he could go straight on the outside. Robert Cole, 37, fasted and used laxatives to lose some 30 pounds before he squeezed through a hole he had chiseled with a butter knife to escape from a hospital in a Sydney maximum security prison in January. Weighing just 123 pounds, Cole squeezed through the hole he had made between brickwork and a window frame, scaled a razor-wire fence, walked along a prison wall and then jumped to freedom. He was recaptured three days later. Cole's lawyer Richard Leary told the New South Wales District Court that his mentally ill client -- jailed on theft and assault charges -- had acted naively after failing to convince authorities he was fit for release, Australian Associated Press reported. "He committed this offence in a vain hope to show authorities that he can survive outside," Leary said. Judge Roger Dive described Cole's offence as serious and jailed him for 21 months. "It has involved some time-consuming efforts and planning and preparation," Dive said. Cole's sister Denise Roberts, an Australian actress, said he had long suffered from drug-induced psychosis. She said her brother had put on a lot of weight since his recapture.
October 7
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Home sweet home meet the chocolate igloo
PERUGIA, Italy - Four Italians have constructed what they believe is the world's first full-sized chocolate igloo but they have yet to solve an age-old problem. It still melts. "It was a tough thing to do, much more difficult than building a normal snow igloo," Marco Fanti, 45, who used to race cars in desert rallies, told Reuters as he stood beside the 1.65-metre-high, dome-shaped traditional Inuit shelter made of some 330 dark chocolate bricks. Fanti and fellow instructors at a survival school took 23 hours working with tricky, crumbling chocolate material to construct what they believe to be the world's first chocolate igloo for the Eurochocolate fair in Perugia. They normally build one made of snow, for survival courses, within three to four hours. Fanti said it has yet to be decided what to do with the 3.6- tonne igloo -- which is kept indoors and will start melting at above 30 C -- when the fair ends on Oct 22.
October 8
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Chilean sentenced to attend church after robbing parish
A Chilean man caught stealing from a Catholic parish church was sentenced to go to mass regularly for one whole year. Alexis Araneda, 18, will also have to carry out menial chores at the San Antonio de Padua parish, located in the town of Ercilla, 580 kilometers (360 miles) south of Santiago. The alternative punishment was proposed by authorities, part of changes in Chilean legal rules. Araneda was sentenced for stealing cylinders of liquefied gas which the church used for heating. He also damaged property in the April robbery, committed as he returned after binge drinking with friends at a party.
October 9
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Amazon River Flowed Backwards in Ancient Times
South America's winding Amazon River flows in an easterly direction across the continent, dumping water into the Atlantic Ocean. But in eons past, it flowed from east-to-west and, for a time, in both directions at once, a new study finds. About 100 million years ago, during the middle of the Cretaceous Period when dinosaurs still walked the Earth, the continents of South America and Africa broke apart. The fissure created a raised highland along the east coast of South America, which tilted the Amazon's flow, sending water and sediment rushing toward the center of the continent [image]. Over time, South America developed a vertical crease along its middle, a small mountain range called the Purus Arch. The ridge divided the Amazon's flow [image], sending one side of the river eastward toward the Atlantic Ocean and the other side westward toward the still-growing Andes Mountains. Toward the end of the Cretaceous, the growing Andes became large enough to send the Amazon's water tumbling back toward the Purus Arch. Eventually, sediments eroded from the Andes filled in the Amazon basin between the mountains and the Arch. Water breached the Arch and flowed unobstructed eastward. By this time, the eastern highland had eroded away, and the river's water could empty freely into the Atlantic.
The discovery of the Amazon's reverse flow in ancient times was accidental. Scientists were studying rocks in the river to determine the speed at which sediment is ferried toward the Atlantic when they stumbled upon ancient minerals grains in the central part of South America. A chemical analysis revealed the grains could only have originated in the now-eroded highlands on the eastern part of the continent. The new finding helps illustrate the transient nature of Earth's surface, the researchers said. "Although the Amazon seems permanent and unchanging, it has actually gone through three different stages of drainage since the mid-Cretaceous, a short period of time geologically speaking," said study team member Russell Mapes, a graduate student at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Previous studies showed certain segments of the Amazon flowed backward in times past, but the current research, presented today at the annual meeting of the Geological Society of America in Philadelphia, is the first to reveal a continent-wide shift in the river's movements. Also involved in the research were UNC geologist Drew Coleman and Brazilian scientists Afonso Nogueira and Angela Maria Leguizamon Vega of the Universidade Federal do Amazonas. The Amazon is the second longest river in the world, after the Nile River in Egypt. About 4,000 miles long, the Amazon is the equivalent of the distance from New York City to Rome.
October 10
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Weight gain means lower gas mileage
Want to spend less at the pump? Lose some weight. That's the implication of a new study that says Americans are burning nearly 1 billion more gallons of gasoline each year than they did in 1960 because of their expanding waistlines. Simply put, more weight in the car means lower gas mileage. Using recent gas prices of $2.20 a gallon, that translates to about $2.2 billion more spent on gas each year. "The bottom line is that our hunger for food and our hunger for oil are not independent. There is a relationship between the two," said University of Illinois researcher Sheldon Jacobson, a study co-author. "If a person reduces the weight in their car, either by removing excess baggage, carrying around less weight in their trunk, or yes, even losing weight, they will indeed see a drop in their fuel consumption." The lost mileage is pretty small for any single driver. Jacobson said the typical driver — someone who records less than 12,000 miles annually — would use roughly 18 fewer gallons of gas over the course of a year by losing 100 pounds. At $2.20 per gallon, that would be a savings of almost $40. Outside experts said that even if the calculations aren't exact, the study makes sense. "If you put more weight into your car, you're going to get fewer miles per gallon," Emory University health care analyst Kenneth Thorpe said Wednesday. The same effect has been seen in airplanes.
Research from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that heavy fliers have contributed to higher fuel costs for airlines. The obesity rate among U.S. adults doubled from 1987 to 2003, from about 15 percent to more than 30 percent. Also, the average weight for American men was 191 pounds in 2002 and 164 pounds for women, about 25 pounds heavier than in 1960, government figures show. The study's conclusions are based on those weight figures and Americans' 2003 driving habits, involving roughly 223 million cars and light trucks nationwide. It will appear in the October-December issue of The Engineering Economist, a peer-reviewed journal published by the American Society of Engineering Education and the Institute of Industrial Engineers. Jacobson, an industrial engineer, conducted the research with Laura McLay, a doctoral student in his Champaign-Urbana lab who now works at Virginia Commonwealth University. They estimated that more than 39 million gallons of fuel are used each year for every additional pound of passenger weight. The amount of extra fuel consumption blamed on weight gain since 1960 — 938 million gallons — would fill almost 2 million cars with gas for an entire year. However, that is only 0.7 percent of the total amount of fuel consumed by U.S. passenger vehicles each year, Jacobson said. The estimates "are probably pretty reliable," said Larry Chavis, an economist at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill. "I don't know if it's going to encourage anybody to go out and lose weight to save gasoline, but even for individual families, it could have an effect on their budget." Dr. Jeffrey Koplan, former CDC director and chairman of an Institute of Medicine report on obesity, said the findings are almost beside the point. "The wrong fuel is being focused on," said Koplan, now at Emory University. "If you're heavier, the most important fuel you use more of is food." Eating less, driving less and choosing more active means of transportation would reduce gas consumption, and also help reverse rising obesity rates, he said.
October 11
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A doctor slices a piece of Aleve Loh's scalp, to be used for an individual eyelash transplant to make her eyelashes longer, at a surgery in Los Angeles.
October 12
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Four week-old South American tapir (Tapirus Terrestris) 'Ailton' jumps over a branch in his enclosure at the Hagenbeck Zoo in Hamburg.
October 13
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Elderly now a fifth of Japan population
One-fifth of Japan's population now consists of people aged 65 or older, the nation's latest census data show, a development that could threaten the world's second-largest economy. The nation, which has the world's highest proportion of old people and lowest proportion of young people, has also seen its population shrink since peaking in 2004, according to final census figures for 2005. Experts have long forecast that Japan's ageing population and falling birth rate meant its population would decline -- shrinking the economy and leaving fewer workers to support a growing number of pensioners -- but the fall began two years earlier than initially forecast. Last year's decline was the first since 1945, the final year of World War Two. The proportion of Japan's 127 million people who are 65 or older hit 21 percent last year, the highest ratio in the world The figure was up from 17.3 percent in 2000 when the previous census was conducted. The ratio of people under 15 fell to 13.6 percent, the lowest since census-taking began in 1920 and also the world's lowest. In addition, the proportion of people considered economically active -- those aged between 15 and 64 -- fell by 2.1 percentage points to 65.8 percent of the total. The number of households consisting of elderly couples rose by 22.6 percent to 4.49 million, while households of elderly people living alone soared by 27.5 percent to 3.86 million. The figures are more bad news for economic planners already worried about how to fund ballooning pension requirements. Japan's fertility rate -- the average number of children a woman has during her lifetime -- slipped to an all-time low of 1.25 in 2005. Demographers say a rate of 2.1 is needed to keep a population from falling. In a possible sign of hope, however, births were up in August for the seventh straight month, rising by 3.1 percent from the same month last year.
October 14
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World's tallest tower rising in Dubai
Slated to become the world's tallest skyscraper and symbol of a city given to grandiose projects, "Burj Dubai," or Dubai Tower, is rising in parallel with the profits of its promoter, Emaar Properties. With two stories added every week, Burj Dubai is taking shape as the centerpiece of a 20-billion-dollar venture featuring the construction of a new district, "Downtown Burj Dubai," that will house 30,000 apartments and the world's largest shopping mall. Launched in early 2004, the construction of the tower by South Korea's Samsung should be completed at the end of 2008 and cost one billion dollars, according to Greg Sang, the Emaar official in charge of Burj Dubai.
Burj Dubai already has 79 stories, taking its height to more than 200 meters (656 feet). But even after having gone that far, Emaar is still not revealing the tower's final height. "At the moment, we are not answering. We'll say it (will be) more than 700 meters (2,296 feet) and more than 160 stories ... The people who need to know, know," Sang, a 40-year-old New Zealander, told AFP. The world's tallest inhabited building is "Taipei 101" in Taiwan, which is 508 meters (1,666 feet) tall. "At the moment, we've got around 2,500 workers on the tower site alone. We expect that to peak about a year from now at over 5,000 ... And for the whole site ... at any point in time, when the whole Downtown Burj Dubai district is under construction, there will be 20,000 men working here," Sang said.
Some 2,500 of these laborers hired by one of many firms working for Emaar downed tools for two days earlier this year and demonstrated in protest at poor working conditions and delays in the payment of salaries. The protests degenerated into riots during which equipment and cars were smashed. According to Sang, the protesting laborers did not work on the tower site and construction was therefore not affected. "We actually work very closely with the contractors and with the authorities to ensure conditions for the labor are adequate and good. So we were a little disappointed that they weren't completely satisfied," Sang said. He said the average wages of the south Asian laborers, who work in summer in temperatures reaching 50 degrees Celsius (122 Fahrenheit), are "probably in the range of a couple of hundred US dollars a month" for a shift of "eight to 10 hours" a day, six days a week. "They can get overtime if they like," Sang said. But he stressed that it is the contractor, not Emaar, "who employs the workers, and it's his responsibility to provide them with accommodation and pay the salaries on time.
" Emaar, which is listed on the Dubai stock exchange and boasts of being the world's largest property company by capital, is setting great store by this flagship project. The figures bear out its confidence. Emaar, in which the Dubai government has a 32.5 percent stake, is seeing its profits climb. The real estate giant posted record net profits of 437 million dollars in the third quarter of this year, a 39 percent increase on the same period in 2005. It posted a 21 percent hike in profits in the first half of 2006 compared to the first six months of last year. Business cirles attribute the steady rise in profits to the sustained sales of apartments in Downtown Burj Dubai, a trend helped by a law allowing foreigners to become freehold property owners in certain areas of the Gulf city state which went into force this year. "Certain buildings take on iconic status, like the Eiffel Tower and the Empire State Building, instantly recognizable and instantly associated with the city that they are placed in," Sang said. "I hope the same happens with the Burj Dubai. It's definitely going to be very unique," he said. But Sang admitted that he did not expect Burj Dubai to remain the tallest building in the world forever. For it will face competition in Dubai itself, where the city's other property development major, Nakheel, has announced it will launch the construction of "Al-Burj" or "The Tower" -- whose projected height also remains a closely guarded secret.

October 15
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Because we don't already have enough fried foods
A new fast food is making its debut at U.S. fairs this fall -- fried Coke. Abel Gonzales, 36, a computer analyst from Dallas, tried about 15 different varieties before coming up with his perfect recipe -- a batter mix made with Coca-Cola syrup, a drizzle of strawberry syrup, and some strawberries. Balls of the batter are then deep-fried, ending up like ping-pong ball sized doughnuts which are then served in a cup, topped with Coca-Cola syrup, whipped cream, cinnamon sugar and a cherry on the top. "It tastes great," said Sue Gooding, a spokeswoman for the State Fair of Texas where Gonzales' fried Coke made its debut this fall. "It was a huge success." Gonzales ran two stands at the State Fair of Texas and sold up to 35,000 fried Cokes over 24 days for $4.50 each -- and won a prize for coming up with "most creative" new fair food. Now other fairs in North Carolina and Arizona are following the trend, and other people are trying to emulate Gonzales' recipe. Gonzales gave no indication of the calories in his creation and said he would not patent it. "The best I can hope for is that it's the original and hopefully the best fried Coke out there," he said. But Gonzales said the success of his fried Coke had inspired him. Next year's fair-goers can look forward to fried Sprite or -- for those watching their weight -- fried diet Coke. "We are trying to cut a lot of the sugar out of it. It has less calories but it's still very, very sweet," he said. Ray Crockett, a spokesman for Coca-Cola Co., said: "We're constantly amazed at the creative ways folks find to enjoy their Coke and make it part of celebrations like fairs and festivals. This is one is definitely different!"
October 16
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Thai royal shock sparks sexy dancing ban
Thailand banned people younger than 20 from performing sexy dances in public places, after the nation's queen expressed shock at an erotic performance held at a Buddhist temple. "As they are under the age of consent, they cannot conduct such performances," the head of the government's Cultural Surveillance Center, Ladda Thangsuppachai. "They could be easily lured into the sex trade," she warned. The announcement came after Queen Sirikit on Monday voiced her concern to the Culture Ministry about young girls in skimpy clothes who she saw dancing on television at a festival at a Buddhist temple in the northeastern province of Nongkhai. So-called "coyote dancers" who dress in sexy outfits and perform provocative routines are often hired for public events or to promote products for companies.
October 17
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Viking riches found in Sweden
Swedish experts have confirmed the finding of over 1,000 Viking-era silver coins after their chance discovery by two brothers on the Swedish island of Gotland. The treasure was believed to have been buried in the 10th century and weighed about 3 kilos (7 pounds), local curator Majvor Ostergren told the TT news agency. Edvin Sandborg, 20, and his 17-year-old brother Arvid dug up more than 100 coins last week, while helping their neighbour with his garden. "Completely by accident I found an Arabic silver coin that's about 1,100 years old," Edvin Sandborg told TT. The brothers contacted the local council and archaeologists are now close to completing their excavation of the site, TT said. Most of the coins were recovered in relatively good condition. The two brothers were in line for a finder's fee from the government, although the precise amount of the reward was not yet known, officials said. Over 700 Viking treasure troves have been found on the island of Gotland, which lies off Sweden's east coast. The world's largest known Viking hoard was found on the island in 1997. The find included coins and jewelry, amounting to about 65 kilos (143 pounds) of silver and 20 kilos (44 pounds) of bronze. The government awarded the finder 2.1 million kronor (290,00 dollars, 228,000 euros), TT said.
October 18
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Chinese fail to embrace hugs from strangers
Chinese appear not to have warmed to a "free hugs" campaign aimed at cheering up strangers by hugging them on the street, with some huggers even being hauled away by police for questioning, media said Monday. The campaign hit the streets of Beijing, Changsha and Xian this weekend, with participants opening their arms to embrace passers-by and brandishing cards saying "free hugs," "care from strangers," "refuse to be apathetic," the Beijing News said. In the capital, police moved in and took away four huggers briefly for questioning, baffled by their wacky, Western activities on a busy city-center shopping street. In the ancient capital of Xian, home to the terracotta warriors, no more than 20 people, mostly children, had volunteered for the free hugs in two hours. "Passers-by showed interest and curiosity, stopped and asked, but most of them walked away after hearing the explanation," Xinhua news agency said, quoting a local newspaper. "Embracing is a foreign tradition. Chinese are not accustomed to this," a man named Li, a Xi'an citizen, was quoted as saying. The ancient city of Changsha, capital of Hunan province, fared better, a local affairs Web site reported. "Though some people refused (to be hugged), I hugged 20 people in one minute," one girl was quoted as saying. The Free Hugs campaign started in Australia and gained fame with a music video this year.
October 19
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Champagne-soaked 'Millionaire Fair' tempts Russia's richest
Dreamy-eyed models rode ponies onstage while guests wrapped in furs filled their mouths with gourmet chocolates -- all part of the routine at Moscow's Millionaire Fair, where the global luxury industry aims its most audacious offerings at Russia's rich. Meant for the oligarch who has everything, this year's exhibition was a stunning display of excess, from Caribbean villas to helicopters and diamond-encrusted mobile phones. The second annual installment of Russia's most exclusive bazaar was to close on Monday after four days of hard sells at the Crocus-Expo exhibition center in northwest Moscow.
A 1,000-ruble (37 dollar, 30 euro) ticket admitted guests into halls where they washed down oysters and caviar with glasses of champagne and girls beckoned to them from a jacuzzi. Elsewhere models clung to the necks of Akhal-Teke racing ponies in a fashion show on horseback. "There are 20 more houses for sale on the private island of Taborcillo near Panama. For a mere 240,000 dollars (188,600 euros), you will have a small villa and a tax haven," said Yelena Oleinikova, pitching her wares among young women in cowboy hats. But if Panama is too far, there is always a getaway in the Canary Islands. "For a million dollars you will have a house with eight rooms on a hectare of land in a spot where the summer never ends. Which is more interesting than paying three million dollars for a house in the suburbs of Moscow," said Alexei Yefimov of the Luxury Living group.
"The rich never buy on credit. It is difficult to present transparent documentation at a bank when you're spending 10 million dollars," said Yekaterina Marianova of the British real estate agency Knight Frank, which has worked in Russia for 10 years. The cream of Russian society still prefers "London's aristocratic suburbs and Italy," Marionova said. "But as in New York or London, many fashionable Russians are looking for lofts. They can't wait for the Red October chocolate factory to be banished to the edge of Moscow," leaving its historic red-brick walls and Kremlin views to wealthy apartment buyers, she said. For those who prefer a quiet spot a few hundred kilometers from Moscow, there are half-million-dollar mini-helicopters to ease the commute. Helicopters are popular with Russian businessmen for hunting and fishing, said Leonid Tarassov, who sells American mini-helicopters in Russia.
But even that executive toy was eclipsed by the diamond-encrusted Goldvish telephone, which was designed especially for Russian buyers and costs a cool million dollars. A representative of the Swiss company said it had recently sold another model to a Russian at that price -- but wouldn't name names. One young Russian was willing to hazard a guess. "Roman Abramovich for his mistress," suggested one of two stunning young Russian women in low-cut dresses, who was excited by the rumors of divorce surrounding Russia's richest man and his rumoured links to a 23-year-old Russian. A 45,000-dollar phone would suffice for a wife, said the other, pointing to a cheaper, gold-plated model. Gerd Wuerzburg, a German in his 40s who was visiting the exhibition with his Russian wife, was overwhelmed by the spectacle.
"In Germany it would be unimaginable to exhibit diamonds and luxury cars side-by-side -- there are shops for that. In Germany, people are not accustomed to advertising their riches," he said. His wife, 41-year-old Yelena, found the fair "sublime." "We cannot allow ourselves everything yet, but in a few years, why not?" she said, then sipped a Spanish wine. Alexander Sudin, who was serving the wine, said Russians' taste in alcohol "has changed radically in 10 years: from total ignorance to a race for rare bottles". He boasted that he bought a bottle of 1937 Glenfiddich whiskey at auction for a million dollars. He had no doubt he would find a buyer.
At a nearby stand, Max Chaoul, a French designer of evening and wedding dresses, said he would like to open a shop in Moscow. "A wedding dress for 15,000 euros? It isn't enough for the Millionaires Fair," he joked. "The women are very beautiful and in good company," he said, inspired by the sight of potential buyers flanking the slim young beauties. Kapitolina Chipova, a 35-year-old businesswoman visiting the exhibition with her husband and her three children, was less impressed, saying that the show was put on "for the people of the street." "Rich people have already have all this. The poor will brag about their knowledge of luxury," she Chipova. "I would refuse to take most of the things here even if they were offered to me", said Nadezhda Verkhovtseva, a professor at Moscow State University -- who all the same hadn't minded paying nearly 40 dollars to enter to the fair. Russia "has transformed too quickly, tastes haven't been formed yet," she said. At her back, two teenaged girls frolicked in an enormous bed representing a Turkish hotel that claimed to be "the world's sexiest." "It lacks finesse," Verkhovtseva said.
October 20
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Extra rear ends New Zealand's four-legged chicken
Forzie, the four-legged chicken hatched in New Zealand last month, has died, and it appears it was an extra anus rather than the extra legs which led to its death. "He developed two bottoms and I think he got glugged up," said owner Marlene Dickey. Dickey said she was surprised by Forzie's death, as he was slowly gaining feathers. "He was a bit of a laugh," she said. Looking ungainly on its extra legs, the bird was an exception to the rule that chickens with defects are not normally born alive. He is now in the Dickeys' freezer waiting to be sent to a taxidermist, and he will then be donated to a museum.
October 21
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Sexsomniacs" puzzle medical researchers
Researchers are struggling to understand a rare medical condition where sufferers unknowingly demand, or actually have, sex while asleep, New Scientist magazine reported. Research into sexsomnia -- making sexual advances toward another person while asleep -- has been hampered as sufferers are so embarrassed by the problem they tend not to own up to it, while doctors do not ask about it. As yet there is no cure for the condition, which often leads to difficulties in relationships. "It really bothers me that I can't control it," Lisa Mahoney told the magazine. "It scares me because I don't think it has anything to do with the partner. I don't want this foolish condition to hurt us in the long run." Most researchers view sexsomnia as a variant of sleepwalking, where sufferers are stuck between sleep and wakefulness, though sexsomniacs tend to stay in bed rather than get up and walk about. While sleepwalking affects two to four percent of adults, sexsomnia is not thought to be as common a problem, according to Nik Trajanovic, a researcher at the sleep and alertness clinic at Canada's Toronto Western Hospital. But an Internet survey of sexsomniacs carried out in 2005 that drew 219 reliable respondents concluded it was more prevalent than medical case reports alone might suggest. "Most of the time sleep sex occurs between people who are already partners," Mark Pressman, a sleep specialist at Lankenan Hospital in Wynnewood, Pennsylvania, told the New Scientist. "Sometimes they hate it," added Pressman of the reactions of sexsomniacs' partners. "Sometimes they tolerate it. On rare occasions you have stories of people liking it better than waking sex." With no cure, addressing triggering factors -- stress or sleep deprivation -- can help, while Michael Mangan, a psychologist at the University of New Hampshire in the U.S. has set up a Web site,, to help sufferers. Meanwhile Trajanovic is devising a procedure for diagnosing sexsomnia in legal cases where sufferers have been accused of sexual assault.
October 22
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A Toy Poodle jumps over a crossbar during the Super Dogs Carnival at Invoice Seibu Dome in Tokorozawa, north of Tokyo.
October 23
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Baby with heart outside body has surgery
MIAMI - Using a piece of Gore-Tex fabric to make their repairs, doctors performed corrective surgery on a baby born with his heart outside his chest, and said Wednesday that the youngster should be able to lead a close-to-normal life. Naseem Hasni underwent surgery to put his heart inside his chest hours after being delivered by Caesarean section Oct. 31 at Holtz Children's Hospital. He remained in critical but stable condition Wednesday. "He's not going to be able to play certain kinds of sports where a blow to the sternum to you and me wouldn't be a problem, but in him it would be. So I think some competitive sports are going to be out," said Dr. Eliot Rosenkranz, a cardiothoracic surgeon, "but he's going to be able to participate in other sorts of activities." He added: "Certainly the goal is as normal a childhood as he can achieve." Before the surgery, Naseem's heart looked like a peeled plum sitting atop his pink chest, with the aorta diving back underneath the skin. Nevertheless, the heart was beating away normally.
During the six-hour operation, surgeons first wrapped Naseem's heart in Gore-Tex, then a layer of his own skin, to substitute for his missing pericardium, the sac that encloses the heart. The heart was then slowly eased inside his chest. The baby was born with an extremely rare congenital defect, ectopia cordis, in which the heart grows outside the body and the chest wall and sternum fail to develop. The defect was spotted in an ultrasound exam in late September after the mother, Michelle Hasni, 33, began feeling unusual movement from the baby. "He was having hiccups, but it was constantly and it was every day. I wasn't sure what the movement was," the Miami woman said. Naseem was delivered at 36 weeks, a few days early. Surgeons made a larger incision than normal to ensure that the heart would not be squeezed or touch any part of the womb. Other than the heart defect, Naseem had developed normally: He was 21 inches long and weighed 9 pounds, 2 ounces at birth. In a few weeks, Naseem will be fitted with a protective piece of plastic to wear over his chest. When he is about 6 months old, surgeons will graft pieces of his own ribs across his chest to create a sternum, or breastbone. While doctors had not initially been sure that Naseem would survive until Thanksgiving, he could be home with his family as early as Christmas, Rosenkranz said. Ectopia cordis occurs 5.5 to 7.9 times per 1 million live births, and the survival rate after surgery is less than 50 percent, the boy's doctors said.
October 24
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India mulls unmanned mission to Mars by 2013
NEW DELHI - Indian space scientists plan to send an unmanned mission to Mars by 2013 to look for evidence of life, a news report said. The six-to-eight-month mission, likely to be launched in the next seven years, would cost three billion rupees (67 million dollars), the Hindustan Times reported. "Mars is emerging on our horizon. The geo-stationary launch vehicle can take a payload to Mars and our Deep Space Network can track it all the way," G. Madhavan Nair, the chairman of the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), told the newspaper. "There is a lot of interest in Mars. The missions of the United States and the European Space Agency have given us some interesting data. Let us see what value addition our mission can bring," he said. The mission will study the chemical attributes of the Martian atmosphere and the planet's sub-soil and terrain, ISRO programme director S.C Chakravarthy told the English-language daily. India plans to send its first unmanned probe to the moon in two or three years' time.
October 25
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Fan restores 'Christmas Story' house
CLEVELAND - Ralphie Parker and Brian Jones know what it's like to want something. For Ralphie, the object of desire was an official Red Ryder, carbine-action, 200-shot, range model air rifle. (Go ahead, say it, "You'll shoot your eye out, kid.") For Jones, the gotta-have-it item was Ralphie's house — the one in "A Christmas Story," the quirky film that's found a niche alongside holiday classics like "It's a Wonderful Life" and "Miracle on 34th Street." Jones has restored the three-story, wood-frame house to its appearance in the movie and will open it for tours beginning Saturday. His hope is that it will become a tourist stop alongside the city's Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and other destinations. He's unsure whether he'll make enough money to cover his $500,000 investment, but as sure as a kid's tongue will stick to a frozen flag pole, he's committed to the project. "I just want people to come and enjoy it as I have," said Jones, a 30-year-old former Navy lieutenant. "A Christmas Story" wasn't a big hit when released in 1983 but repeat TV airings and, in recent years, a 24-hour run on TBS starting Christmas Eve have made its story of boy's quest to get a BB gun for Christmas as infectious as the bespectacled Ralphie's eager grin. "It just kind of sets the mood. In the Jones household, it's on all day once the marathon comes on," said Jones, who's married with an 8-month-old daughter.
Jones first saw the movie in the late 1980s and he and his parents became fans. When the San Diego resident's dream of a becoming a Navy pilot like his father was denied because of his eyesight, his parents sent him a package to lift his spirits. Marked "FRAGILE" on the outside, it contained a leg lamp his parents built to look just like the one received by Ralphie's father, who proudly displayed it in the living room window, boasting, "It's a major award!" Jones' mom noted that he could probably make a business out of selling them. In 2003, he started doing just that. "I tooled together 500 lamps in my 1,000-square-foot condo in San Diego and sold them all in the first year," Jones said. And he's still making and selling them — $129.99 for the 45-inch model, $159.99 for the 53-inch "deluxe full size" leg lamp. When the house from the film was put up for sale on eBay in December 2004, it seemed like destiny to Jones. "I said, `Ooh, I gotta have that.'" The auction price got up to $115,000. Jones, who shares Ralphie's unflinching enthusiasm, less than 20/20 eyesight and ability to speak at a breakneck pace, said he'd pay $150,000 if the owner stopped the bidding. "It was mine. I sent him a deposit and flew out two days after Christmas just to make sure it wasn't a falling-down shack," Jones said. He put in new windows and replaced the 111-year-old house's gray aluminum siding with mustard yellow painted wood and green trim that perfectly matches Ralphie's house.
Although only a couple interior shots were filmed there, Jones has recreated the '40s feel of Ralphie's home with a brown-and-white tile kitchen floor, a wide cast-iron sink in the kitchen, a claw-foot bathtub and, of course, a leg lamp in the window. He also bought the house across the street — Ralphie runs past it in the film's opening scene — to serve as a museum and gift shop. Several original items from the film are on display, including the infamous snowsuit ("I can't put my arms down!") worn by Ralphie's brother, Randy. The house is located in Cleveland's Tremont neighborhood, just a few minutes from downtown where the exterior department store shots were filmed at the former Higbee's. The cooperation of the department store is what brought the filmmakers to Cleveland for the film based on author Jean Shepherd's stories of his upbringing in Hammond, Ind. The house is well known in the neighborhood and neighbors like Marlene Childers have watched the house change owners and go through ups and downs over the years. She's excited about Jones' tribute — even if it means more cars and traffic. "I love that story," she said. Jones knows the feeling. And he says stepping onto Ralphie's old street makes him feel like he's in the movie. Standing in front of the house holding a replica Red Ryder rifle, he discusses his future plans — which could include a nearby bed and breakfast — when, seemingly on a director's cue, a motorist passes, stops his car, rolls down the window and shouts, "You'll shoot your eye out, kid!"
October 26
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Three civil wars loom, says Jordan's king
WASHINGTON - The Middle East is on the verge of three civil wars -- in Iraq, Palestinian territories and Lebanon -- unless strong action is taken urgently by the international community, Jordan's King Abdullah warned on Sunday. With President Bush heading to Amman this week to talk with Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, Abdullah said "something dramatic" must come from that meeting to stop violence spinning out of control in Iraq. "I don't think we're in a position where we can come back and revisit the problem in early 2007," he said on ABC's "This Week."
But the United States must also look at the "big picture" and seek comprehensive Middle Eastern solutions involving all regional players, he said -- indicating this should include Syria and Iran. "We're juggling with the strong potential of three civil wars in the region, whether it's the Palestinians, that of Lebanon or of Iraq," the Jordanian king said. "We could possibly imagine going into 2007 and having three civil wars on our hands. And therefore, it is time that we really take a strong step forward as part of the international community and make sure we avert the Middle East from a tremendous crisis that I fear, and I see could possibly happen in 2007," Abdullah said. With Iraq near all-out civil war, the Bush administration is renewing efforts to break the cycle of violence there by enlisting the help of moderate Arab nations. Vice President Dick Cheney has just returned from a visit to Saudi Arabia and talks on the Middle East, and Bush and Maliki are to meet in Amman Wednesday and Thursday for what is shaping up to be a crisis summit. Abdullah hoped Maliki would have ideas for Bush on how to be "inclusive" in bringing together different groups in Iraq. "And they need to do it now, because, obviously, as we're seeing, things are beginning to spiral out of control ... there needs to be some very strong action taken on the ground there today," he said. Bush has so far avoided the hands-on approach to Middle East peacemaking of his predecessors, but that may change as he turns to advice from former Secretary of State James Baker who is leading a review on Iraq policy.
Iraq's security adviser said in a separate interview Sunday that Iraq already was a regional battleground, with Islamic movements from several Arab countries funding the insurgents fighting the Iraqi government and the U.S. Army. "It's not one country. It's not two countries. It is more than that," Mowaffak al-Rubaie told CNN's "Late Edition." "This is a fight, or this is a war between the extremists and the moderates in the whole region." He added that Iran was "helping some of the extremist Shia groups in Iraq," but said there was no evidence Iran was helping al-Qaeda or anti-government insurgents in Iraq. JORDAN'S FEARS Jordan's King Abdullah was worried about Lebanon, where the recent killing of an anti-Syrian politician has revived fears that factional violence could spiral again. But he said the Israeli-Palestinian conflict remained the "emotional core issue" of the Middle East. Jordan hosts the largest number of Palestinians outside the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Jordan's king said that if a regional peace process did not develop shortly, "there won't be anything to talk about" and the Middle East would face another decade or two of violence. Asked if Syria and Iran should be included in an international conference on the Middle East, he said: "the problem is, that America needs to look at it in the total picture. It's not just one issue by itself." "Palestine is the core. It is linked to the extent of what's going on in Iraq. It is linked to what's going on in Lebanon. It is linked to the issues that we find ourselves with the Syrians. So, if you want to do comprehensive -- comprehensive means bringing all the parties of the region together." Separately, a senior Republican senator said it was too late to send more U.S. troops to Iraq. Nebraskan Chuck Hagel said that "we do not have more troops to send, and even if we did, they would not bring a resolution to Iraq." The United States must begin planning a phased troop withdrawal, he said.
October 27
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Cuckoo clock pair get wound up by time change
Britain puts its clocks back one hour at 2:00 am (0100 GMT) on Sunday giving most people a welcome extra hour in bed -- but two cuckoo clock enthusiasts will have precious little time on their hands. Brothers Roman and Maz Piekarski have more than 500 clocks at their Cuckooland museum in Cheshire, northwest England. And the task of winding back the mechanisms in the antique German clocks is going to take them all weekend. "It is not as simple as changing a battery-powered clock because they are antiques, with all sorts of complicating factors," said Roman Piekarski, 54. "It can put you in a real spin after a while, and I have been known to change dozens of clocks before realising I had already done them. "It is a mammoth task but it has to be done, and it is a labour of love." The museum, which hosts one of the world's largest collections of cuckoo clocks, also features clocks which mark the hour with quails, trumpeters and monks. Meanwhile, those who suffer from the winter blues as British Summer Time ends and darkness sets in during the mornings and evenings are being given something to cheer them up. A telephone helpline of "inspiring" sounds from the mountains and shorelines of the tranquil Lake District in northwest England has been set up to help those feeling depressed as the number of daylight hours dwindles. It includes a reading of William Wordsworth's poem "Daffodils", the sound of Lake Windermere lapping against a jetty, the crisp crunch of leaves on a country walk, and Cumberland sausage sizzling in a pan.
October 28
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Had a long Curious George themed birthday party for Noah today with most of his montesorri school classmates, at least 16 kids. He enjoyed a pinata, a jungle bounce moonwalk, and pumpkin decorating.  He mamanged to blow out the birthday candle himself, but wasn't interested in rying the birthday cake. Maybe we can get him up to that next year.  He got lots of presents, and we used money he got to upgrade his sand box, and he already loves to go swimming in the sand...
October 29
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Brazil model who battled anorexia dies
A 21-year-old anorexic model who weighed only 88 pounds has died of generalized infection, a hospital said. Ana Carolina Reston, who had worked in China, Turkey, Mexico and Japan for several modeling agencies, died Tuesday, according to Sao Paulo's Servidor Publico Hospital. The hospital said the infection that killed the 5-foot-8-inch model was caused by anorexia nervosa, a disorder characterized by an abnormal fear of becoming obese, an aversion to food and severe weight loss. "Take care for your children because their loss is irreparable," Reston's mother, Miriam, told the O Globo newspaper. "Nothing can make the pain go away. No money in the world is worth the life of your child." Reston began her modeling career at the age of 13 after winning a local beauty contest in her hometown of Jundiai, on the outskirts of Sao Paulo. "I noticed something was wrong when she returned from Japan," Miriam told the Estado de Sao Paulo newspaper. "She was too thin when she returned and when I told her to eat something, she would say: 'Mom please don't fight with me; there is nothing wrong with me, I'm fine.'"
The model's cousin, Dani Grimaldi, told the Estado de Sao Paulo newspaper that Reston also battled bulimia, an eating disorder marked by binge eating that is followed by vomiting or the use of laxatives. The world of high fashion and modeling has long been targeted by critics who say it encourages women and girls to emulate rail-thin models. In September, a Spanish fashion show responded to such criticism by banning models with a body mass index of less than 18. Body mass index is a calculation doctors normally apply to study obesity, and anyone with an index below 18.5 is considered underweight. Reston would have had a body mass index of 13.4 at the time of her death, according to a calculator on the Web site of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
October 30
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Miss Israel Yael Nezri salutes for photographers as she stands in front of a sign that reads in Hebrew 'Welcome to Tiberias recruitment center' just before enlisting in the army, in the northern Israeli city of Tiberias. Miss Israel has been given permission not to carry her assault rifle during service in the Israeli army because she says it bruises her legs. Reigning beauty queen Yael Nezri, a private who recently completed basic training, said the bruises were making it difficult for her to model in photo shoots. The Jerusalem Post reported that Nezri, 18, had been granted an exemption by her commanders during her two-year army stint.
October 31
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Colombian cabbie rolls armed robber over embankment
A Colombian taxi driver got the better of an armed robber by rolling his cab over an embankment -- with the assailant still inside. The driver, whom police identified as Isidro, 66, suffered a stab wound from the would-be thief, 16, who landed in hospital with multiple fractures, police said. Isidro's wife said her husband's wound was slight, but he feared the thief would kill him and so rolled his hack toward the embankment and jumped to safety. The robber wanted to take the driver's income for that day, some 40 dollars, said Santander province police chief Alvaro Miranda, adding that the incident took place in Bucamaramanga, Colombia's fifth-largest city, near the Venezuelan border. Authorities in Bucaramanga said the city of one million inhabitants is seeing a spike in attacks against taxis and other public transportation, largely by adolescents.