Thoughts Gallery September 2006
September 1
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Grapes of wrath for thief...
A German court sentenced a pensioner to four months in prison for repeatedly stealing grapes and raisins, authorities said."At some point you have to say, enough is enough," said Christian Kropp, presiding judge in the eastern town of Sondershausen. "You can't go on granting probation forever." The 63-year-old grandfather had just begun his second consecutive period of probation for theft when he was caught stealing two bags of raisins worth 3.90 euros ($4.95). The man told the court he had been unable to help himself because he wanted to nibble on something sweet, Kropp said.
September 2
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Shrine to 'chaos' wins right to stay in French village
A shrine to "chaos" -- built by an eccentric millionnaire in the heart of a picturesque French village -- won the right to remain standing despite a local bid to have it torn down. Since 2001, businessman Thierry Ehrmann and a group of artists have been turning a 17th-century post office in Saint-Romain au Mont d'Or, on the outskirts of the southeastern city of Lyon, into a open-sky art gallery and a dark meditation on terrorism and warfare. Ehrmann says he was inspired by the constant use of the word "chaos" in the media, in the wake of the September 11 attacks in 2001 and the US-led invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, to turn his home into a war theatre. Scorched black or daubed blood-red, the building's outer walls are plastered with esoteric signs. Inside, there are media stills of Al-Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden, references to arms proliferation and terrorism. Amid a tangle of twisted metal, burnt-out cars, bunkers, camouflage gear and artificial meterorites, stands a sculpture representing the burning twin towers in New York, one of many visual references to the September 11 attacks. A precious artwork for some -- the culture ministry is considering making the "Demeure du Chaos", or "Abode of Chaos" a listed monument -- others see it as an unwelcome eyesore. The mayor of Saint-Romain took legal action in 2004 to have it ripped down for violating local planning rules. On Wednesday, however, an appeal court in Lyon ruled that the building in its current form was a work of art and could remain standing -- though it fined Ehrmann 200,000 euros (255,000 dollars) for breach of planning regulations. Despite the heavy fine, Ehrmann -- who is chairman of the French database company Serveur and the online art valuation service and spent some 900,000 euros on the chaos project -- said he was delighted. "The judges have confirmed that this is unquestionably a work of art, and have clearly shown their will to protect a unique and singular creation," he told AFP by telephone. The mayor, Pierre Dumont, said after the hearing he planned to take his case to France's highest court of appeal. "Why should the law apply to some and not to others?"
September 3
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Hapless Briton rescued twice from Australian outback
A British tourist rescued from the Australian outback had to be saved a second time when he returned to the wilderness to look for his belongings, it was reported. The Australian Broadcasting Corporation said the 50-year-old man was taken to Alice Springs hospital after spending four nights lost in the rugged Northern Territory. It was the same area north of Alice Springs where he was rescued last week after three nights in the outback. The Sydney Morning Herald website reported that on both occasions the man, whom it named as Martin Lake, called police on his mobile phone to tell them he was lost, sparking major air and land searches. Northern Territory police superintendent Richard Bryson said the man's second rescue was believed to be connected to the first. "Because of his condition we haven't had an opportunity to drill down to the nitty gritty of his circumstances," he told the ABC. "But in a general sense it's been proposed that he'd lost something on the first occasion and he'd taken it upon himself to go back to the area in an effort to locate it."
September 4
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Camel fetches 680,000 dollars at UAE auction
A camel from a "prize-winning bloodline" has been sold for 680,000 dollars at an auction in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), where camel racing is hugely popular. Omani enthusiast Naeem al-Ghilan stumped up 2.5 million dirhams for the male camel after "fierce competition" at the auction in the UAE capital of Abu Dhabi, Gulf News said . The camel is a grandson of an Emirati prize-winning camel called Jabbar, whose brother fetched 1.2 million dirhams (326,000 dollars) at a similar auction last year, the English-language daily said. The brother was bought by a member of the ruling family of oil-rich Abu Dhabi, the largest and wealthiest of the UAE's seven emirates. The auctions take place on the sidelines of an annual international hunting and equestrian exhibition in Abu Dhabi.
September 5
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Making every drop count, Coke opens in Afghanistan
The blind cleric's haunting Arabic prayer chant echoed among the sterile plastic rows of Coke and Fanta, seeking Allah's blessing for the only major business to open in Afghanistan in more than a decade. Coca-Cola, with its distinctive red-and-white logo, has come to Kabul in what is at once a sign of economic progress and a symbol of the failure of major businesses to open up in the five years since the fall of the hardline Islamist Taliban. President Hamid Karzai opened the $25 million bottling plant in the capital's industrial complex of Bagrami, meaning sweet or fragrant, on Sunday. Karzai's Western-backed government is desperate to kickstart an economy independent of the $3 billion-a-year illegal drugs trade, but has been unable to lure investors to one of the world's five poorest countries, where violence has hit a high since the 2001 war. The plant, which Coca-Cola goes out of its way to emphasize will produce only non-alcoholic beverages, is franchised to one of the country's richest men, Habib Gulzar, and will initially produce Coke, Fanta and Sprite and soon make bottled water, the company said in a statement. During the Taliban's five-year rule, only a pirated version of Coca-Cola was available in the country. "Afghanistan is a country promising a lot of growth opportunity for our company," Coke's Pakistan and Afghanistan manager, Rizwan Khan, said at the opening. The ceremony began with the chanting of Qari Barakatullah Salim, Afghanistan's most famous Koran reciter, who despite being blind has memorised the entire Islamic holy book. Karzai spoke only briefly, and waved off an offer of a glass of Fanta. Although Afghanistan is one of the world's five poorest countries, Coca-Cola's Southern Eurasia head, Selcuk Erden, said the country of about 25 million was "the missing link" in the company's global business strategy. But the country has no economy and apart from thousands of well-paid United Nations personnel, foreign troops and aid workers, few people have money to spend. The average income is about $200 a year. A small bottle of Coke costs about 20 cents in the shops. "Nothing much has been done to develop the economy. There is no investment," academic, writer and former cabinet minister Hamidullah Tarzi told Reuters recently. "We are living in a sort of artificial economy. This is completely false because there is no production and there is nothing you can call investment." Any business looking at Afghanistan must invest heavily in security. By some estimates, 10 times as much money is spent on security as development.
September 6
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A python sits on a road after swallowing a pregnant ewe in the village of Kampung Jabor, about 200 km (124 miles) east of Kuala Lumpur. The six-metre reptile weighing 90 kg (198.5 lbs) was too laden to move, making it easy for firemen to capture it, said a local daily newspaper.
September 7
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Surfers ride watery giants, chasing 100ft waves
The waves have been nicknamed Cyclops, Jaws and Dungeons and are the new life-and-death playground for a unique breed of surfers who ride gargantuan ocean waves as big as a seven storey building. Australian surfer Alex Cater, 25, has been chasing giant waves for the past five years and knows only too well the agony and ecstasy of what they call tow-in surfing, where a surfer is whipped by jet ski into giant waves bigger than most tsunamis. "If you don't have a bit of fear then you shouldn't be out there," said Cater. "When the lip hits the water it makes a massive cracking sound. It's like thunder for 10 seconds." "In Hawaii, there's a spot at Waimea that when it's really big you will be underwater and hear boulders rolling around on the ocean floor," Cater told Reuters. In July, at an offshore reef called Cowaramup Bombie off Margaret River in Western Australia, Cater was part a group of surfers who tackled the biggest waves ever ridden in Australia. While Cater surfed 40-50 feet (12-15 meter) waves that day, making national television news bulletins, the ocean also swallowed him up and tried to tear him apart as if he was a rag doll. After being mowed down by a wall of water Cater was hit by three massive waves and dragged 200 meters (yards), or more than a football field, underwater. One wave pushed him so deep he was forced to equalize his ears twice. "The impact is full-on. You get rag-dolled, you do cartwheels and ripped around violently. You just have to relax and try and enjoy it," says a laughing Cater. "As soon as you fight it, that's when you start to loose your breath and panic." CHASING 100-FT WAVE Hawaiian Pete Cabrinha holds the title for the biggest wave ever ridden -- a monster Jaws wave measuring 70 feet which broke on a reef off the Hawaiian island of Maui in 2004. But the big wave surfers who follow the world's winter storms, hunting down massive ocean swells off Hawaii, California, South Africa, Mexico and Australia, believe a 100-foot (30-meter) wave will one day be ridden. Rogue 100-foot waves, the height of a 10 storey building, were once a maritime myth but scientists say they are out there. Pressure readings from ocean buoys in the Gulf of Mexico during Hurricane Katrina indicated waves of that magnitude in the storm. Amazingly there have been no tow-in deaths. But there have been near drownings as surfers looking like fleas fly down giant waves, feet strapped to tiny boards, with a flotation vest to counter the tonnes of crashing water that will hit them if they wipe-out. Injuries range from broken ribs and legs to torn muscles to ruptured blood vessels which leave surfers coughing up blood. Cater trains like a free diver to expand his lungs, holding his breath underwater for 2.5 minutes, taking a gulp of air then back underwater for another minute, and then does it again. Tow surfers also diligently practice jet ski rescues -- a fact that has, to date, meant no tow-in surfing deaths. Surfer Nick Carroll, co-ordinator of the annual Oakley/ASL Big Wave Awards in Australia-New Zealand, says there is a misconception that big wave surfers are all macho. "The guys that take it on in big surf have the attitude of little kids," said Carroll. "They still have the same stoke (excitement) they had about surfing when they were 13." RIDING GIANTS Surfers have been chasing big waves since the 1950s when Californians first headed to Hawaii to tackle big winter swells that smash onto the northshore of the island of Oahu. Yet there was always a limit to the size of wave a paddling surfer could catch, as the bigger the wave the faster it travels. In the mid-1990s a group of Hawaiians led by Laird Hamilton, the world's best big wave surfer, used a jet ski to whip themselves onto giant unbroken waves at around 30 mph (48 kmph). As the massive wave broke, the surfers were already speeding down the wave face, outracing the thunderous lip. The development of small tow boards with foot straps enabled them to use their speed to carve turns on the giant watery canvas. Advancements in surf forecasting has also fueled extreme big wave surfing, with surfers using the Internet and satellites to track storms and forecast when a giant swell will hit a reef. The science of surf forecasting has led to the discovery of several new big wave spots such as Cortes Bank, a mid-ocean undersea mountain off California, and Dungeons off South Africa, a cold water surf spot where Great White Sharks hunt seals. Surfwear giant Billabong offers $1,000 a foot for the biggest wave ridden each year and is offering an extra $100,000 bounty on a 100-foot wave. But money is not what motivates these big wave surfers. "I think it's a primal man versus nature challenge that fuels the attraction to surfing," said Bill Sharp, who runs The Billabong XXL Big Wave Award.
September 8
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This photo released by Vanderbilt University, shows an adult star-nosed mole. The mole literally inhales its food, taking less than a quarter of a second to identify a piece of food, grab it, eat it, and then look for more.
September 9
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Full of straws : Austrian Marco Hort takes in mouth 259 drinking straws during the World Records day at Vienna's Prater.
September 10 
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Student finds brief fame as Terracotta Warrior
A German art student briefly took up a place among China's famed Terracotta Warriors over the weekend -- only to be discovered, disrobed and sent home. Pablo Wendel sneaked into a pit housing around 2,000 ancient lifesize pottery warriors and horses Saturday afternoon, donned the military costume he had made himself, and took up a position on a small pedestal he had brought along. He stood there, motionless and unblinking, for a couple of minutes until police found him, the Xinhua news agency said. The 26-year-old had his costume confiscated and was sent from Xian, the World Heritage site where the warriors are located, back to the eastern city of Hangzhou, where he studies performance art.
September 11
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Giant diamond sells for more than $12 million
The biggest diamond to be found in 13 years, the "Lesotho Promise," was sold on Monday at auction for more than $12 million and is expected to fetch in excess of $20 million once it is cut up. The 603-carat (120 gram) diamond, named after the tiny African mountain kingdom where it was found, went under the hammer at the Antwerp Diamond Center and was sold to the South African Diamond Corporation, owner of luxury jewellers Graff. The 10th largest white diamond ever to be found, it will be cut into a large heart-shaped diamond and several smaller stones which will then be sold. The uncut diamond is a third bigger than a golf ball. Johnny Kneller from the South African Diamond Corporation said that once it was cut up, he expected to sell the stones for a third more than the auction price. "We can't say for sure but we hope it's going to fetch over $20 million," Kneller said. Diamonds have long been a status symbol and were famously serenaded as a girl's best friend by Marilyn Monroe in the 1950s film "Gentlemen Prefer Blondes." Growing affluence has boosted sales and busy shopping streets such as London's Bond Street are awash with jewellers and luxury goods stores offering right-hand diamond rings for well-heeled women. The biggest rough diamond ever found was the Cullinan at 3,106 carats, while the second largest, the Excelsior, was 995 carats. Both were found in South Africa. The Lesotho diamond was found at the Letseng Diamond Mine high in the mountains of the tiny nation which is surrounded by South Africa, by a woman who was sorting through the rocks. "She started screaming and all the staff thought she had been electrocuted," said Clifford Elphick, head of Gem Diamond Mining, which owns 70 percent of the mine. He said he was very pleased with the price that the gem had fetched.
September 12
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Groups find colorful bird in Colombia
A colorful new bird has been discovered in a previously unexplored Andean cloud forest, spurring efforts to protect the area, conservation groups said. The bright yellow and red-crowned Yariguies brush-finch was named for the indigenous tribe that once inhabited the mountainous area where it was discovered. For conservationists the discovery of the species came at a crucial time — the government has decided to set aside 500 acres of the pristine cloud forest where the bird lives to create a national park. "The bird was discovered in what is the last remnants of cloud forest in that region," Camila Gomez, of the Colombia conservation group ProAves, said on Monday. "There are still lots of undiscovered flora and fauna species that live in the area." The small bird can be distinguished from its closest relative — the yellow-breasted brush finch — by its solid black back and the lack of white marks on its wings. "There are about two to three new birds found in the world every year," Thomas Donegan, the British half of an Anglo-Colombian research duo who discovered the bird in January 2004, told The Associated Press on Monday. "It's a very rare event." To access the bird's isolated habitat, Donegan and partner Blanca Huertas regularly hiked 12 hours into the nearly impenetrable jungle, depending on helicopters to drop off supplies at mountain peaks 10,000 feet above sea level. "We first went to Yariguies about three years ago," Donegan said. "It's a huge patch of isolated forest that no one knew about, not even in Colombia." The new finch, the size of a fist, is native to Colombia's eastern Andean range and considered by its discoverers to be near threatened and in need of close monitoring to prevent it from becoming endangered. One of the two birds caught by the team was released unharmed after they took pictures and DNA samples, while the other died in captivity. Donegan said this was one of the first time researchers were able to confirm a new bird without having to kill it. The last new bird discovery in Colombia was a Tapaculos species found in the south last year. With as many as 1,865 different species, Colombia has long been considered a bird watchers' paradise, albeit a risky one because of the country's four-decade-old civil war. In 1998, rebels kidnapped four American bird watchers who were later found unharmed.
September 13
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Japan's centenarian population tops 28,000
More than 28,000 Japanese are 100 years or older, up from a mere 1,000 at the start of the 1980s as solid health habits increase the graying of the population. The number of Japanese centenarians increased by 2,841 from last year, bringing the total to 28,395, the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare said. The oldest person is a woman, Yoneko Minagawa, 113, from the main southern island of Kyushu, said the survey, whose information dates from August. Women accounted for an overwhelming 85 percent of the centenarian population at 24,245, nearly six times more than the number of men, the ministry said in a report. The Japanese knack for longevity is often attributed to the traditional healthy food and lifestyle, despite the rigors of life in the crowded big cities. But the government is also struggling to find ways to put a brake on Japan's declining birthrate, which is essential to support elderly care. Japan had a mere 153 centenarians in 1963 when the government started counting. The number topped 1,000 in 1981 and surpassed 10,000 in 1998. Japan's southern regions of Okinawa, Shikoku, and Kyushu are home to the highest concentrations of centenarians. Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi's cabinet will send commemorative silver cups congratulating Japanese people who celebrated their 100th birthdays this year. Japanese woman Kamato Hongo was recognized as the world's oldest person when she died in 2003 at age 115.
September 14
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Kamato Hongo, seen here in September 2001, was recognized as the world's oldest person when she died in 2003 at age 115. More than 28,000 Japanese are 100 years or older, up from a mere 1,000 at the start of the 1980s as solid health habits increase the graying of the population.
September 15
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Victo, a 10-year-old male Proboscis monkey (Nasalis larvatus), pauses during an afternoon token feeding session at the Singapore Zoo.
September 16
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Claudio Paulo Pinto pops his eyeballs out of their sockets, in Belo Horizonte, 340 kilometers (210 miles) north of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Claudio Paulo Pinto is looking for work. That's his job looking. Pinto can pop his eyeballs at least 7 millimeters (0.3 inches) out of their sockets, a national record for eye-popping according to RankBrasil, an organization modelled after the Guinness Book of World Records that lists Brazilian records. Pinto says he's been extending his eyes since he was nine years old and 'it doesn't hurt a bit.'
September 17
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Bindi Irwin -- the daughter of Australian environmentalist Steve Irwin -- reads out a speech about her father during his memorial service at Australia Zoo. Family, friends, fans and movie stars said a moving final farewell to the 'Crocodile Hunter' in a high-energy memorial service fuelled by laughter, tears and music.
September 18
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Hominid 'Lucy' to leave Ethiopia for first exhibit abroad
"Lucy," the celebrated skeletal remains of a female hominid who lived 3.2 million years ago will leave Ethiopia next year for her first-ever foreign exhibition, officials said. Beginning in September 2007, Lucy will enjoy top billing among 200 other Ethiopian exhibits that will tour museums in 10 US cities for four years, they said Wednesday. "Lucy has been in Ethiopia over the last 30 years," said Gezahgen Kebede, Ethiopia's honorary consul in Houston in the US state of Texas, where the exhibition begins at the Houston Museum of Natural Sciences. "It is time for us to share her with the whole world because she is the origin of mankind," he told AFP. The trip will be Lucy's first overseas visit for exhibition purposes since she was discovered by American paleontologists Donald Johanson and Tom Gray in 1974 in Ethiopia's northern Afar region. Named after the Beatles' song "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds," she was taken once to the United States for lab tests but has remained in the country since, stored in a special vault with a replica on display at the National Museum of Ethiopia in Addis Ababa. Gezahgen said he hoped the traveling exhibit would help alter the image of the Horn of Africa nation, which is perhaps better known to the outside world for famine, floods and other human suffering than science. "The idea is to promote Ethiopia in a positive way," he said. "We have a lot of attractions but it is not well known abroad, where images of drought and poverty are still dominant." Lucy, part of a hotly disputed branch of the human tree known as Australopithecus afarensis, was for more than 20 years, the earliest known member of the hominid family. Hominids are primates who split from apes between five and seven million years ago and are considered the forerunners of anatomically modern humans, who appeared on the scene about 200,0000 years ago. Once thought by some to be our ancestor, A. afarensis is now widely considered to be a failed branch of the human tree, for many experts suspect the hominid was anatomically far closer to apes than humans.
September 19
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A new born Veiled Chameleon poses on the hand of a keeper at Sydney's Taronga Zoo, Australia. The chameleons, famous for their bold green coloring that can change according to their mood and body temperature, are the first to be bred in a Australian zoo.
September 20
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The Space Shuttle Atlantis leaves a streak of light as it passes near the Moon in the east at sunrise over Tyler, Texas. In this six second time exposure, the Shuttle is moving right to left. Atlantis remains in orbit for an extra day while additional inspections of its heat shield are performed by the crew.
September 21
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Unveiled necropolis at Vatican opens
Visitors to the Vatican soon will be able to descend into an ancient world of the dead, a newly unveiled necropolis that was a burial place for the rich and not-so-affluent during Roman imperial rule. The necropolis, which was unearthed three years ago during construction of a parking lot, will open to the public this week. One archaeologist said on Monday that sculptures, engravings and other objects found entombed with the dead made the find a "little Pompeii" of cemeteries. The burial sites, ranging from simple terra-cotta funerary urns with ashes still inside to ornately sculptured sarcophagi, date from between the era of Augustus (23 B.C. to 14 A.D.) to that of Constantine in the first part of the 4th century. From specially constructed walkways, visitors can look down on some skeletons, including that of an infant buried by loved ones who left a hen's egg beside the body. The egg, whose smashed shell was reconstructed by archaeologists, might have symbolized hopes for a rebirth, officials at a Vatican Museums news conference said Monday. The remains of the child, whose gender was not determined, were discovered during the construction of the walkways, after the main excavation had finished, said Daniele Battistoni, a Vatican archaeologist. Buried there were upper-class Romans as well as simple artisans, with symbols of their trade, offering what archaeologists called rare insights into middle- and lower-middle-class life. "We found a little Pompeii of funeral" life, said Giandomenico Spinola, a head of the Museums' classical antiquities department. "We have had the mausoleums of Hadrian and Augustus," Spinola said, referring to majestic monuments along the Tiber in Rome, "but we were short on these middle- and lower-class" burial places. The burial sites help "document the middle class, which usually escapes us," said Paolo Liverani, an archaeologist and former Museums official who worked as a consultant on the site. "You don't construct history with only generals and kings." Among those buried in the necropolis was a set designer for Pompey's Theater, notorious for being near the spot where Julius Caesar was stabbed to death. Decorating the designer's tomb were some symbols of his trade — a compass and a T-square. An archivist for Emperor Nero's private property and mailmen also were buried in the necropolis. Unearthed were black-and-white mosaic flooring and other decorations, including figures of a satyr and Dionysus, an ancient god of fertility and wine, along with a scene of a grape harvest. A male member of ancient Rome's class of knights, who died as a teenager, was remembered in death with a sculptured figure with hands outstretched as if in prayer. The kind of figure, known as an "orante," was widely taken as an early symbol of Christians. However, Liverani noted that the necropolis spans an era "when it was difficult to document Christianity" as the religion of the deceased because Christians were still persecuted in the empire. Thus mourners were unlikely to leave clear Christian symbols for fear of persecution. Battistoni pointed out a layer of churned up stone running horizontally through the upper part of the necropolis, a sign of a 2nd century landslide that covered part of the hilly burial ground. The necropolis ran along the edges of an ancient Roman road, Via Triumphalis, and is distinct from another necropolis that followed the lines of another ancient road, Via Cornelia, whose ruins can be seen under St. Peter's Basilica. The Via Cornelia necropolis is considered to hold the tomb of St. Peter, the first pope. Another part of the Via Triumphalis necropolis was dug up in the 1950s during work to build another Vatican garage. Asked whether the construction of the parking facility meant not all of the necropolis was uncovered, Spinola shrugged. "This didn't start out as an excavation to study the area but as an emergency excavation to save what one could save," from the bulldozers, Spinola said.
September 22
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Time capsule to be beamed from Mexican pyramid
Mexico's Teotihuacan, once the center of a sprawling pre-Hispanic empire, is set to become the launch pad for an attempt to communicate with extraterrestrial life. Starting on Tuesday, enthusiasts from around the world will have a chance to submit text, images, video and sounds that reflect human nature to be included in the message. Those contributions -- part of media company Yahoo's "Time Capsule" project -- will be digitalized and beamed with a laser into space on October 25 from the Pyramid of the Sun at Teotihuacan, now an archeological site near Mexico City. Archeologists say a culture centered in Teotihuacan, known as the City of the Gods, dominated Mesoamerica for hundreds of years during the first millennium. It is unclear what led to the society's collapse. "We have this incredible ancient site and from that site we can project contemporary content," Srinija Srinivasan, Yahoo's editor in chief, told Reuters. "What is new is the ability to capture this information in such scale." In the 1970s, astronomer Carl Sagan compiled a record with sounds and images, including a mariachi band and greetings in an ancient Sumerian language, to portray the diversity of life and culture on Earth. His record was sent out with the Voyager spacecraft in the hope that extraterrestrial life forms would eventually find it.
September 23
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US can continue domestic spying while appeal is heard
A US federal appeals court ruled that the government can continue running warrantless domestic spying operations launched after the September 11, 2001 attacks until an appeal against a ban on the program is heard. Judge Anna Diggs Taylor of the federal court in Detroit, Michigan, ordered an immediate halt to warrantless spying on US citizens' telephone and other electronic communications by the National Security Agency, ruling that President George W. Bush had surpassed his powers to authorize the operations. But on Wednesday, an appeals court judge in Cincinnati, Ohio, suspended Taylor's order while the government pursues its case to overturn her decision. The White House has maintained that the spying program, which operates without warrants required by law under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), is necessary to fight the US "war on terror". Numerous civil liberties groups had petitioned to Taylor's court to ban the activity on the grounds that it was illegal. The Cincinnati court ruling means the program can continue as the court hears written arguments from both sides through the end of the year. That means that a ruling on the controversial White House-backed spying operation, launched after the September 11 attacks on New York and Washington, will not be delivered before next year. The White House has meanwhile pressed Congress to legalize the program, but differences over a what a new law would permit have blocked passage of the bill.
September 24
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Fishermen work near drainage pipes flushing sewage from an oil and gas exploration field into the Porong river in Sidoarjo, east Java. Humans are stripping nature at an unprecedented rate and will need two planets' worth of natural resources every year by 2050 on current trends, the WWF conservation group
September 25
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A New Zealand-flagged yacht crosses the Miraflores locks in the Panama Canal. Panama's canal will receive the biggest facelift in its 92-year history if Panamanians approve a plan to widen and deepen the waterway at a referendum on Sunday
September 26
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The 4,200-year-old tomb of a dentist who served the nobility of the 5th dynasty, at the Saqarra pyramid complex south of Cairo, Egypt. Enterprising but unlucky thieves, who likely didn't notice a curse inscription just inside the prominent doorway to the chief dentist's tomb warning that those who enter would be eaten by crocodiles and snakes, led the Egyptian archaeological team to discover the three tombs, which were unveiled Sunday.
September 27
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Handout from Cyberkinetics Neurotechnology shows the size of a neural interface -- which when implanted on the surface of the brain -- enables thoughts to move a computer cursor. Cuba and China have agreed to launch a biotechnology venture to develop neurotechnology products in China.
September 28
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A Pakistani Muslim woman shows her hands, decorated with henna, in Lahore.
September 29
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"Paris Syndrome" leaves tourists in shock
Around a dozen Japanese tourists a year need psychological treatment after visiting Paris as the reality of unfriendly locals and scruffy streets clashes with their expectations, a newspaper reported. "A third of patients get better immediately, a third suffer relapses and the rest have psychoses," Yousef Mahmoudia, a psychologist at the Hotel-Dieu hospital, next to Notre Dame cathedral, told the newspaper Journal du Dimanche. Already this year, Japan's embassy in Paris has had to repatriate at least four visitors -- including two women who believed their hotel room was being bugged and there was a plot against them. Previous cases include a man convinced he was the French "Sun King", Louis XIV, and a woman who believed she was being attacked with microwaves, the paper cited Japanese embassy official Yoshikatsu Aoyagi as saying. "Fragile travellers can lose their bearings. When the idea they have of the country meets the reality of what they discover it can provoke a crisis," psychologist Herve Benhamou told the paper. The phenomenon, which the newspaper dubbed "Paris Syndrome", was first detailed in the psychiatric journal Nervure in 2004. Bernard Delage of Jeunes Japon, an association that helps Japanese families settle in France, said: "In Japanese shops, the customer is king, whereas here assistants hardly look at them ... People using public transport all look stern, and handbag snatchers increase the ill feeling." A Japanese woman, Aimi, told the paper: "For us, Paris is a dream city. All the French are beautiful and elegant ... And then, when they arrive, the Japanese find the French character is the complete opposite of their own."
September 30
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The next 100 million and the face of America
The one sure thing about US population as it moves past 300 million - expected to happen in the next few days - is that there will be more Americans. A lot more. Everything else is informed speculation. Still, much will turn on how big the United States becomes and how fast it grows - from its use of natural resources to its settlement patterns to shifts in political clout. There will be 400 million Americans in 2043, climbing to 420 million by midcentury, the US Census Bureau estimates. The added numbers will change the nature of the populace, reflecting trends already begun. Between the last official census in 2000 and the one of 2050, non-Hispanic whites will have dwindled from 69 percent to a bare majority of 50.1 percent. The share who are Hispanic will have doubled to 24 percent. Asians also will have doubled to 8 percent of the population. African-Americans will have edged up to 14 percent. In other words, the US will be on the verge of becoming a "majority of minorities." Wars, natural disasters, shifts in the economy, unforeseen social and political developments - any or all of these could affect the numbers, perhaps dramatically. For one thing, America could, as many voters and their elected officials now demand, clamp down on immigration. The country's unusually high teen pregnancy rate could drop. Scientific advances could extend longevity. In any case, Americans are expected to continue to gravitate west and south. Today, the Top 10 fastest growing states, cities, and metropolitan areas are all in those regions, mostly in the West. In general, the West and South have been growing two to three times as fast as the Northeast and Midwest.
The great American midsection, meanwhile, will continue to empty out. When historian Frederick Jackson Turner declared the American frontier "closed" in 1893, he was using the Census Bureau definition of "frontier" as areas having no more than six people per square mile. By that same density definition, the number of such counties actually has been increasing: from 388 in 1980 to 397 in 1990 to 402 in 2000. Kansas has more "frontier" land now than it did in 1890. If these regional shifts continue as expected, the political impact will be felt. For one thing, membership in the US House of Representatives, fixed at 435 seats, would change, producing winners and losers just as it has with recent censuses. It may shift the current alignment of "red" states and "blue" states - but other factors besides population growth in the South and West may influence that political balance. For example, wealthy, relatively liberal Californians and others with money to spend have been buying up ranch land in politically conservative Rocky Mountain states such as Montana, Idaho, and Wyoming. Many of them are more inclined to want to protect the environment from energy exploration and other development. An increasing Hispanic population - which could see 188 percent growth between 2000 and 2050, according to the Census Bureau - could affect the political balance as well. At the same time, the population will become relatively older. A person born in 1967, when the population turned 200 million, could be expected to live 70.5 years. Life expectancy for those born today is 77.8 years. p>The impact of the aging baby-boom generation, whose oldest members turn 60 this year, will be felt on Social Security and Medicare. "We really are doing very well in terms of extending life, and that is going to increase the rate of population growth," says Samuel Preston, a University of Pennsylvania demographer. It could also have political impact. As the US moves toward 400 million people, Americans can be expected to marry later in life, and more of them will live alone. Between 1970 and 2005, the median age of first marriage moved from 23 to 27 for men and from 21 to 26 for women. Over the same period, the percentage of single-person households grew from 17 percent to 26 percent. Those trends are likely to continue. Experts generally believe that expansion to meet the housing and other community needs of a growing population is likely to remain concentrated in suburbs and exurbs.
"Most projections show that the continued increase in the US population and the projected 50 percent increase in space devoted to the built environment by 2030 will largely take place in the sprawling cities of the South and West, areas dominated by low-density, automobile-dependent development of residential, commercial, and industrial space," writes demographic trend-watcher Joel Kotkin in a recent issue of the magazine The Next American City. Concerns about use of resources This kind of continuing development tied to US population growth worries many environmentalists, as well as those concerned about the loss of farmland. Annual US population growth of nearly 3 million contributes to the water shortages that are a serious concern in the West and many areas in the East, says Lester Brown, president of the Earth Policy Institute. Water tables are now falling throughout most of the Great Plains and in the Southwest, he warns. Some lakes are disappearing and rivers are running dry. "As water supplies tighten, the competition between farmers and cities intensifies," says Mr. Brown. "Scarcely a day goes by in the western United States without another farmer or an entire irrigation district selling their water rights to cities like Denver, Las Vegas, Phoenix, Los Angeles, or San Diego." Concern about a growing populace and decreasing resources is likely to push governments toward conservation and more sustainable development, experts say. This may be especially true of energy. Nineteen states and the District of Columbia now have renewable portfolio standards that require electric utilities to use more wind, solar, biomass, geothermal, and other renewable sources. "The global context will really drive what happens in the United States," says futurist Hazel Henderson. Last month, for example, the Chinese government released its first "green" gross domestic product ( GDP) report. It measures economic growth while also factoring in the environmental consequences of that growth. Other governments and financial intuitions now are being pushed in the same direction. US portfolio managers in charge of $30 trillion in assets now demand carbon disclosures of all the companies in their portfolios, says Ms. Henderson. "The tipping point has been reached there," says Henderson. "I feel very hopeful that the evolution to the solar age could happen much quicker than we might have expected because it's being driven by so many stress points, from global warming to water shortages to desertification." By mid-century, she predicts: "Cars will be getting 100 m.p.g. if they're still using gasoline instead of fuel cells. That's definitely a no-brainer. Cities and towns will get more and more compact as these sprawling suburbs end up being too costly and inefficient." That vision for the future contrasts sharply with Mr. Kotkin's. But given current political, economic, environmental, and social trends - especially the unknowns about world energy supplies - it is likely to be just as valid.
Meanwhile, the US population clock keeps ticking: Every 13 seconds somebody dies. Every 31 seconds there's another immigrant - legal or illegal. It adds up to a net gain of one person every 11 seconds, or about 8,000 every day. It took 39 years to add the most recent 100 million; the next 100 million will take a couple of years less than that. The US population growth rate is expected to decline a bit by mid-century. Still, by then the numbers will have increased to some 420 million, according to official calculations. Critics of US immigration policy say the number could be significantly higher. "If Congress should end up ducking the issue of immigration reform and maintaining the status quo of mass legal and illegal immigration, our population is projected to still continue its rapid growth," warns the Federation for American Immigration Reform in a recent report. "Our projection is for a population of between 445 and 462 million residents depending on the assumptions used." Diversity is changing attitudes But societal changes tied to population are more than numbers. As the racial and ethnic mix among Americans shifts in the decades ahead, public attitudes are likely to change as well. In some ways, they already are. For example, between 1986 and 2003, the share of adults who approved of interracial marriage rose from 70 percent to 83 percent, according to a Roper Reports study. This trend is especially true among young Americans. A 2002 Gallup survey showed that just 30 percent of adults 65 and older approved of marriage between blacks and whites. But among people between 18 and 29, 86 percent said they had no problem with interracial marriage. "The fact that today we see young people intermarrying more, interracial dating much more common - all of that I think portends that we're going to become much more ecumenical in the way we look at things than we were in the past," says William Frey, a demographer at the University of Michigan and the Brookings Institution. "I think we'll have much more tolerance for people of other backgrounds, cultures and languages, points of view, and religious and belief systems." What's certain is that there will be a lot more Americans.