October 30, 2004

Man Living in Cave on Los Alamos Lab Land

Man Found Living in Cave on Los Alamos Lab Land With Wood-Burning Stove, Solar Panels

LOS ALAMOS, N.M.Oct 29, 2004 --Authorities have evicted a man from a cave on Los Alamos National Laboratory land where they say he apparently lived for years with the comforts of home - a wood-burning stove, solar panels connected to car batteries for electricity and a satellite radio.

Los Alamos Deputy Fire Chief Doug Tucker said Roy Michael Moore's hideaway, which also was equipped with a bed and a glass front door, was discovered earlier Oct. 13 after a Department of Energy employee working at the Los Alamos site office noticed smoke wafting from the cave in a heavily wooded, steep canyon.

The employee reported the smoke to the fire department. Tucker said the smoke came from Moore's wood-burning stove.

Ten marijuana plants were found outside the cave. Moore, 56, has been charged with possession of a controlled substance and possession of drug paraphernalia, according to court documents. He pleaded not guilty and was released on bond.

An officer called to the site by firefighters pulled up the plants and confiscated about 21 ounces of dried marijuana, according to a statement of probable cause filed in magistrate court in Los Alamos.

Tucker said that as fire crews and lab security force members approached the cave after its discovery, they saw Moore and discovered "numerous" marijuana plants growing around the cave.

"From the campsite that I saw, he had been there quite a long time. ... I was really impressed with his ability to set up a camp," Tucker said.

He said it was impossible to see the cave or any sign of Moore from the edge of the 75- to 100-foot cliff above, which is inaccessible because of a tall fence.

The lab has not used the restricted area where the cave is located for years, said Bernie Pleau, a spokesman for the department and the National Nuclear Security Administration in Los Alamos. It is about 50 yards out his office door and down the cliff, he said.

"I don't know if anyone has tried squatting on DOE property before or not," Pleau said. "Pretty strange, don't you think?"

The site was not near any high-security or critical areas, he said.

"It wasn't a security threat by any means," Pleau said.

The DOE ordered the lab to remove all of Moore's property from the area Oct. 16, Pleau said.

[original article]

Posted by thinkum at 03:56 PM

Scientists say drug may block Alzheimer's

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -- It might be possible to make a pill that prevents the brain damage that marks Alzheimer's disease, U.S. researchers said Thursday.

Scientists said they had designed a drug that, at least in test tubes, stops the buildup of sticky proteins that kills brain cells in Alzheimer's patients.

The approach, which keeps the proteins from clumping, may also work against other diseases including infection with the AIDS virus, said Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator Gerald Crabtree of Stanford University.

Crabtree and colleagues Jason Gestwicki and Isabella Graef developed a small molecule that enlists the aid of a larger, naturally occurring "chaperone" protein to block the accumulation of the brain-clogging beta-amyloid protein.

Between the two of them, the small molecule drug and the chaperone protein stopped the building blocks of amyloid protein from linking up and making clogs, the researchers report in Friday's issue of the journal Science.

Now they will test it in animal models with versions of Alzheimer's disease.

There is no cure for Alzheimer's, which affects an estimated 4.5 million Americans.

Earlier this week a team at the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences and the University of Wisconsin said they found a naturally occurring brain protein that stops the progression of Alzheimer's disease in human brain tissue.

The protein, called transthyretin, appears to protect brain cells by intercepting beta-amyloid protein before it can damage brain tissue.

Drugs that boost transthyretin levels may help treat or even prevent the disease, the researchers told a Society for Neuroscience meeting in San Diego.

[original article]

Posted by thinkum at 03:53 PM

October 27, 2004

Geographical Center of the Lower 48 United States

There is no such thing as the geographical center of any state, country or continent.
-Oscar S. Adams, Senior Mathematician, United States Coast and Geodetic Survey

The Geographical Center of the Lower 48 United States, at Lebanon, Kansas

Just outside of Lebanon Kansas stands a pyramidal stone monument with a brass plaque inscribed with a bold declaration - "The Geographic Center of the United States." The monument was ceremoniously installed at this site in 1940 (before Alaska and Hawaii joined the union) by the locally run Hub Club, despite the fact that everyone in town was aware that the geographical center was actually elsewhere. According to their own calculations, the "actual" lower 48 center was three-quarters of a mile away, in the middle of a hog farm. But the farmer, Mr. Johnny Grib, was reluctant to turn his farm into a tourist attraction, so the hilltop site was selected instead.

Forty-two miles south of Lebanon, a sign and plaque announce another center: the "Geodetic Center of North America." This sign makes no claims at being the geodetic center itself, rather it indicates that the actual geodetic center lies on private property eight miles away, in the fields of Smiths Ranch, where it is marked with a small bronze geodetic survey marker.

Neither of these monuments should be confused with the Geographic Center of the United States (when you include Alaska and Hawaii), which sits seventeen miles west of Castle Rock, South Dakota, or the Geographic Center of North America, fifteen miles south west of Rugby, North Dakota.

Even if we could agree on which, if any, of these centers is the most significant, we would be wrong to assume that the spots the markers indicate are objective and accurate. Many variables exist when calculating the center of a land mass as large as the United States, and selective criteria and methods can be used, from the selection of different map projections, to defining the periphery of the shape with varying degrees of accuracy.

The Lebanon, Kansas "center," in fact, was determined by cutting the shape of the lower 48 states out of a cardboard sheet, and balancing it on a point. This determination of the "center of gravity" of the country (or at least of a jagged piece of cardboard) was used by the Coast and Geodetic Survey in 1918, and placed the center of the lower 48 states at 39 50'N. longitude 98 35W latitude. This method, even at its best, is believed to be accurate only within ten or twenty miles. Though the Geodetic Survey would later regret making any official declaration, this early endorsement was enough to enable Lebanon's Hub Club to claim its center as official, beating a few other competing communities for the title, which, it was assumed, could lead to considerable tourist revenue, and literally put the community on the map.

The state of Kansas pitched in to help the poor agricultural town develop its new attraction by paving the one mile stretch off the highway to the monument, and a few years later a motel was built overlooking the monument. But the tourists only trickled in to this remote place, near the Nebraska state line, and the motel closed in just a few years, and never opened again.

Lebanon has experienced an even greater decline in recent years, suffering as badly as any small Kansas town without a job base. The school closed in the 1980's, the stately and crumbling Victorian houses are being bought up by Californian investors, and the motel is now owned by a group from Texas that visits once a year during hunting season.

This center, however, remains on the map, a testament to the collective need to find the middle of things. The park around the monument is still maintained by the Hub Club, and a little mobile chapel, with four tiny pews, sits nearby, a manifestation of the spiritual dimension of centerness and balance. Inuitively, we all know that every shape has a middle, and every country has a center - a heart.

The scientists at the Geodetic Survey, feeling out of place in this subjective and emotional realm, have opted out of the search for centers altogether. Oscar S. Adams, Senior Mathematician for the U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey wrote in an early essay on the subject, "Since there is no definite way to locate such a point, it would be best to ignore it entirely... the conclusion is forced upon us that there is no such thing as the geographical center of any state, country, or continent." But then he concedes, "This is a case in which all may differ but all be right."

[original article]

Posted by thinkum at 10:22 AM

October 26, 2004

British Library tries a cunning stunt

[It appears that I haven't completely lost the Prude Badge -- it took about ten minutes for me to figure this one out. - Th.]

08:00 AEST Mon Oct 25 2004

The British Library has raised eyebrows by displaying a pink neon sign which reads: "Has anybody seen Mike Hunt?"

The rude art installation is on show in the world-famous library, home to the Magna Carta and the notebooks of Leonardo da Vinci.

Designers were invited to submit works for an exhibition called 26 Letters: Illuminating the Alphabet. Each was given a particular letter and asked to create an art work around it. This particular installation was based on the letter C.

It is the creation of two women designers, Morag Myerscough and Charlotte Rawlins.

A British Library spokeswoman said only one member of the public and one staff member had complained so far.

"We held a briefing with staff to ensure people knew it was going on display and to answer any questions they may have," the spokeswoman said.

"The installation is not in a prominent place and it is certainly not in an area where schoolchildren might see it.

"It is not deliberately intended to upset people. The exhibition is meant to show that the British Library is not a fusty place."

But one British Library staff member told London's Evening Standard newspaper the sign was "adolescent" and said: "Why are they spending money on installing this in the British Library? It is ridiculous and offensive."

The exhibition runs until December 31.

Posted by thinkum at 03:43 PM

Little people, big thrills

The best-selling thriller-writer Philip Kerr was nervous about promoting his first children's novel in the US. Would shiny, happy American children take to an ageing, overweight British author?

21 October 2004

As a thriller-writer, I'm quite used to visiting other countries to promote a novel. I've even become reconciled to the new publishing order - that it's no longer enough to write a book; you have to promote it, too. Having spent months in monastic, anti-social seclusion, you suddenly emerge into the light of day, blinking like some myopic mole, and are then required to behave like a cross between Martin Jarvis and Jackie Mason.

Meeting journalists, photographers and the public, shaking hands and signing books while wearing my best grin, I've even learnt a new respect for politicians who do something similar all year round. But nothing prepared me for the rigours of a three-week tour of the United States, as a first-time children's author. Three weeks without uttering a single profanity and without once getting drunk; three weeks of politeness and diplomacy that would have exhausted Kofi Annan.

The first thing I noticed about Scholastic, who specialise in publishing children's books (they publish JK Rowling in America) is how nice they all are. How nice and how enthusiastic. Such a pleasant change from the glum old world of adult publishing where booksellers moan about point of sale (or more likely the lack of it), and editors and marketing people regard you with shifty indifference - as if it must have been someone else's bright idea to have you read to several rows of empty seats and a lost dog at some dismal bookshop in St Albans. Everyone in children's books is smiling.

Beginning my American tour in New York and New Jersey, I decide that dealing with children probably encourages this; and, unaccustomed as I am to public smiling, I fix a Tony Blair sort of rictus on my face and set off for my first speaking engagement - a 50-minute talk to 300 pupils at the Elisabeth Morrow School, in Englewood. Elisabeth Morrow was, it turns out, Charles Lindbergh's sister-in-law and, frankly, I feel like I'd rather have flown single-handed across the Atlantic than what I'm about to do. Never in my life have I spoken to a large group of children - other than the time during my eldest son's birthday party when I told all his friends that the next person to punch or kick someone else would be sent home immediately! (You get the picture.)

Somehow I get through a whole hour with Elisabeth Morrow's kids. They even laugh at my jokes. Afterwards I sign about a hundred books and autographs, and have my picture taken with various kids and even a few teachers before collapsing into the back of the limo. On the way to the next school, and another 250 kids, Charisse, my publicist, informs me that JK Rowling did the same kind of promotional tour for her first and second books that I'm doing now. I can tell that she's only saying this to keep up my spirits because suddenly this feels like hard work. But after two or three more schools I start to feel a little more relaxed.

My book is about two New York twins who discover that they are djinn, and, as well as reading from the novel, which is called Children of the Lamp, I tell the children how djinn sometimes grant humans three wishes. They know all about this part already, the schoolchildren tell me. There's a Pop Tarts commercial running on TV that features a cartoon djinni. I tell the children about my own three wishes and ask them what they'd wish for if they ever met a real djinni. Mostly this goes well. One little boy tells me he wishes he had his own personal sushi chef. Another boy stands up in front of the whole school and says he wishes there could be world peace and no more wars. We laugh when swimsuited young women in the Miss World contest come out with this sort of guff. But it's a different story when a nine-year-old boy says it, and I encourage a round of applause for this particular wish. We need more wishes like that, don't we? Especially in America. A little girl wishes she was the President and everyone laughs when I say that I wish she was, too. Who knows? Maybe there's hope for John Kerry after all.

On one occasion, however - these are children, after all - the unpredictable happens. A boy in Michigan City tells me he wishes he knew where his mother was. Gulp. And a twin in Oak Park, a suburb of Chicago, tells me that she wishes she didn't have a twin at all; this provokes a howl of outrage and anguish from the other side of the school gymnasium where the other twin is sitting with her friends. I'm beginning to see what WC Fields was talking about when he aired his prejudices about working with children and animals.

By now I've reached the West Coast, where I speak to my biggest audience yet: 500 kids aged nine to 13. The vast school looks more like a correctional facility, and I half expect to see some scrofulous youth trotting up the endless corridor with a newly legalised automatic rifle slung over his acne-covered shoulder. Here, the principal tells me that some of his girls wept for joy when they heard I was coming; and several with whom I shake hands tell me, improbably, that they're never going to wash their sticky little paws again. All of which persuades me to double-check that the school isn't really some institute for the blind. I'm 48 years old, for Pete's sake. Clearly there exists a real shortage of celebrities in America that is almost as acute as the lack of irony. Either that or these girls were being really ironic and I just didn't get it.

My young male fans don't seem to find any of this as surprising as I do. Cooler, more laid back about meeting a writer than their female counterparts, they and I still manage to strike up an unlikely fraternity. One of them leans toward me and says, "Our librarian thinks you're hot". Thanks buddy, I tell him. "What's the PB stand for?" enquires another youth. "Peanut butter?"

Two weeks into my tour, I'm starting to find all of this rather touching, not to say encouraging. In America, bookshops, publishers and schools work together to promote child literacy. And clearly it works. It must work when an ageing, overweight British author is treated to the kind of adoration that is normally reserved for six-packed boy bands. For years I've lived a monkish, somewhat cynical existence, never really doing very much except reading and writing and watching movies. But in a strange way I'm actually starting to enjoy myself. I realise how important children are. Not just my own. But all children, everywhere.

Arriving back in the UK, I discover that my book has entered the New York Times bestselling children's author's list. This feels good. But it doesn't feel quite as good as the experience I have just enjoyed. The fact of the matter is I feel a little privileged to have been the subject of some youthful awe. I feel like I've been given something really important and worthwhile that I ought to cherish. And far from making me feel old, my contact with children had an opposite, enlivening effect. There's no doubt about it, children are the best elixir of life I've yet discovered.

'Children of the Lamp: The Akhenaten Adventure', by PB Kerr, is published by Scholastic Press (12.99)

[original article]

Posted by thinkum at 03:39 PM

Displays Of Dissent

By MICHAEL SASSO msasso@tampatrib.com
Published: Oct 25, 2004

TAMPA - There's a curious way to squelch political speech this election year: Go to a bookstore, find a political book unfavorable to your cause and hide it in the cookbook section.

That is one of the nuisances that local bookstore owners are putting up with, as a bevy of conservative- and liberal-themed books fill their stores. Booksellers report being second-guessed by customers about why they display certain political titles and are accused of partisanship.

In some cases, customers complain in person or in letters that too many pro-George Bush or pro-John Kerry books are displayed. In others, they are hiding books in the store.

"Customers that are sensitive to political things have a much greater chance of seeing [unfavorable books] and mentioning it to managers," said Ray Hinst, co-owner of Haslam's Book Store in St. Petersburg. "We had someone take copies of "Unfit for Command" and stick them somewhere else in the store, the cookbook section or something."

This year has seen an exceptional number of political books published, many with vitriolic titles, such as the anti-Bush tome "Bushwhacked," and the anti-John Kerry "Unfit for Command." Publishers Weekly, a publishing industry journal, reports there have been more than 30 best sellers in the political category published in 2004. Of the 16 books on the most recent New York Times best-seller list for hardcover, nonfiction books, 11 have political themes.

Last week, half of the eight independent or chain-owned bookstores surveyed by the Tribune reported receiving complaints from customers that they were carrying too many liberal or conservative books, or that they were displaying them too prominently. In St. Petersburg, Hinst reports getting several comments from customers per week that he displays certain partisan books too prominently. Hinst said he has progressive political views and carries many such books, but he also tries to carry conservative-leaning books, including several by Rush Limbaugh.

Hinst first noticed minor acts of political sabotage when Limbaugh published "The Way Things Ought to Be" in 1992.

"Because it was on the best-seller list, we would have it prominently displayed and people would pull it out of the book [displays] and either turn them all backward and stick them someplace else in the store."

In Tampa, the independent store Inkwood Books is selling more liberal-leaning books at the moment, but that may because there are more of them on the market, co-owner Leslie Reiner said. Among the hot sellers are filmmaker Michael Moore's books, including "Will They Ever Trust Us Again?," about soldiers' experiences in Iraq, and reporter Seymour Hersh's "Chain of Command," a critical look at the road to the Iraq war.

Reiner is trying to bridge the gap between liberal and conservatives with Inkwood's Open Mind Sale: buy a book that leans Democratic or Republican and get half off of a book that slants the other way.

"We've had a few people take advantage of it, which is fun," Reiner said.

Haslam's, Inkwood and a few other stores said they are trying to stay relatively neutral in how they stock and display political books. Hinst said that books that hit the best-seller lists naturally get the most prominent space at Haslam's, regardless of their politics. Borders Group Inc., one of the country's biggest booksellers, receives enough customer comments about bias that it distributes a one-page statement to media and customers that professes the company's neutrality.

On Friday, Borders public relations manager Beth Bingham said: "We've had concerns from customers on both sides of the issue saying, `Gee, I wish you didn't carry this book, or I wish you didn't carry that book.' We've had calls about it, and just like our statement says, we are a retailer, we are completely apolitical."

Campaign contributions listed on the Web site OpenSecrets.org, kept by the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics, revealed no contributions to federal candidates of either party by top Borders executives. However, the Web site showed significant contributions to Democratic candidates by Leonard Riggio, chairman of rival bookseller Barnes & Noble, and other senior Barnes & Noble executives. A Barnes & Noble spokesman did not return calls Friday.

At least one bookstore, Sarasota News & Books, is upfront with its progressive leanings. Recently, the bookstore has sponsored talks and book signings by several prominent Democratic and progressive authors, including U.S. Sen. Bob Graham, former Democratic presidential candidate George McGovern, Democratic strategist Donna Brazile and The Nation columnist Eric Alterman.

Caren Lobo, co-owner of Sarasota News & Books, acknowledges that her bookstore is weighted with liberal books. That perturbs some people who claim that bookstores are forums for political thought and that her store, therefore, should try to be neutral. On occasion, people have been "verbally abusive" with their complaints about her partisanship or have written letters of protest, she said.

Nonetheless, she tries to carry a few conservative-leaning books. In fact, it was a conservative book, U.S. Rep. Katherine Harris' memoir of the 2000 presidential election, "Center of the Storm," that was sabotaged by a few customers.

"People came in and turned it around, turned it upside down, left little nasty notes," Lobo said.

Tribune research Angie Drobnic Holan contributed to this report. Reporter Michael Sasso can be reached at (813) 259-7865.

[original article]

Posted by thinkum at 03:38 PM

No trick-or-treating for Churchill polar bears

Last Updated Mon, 25 Oct 2004 12:57:48 EDT

CHURCHILL, MAN. - Trick-or-treaters in the northern Manitoba town of Churchill will get street protection worthy of a visiting head of state this Halloween.

Come Sunday night, the town of 1,000 will be ringed by about a dozen fire trucks and ambulances, all revving engines and shining spotlights on goblin-filled streets to keep curious polar bears from getting a little too close to roaming children.

Overhead, a helicopter will circle, while a crew armed with immobilizing darts will be stationed around town, just in case the bears don't get the point.

Halloween's polar bear patrol has been a feature of Churchill for 20 years. Bears are regularly spotted in the community from early summer to the end of November, depending on ice conditions. They lope into town because of Churchill's proximity to the world's largest denning area.

Firecrackers and high-pitched whistles await the boldest of bears, who manage to skirt the blaring engines and blinding lights to enter the town.

And if they still persist, there's bear jail.

Repeat trespassers are corralled into a cell and kept for about a month, which conservation experts believe is enough time to isolate bears and break them of their pattern of wandering into town.

Last year, 151 bears filled the cells to capacity. Another 25 bears had to be flown out because the compound was full.

[original article]

Posted by thinkum at 03:35 PM

Into thin air

Climbers' notes left on Sierra summits are vanishing - and no one knows why

By Tom Knudson -- Bee Staff Writer
Published 2:15 am PDT Sunday, October 24, 2004

Ever since 19th century explorers first scrambled to the top of Sierra Nevada summits, climbers have felt compelled to mark their peak accomplishments in writing ...

In notebooks, on loose sheets of paper and scraps of Kodak film cartons, they have recorded moments of pure exhilaration, marveled at the knife-like ridges and wind-polished domes, jotted down climbing routes or simply signed their names.

But today, those informal archives of achievement, tucked away inside sardine cans, glass jars, baking powder tins or even custom-made Sierra Club metal boxes, are vanishing.

For those who hike and climb in the Sierra Nevada and revel in its history, the disappearance of the summit registers comes as a jolt.

"Some of the real neat ones are missing," said Jason Lakey, a 29-year-old climber from Bishop whose passion for bagging peaks has led him to 72 Sierra summits over the past five years.

Three years ago, on top of a rugged spire in the eastern Sierra called Petite Griffon, Lakey found something special: worn scraps of paper in a film canister that held fewer than 20 names, including those of the first two climbers known to have reached the summit in 1964.

"It's pretty neat," he said. "It's history without having to go to a museum. You just climb the mountain and there it is."

This summer Lakey returned to the 13,040-foot peak with his girlfriend. The climb was so steep and arduous it required ropes. On top, Lakey searched for the register. But it was gone.

Why summit registers are disappearing is a mystery.

In trailside conversations and e-mails, climbers toss out theories. Is it the work of a souvenir hunter? Might the National Park Service have adopted a register removal policy? Should climbers be checking eBay?

Like tributaries of a stream, those discussions lead in many directions - from the serrated peaks that tower over the John Muir Trail to the garage of a former climber from Merced to the campus of the University of California, Berkeley.

They reach back across a century of mountaineering to reveal periods of conflict, concern and confusion over the fate of summit registers.

But inevitably, they end up where they began: on the top of a mountain where a chapter of Sierra history is missing.

Storing records on summits is inherently risky. They can, and have, been struck by lightning and accidentally dropped into cracks. But today climbers say registers are disappearing more rapidly than ever - far faster than mere mishaps could explain.

"On some peaks, the container is empty. On others, the container is gone as well as the book," said Tina Bowman, mountain records chair of the Sierra Peak Section of the Angeles chapter of the Sierra Club.

Bowman is in charge of maintaining registers across more than 200 Sierra peaks. In a normal year, her biggest concern is getting new ledger books into register containers where old ones have filled up.

Recently that concern has been eclipsed by another: 19 books have been reporting missing this year alone, along with 10 containers. The oldest, lost from Mount Barnard, dated to 1936.

"The increase in missing ones is dramatic," said Steve Eckert, who runs the Web site www.climber.org. "But there is no pattern. It's not like they are disappearing from the seldom-climbed peaks. Or the most climbed peaks."

The first known summit register was placed on a Sierra summit in 1864 by geologist William Brewer. But it wasn't until the early 20th century, when the Sierra Club lured throngs to the mountains with its annual outings, called High Trips, that large numbers of signatures showed up on summits.

Part of the thrill of the six-week excursions was climbing peaks and signing registers. On popular peaks, they filled up fast, as club leader Richard Leonard discovered in 1930.

"When I ascended Mt. Conness, I found the register left by Ansel Adams in 1920 had been completely filled," Leonard wrote to a club secretary. On Mount Dana, "the register was going to pieces due to the efforts of people to find a place to write."

Leonard's solution represents one of the first clues for a summit register sleuth: send full and damaged register books to the club's San Francisco headquarters for safekeeping and replace them with new ones. Those records, pulled from a constellation of peaks, are lost from the mountains, but not from history. They now are housed at UC Berkeley's Bancroft Library.

Like journal entries, they not only reflect the nature of those who wrote them - they say something about the period in which they were recorded.

During the 1890s, for example, severe weather lashed the Sierra. Rivers thundered. Glaciers growled. "Thunderstorms in progress - and hail falling," says a register entry signed by Walter Starr Sr. and Allen Chickering on Mount Goddard in 1896. "We are on our way from Yosemite to Kings River, keeping as near the crest as possible."

In the 1930s, registers, like the economy, were lean. When legendary mountaineers David Brower, Norman Clyde and Hervey Voge reached the top of Devils Crag #5 in 1934, they left just seven to-the-point words. "Apparent first ascent, climbed from northwest notch."

Four decades later, concern for the environment swept the country and showed up in registers.

"Climb the mountains and get their good tidings," wrote one hiker on Mount Conness in 1974, quoting John Muir, and adding: "What would he think of the smog in the valleys to the east and west?"

The '70s also were a time when the thrill of climbing mingled with illicit recreational activities. "It's good to be high again," one Mount Conness entry reads. "Can you dig it?"

"Almost as intense as being busted at the Canadian border for LSD five days ago," another hiker wrote. "Almost as intense as LSD itself, for that matter."

Summit registers "are virtual Sierra history lessons," said climber Bob Burd, who this year discovered registers missing from four prominent peaks. "Coming across signatures dating back 50 years is far more interesting to me than the views."

Seventeen years ago, the discovery of a missing register in Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park by two young climbers, Robin Ingraham Jr. and his friend Mark Hoffman, led to more registers being removed from the Sierra - and to tragedy.

Looking for a summit register on Midway Mountain, they instead found a note saying it had been stolen. The note was signed.

"I remember the names: Mark Farkel and Otis Jasper Russell. Whether those are aliases or not, I don't know," Ingraham said. "They called themselves the Purple Mountain Gang."

Angered, Ingraham took a picture of the note, which he keeps in his closet. He stores copies of other summit records in his garage.

"When we got back, we contacted the Sierra Club and they said, 'That's beyond our scope now. We're just an environmental organization.'

"We contacted the National Park Service and they said, 'Gee that's a bad thing but we're really stretched on funds. There's nothing we can do about it.'"

Undeterred, the two sought advice from early Sierra Club climbers who, Ingraham said, encouraged them to retrieve full or damaged registers. They formed a group - the Sierra Register Committee - to do just that.

Like old Sierra Club records, the committee's fresher finds can be viewed in the Bancroft Library's reading room, along with a set of strict rules. No pens allowed. Copies - 50 cents a page. Fragile records can only be scanned, for $30 a page. Visitors are searched as they leave.

One of the committee's discoveries - for "Peak 12,560+" - which rises above the Lyell Fork of the Merced River, is just a few scraps of worn, burned paper.

The first signature is famous: photographer Ansel Adams - July 10, 1924.

Ingraham recalled the thrill of rescuing that register. "It was in this little can," he said. "It had been hit by lightning. The thing was in terrible condition."

R.J. Secor, however, is not thrilled. The author of "The High Sierra: Peaks, Passes and Trails," Secor signed the same summit register in 1972.

"These two fellows came out of nowhere and took it upon themselves to remove these registers, for history, when the general view of most climbers is: 'Leave them up there forever,'" Secor said.

Although controversial, the activities of the Sierra Register Committee were short-lived.

In 1988, while Ingraham and Hoffman were looking for registers, a rockslide broke loose. Hoffman was killed. "I was with him; I saw the whole thing happen," Ingraham said. "I almost quit climbing at the time."

The committee officially disbanded in 1994, after sending at least 10 registers to the Bancroft.

Registers have not stopped vanishing from the mountains, however, and that's where the trail goes cold.

"People drop them," Eckert offered. "They are walking around on the peak and down the crack they go. I've personally fished out three from deep in cracks."

Many registers have disappeared from Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park and some climbers speculate that backcountry rangers there - perhaps viewing registers as incompatible with wilderness - might be removing them.

But park public affairs specialist Alexandra Picavet said that's not the case. Rangers "are surprised they are going missing," she said. "And there is no answer as to why."

Secor believes some are simply stolen. "It's a shame," he said. "Reading and signing summit registers is part of the history and ambiance of climbing peaks in the high Sierra."

Among the talus pile of theories, though, there is one solid, though slender, handhold. Of registers that have turned up missing in recent years, one - from Mount Langley, a popular 14,042-foot peak near Mount Whitney - has been found.

It resides at the Bancroft Library where someone donated it in 2002. Who was that someone?

Librarians can't say. "I'm not supposed to disclose donors," said Tanya Hollis, environmental collections archivist at the Bancroft. "We just don't do that as a matter of course."

About the writer:
The Bee's Tom Knudson can be reached at (530) 582-5336 or tknudson@sacbee.com.

[original article]

Posted by thinkum at 03:34 PM

Eat your heart out

The Very Hungry Caterpillar, one of the greatest childhood classics of all time, celebrates its 35th anniversary this year. Kate Taylor, whose programme on the book can be heard on Radio 4 tomorrow, examines the reasons for our ongoing love affair with children's fiction's greediest hero

Friday October 22, 2004


I have just finished making a radio programme about a book. Thirty-five years old and just 224 words long, it has nevertheless sold a copy somewhere in the world every single minute since it was first published. It has been translated into more than 30 different languages, from Swahili to Catalan, worldwide sales top the 20m mark, and in one edition, if not several, is a constant presence on the UK's bestseller lists. "It is one of our most successful books of all time" says Francesca Dow, managing director of Puffin Books. "It's a publisher's dream and we are very lucky to have it."

The book is called The Very Hungry Caterpillar. For those that don't know it (and there can't be many of you) it tells the very simple story of a caterpillar who is born, feels hungry, eats a selection of rather inappropriate food, feels a bit sick, builds a cocoon and emerges as a butterfly. Not exactly War and Peace, but as children's writer Ted Dewan points out: "The books you read when you're a kid become part of your spinal cord. I've forgotten what I was reading last week but I can still recite half of Dr Suess".

Those of us who continue to read fiction as adults will recognise the point Dewan is making. As grown-ups, our reading is subject to a far wider range of pressures than we experienced as children. Our busy lives mean that we have to cram our book time into five-minute chunks on the tube in the morning, or in bed at night, half asleep. The adult reading experience is further complicated by our awareness that we didn't enjoy that classic as much as we ought to have done, that we're spending too much time reading rubbish, that we still haven't got round to reading that "unmissable" book that absolutely everyone else apparently finished months ago. Childhood reading, on the other hand, is simpler and more direct. And as Ted Dewan says, its effect on us is strangely powerful and tenacious.

The story of The Very Hungry Caterpillar began back in 1969 when young graphic designer Eric Carle was feeling bored. "I wasn't thinking of books or anything like that," he says. "I didn't have anything to do, so I took a stack of paper and a hole-punch and I playfully punched holes ... then I looked at them. Straight away I thought of a book worm"

Eric's editor, Ann Beneduce, was not convinced that "Willi the Bookworm" was a winner. The story goes that the pair sat around trying to think of something more engaging until, at the same instant, Ann said "Caterpillar!" and Eric said "Butterfly!". The rest is history.

In the course of making the programme, it became clear to me that the appeal of The Very Hungry Caterpillar worked on many different levels from the practical to the almost spiritual, but those holes in the pages (an unprecedented gimmick that turned the book into a toy) remain a crucial part of its fascination - as, too, does the fact that it centres around food. "I come from Hull," says journalist Tom Armitage, "and I'm not saying my childhood was all coal and worms, but I had no idea that this range of food existed. I had never seen a watermelon before, and I wasn't at all sure what salami was. I used to look at that page for hours."

It's educational, too, providing teachers with the perfect tool for teaching. Dull, Janet-and-John-style reading schemes reigned supreme in the 1960s until the caterpillar showed up. "When educators got hold of it and realised what it could do, it was very instructive," says Bethan Marshall, education lecturer at King's College, London. "Children learn to read in three main ways: prediction, pattern and picture cues. The Hungry Caterpillar does all of them."

Then there are the pictures. Through his use of a simple collage technique, Carle inadvertently increased the educational value of the book because it is so easy to copy. "No one ever tells you when you become a teacher that you have to be good at art," says Coral Hitchings, a teacher at the Mulberry Bush school for children with severe emotional and behavioural difficulties. "It's a bit of a problem. But I know that if I can do something in the style of Eric Carle, my children will be able to too".

"The style was quite revolutionary," says Jane Ray. "It was part of a whole new movement in children's illustration and it really set the tone for what was to come". Nick Clarke, director of the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art, goes even further. "It's fair to talk about what Eric does in terms of artists such as Picasso and Matisse - he is as serious about what he is trying to achieve as they were. Certainly Picasso said 'I aspire to draw like a child'".

Eric Carle was born in New York, but homesickness prompted his family to return to their native Stuttgart in 1935. Eric remembers a "dull, grey world. Everything was camouflaged, there was no fashion, no colour anywhere". The art he saw did not inspire him. "It was all social realism. Soldiers winning the war, farmers digging the soil, that sort of thing". It was not until high school that Eric's art teacher, recognising the boy's talent, secretly showed him a box full of banned art, the work of "degenerate artists" Picasso, Klee and Matisse. "It was almost the first time I had seen such brilliant colours," he says. "At first I was shocked. It made an incredible impression on me".

Nick Clarke, who nowadays calls Carle "the Bruce Springsteen of the third grade" because of the crowds that attend his public appearances, suggests that the gorgeousness of The Very Hungry Caterpillar springs from Carle's reaction against the grimness of his wartime childhood. Carle himself agrees: "It may be psychobabble but I sometimes think I rehash that period of my life in my books".

He's not the only one who finds the book therapeutic. "I get lots of letters from teachers and therapists," explains Carle. "I recently got one letter from a teacher working with an autistic child who doesn't speak at all, except to say 'Eric Carle'". This might sound incredible, but Coral Hitchings is not surprised. The repetitive structure of the book provides, she says, "a calming, secure environment for children who have often had very chaotic lives. It's a book they return to again and again".

Much of the book's emotional impact hangs on the central transformation. After seven days' feeding, the caterpillar retreats into his cocoon and emerges in a splash of brilliant colour on the final page as ... a beautiful butterfly. The structure has clear religious overtones, and the book features in sermons and Sunday schools alike - but its message goes deeper than that. "It is saying that if this caterpillar can become a butterfly there is hope for all of us, no matter what we look like" says Elizabeth Hammill, director of the Centre for the Children's Book in Newcastle. "It is a book of hope," agrees Eric Carle. "I was scared of growing up. Would I master all the things that grown-ups do? This book says, you'll grow up and you'll be alright - and not just alright, you'll be beautiful"

It is a message with universal appeal - and application. Muoy You, director of the Seametrey School in Cambodia, explains: "I try to teach our children that you can always become better, but greed is not the solution. When the caterpillar is greedy he gets sick. When he is reasonable, and works hard, he feels better. In Cambodia we need this kind of message." Eric Carle, on the other hand, remembers the words of a young East German librarian. "She said, 'This book would never have been published here. The caterpillar represents a capitalist. He bites into every fruit, just takes one bite and he moves on, getting fatter and fatter. He's exploiting everything.'".

Perhaps she would not have been surprised to learn that one of the book's biggest fans is President Bush. When Bush visits primary schools on his campaign trail, nothing but the Caterpillar will do. "If teachers have put out other books his advance team will clear them" says Nick Clarke. "It's The Very Hungry Caterpillar that he reads." In 1999, when Pizza Hut ran a survey asking 50 US governors to name their favourite books from childhood, Bush opted for the Caterpillar. It didn't take long for gleeful commentators to point out that when the book was published, Bush was nearly 23. One could charitably assume that he had misunderstood the question and was naming his favourite children's book, but for journalists the "open parable" of the Caterpillar was an open target. Go to toostupidtobepresident.com and you will find a parody of the book in which a very hungry "plutocraterpillar" munches its way through endless piles of money. In the New Yorker, Anthony Lane suggested that for the president, the book is "a matchless parable for the entrepreneurial right. The caterpillar, far from being punished for his indulgence, suffers no more than a mild stomach ache before being transformed into a butterfly." Conservative capitalists "are thus assured of nothing more than mildly discomforting taxation before they attain the bliss of their first billion."

For most of the people I spoke to in the course of making the programme, this is pushing it a bit. But there remains an incredible well of affection for the book that epitomises that clinging memory of childhood reading. When Abigail Campbell, literature officer for the Arts Council, was writing a recent presentation, she looked for an image which symbolised children's literature. "When the hungry caterpillar came up on the screen the reaction was incredible," she said. "There were just sighs of joy around the room". "All life is here, in this deceptively simple format," agrees illustrator Jane Ray. "It's a masterpiece."

Eric Carle, now in his 70s, is pleased but still somewhat bemused by all this. "It was bread and butter to me" he says, "It paid my rent. I truly didn't think of lasting success or anything like that. I mean, it's just a book." But in this opinion he is very much in the minority. "The Very Hungry Caterpillar is one of the pillars of children's culture," says Ted Dewan. "It's almost like talking about how great the Beatles were. It's beyond reproach."

Kate Taylor is a freelance radio producer. The Very Hungry Caterpillar, presented by John Hegley, is a Whistledown production and will be aired on Radio 4 tomorrow at 3.30pm

[original article]

Posted by thinkum at 03:31 PM

October 25, 2004

Russian aristocrats fight for palaces

A battle is under way in Russia for the stately homes of the country's former aristocracy - confiscated by the Bolsheviks during the 1917 Revolution.

Officials in St Petersburg are seeking to privatise some of the palaces by selling them off to the highest bidder. However, some relatives and descendents of the Russian nobility want them back, or compensation from the state.

Princess Vera Obolensky - of 34th-generation nobility, but currently living in an apartment block in the city - is among those seeking to get back the palace that she believes is her right.

"I really want to live in the mansion that was my family's, the Obolenskys, before the Revolution," she told BBC World Service's Assignment programme.

"It's really a very beautiful place, one of the most beautiful places in St Petersburg."

Architectural treasures

After the 1917 Revolution, all Princess Vera's family estates were seized by the authorities. Her family fled Russia disguised as peasants, and went to Paris, where the she was born and raised.

Only after the fall of Communism did she come back to live in St Petersburg and she is now seeking to get part of that property back.

The home she claims is hers is next to the Peter and Paul Fortress, which is famed for the role it had in the founding of the city. It has a direct view, across the water, of the Winter Palace.

Princess Vera is not alone - she is backed by a number of like-minded aristocrats, who have formed themselves into a group called The Assembly Of Nobles.

In total, around 100,000 buildings were seized from the property-owning classes.

Princess Vera argues that, with so many architectural treasures in government hands, the authorities have not had the money or the expertise to preserve the buildings properly.

This, she contends, is the reason they are now heading onto the market.

"The state has not been able to look after so many properties, and now they want to privatise them and get rich by selling the buildings they were unable to take proper care of," she said.

"This whole proposal is a complete shame and disgrace. Of course we can't all have all our properties back, but one of the houses that my family once owned would be enough."

Housing for poor

But the issue is complicated by the fact that after the Revolution, all buildings became state property - and as a result, the palace was turned into communal apartments.

Many were used to house the poor - a situation that continues in St Petersburg to this day.

"It all depends on circumstances," said Dr Igor Shaob, a professor of cultural history whose family home was partly seized in the Revolution and completely taken after World War II.

"If you see poor people living in your former property - people struggling with nowhere else to go - then God bless them.

"But if you see officials trying to sell what never belonged to them, that has no justification. That deserves only criminal prosecution."

Dr Shaob admits he has "no chance" of getting the property back.

But he added that he believed the buildings will go to those with most money or political influence. This speculation has recently been fuelled by reports surrounding two former palaces on the "English Embankment" which runs along the South Bank.

One is Tenisheva's Palace, the St Petersburg HQ of Chelsea chairman Roman Abramovich. Mr Abramovich acquired the property in 2002 in his capacity as governor of the Chakotka region.

Further down the Embankment is a building belonging to energy Lukoil, which may well soon acquire the right to buy it. Both Lukoil and the governor's office have, in the past, denied any impropriety.

But political analyst Igor Leshukov, of the St Petersburg Institute of International Affairs, told Assignment he believes the best stately homes for sale will go to those with the strongest links to government. He also fears few properties will be properly restored.

"The main danger is many old and historic buildings will be simply destroyed and replaced by newly-done fakes," he said.

"The Hotel Europe is one of the masterpieces of Art Nouveau in St Petersburg - now we have just a facade, inside all the interior's been lost.

"The same situation is in the Hotel Astoria. So in that case, we can easily see what could happen in any palace owned by a private company and used as their luxury office."

Law changes

It is expected that those most interested in renovating the seized properties will be representatives of private business appointed by the administration.

The fears are that this will be a repeat of events in the mid-1990s, where state assets were sold off at rock bottom prices to what Mr Leshukov called an "appointed oligarchy".

"I think there will be no open competition for this type of property," he said.

"It will be done by permission, and it will be decided by the city authorities. And cities will not decide that by themselves - in certain cases, they will ask for permission further up, in the Kremlin."

However, the City Committee For Protection Of Private Buildings - which plans the sale of stately homes - has strongly denied that recent history would repeat with the privatisation of the properties.

"I absolutely exclude that - there's no way it can happen," the Committee's head Vera Demenchieva said.

"What we have in St Petersburg is the cultural heritage of all the people of Russia. That's why I can't understand why such questions appear - such suggestions sound as an insult to me as the head of the committee."

She stressed that laws had changed in Russia since the 1990s.

And further, she argued that also the attitude of the people had also changed, with many more interested in their cultural heritage - and therefore taking a keen interest in who is in charge of it.

"It's not really possible to buy a valuable asset at a low cost," she said.

"On the other hand, the conscience of people and of those in administration has changed greatly. It simply won't allow any indecent person to come and buy in his or her own interests."

[original article]

Posted by thinkum at 02:07 PM

Why the Charge of the Light Brigade still matters

On the 150th anniversary of the Charge of the Light Brigade, why should anyone still be interested in what was a relatively minor military blunder in a war long since overshadowed by the slaughter of the First and Second World Wars?


Thanks in no small part to the lines of Tennyson's poem - "Into the Valley of Death/Rode the six hundred... Cannon to the right of them/ Cannon to the left of them" - the Charge of the Light Brigade has long held its place in the public imagination. It is a symbol of heroic failure, a high-Victorian icon of self-sacrifice and devotion to duty.

This week the National Army Museum is commemorating the 150th anniversary of the charge, as part of a wider exhibition about the Crimean War.

"The British have always loved their defeats as much as their victories," says the exhibition's curator Alastair Massie. And the ill-fated cavalry charge appeals to our appetite for "glorious failure".

It was also an event that caught a world about to change - showing that chivalric cavalry charges and officers in full-dress uniforms were no match for modern fire-power.

"It was the most lethal costume party in history," he says.

Victorian media war

But Dr Massie says that much of the durability of the story is a legacy of its huge initial impact.

Crimea, 1855: Roger Fenton's photographs brought the war home

Crimea was the first media war. There were reporters and photographers capturing events in a way that had never happened before.

This brought the story of the light brigade's charge during the battle of Balaclava to the breakfast tables of Britain, only three weeks after it had happened.

And the breathless account of how a few hundred cavalrymen mounted a doomed charge against the Russian artillery was an emotional showstopper.

The poem by Lord Tennyson is often cited as sustaining the legendary status of the battle, but Mr Massie says the newspaper report came first - and it was this prose that inspired Tennyson's poetry.

This process of myth-making continued as painters began producing epic canvases depicting the headlong race towards the Russian guns.

'Sudden death'

But it was the news reporting of William Howard Russell which had set the story in motion. Confusion over cavalry orders in battle was not unique - but at Balaclava, for the first time, a journalist was there as an eye-witness to record soldiers "rushing to the arms of sudden death".

"The valley of the shadow of death" by Roger Fenton

"They swept proudly past, glittering in the morning sun in all the pride and splendour of war. We could scarcely believe the evidence of our senses! Surely that handful of men were not going to charge an army in position?

"Alas, it was but too true - their desperate valour knew no bounds, and far indeed was it removed from its so-called better part - discretion."

Public opinion was now part of the war - and from the outset this desperate attack was seen as a blunder.

But it was a gloriously executed blunder - and the men who took part in the charge acquired a kind of celebrity status, part of what William Howard Russell called a "band of heroes".

'Their's not to reason why'

In the decades following the battle, these old soldiers held well-publicised reunions - although Dr Massie says that sometimes the number of "survivors" attending exceeded the number who took part in the original charge. These reunions ran until 1913 - and the last veteran lived until 1927.

Cartoons raised public awareness of the poor conditions of soldiers

In the 20th Century, the image of military sacrifice acquired a very different character. In 1916, the Battle of the Somme saw 60,000 British casualties in a single day - and the poets of the First World War saw nothing heroic about such an appalling loss of life.

Tennyson wrote:

"Their's not to reason why,
Their's but to do and die."

And Kipling supplied a reply in a comment on WWI:

"If any ask us why we died,
Tell them 'Because our fathers lied'."

Re-interpretations of the Charge of the Light Brigade pointed up the failings of aristocratic, self-centred generals, who appeared to have little concern for casualties.

In the 1950s, the historian Cecil Woodham-Smith wrote The Reason Why, which blamed upper-class rivalries of Lord Lucan and Lord Cardigan for allowing the cavalry charge.

Not such a disaster

This view of distant, incompetent aristocrats ignoring the better judgement of professional soldiers was reinforced by the 1968 movie, The Charge of the Light Brigade.

But there have been more recent challenges to this - with military historian Terry Brighton saying the film owed "more to class war than the Crimean War".

Mr Brighton's book, Hell Riders: The True Story of the Charge of the Light Brigade, argued that the charge was much less of a military disaster than it might have appeared.

In numerical terms, the event would not have registered significantly on the casualty figures. There were 673 men in the charge - of which probably fewer than 200 died.

In contrast, during the Crimean War more than 16,000 soldiers died of diseases such as dysentery.

And Dr Massie says that it would be wrong to think only modern historians had established the failures of the military commanders.

At the time, Lord Cardigan was known to be a "blockhead" and Lord Lucan was considered a "pedant", says Dr Massie. The Crimean campaign followed 40 years without Britain fighting a European war - and Lord Lucan had returned after 17 years in retirement.

But the charge of the light brigade lives on as a phrase that has become part of the language - and an example of unthinking bravery - in an event which the Times recorded as an "atrocity without parallel".

By Sean Coughlan
BBC News Online Magazine

[original article]

Posted by thinkum at 02:05 PM

Reeve stem cell appeal airs in US

A TV appeal on stem cell research recorded by Superman actor Christopher Reeve in the final few days of his life has begun airing in the US.

In the public service advertisement, Reeve urged voters in a forthcoming US state referendum to back the research.

Voters in California will decide the issue in a ballot on 2 November.

Reeve, 52, died of heart failure on 10 October, nine years after being paralysed by a spinal injury sustained in a horse riding accident.

An outspoken advocate of human embryonic stem cell research, he recorded the advert about a week before his death.

"Stem cells have already cured paralysis in animals," he said in the advert. "Stem cells are the future of medicine. Please support (the ballot) and stand up for those who can't."

The California initiative has been backed by the state's governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger, who has broken ranks with his Republican party to support the move.

Stem cell research has become a major issue in the US presidential race.

Reeve's widow Dana has appeared with Democratic candidate John Kerry at a campaign rally to support his stance against President George W Bush's "ban" on research.

In 2001, Mr Bush prohibited the use of federal tax money in research on new stem cell lines, prompting criticism from the scientific community.

Under the California initiative, $3bn of state funds would be used to fund such research.

It would allow state taxpayers' money to be used to underwrite 10 years of research aimed at developing cures for Alzheimer's disease, spinal injuries and other illnesses.

[original article]

Posted by thinkum at 01:59 PM

October 22, 2004

Shatner aims for real 'Star Trek'

LONDON, England -- William Shatner wants to boldly go where he's only pretended to go so far.

The "Star Trek" star is among more than 7,000 people who have told Richard Branson they would gladly pay him $210,000 (115,000) for a trip aboard his planned spacecraft, the entrepreneur said Friday.

Former Red Hot Chili Peppers guitarist Dave Navarro has signed up for a ride, and a Hollywood director who was not identified has booked an entire ship.

Trevor Beattie, chairman of the ad agency TBWA -- responsible for campaigns such as the "Hello Boys" Wonderbra campaign with Eva Herzigova -- offered to send a check as soon as the project was launched last month.

In all, more than $1.45 billion (800 million) has been pledged -- years before the Virgin Galactic spaceship is even built, Branson said.

Branson, 54, is pouring $135 million (74 million) into his latest commercial experiment, which promises to send the paying public 70 miles above the planet to experience six minutes of weightlessness and see the curvature of the Earth.

Speaking from the Mojave Desert in California, Branson told the UK's Press Association he was overwhelmed by the response.

"We are extremely pleased because it just means in a sense that the gamble we took seems to have paid off," he said.

"Market research suggested that there were that sort of number of people willing to agree to that sort of price.

"We have committed 60 million and we have had a tremendous take-up. All indicators are that the risk was worth taking.

In addition to that amount, Virgin has spent 14 million buying the licensing rights to Burt Rutan's SpaceShipOne, which successfully launched into space twice earlier this month to win the $10 million Ansari X Prize.

Five- or nine-seater spacecraft are being designed which will travel at three times the speed of sound. The journey into space will last around three and a half hours.

Despite the interest, Branson said the first flight will be reserved for him and his family -- including his father, Ted.

The spacecraft is scheduled to be ready in 2008 -- to coincide with the elder Branson's 90th birthday.

"My dad has put his hand up and will be 90 at the time, my kids definitely want to come and if there is room for my mum she will come as well," Branson said.

If his father joined the flight, he would be the oldest person to fly in space, beating U.S. senator and space pioneer John Glenn, who went back into space in 2001 at age 77.

Alongside would his mother Eve, 80, his 21-year-old daughter Holly and 18-year-old son Sam.

But Branson said his wife, Joan, has no desire to leave the planet.

"My kids definitely want to go, my parents definitely want to go, but Joan will have her feet firmly on the ground, I suspect, trying to encourage the kids to stay on the ground."

Virgin will build five spaceships, and Branson said he hopes they will eventually be launched from various stations around the world, including Europe.

"If we can make it a success, then I hope we can lower the price so that more people can realize their dream and go into space."

[original article]

Posted by thinkum at 03:58 PM

Experts probe 'tilting' Taj Mahal

Indian authorities have launched an urgent investigation after historians reported that the Taj Mahal was leaning and in danger of sinking.

The government in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh has asked a committee of experts to report back in a week.

The historians fear the drying out of the nearby Yamuna river might have affected the Taj Mahal's foundations and want urgent action.

India's greatest tourist attraction marks its 350th anniversary this year.

Symbol of love

Earlier this month, two Indian historians warned the Taj Mahal may already be tilting and could crumble or sink if the government did not pay immediate attention to its ecological setting.

"Dangerous tilts in its minarets, first noticed in 1942 and mentioned in various reports, have continued to increase over the years," Ram Nath, a former head of history at Rajasthan University, told the Hindustan Times.

"They are caused by the dry river bed."

Another historian, Agam Prasad Mathur, said the dry Yamuna river bed must once again be filled if the monument was to be saved.

"Yamuna used to be full of water to maintain the monument's balance and absorb tectonic shocks. Now that the river bed is dry, the Taj is exposed to the elements," he said.

Uttar Pradesh chief minister Mulayam Singh Yadav has asked experts to examine the causes of any tilting.

The investigating committee will include representatives from the culture, construction and water departments.

It will work under the guidance of the Archaeological Survey of India - the federal body responsible for the upkeep and maintenance of historical sites and monuments.

The Taj Mahal, revered as a symbol of love, was built by Mughal emperor Shah Jahan as a tomb for his favourite wife, Mumtaz Mahal, who died in childbirth.

The monument, in the city of Agra, drew over three million tourists last year, far more than any other Indian tourist attraction.

By Jyotsna Singh
BBC correspondent in Delhi

[original article]

Posted by thinkum at 03:54 PM

Luther's lavatory thrills experts

Archaeologists in Germany say they may have found a lavatory where Martin Luther launched the Reformation of the Christian church in the 16th Century.

The stone room is in a newly-unearthed annex to Luther's house in Wittenberg.

Luther is quoted as saying he was "in cloaca", or in the sewer, when he was inspired to argue that salvation is granted because of faith, not deeds.

The scholar suffered from constipation and spent many hours in contemplation on the toilet seat.

'Earthy Christianity'

The lavatory was built in the period 1516-17, according to Dr Martin Treu, a theologian and Luther expert based in Wittenberg.

"What we have found here is something very rare," he told BBC News Online, describing how most buildings preserved from that era tend to have served a grander function.

The toilet is in a niche set inside a room measuring nine by nine metres, which was discovered during the excavation of a garden in the grounds of Luther's house.

Dr Treu said there can be little doubt the toilet was used by Luther, the radical theologian who argued for a more "earthy Christianity", which regarded the entire human body - and not just the soul - as God's creation.

The Reformation, which resulted in Europe's Protestant churches, is usually reckoned to have begun when Luther nailed 95 theses to the door of Wittenberg's Castle Church on 31 October 1517.

The theses attacked papal abuses and the sale of indulgences by church officials, among other things.

Structural concerns

Luther left a candid catalogue of his battle with constipation but despite this wealth of information, certain key details remain obscure - such as what the great reformer may have used in place of toilet paper.

"We still don't know what was used for wiping in those days," says Dr Treu. The paper of the time, he says, would have been too expensive and critically, "too stiff" for the purpose.

And while it is probable that the inspiration that led to Luther's reforms occurred on this toilet, it is impossible to prove it beyond doubt, Dr Treu says.

Future visitors to Wittenberg's Martin Luther museum will be able to view the new find, though structural concerns mean they will not be free to test its qualities as a toilet.

[original article]

Posted by thinkum at 03:53 PM

Wal-Mart bans Jon Stewart book from stores

NEW YORK - Retail giant Wal-Mart has banned America (The Book), a fake textbook written by Jon Stewart, the host of The Daily Show, from its stores.

The chain will not be selling the book because it contains a fake photo of the members of the U.S. Supreme Court in the nude.

"We were not aware of the image that was in the book [when Wal-Mart ordered it] and we felt the majority of our customers would not be comfortable with it," Wal-Mart spokeswoman Karen Burk told the Associated Press by way of explaining why the corporation had cancelled its order.

"We offer what we think our customers want to buy," Burk added. "That just makes good business sense."

The picture, on page 99 of the book, shows the heads of the Supreme Court justices grafted onto naked, sagging bodies.

The book supplies cut-outs of judicial robes so readers can "restore their dignity by matching each justice with his or her respective robe."

Warner Books spokeswoman Jamie Raab said the photo was in keeping with the tone of America (The Book), which is meant to be a spoof of a history textbook.

"It's funny, yet to the point. When you undress the Supreme Court justices, they're just men and women and you have to judge them on who they are and what they do. It makes you look and think and laugh," she said.

Raab said Wal-Mart is within its rights, but pointed out that the picture is not sexually explicit. A better strategy might have been to let customers make up their own minds, she said.

This isn't the first time Wal-Mart has banned a product. The chain does not stock lad's mags such as Maxim, and in 1996 it refused to sell a Sheryl Crow album because of one song with lyrics suggesting Wal-Mart sells guns to children.

Wal-Mart will, however, continue to sell America (The Book) through its website. Burk said people who buy products from Wal-Mart online are a "different audience."

The book was written by Stewart, along with the rest of the writing team from The Daily Show, which airs on Comedy Central in the U.S. and the Comedy Network here in Canada.

According to the Comedy Central website, America (The Book) explores "the reasons why concepts like 'One man, one vote,' 'Government by the people,' and 'Every vote counts' have become such popular urban myths."

Wal-Mart's move comes less than a week after Stewart made a controversial appearance on the CNN program Crossfire.

Stewart got into a verbal dust-up with co-host Tucker Carlson, calling him a "dick" who promotes "partisan hackery."

[original article]

Posted by thinkum at 03:52 PM

Public TV zapper hot product

SAN JOSE, CALIF. - A keychain device that enables people to turn off TVs just about anywhere is flying off the shelves, its inventor says.

Cornfield Electronics, which makes the device, is rebuilding its website because of the rush of orders.

The TV-B-Gone ($14.99 US) remote control was made public Monday in Wired magazine and on the web.

"I thought there would just be a trickle, but we are swamped," the inventor, Mitch Altman of San Francisco, told the Associated Press. "I didn't know there were so many people who were into turning TV off."

The device, an on-off switch, works on about 1,000 TV models, offering users relief from unwanted pictures and noise in airports, restaurants and bars.

It's like a universal remote control programmed to run through about 200 infrared codes that turn TVs on or off.

Aim the device, push the button and most TVs will go off.

Altman, an electrical engineer, says he tested the device all over the world and most people didn't react when the TV went off.

He doesn't like television and doesn't own one.

[original article]

Posted by thinkum at 03:51 PM

October 06, 2004

Hackers re-invent political protests

The fashionable city of Milan has become the staging area for a new breed of online social protests.

Via della Pergola is only a 15 minute walk from the centre of Milan.

But in a sense the street could not be farther away from the glitz that you find downtown.

Here, you can find Pergola Move. It is a rambling old set of buildings that is part cafe, part restaurant, and part youth hostel.

But it serves mainly as a meeting point for a loose collection of Milan's social activist groups.

Activists have been squatting in these buildings since 1990. Now, they pay rent and use the facilities for their work.

Among those working here is Blicero, a computer hacker with a group called Reload.

He says the members of Reload decided early on what they meant by hacking.

"For us it meant basically dismantling stuff, reducing them to components, and trying to put them back together in a way that looked like something we liked more.

"We thought that this was perfectly parallel, perfectly integrated with the idea of people who were involved with social struggle," said Blicero.

"We felt that social struggle was about taking apart social reality and building it up again in a way that is socially more interesting, or socially more right for what we think."

Reload calls it Reality Hacking. The group uses the internet, for example, to stream its own radio content.

It used the online station to get people to participate in this year's May Day marches.

Reload then teamed up with another hacker group named Molleindustria, which means soft industry.


Together, they created an online May Day march. Virtual activists could march by choosing their own character complete with different hair colours and outfits.

But predictably, many had their characters march naked.

Molleindustria also supplies simple computer games for Reload's activist projects.

The games are politically and socially charged.

In Tamatipico, you try to keep your assembly line worker happy by making sure he gets enough rest, enough food, and enough time in front of the television. If your workers not satisfied, he will go on strike.

Blicero says that games like Tamatipico are first and foremost, fun.

"If you have fun, it tends to drive your attention to the thing that you're doing, and maybe stop and think about a couple of things that are happening," he said.

"I think the whole point is to make people aware of what they're actually living.

"And to have this, you have to create images, fantasies, idea, fun, things people can recognise easily and interact with easily and get near to you, talk to you, and then decide whether you're talking bullshit, or things that make sense.

For some, like computer game expert Matteo Bittanti sips, what Reload and Molleindustria are doing is a new way of thinking about games.

Pergola Move hackers have created their own patron, Saint Precarious

Mr Bittanti is the driving force behind a series of books on video games currently being published in Italy.

To him, Molleindustria games work like a great film - you're entertained, but you come away with something more.

"I got a feeling the video game industry doesn't want to grow up," he said.

"They keep making very lame games. I mean the medium is so powerful, you can do so many things with it.

"And yet, you always end up with the same games, shooting people. I think you can do smart games that actually sell well, you have a whole generation of new game designers that have great ideas.

"And the technology's cheap, you can do very easy games that have a global view and can actually influence people."

Others, like Noah Wardrip-Fruin, co-editor of the computer game book First Person, say these games are just that, games.

He argues that people who march in a virtual May Day parade are not involved in serious political activism.

"They aren't actually putting their physical bodies online. In a way, it's just a more dramatic way of them signing an online petition.

"And the same with people who are doing things like cyber-hippie work or things like that where they do these sort of minor attacks on military computers and things like that.

"But I think there's definitely more potential than that."

And the Reload collective is thinking ahead. It is offering workshops, and courses on hacking and on creating online radio stations that need just one microphone and one computer.

It is also exploring ways to use the internet to link up with other social activist groups, not just in Italy, but across the globe.

By Clark Boyd
Technology correspondent

[original article]

Posted by thinkum at 12:36 PM

Malaysian ties knot for 53rd time

A Malaysian man has married for the 53rd time - and has gone back to his original choice, wife number one.

"I am not a playboy. I just love seeing beautiful women," Kamarudin Mohammed, 72, told the New Straits Times.

Kamarudin, who was married to one woman for just two days, said all his marriages ended in divorce, except his last, which ended when his wife died.

As a Muslim he could marry more than one woman at a time, but said he did not believe in that, or in flings.

His new wife, 74-year-old Khadijah Udin, said she agreed to remarry him after he agreed to give up his flighty ways.

"Kamarudin... promised to look after me until the end of our lives and said he did not want to continue his habit of remarrying repeatedly," she said.

The groom said he was happy with his choice.

"(My daughter) was right when she said I had never forgotten my first wife after all these years. I am pleased to be united with Khadijah again," he said.

[original article]

Posted by thinkum at 12:30 PM

October 04, 2004

Toddler Wanders Miles Across Desert

Oct. 4, 2004 - TEHRAN (Reuters) - A 20-month-old boy wandered for 5 1/2 miles through the scorching desert of southeast Iran before his parents followed his footprints and found him sitting in an open irrigation channel, police said on Sunday.

Errant toddler Ali Esfandiarpour had been playing at home in a small village near the town of Sirjan when his parents realized he was missing on Tuesday afternoon. He was tracked down late that night.

"His family, relatives, and other villagers started walking out into the desert to look for him," said Abdolhossein Moghaddas, a police officer from the southeastern province of Kerman.

"Police and villagers followed his footsteps with torches until they found the boy sitting in an open channel used for irrigation. The boy started crying when he saw his parents," he added.

Esfandiarpour appeared unscathed by his trek.

[original article]

Posted by thinkum at 04:02 PM

Pupils wear goggles for conkers

A headteacher has bought safety goggles for his pupils to wear when they play conkers in the playground.

Shaun Halfpenny, of Cummersdale Primary School, in Carlisle, says he took the step to ensure pupils can carry on playing the traditional game.

He invested in six pairs of industrial safety goggles and now pupils queue up at breaks to take turns to use them.

Mr Halfpenny said it was a "sensible" step to protect children's eyes from pieces of flying horse chestnut.

The idea came about after pupils gathered dozens of conkers while they were on a school trip and asked Mr Halfpenny if they could play when they got back to school.

He drilled the holes through the conkers himself and told the children they must wear the industrial safety goggles to play.

Mr Halfpenny said: "I said they would have to wear goggles to play, mainly because they could get bits of conker in the eye. They thought it was a great idea.

"They all came in this morning ready. They think it's terrific. Some of them have not played before. It's a wonderful tradition.

"It's just being sensible. We live in a litigious society."

Pupils now take it in turns to use the safety glasses and Mr Halfpenny said the conker playing had livened up break times.

He said: "You have got to have some fun in education. The goggles haven't taken away from the fun, what it has done is increased their enjoyment. The parents think it's fun too."

Pupil Danielle Armstrong said: "It doesn't stop you from having fun because you still play the game. It's just protecting your eyes at the same time."

And Jordan Maxwell, who also attends the school, approves of the glasses.

He said: "I think it's a very sensible idea and it doesn't change the experience. It doesn't hurt to be safe."

The National Association of Head Teachers said it showed how much teachers were being driven by the threat of litigation.

General secretary David Hart said: "I think it's better that they [the children] should be protected rather than ban the game entirely."

Keith Flett, from the Campaign for Real Conkers, said he was pleased pupils were being encouraged to play conkers.

But he said: "Well it is a little bit over the top. I am all in favour of health and safety particularly on building sites, but I am not sure about goggles for conkers.

"If it's an official school activity, which I would applaud incidentally, then fine, hand out the goggles, but if they are doing it in the playground or walking along to school or home from school, I think leave them to get on with it."

Cumbria County Council said in a statement that it was up to individual schools to decide what games were appropriate for the playground.

[original article]

Posted by thinkum at 04:01 PM

SpaceShipOne 'flies to success'

The rocket plane SpaceShipOne has shot to an altitude of more than 100km for the second time inside a week, putting it in line to claim the $10m X-Prize.

The vehicle raced straight up into the sky after being released from its carrier plane, White Knight, high above the Mojave Desert in California, US.

The rocketship, piloted by Brian Binnie, experienced none of the rolling seen on previous SpaceShipOne flights.

The Ansari X-Prize was initiated to galvanise private space travel.

It is administered by the Missouri-based X-Prize Foundation. It will give official confirmation that the terms of the competition have been met once the altitude, based on several sources, including from inside SpaceShipOne, has been verified.

MONDAY'S HISTORIC FLIGHT Take-off: 0647 local (1347GMT) Ignition: 0748 local (1448GMT) Landing 0814 local (1514 GMT) Altitude: 114.64km (368,000ft)

Preliminary radar data showed SpaceShipOne reached a peak altitude of 114.64km (368,000ft or 70.77 miles), which would break the record for a sub-orbital flight set by the experimental X-15 aircraft more than 40 years ago.

As SpaceShipOne touched down, its designer, aviation pioneer Burt Rutan, stood alongside British tycoon Richard Branson and X-prize chief Peter Diamandis. The men clapped and cheered and shook hands.

Diamandis's competition has acted as a spur for space travel in the same way air travel moved on after Charles Lindbergh made his solo trans-Atlantic flight from New York to Paris in 1927 to claim the $25,000 Orteig Prize.

Funding for the X-Prize has come from the Ansari family of Dallas, which made its wealth in the telecommunications industry.

More than two dozen teams around the world are involved in the competition. Many of these teams, realising that SpaceShipOne would in all probability take the X-Prize on Monday, are already setting their sights on orbital flight.

This would enable paying passengers to experience hours or even days in space rather than the minutes offered on a sub-orbital vehicle such as SpaceShipOne.

[original article]

Posted by thinkum at 03:59 PM

Sex toy causes air security scare

Authorities in a regional Australian airport shut down services for an hour on Monday after a vibrating sex toy was mistaken for a bomb.

The terminal at Mackay Airport in Queensland was evacuated, causing upheaval to flight schedules.

The suspect package was later identified as a vibrator-type "adult novelty device". The incident was the latest in a string of false alerts regarding air security in Australia.

The alarm was raised by cafeteria manager Lynne Bryant, whose staff was cleaning the area near a bin where the package was found.

"It was rather disconcerting when the rubbish bin started humming furiously," she said, Australian media reported.

"We called security and next minute everybody was being evacuated while they checked it out."

Police were about to call in bomb experts when an unidentified passenger came forwards to identify the contents of the package.

Two weeks ago an incendiary device caused a scare at Sydney airport which turned out to be a teenager's home-made firework.

And in July, a flight bound for Los Angeles was forced to return to Sydney when flight staff discovered the letters "BOB" - interpreted as possibly meaning "bomb on board" - scrawled on a sick bag in an aircraft toilet

It later transpired that "BOB" can also denote "Best on board" - a term used by air crew to identify good-looking passengers.

[original article]

Posted by thinkum at 03:57 PM

Ukraine celebrates 'festival of lard'

Ukrainians celebrated their love of pork fat at the weekend by consuming a giant sandwich filled with 40 kilos of the "delicacy" called salo.

The big "eat-in", held in the Crimean capital Simferopol , was the centrepiece of a nationwide salo festival.

All major television channels covered the event because despite health warnings - Ukraine has one of the highest death rates from heart disease in Europe - salo remains popular, due to its low price and high calorific value.

The nine square metre sandwich had to be guarded by police to stop guests tucking in before time, TV reports said.

Traditionally, small slices of the white snack are eaten with black bread, garlic and vodka. And, more recently, there is even a chocolate-coated version.

Many Ukrainians believe salo is good for them and even keeps them slim. They say it contains amino acids that help burn fat in the body.

And they write poems, or sing songs, about their favourite national dish.

A TV chef famous in Russia and Ukraine, Boris Burda, said salo was a quality product comparable with fine wine.

"Salo is no less worthy of having its own festival than many other products which are pompously advertised at well-organised festivals," he said.

"Is salo worse than Beaujolais? And does it occupy a lesser place in the affections of our people?"

Mr Burda headed a panel of judges at the fair, where producers from across Ukraine displayed salted, spiced, baked and smoked varieties in different shapes - pig being the most popular.

The organisers now want to make the festival international, by inviting producers from neighbouring Russia, Poland and Hungary.

But in Ukraine itself, a poor grain harvest has sparked a "salo crisis", with the price doubling in 2004. This, coupled with an almost patriotic revival of its reputation, has led to salo moving upmarket.

"Salo is more an elite than a popular product now," Ukrainian 1+1 TV said in its report from the festival.

[original article]

Posted by thinkum at 03:55 PM