November 26, 2004

Balloonatics Prepare for Thanksgiving Parade

62-Foot SpongeBob Balloon Is Totally Self-Absorbed

Nov. 23, 2004 -- Talk about inflated egos: When it comes to consuming helium, Macy's is second only to the federal government, and it's all on account of Big Bird, Garfield and other balloon celebrities.

It will take 400,000 cubic feet of helium to blow up the 16 giant balloons and other attractions featured in this year's Macy's Thanksgiving Parade.

The new cast of giant balloons features a 62-foot-tall SpongeBob SquarePants as well as an extra-large Chicken Little, who will require 50 wranglers to keep him from flying the coop.

The M&M characters have also been balloonified for the first time. The red and yellow corporate mascots have forgone their usual chocolate filling for 13,335 cubic feet of helium as part of a 50-foot attraction.

The 78th annual Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade kicks off at 9 a.m. Thursday, marching 2˝ miles down Manhattan, from West 77th street, through Columbus Circle and down Broadway to -- where else? -- Macy's flagship department store at Herald Square.

Marching bands from all over the country, floats celebrating everything from Barbie to the Weebles, not to mention stars such as Hilary Duff and American Idols Ruben Studdard and Clay Aiken, will be joining in on the fun.

But it's hard to eclipse the shear magnitude of the giant balloons. The beak alone on Big Bird is 13 feet long.

These balloons -- once rubber, now polyurethane -- have been a Thanksgiving tradition since the earliest years of the parade, but they remain a source of wonder.

If you're watching this event with a kid -- and that's the best way to watch any parade -- here's a handy timeline that just might help explain how America's most famous parade took off, what happens to old balloons when it's time to retire, and what keeps these airborne behemoths from spinning out of control.

1924: Lions and Tigers and Clowns, Oh My
In the first parade, horse-drawn floats carried real lions and tigers through Manhattan. Macy's employees marched through the streets dressed up as cowboys, clowns, Arab sheiks and knights in armor. On the last float -- where you can still find him -- rode Santa.

Back in 1924, Macy's never imagined that its holiday parade -- originally dubbed the Macy's Christmas Parade -- would be anything more than a holiday party for its staff. Crowds lined the streets, however, and that's when management saw its potential to kick off the holiday shopping season.

To avoid confusion, Macy's changed the parade's name. Santa remained the star, but the wild animals scared some kids. That's bad for business. What attraction could please everybody? How about giant, colorful balloons shaped like animals?

Thus, Felix the Cat -- and eventually Mickey Mouse and Garfield -- replaced critters from the Central Park Zoo to become America's ultimate party animals.

1927: Up, Up, and Away in an Exploding Balloon
The first parade balloons were filled with air and carried through the streets. Then, in 1927, helium came along, and it was an instant sensation, giving the world, among other things, the first 50-foot inflatable hummingbird.

At the parade's finale, someone had a really novel idea -- what if the giant balloons got to go free? Parade organizers decided to liberate 10 balloons into the skyways.

Unfortunately, helium expands with altitude. One by one, four of the balloons exploded -- even before they could pass the top of the Empire State Building. Among the casualties: a 21-foot toy soldier.

1928: Catch a Balloon, Win a Prize
In 1928, valves were added to the balloons so that they could float above the city without popping. Macy's decided to turn the event into a contest -- by offering $50 rewards for each balloon returned to the store.

The great balloon hunt quickly turned ugly, however. In the first year, a massive dachshund balloon landed in the East River, and two tug boats rushed to be the first to retrieve it. In the process they completely destroyed the overgrown puppy.

Other balloons, found at least 100 miles away, came back to the store riddled with bullets, apparently shot from the sky by eager bounty hunters.

In 1931, an eager airplane pilot hooked a balloon with a rope. Felix the Cat went splat against the plane's wing, and Macy's sent out a proclamation disqualifying aviators. But even that didn't stop another pilot from nearly going into a tailspin over Long Island, trying to retrieve a balloon.

From then on, old balloons found a new resting home -- in deep storage.

1934: Cartoon Stars Get Balloon Makeovers
By the mid-1930s, nearly every cartoon star was getting balloonified. Walt Disney personally oversaw the building of a 40-foot Mickey Mouse. Donald Duck came a year later, with Popeye soon to follow.

In a sure sign that Hollywood had acknowledged the marketing potential of the parade, the Tin Man appeared as a 70-foot balloon in 1939, while "The Wizard of Oz" was still in theaters.

The same balloon used for the Tin Man was repainted in a green and yellow suit, turning him into "Laffo the Clown."

1942: Uncle Sam Saves Our Hide (With His)
When World War II started, the parade was put on hold for three years. In a demonstration of patriotism, Macy's executives ceremoniously chopped up several giant balloons and presented the rubber remains to New York Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia to help in the war effort.

Uncle Sam was among those who made the ultimate sacrifice. In 1941, a year before he gave his rubber life for his country, the red, white and blue behemoth stood 75 high, bestriding Times Square. In an ominous sign of the tough times ahead, Uncle Sam began to leak that year, prompting the Herald Tribune to report, "Uncle Sam Springs a deficit."

Just 10 days later, Japan bombed Pearl Harbor.

1946: A Miracle on 34th Street
Santa Claus gave the Macy's Thanksgiving Parade it's biggest gift -- turning it into a national parade. The parade figures prominently in "Miracle on 34th St," the instant Christmas classic about a department store Santa who is convinced he's the real thing.

In a scene filmed in an apartment on New York's Central Park West while the 1946 parade was in progress, the teddy bear, Pilgrim and baseball player balloons float by a window, while actor John Payne is talking with actress Maureen O'Hara and a young Natalie Wood.

Footage of the 1946 parade was so popular with moviegoers that NBC took the bold step of giving the New York event a national broadcast. It quickly evolved into a perennial ratings winner, regularly watched by more than 45 million TV viewers.

1956: Not So Mighty Mouse
As the parade became a national affair with a large TV following, minor slip-ups became more apparent. In 1956, Mighty Mouse couldn't fight 45-mph winds and collapsed in a heap.

Three years earlier, Little Bo Peep not only lost her sheep, she missed her float. Oscar-winning Actress Celeste Holm, best known for her work in "All About Eve," had to make a mid-parade arrival by motorcycle.

A helium shortage in 1958 seriously threatened the parade. Macy's responded, however, by suspending the floats on cranes.

1963: Kennedy Assassination
The 1963 parade would have been canceled if not for the go-ahead from the highest office in the land. John F. Kennedy had been assassinated, and the parade was scheduled to take place just three days after the funeral.

Lyndon Johnson, the newly sworn-in president, actually urged Macy's to go through with the parade, even with the nation still in mourning. Every flag bore 7 feet of black bunting, as an 80-foot rendition of Bullwinkle saluted America as a lovable moose who feels your pain.

1997: Balloons Run Amok
Throughout the parade's history, reports of errant giant balloons usually brought a smile. The Santa Claus balloon burst at the seams in 1941, apparently because balloon handlers wanted to make Father Christmas extra jolly and plump.

A few years earlier, New Yorkers were regaling each other with tales of another balloon, known as Father Knickerbocker, who got his big nose stuck in the elevated train line at Lincoln Square.

In 1985, rains left the Kermit the Frog balloon so waterlogged that handlers had to carry the big green guy down the street.

But in 1997, balloon control was no laughing matter. With winds gusting at 30 mph, Sonic the Hedgehog lost his head. The Nestle's Quik Bunny lost an ear near Columbus Circle. Police had to cut the tail off The Pink Panther to keep him under control.

The Cat in the Hat crashed into a lamppost, knocking debris into a crowd on 72nd Street and injuring several people, including one woman who suffered a fractured skull and was in a coma for nearly a month.

In the aftermath, New York City imposed stricter guidelines. The parade would no longer allow balloons more than 70 feet tall, 40 feet wide or 78 feet long, forcing Woody Woodpecker, among others, into retirement.

City officials also ordered that balloons be grounded if the wind goes above 23 mph.

2001: After Sept. 11
After the Sept. 11 attack, the Macy's Thanksgiving Parade once again had to question if it could go on. The fate of the World Trade Center had led many to question the safety of New York City, but officials vowed to heighten security, and more than 2 million people eventually showed up.

To honor the more than 350 police and firefighters who died when the twin towers collapsed, the parade was headed by a troop of children of New York City firefighters and policemen.

The balloons also did their part. Harold the Fireman, a 32-foot balloon originally seen in the 1948 parade, returned, ready for action, and his fireman's cap was altered to indicate that he was a New York City firefighter.

This same float had appeared many times in the parade, after many serious balloon makeovers. In 1945, Harold was a clown. In 1946, he was a baseball player -- and even had a bit part in "Miracle on 34th Street." A year later, Harold was a policeman.

But in 2001, Harold was up there with Santa Claus when it came to getting applause.

And now, as the 2004 parade gets under way, Harold is one of the returning veterans. This year, he may take a back seat to SpongeBob SquarePants, but it's good to know he's still out there.

At the 1941 Macy's Thanksgiving Parade, Uncle Sam bestrides Times Square. It was the final march for this patriot. World War II began a few weeks later, and he was one of several balloons Macy's donated to the war effort, when rubber was scarce.

As a special treat, Macy's is recreating vintage balloons. This 34-foot-tall gnome debuted in 1947 as a member of the parade's Elf Family. Imagine this balloon upside down. The original was used in some parades as a giant ice cream cone.

Look! Up in the sky! It's a bird! It's a plane! It's Superman, who's flown in parades since 1940. Here he is in 1988. The Man of Steel (polyurethane, actually, but don't tell Lois Lane) is taking this year off. But he's vowing to return.

True to his character, Charlie Brown never seems to lay a toe on that elusive football. Let's just hope this 51-foot behemoth doesn't end up on his back, as he does in comic strips, when he goes for a field goal.

Talk about a hot dog: Freida might not be a cartoon star, but dachshunds have been popular since the early days of the parade. In 1928, a 25-foot papier-mache dachshund float proudly pranced down Broadway. This pup is 52 feet long and 21 feet tall.

As any denizen of Sesame Street will point out, the "G" on this monster's shirt is for Grover, decked out as Super Grover. With Spider-Man and Superman not scheduled to appear this year, parade-goers will have to call upon this hero.

Since 1968, Snoopy has appeared in the parade as a World War I flying ace, an ice skater and an astronaut, among other things. Here he is in 1999 with a crown, just to let you know who's king.

[original article]

Posted by thinkum at 10:50 AM

Giant Grinch Replaces Christmas Exhibit

Giant, Leering Grinch Replaces Extravagant Christmas Exhibit at Silicon Valley Home

MONTE SERENO, Calif. Nov 25, 2004 -- For six years, Alan and Bonnie Aerts transformed their Silicon Valley home into a Christmas cornucopia complete with surfing Santa, nativity scene, giant candy canes flanking the driveway and a carol-singing chorus of life-sized mannequins.

The popular display attracted thousands of visitors, coming from as far as San Francisco and Sacramento, to Monte Sereno, an upscale suburb just west of San Jose. After the exhibit was featured on NBC's "Weekend Today" last year, more than 1,500 cars prowled the cul-de-sac each night.

But this year, the merry menagerie worth about $150,000 in custom-designed props stayed indoors. Instead, on the manicured lawn outside the couple's Tudor mansion stood a single tiding: a 10-foot-tall Grinch with green fuzz, rotting teeth, and sickly, beet-red eyeballs.

The Aertses erected the smirking giant to protest the couple across the street 16-year residents who complained that the annual display was turning the quiet cul-de-sac into a Disneyesque nightmare.

Alan Aerts, who makes sure the Grinch's spindly finger points directly to the offending neighbors' house, says their complaints to city bureaucrats killed the exhibit, which last year raised $10,000 in donations for Toys for Tots. It also violated the Christmas spirit, he said.

"When I grew up, people decorated everything it was wonderful to be a kid," said the 48-year-old soft drink distributor and philanthropist, whose causes include child burn victims, cancer foundations and seeing-eye dogs. "If you can't even put up a display these days, what kind of people have we become? We've lost the Christmas spirit."

The death knell for the exhibition came last year, when neighbors Susan and Le Nguyen collected 90 signatures from residents who worried about the kitsch expansion.

The display, powered by extra feeds from Pacific Gas & Electric because the Aertses' 900-amp home wasn't sufficient, attracted about 100,000 visitors in 26,000 vehicles between Thanksgiving and Christmas last year.

The Aertses hired a security guard to help direct traffic flow on the cul-de-sac, but traffic became so bad that Susan Nguyen said the couple couldn't have friends over for their own low-key celebrations.

"I love Christmas don't get me wrong," said an exasperated Susan Nguyen, 52, who raised three children in their home on Danielle Place. "But it kept getting bigger and bigger. There was no end in sight. It was oppressive. Maybe not if you just spent 10 minutes admiring it from your car, but if you lived next door it was definitely oppressive."

In 2003, Monte Sereno council members passed an ordinance requiring anyone wishing to erect such an exhibit to get a permit. After studying the permit application process, the Aertses decided that it wasn't worth the hassle this year.

So Alan Aerts, a 6-foot-5 amateur body builder, commissioned a Southern California firm to build the Grinch. The $2,500 motorized statue waves its arms and emits steam from the base, while a raspy tenor belts out, "You're a Mean One, Mr. Grinch."

Bonnie Aerts, 46, said they didn't intend to spark a neighborhood feud. Rather, she hopes the Grinch sends a message to officials in the posh Silicon Valley suburb.

"The bottom line is that people should be able to decorate their houses," she said, scratching the jowls of one of their two Mastiff hounds. "Our address is in the USA, not the Soviet Union, and you shouldn't need a permit just to put up some Christmas stuff."

Le Nguyen has a different view. He applauds city officials for having the temerity to shut down the extravagant exhibit. As for local charities that won't benefit this year, he wondered why the couple couldn't donate the $50,000 it cost to set up, maintain and tear down the display.

"It's called Monte Sereno for a reason it's supposed to be serene," Le Nguyen, 55, said in the front foyer of his property, which used to be a dairy. "We wake up to Christmas for about 45 days of the year. You ever seen the movie Groundhog Day? It's just like that."

[original article]

Posted by thinkum at 10:41 AM

TiVo Pop-Up Ads Raise Consumer Concerns

New TiVo Pop-Up Ads, Copy Restrictions Raise Concerns That Consumer Control Is Being Eroded

SAN JOSE, Calif. Nov 25, 2004 -- Digital video recording pioneer TiVo Inc. has long promised "TV Your Way." But the company's plans for pop-up ads and restrictions on copying have sparked worries that the service may be eroding consumer control in favor of Hollywood and advertiser interests.

Is it becoming TiVo their way?

"Consumers are very distrustful of technologies that seize yet another opportunity to offer up advertising," said Mike Godwin, legal director of Public Knowledge, a public interest group. Whether the fears are founded or not, he said, "it feels like TiVo is taking away some of the prerogatives and flexibility that TiVo TV watchers have become accustomed to."

TiVo officials say that starting in March users will begin to see static images, such as a company logo, appear on their television screens as they fast-forward through commercials. The billboard-like ads which will last about four seconds for a fast-forwarded 30-second spot may offer giveaways or links to other ads.

For some ads, viewers could choose to provide advertisers with their contact data so they can get more direct marketing.

A pop-up recording "tag" is also planned: a "thumbs-up" icon would appear during TV show promotions and allow users to instantly place those programs in their recording queue.

TiVo officials contend that the new features will not be any more intrusive than the "thumbs-up" icons that already appear during some commercials and shows. But to some customers, the impending advertising changes smack of betrayal from the innovators whose hard drive-based gizmo lets TV viewers record programs, fast-forward through ads and pause at will.

"It's crossing the line," said Darren McClung. The 24-year-old Kansas City, Mo. systems administrator says he didn't mind as much when TiVo introduced ads in its main menu area, giving users the option of watching them.

But with ads set to appear over the very commercials he's trying to skip, "they've moved from unintrusive to intrusive advertising, and that's troublesome," he said.

Some skeptics also worry that TiVo's planned use of Macrovision Corp.'s new copy-protection scheme signals more boundaries on what shows they can or cannot record - even as TiVo prepares to unveil a new service later this year, called TiVoToGo, that will let users record shows onto DVDs or transfer them to computers.

Macrovision has developed a feature that will allow content providers - the people who produce television shows - to place restrictions on how long a digital video recorder such as TiVo can save certain kinds of programming. For instance, movies could disappear after seven days.

TiVo officials say the new restrictions will apply only to pay-per-view and video-on-demand programs. If Macrovision expands the feature to any other content, the deal is off, said Brodie Keast, executive vice president of service business at TiVo.

"We believe the consumer should be in control of entertainment - either free over-the-air or paid broadcasts - and this doesn't change that in any way," Keast said. "But reaching this kind of compromise allows us to innovate freely."

Industry watchers say TiVo has no choice but to make peace with networks, cable and advertisers.

"TiVo has to become more advertising-friendly because, at the end of the day, TV runs on advertising dollars and companies that are part of that food chain have to acknowledge that," said Tim Maleeny, director of strategy at Publicis & Hal Riney, a San Francisco-based advertising firm.

Josh Bernoff, analyst at Forrester Research, said, "Any product that's part of a cable and satellite world has to obey some of the restrictions that go with it."

The restrictions are tightening.

For instance, HBO says it plans to introduce in June a copy-protection technology that will restrict viewers to only one digital copy of its regular shows and no copies of its on-demand programs.

As it is, TiVo is fighting an onslaught of competitors, including cable operators, who now offer digital video recorder-equipped set-top boxes of their own. The Alviso-based company has yet to post a profit.

It reported Monday a net loss of $26.4 million, or 33 cents per share, on revenue of $38.3 million for the third quarter ended Oct. 31. Its subscriber base has more than doubled from a year ago to about 2.3 million, but roughly 61 percent of subscribers come through satellite operator DirecTV, which is expected to offer a competing DVR soon.

That is expected to help boost the number of U.S. households with DVRs well beyond the 6.5 million that currently have them.

For its part, TiVo tries to balance between customers' desires and Hollywood's demands.

Hollywood studios sued TiVo's rival, DVR pioneer ReplayTV, over its automatic commercial-skipping recording feature - a function TiVo and other DVR makers could have adopted but didn't. ReplayTV's rebel stance bankrupted its former owner. New owners have removed the ad-skipping feature.

TiVo has worked for years with advertisers, trying to find new ways to market to an increasingly fleeting television audience. As part of its delicate dealings with Hollywood, TiVo sells data on the viewing patterns of its users, such as when they choose to watch instant replays or when they fast-forward.

TiVo executives acknowledge that they're walking a fine line with their new advertising strategy.

"Those who feel that they've been 'sold out,' I can understand that," Bob Poniatowsky, a TiVo product marketing manager, wrote recently in an online posting on the TiVo Community Forum. But "that's simply not the case here."

Advertisers - and TiVo - will have to tread cautiously nonetheless, said Maleeny, the advertising strategist. Consumers already encounter hundreds of ads a day all around them - from billboards to newspapers to the Internet.

"It's easy in this environment," Maleeny said, "to suddenly cross a line from being inviting and intriguing to being intrusive and obnoxious."

[original article]

Posted by thinkum at 10:39 AM

The Who to head back to studio

The surviving members of British rock band The Who have announced plans to write and record their first original material in more than 20 years.

Pete Townshend and Roger Daltry said Thursday they have been busy writing new songs and plan to head to the recording studio in December.

If they're both pleased with the results they said they would release a new CD in the spring of 2005, followed by a tour.

The pair dubbed the new musical effort "who2."

While the band has re-grouped for several reunion towers over the years, their last album of new material was 1982's It's Hard.

[original article]

Posted by thinkum at 10:35 AM

Fingerprint could be Mozart Sr.'s

Researchers in Salzburg, Austria are analyzing a fingerprint on an 18th-century letter that they believe may belong to the father of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.

The fingerprint was found on a letter dating to the mid-1700s that appeared to have been written by Leopold Mozart, Christian Moser a Salzburg historian said Thursday.

Moser said it appeared to have been left when the writer accidentally got ink on his finger.

Researchers in Salzburg, Mozart's birthplace, said they would be comparing the handwriting in the letter with other examples of Leopold Mozart's writing. There are currently only 20 handwriting samples of the elder Mozart in existence.

"One doesn't find a fingerprint from Leopold Mozart every day," said Erich Marx, director of Salzburg's Carolino Augusteum Museum.

[original article]

Posted by thinkum at 10:34 AM

Tiny Town Sends Christmas Trees Worldwide

Tiny New Hampshire Town Sends Tens of Thousands of Its Christmas Trees Around World

Nov 25, 2004 -- There are more Christmas trees than people in Colebrook, N.H. There are 500,000 trees alone at Weir Tree Farms, a family-owned farm considered to be the town's largest -- that's 200 times more trees than Colebrook's population of 2,500.

"We're trying to grow a lot of nice trees and make a lot of children happy at Christmas time," said William Weir, 65, whose family will cut 14,000 balsam fir, fraser fir and "fralsam" hybrids this year.

Perched on the Vermont border, Colebrook is considered the Christmas tree capitol of New Hampshire. Every year, a handful of family-run farms send tens of thousands of trees across the country.

"A gentleman once told me, 'You'll never get rich growing Christmas trees but you'll get an awful lot of satisfaction out of them,'" said Ken Willey, who grows trees with his wife in Colebrook and sells them in Mechanicsville, Va.

Trucks bearing this year's crop from Willey's Tree Farm started driving south last week.

"I first started working Christmas trees back in about 1970 and it was kind of a hobby thing," said Willey, whose farm has about 40,000 trees. "It has grown from a hobby into a small plantation."

Most New Hampshire trees go to lots in New England, New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania. But Internet sales are growing, farmers say.

"We've sent trees to Hawaii, we sent trees to Germany," said Jay Weir, 31, a third-generation owner of Weir Tree Farms. "They just want a little piece of New Hampshire in their living room for the holidays."

Weir and a brother, William Jr., bought the farm from their father, William. He had taken over the farm from their grandfather, Harlie Weir, in 1965. Their farm specializes in a naturally occurring hybrid they named the fralsam a cross between the thickly-needled fraser and the fragrant balsam.

"It combines the good characteristics of a fraser fir and the good characteristics of a balsam fir," Jay Weir said.

Oregon was the top American tree producer in 2002, harvesting nearly 6.5 million trees. New Hampshire was 19th, producing 107,000 trees, according to the National Christmas Tree Association, an industry group. The major tree suppliers are Canadian, said state Agriculture Commissioner Steve Taylor.

But he believes New Hampshire trees, though few, have an edge over imports "Those trees that are coming from Canada were mostly cut back in October, very early in November. They've got to travel in tractor trailers, go through wholesale channels," he said. "The New Hampshire trees are fresher because they've just been cut."

[original article]

Posted by thinkum at 10:32 AM

November 12, 2004

'Grapefruit-size' ice falls on house

FAA trying to identify source of ice
Breez Halte sits on her bed, beneath where ice chunks crashed through the bedroom ceiling.

KENT, Washington (AP) -- Investigators are trying to identify the source of ice chunks that smashed through the roof of a house in this Seattle suburb last week, landing on the bed of a 7-year-old girl.

They believe the ice formed on an aircraft and broke free, potentially indicating a mechanical or design problem, said Federal Aviation Administration spokesman Mike Fergus.

"It's a safety issue," Fergus said.

Investigators are certain it was not "blue ice," which comes from leaking airplane lavatories, he added.

Troy Halte said his family returned home November 4 to find a hole in the ceiling of their daughter's bedroom and five chunks of ice on the bed, three of them "the size of grapefruit." Three more chunks had fallen in the back yard.

Fergus said FAA officials are reviewing air traffic control tapes to check for planes that passed over the neighborhood that afternoon.

Boeing Co. officials say ice can form on the leading edge of airplanes under some weather conditions, but a company official said she had never heard of the ice falling off and hitting the ground.

[original article]

Posted by thinkum at 03:48 PM

Scott Hamilton diagnosed with brain tumor

LOS ANGELES (AP) -- World and Olympic figure skating champion Scott Hamilton has a benign brain tumor.

The 46-year-old Hamilton underwent a biopsy at The Cleveland Clinic, and doctors expected to release him from the hospital by Friday, publicist Michael Sterling said Thursday.

"We will be working with him on a treatment plan moving forward," said Dr. Gene Barnett, chairman of the clinic's brain tumor institute.

Barnett said Hamilton has a slow-growing, non-cancerous tumor in the region of the pituitary gland.

Sterling said Hamilton has been had problems in recent weeks with his eyesight.

Hamilton, who lives in Los Angeles, is a four-time U.S. national champion, a four-time world champion and the 1984 Olympic gold medalist.

He is now a skating show producer. He was diagnosed with testicular cancer in 1997 and treated with surgery and chemotherapy.

[original article]

Posted by thinkum at 03:46 PM

Great-grandmother set to deliver twins

Birth would break record set Tuesday by New York woman

SYLVESTER, Georgia (AP) -- A 59-year-old great-grandmother is pregnant with twins and will deliver next month, three decades after she had her tubes tied. "They came untied," Frances Harris said Thursday.

The multiple birth December 21 would break the purported record set this week by a 56-year-old New York City mother of twins.

Frances Harris, 59, is set to deliver twins in December.

Harris, of rural Sylvester, Georgia, said she wasn't trying to get pregnant -- and didn't realize she was -- until she started gaining weight and went to see her doctor.

"A lot of things changed about me," she said. "I started craving grapes and apples, things I don't usually crave. By then I was four months pregnant."

When the doctor broke the news, "They had to sit me down. I couldn't even talk," she said.

The news was even more shocking considering Harris -- the mother of five, grandmother of 14 and great-grandmother of six -- had her tubes tied 33 years ago after the birth of her youngest child.

Harris had her first child when she was 15; 44 years will separate her first-born from the newborns. She was divorced years ago from the twins' father, 60-year-old Raymond Harris, a heavy equipment operator. She said they will remarry before the birth.

The oldest American believed to have given birth to twins is Aleta St. James, a single mother who turns 57 on Friday. She gave birth Tuesday by in-vitro fertilization at New York City's Mount Sinai Medical Center.

Statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show 263 children were born to women between ages 50 and 54 in 2002. The oldest American to give birth is Arceli Keh, of California, who was 63 when she had a daughter in 1996.

Harris said some family members, concerned about health complications, had suggested she end the pregnancy.

"I couldn't live with myself," she said. "I pray we all three pull through. When they're so little, they're so beautiful. I think they are God's gift."

[original article]

Posted by thinkum at 03:45 PM

November 09, 2004

Doctor Discovers the 'Orgasmatron'

Physician Working with Pain Relief Device Stumbles Upon Delightful Side Effect

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C., Nov. 9, 2004 -- While Dr. Stuart Meloy was working on a new device to treat chronic pain, he was surprised to discover it could also bring pleasure to his female patients.

While Meloy, an anesthesiologist and pain specialist in Winston-Salem, was putting an electrode into the spine of a female patient with chronic back pain, the woman reported a decrease in her pain and a delightful, but very unexpected, side effect.

"When we turned on the power in this case, she let out a moan and began hyperventilating," Meloy said on ABC News' Good Morning America. "Of course we cut the power and I looked around the drapes and asked her what was going on. Once she caught her breath, she said 'you're gonna have to teach my husband how to do that!' "

Meloy soon realized he may have discovered a device that could help thousands of women who have trouble achieving orgasm.

"The device is the use of a pre-existing device called a spinal cord stimulator," he said. "Instead of treating chronic pain with the stimulator, we're treating orgasmic dysfunction," Meloy said.

In a surgical procedure done in his office, Meloy implants the electrodes from this device into the back of the patient, at the bottom part of the spinal cord. When the electrodes are stimulated with a remote control, the brain interprets the signal as an orgasm, he said. The device is about the size of a pacemaker and can be turned on and off with a handheld remote control.

Meloy conducted a study of 11 women that he has submitted for publication to the Journal of the American Society of Anesthesiologists.

"Six of them had never had an orgasm before," Meloy said. "Five of them had and then lost the ability. The results were promising in my mind. We were able to stimulate 91 percent of the women, 10 out of 11."

A 48-year-old woman who participated in the study told Good Morning America she lost her ability to achieve orgasm when menopause hit. But she says the device, dubbed the orgasmatron, allowed her to experience extreme pleasure once again.

"Once we found the controls, what caused the stimulation to be greater ? more pleasurable, that's when I saw the results. I did have orgasm, and there were a couple of times that I had multiple orgasms because of the stimulator," said the woman, who asked to remain anonymous.

She said it was difficult to part with the orgasmatron when the study ended.

"When I gave it back, I came in the office and Dr. Meloy took the electrodes out of, you know, out of the back and it was like I was losing my best friend. It was very hard to give it back. It worked so well for me," she said.

Urologist Dr. Jennifer Berman, the co-director of the Female Sexual Medicine Center at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, says women who have exhausted every other option for treating sexual dysfunction might look to the orgasmatron.

"It is direct, sacral nerve restimulation, and the device is FDA-approved for bladder problems and pain," Berman said. "Dr. Meloy, anecdotally found in that, what we have found, and people that use the device, is they're recording enhanced sensation, sexual sensation."

Laura Berman, a clinical assistant professor of OB/GYN and psychiatry at the Feinberg School of Medicine at Northwestern University, says the discovery of the orgasmatron and other medical tools aimed at helping women who can no longer achieve an orgasm encourage women to discuss their sexual issues more.

"The most important thing is to bring it up and to address it and to know that there is help available," Berman said. "These devices are extremes for women when other options haven't worked. But ? you can go to your doctor, you can get your hormone levels checked. You can even use a sexual aid or device from your local erotica shop."

If approved for this use, the orgasmatron device and implantation could cost up to $17,000, but Meloy says he believes some women would be happy to pay that amount to have the orgasmatron permanently embedded in their lower backs. He says the device could be implanted on an outpatient basis.

[original article]

Posted by thinkum at 04:40 PM

November 08, 2004

A novel approach

Superior couple plotted a successful strategy to turn an old library into a comfortable, whimsical home


It's been 13 years since Superior's East End Carnegie Library was open for business, but people still stop by.

They may be back in town visiting and want to see the old neighborhood library again. They may have fond memories of going there as children.

"They have stories to share, where they sat, who the librarians were," said Sally Miller, who has made the library her home for 12 years.

Sally and her husband, Ron, don't mind visitors. But to help satisfy the curious, they were part of the Douglas County Historical Society's annual fall tour.

The former library was built in 1917 with a $20,000 grant from the Carnegie Foundation Fund and $2,000 from the community. It was the second Carnegie library in Superior and one of nearly 1,700 libraries that steel magnate and philanthropist Andrew Carnegie built across the country between 1886 and 1919.

Carnegie libraries -- in styles such as Neo-classical, Georgian and Prairie -- are considered architectural gems. They featured high ceilings, beautiful woodwork and large, distinctive windows.

"It's a beautiful old building that was built as a library; it felt like a library," said Teddie Meronek, who served as East End librarian for the last 10 years. "It was neat because it was a neighborhood library. There were schools in the neighborhood and kids could walk there after school. Everybody came in who lived in the East End and you knew everybody."


Today the former library on East Fifth Street is surrounded by a vine-covered iron fence with an arched gate. "Superior Public Library" and "Free To All" remain engraved in stone above the front entrance.

Former library patrons find much that is familiar inside the stately Georgian building.

The library's open design remains intact with the large reading room on one side and a children's room with a fireplace on the other. Magazine racks remain as do about a dozen oak bookcases that hold the Millers' books, antiques and keepsakes.

"A lot of it are trinkets picked up around the world," said Ron, 63, a retired barber who owned Miller's Barber Shop in South Superior.

The library's large, five-sided oak and marble lending desk is still there. It's no longer in the center of the 27-by-54-foot space but at one end. It's staffed by a mannequin librarian, just one example of the couple's whimsical touches.

"They were supposed to sell the lending desk, but that never got done, so that was to our advantage," said Sally, 62, a retired registered nurse.

A revolving display rack for artwork came from the city's old main library on Hammond Avenue, also a Carnegie Library. A tall cupboard came from the old Erickson Elementary School in the city's North End.

The couple's Mission-style oak tables, chairs, bureaus and cabinets fit right in. The furniture and bookcases are arranged to create a series of sitting areas within the large, open design.

Walls are a lively red with cream trim. The space, with 14-foot ceilings, serves as the couple's living room and dining room. It's where their love of antiques, art, the outdoors and their own creativity combine in a visual smorgasbord.

"I love it," Sally said. "It's a fun building to live in."

Small 19th-century carriages and sleighs that Ron restored are displayed on platforms above the front entrance and a closet. On the walls hang artwork and trophy mounts that reflect Ron's love of hunting, such as a moose from the Yukon and a boar from Poland. The Gaelic harp, antique organs and exotic flutes reflect Sally's musical nature.

Throughout there's whimsy: a fake serpent winding itself through a big rubber plant. A 6-foot birch branch holds hanging fireplace accessories.

"People can't be too serious," Sally said.


The Millers lived in a nearby apartment when the East End Library closed in 1991 and was put up for sale.

"We were looking for a place to buy and redo," Ron said.

They took a walk one day and looked at the building. They returned for an open house and entered the winning bid of around $17,000.

"It was just kind of a lark," Sally said of their bid. "We never dreamed we'd ever be able to get it."

The Millers were up to the challenge of converting a library into a home. They had built two houses in the country, one a log home that Ron had dismantled and reconstructed. Ron is also an accomplished woodworker who made some of their Mission furniture.

They painted, repaired and did a little remodeling of the old library. In the former back reference room, they removed a dropped ceiling and Ron added a wall to create a kitchen and bedroom. Partitioned walls create a bathroom, closets and a back entrance.

They painted all the rooms in vibrant colors and replaced fluorescent lights with hanging chandeliers. They built an attached garage, taking care to match the library's red bricks.

Meronek, the former librarian who also grew up in the neighborhood, was crushed when the library closed. But she's pleased with what the Millers have done.

"They did a beautiful job," Meronek said. "I think what they've done to it is wonderful. It's all there in one piece, and they take wonderful care of it. I'm just thankful every day that it's still there the way it was."

The couple said they bought the old library to preserve it and keep it from being divided up into apartments.

"I love the old feel about it, the solidness, the atmosphere, the old Georgian Windows," Sally said. "It's the feeling of living in an old building, like living in an old school."

CANDACE RENALLS is at (218) 723-5329 or e-mail:

[original article]

Posted by thinkum at 12:02 PM

Relatives mix loved one's ashes with artificial reef

ON THE GULF OF MEXICO (AP) -- Twelve-year-old Justin Pierce loved to fish and snorkel before he died in an accident on an all-terrain vehicle. Now his parents think they've found a way for their son to remain close to the water he loved.

They mixed his ashes with cement to form a hollow concrete ball that was placed in the shallow water off Sarasota in late October. The ball helps restore a critical underwater habitat while becoming a living memorial with coral and fish.

"In a way, he's still alive," said Justin's mother, Lorna.

Workers prepare to lower an artificial reef into the Gulf of Mexico, off the coast of Sarasota, Florida.

The growing trend of alternative funeral services has led to innovative ways of memorializing the dead, from turning cremated remains into reefs and fireworks, shooting them into space, turning them into diamonds or enclosing them in keepsake jewelry.

"What is unappetizing to one person is very much appealing to another," said Jack Springer, executive director of the Chicago-based North American Cremation Association.

The trend of personalizing funeral services is driven, in part, by an increase in cremation. According to Springer, about 687,000 people were cremated in 2003 and that number is expected to increase by about 40 percent by 2025.

"It is expanding the options that are available to families," said Paul Dixon, executive director of the Funeral Ethics Association. "I do think that it appeals to a certain segment of society, but I don't know that it's for everyone."

Roberta Morris, 77, a retiree in nearby Venice, had planned to spread the ashes of her husband at sea, but then she learned about the cremation reefs.

"It's not death," she said. "It's just the most romantic thing to do with your spouse."

Her husband, Robert, was an avid fisherman until 15 years ago, when he was disabled with a brain disorder. "He would have loved this," his wife said.

The concrete reefs began as an ecological project, not a funeral service, said founder Don Brawley. He and some friends who are amateur snorkelers developed the reef balls to help restore the underwater habitat. Now more than 500,000 reef balls rest on the ocean floor off 48 countries.

In 1998, Brawley's father-in-law, Carleton Palmer, said he'd like to be cremated and have his remains mixed in one of the reef balls.

"He said he'd rather spend eternity down there with all that life going on than stuck in a field with a bunch of dead people," Brawley said. Months later, Palmer died of cancer and Brawley complied with his wishes, making the first so-called Eternal Reef.

As Brawley told friends about his father-in-law's unique resting place, others voiced interest in doing the same. Now, the remains of snorkelers, anglers, environmentalists, and a Navy diver with his dog are entombed in the reefs.

With more than 100 of the underwater memorials, Sarasota has become the largest site for Eternal Reefs. Another 100 reefs are scattered along the Gulf of Mexico and up the East Coast.

Brawley said the reefs, which start at about $1,000 and are expected to last 500 years, help families work through their grief and restore the coastal habitat at no cost to the government.

Families who choose a reef memorial begin by coming to the plant in Sarasota to mix their loved ones remains in the concrete and pour it into a mold. It takes about a month for the concrete to set.

Barbara Jack, 45, of Valley Forge, Pennsylvania, said the other families making reefs were "an unexpected comfort." Her 54-year-old husband, Lloyd, died while waiting for a lung transplant. Before he died he requested his remains be put in an Eternal Reef, a fitting resting place for the owner of a concrete business who loved to dive in the Caribbean.

Barbara Jack and the other families returned to Sarasota last month to say goodbye and watch the 20 reefs go into the ocean.

"It was the most wonderful experience," Barbara Jack said. "It is so reassuring that I know he is where he loved to be the most, with his fish."

Justin Pierce's father, Matthew, sobbed when his son's reef dipped below the water. He and his wife plan to get their Scuba diving certification so they can visit Justin's reef and watch it grow.

"Even if we're just standing on the shore, looking at the sunset," Lorna Pierce said, "we know he's out there."

[original article]

Posted by thinkum at 11:57 AM

Austrian Tries to Dig Tunnel to Slovenia

Austrian Artist Launches 5,600-Year Project to Dig a Tunnel to Slovenia by Hand

GRAZ, Austria Nov 7, 2004 -- An Austrian artist has dug into a project so ambitious not even his great-great-great grandchildren or their great-great-great grandchildren will see it completed: tunneling from Graz to a city in neighboring Slovenia.

Muhammad Mueller, who together with a friend launched the project Saturday in Graz, 120 miles south of Vienna, said he thinks digging the 42-mile tunnel to the Slovene border city of Gradec will take two people using shovels roughly 5,600 years.

Austrian television called the project "probably the most long-term cultural project ever undertaken."

Mueller, who converted to Islam, said he hoped the project would draw attention to religion, unemployment and other issues.

[original article]

Posted by thinkum at 11:54 AM

November 03, 2004

Inuit language finds home on net

Inuktitut speakers will soon be able to have their say online as the Canadian aboriginal language goes on the web.

Browser settings on normal computers have not supported the language to date, but has changed that.

It provides a content management system that allows native speakers to write, manage documents and offer online payments in the Inuit language.

It could prove a vital tool to keep the language alive in one of the most remote communities on earth.

Vital link

The Inuktitut langauge was developed in the 18th Century

Inuktitut is spoken by the Inuit people living in Nunavut, northern Canada, which is an area two to three times the size of France.

An historic agreement signed with the Canadian government in 1999 allowed the communities living there independence to run their land how they chose.

In this long-established society, the modern medium of the internet is proving a breath of fresh air.

"There are 25 settlements, 30,000 people and no roads. It is a huge area of land and the internet is tailor-made for these groups," said Oliver Zielke, the chief executive of Web Networks, a non-profit organisation based in Canada which provides web services for socially committed groups.

Web Networks worked with the Piruvik Centre of Iqualuit, the capital of Nunavut, to develop the system.

Reaching goals

"It was a big challenge to give the Inuit and Inuktitut speakers the ability to have web pages published in their native language," said Mr Zielke.

"A lot of people have older computers and limited ability to use technology," he added.

With high-speed satellite net access planned for the region and the website providing the easy-to-use tools to make publishing easy, that is about to change.

"The worldwide web can seem like a foreign place to these people but now they can be players in that world. The internet will eventually be one of the basic tools that the Inuit people use," predicted Mr Zielke.

The technology behind can be used for other syllabic languages such as Cree, Oji-cree and Korean.

The government of Nunavut is committed to making Inuktitut its working language.

"This type of development puts that goal within reach," said Eva Aariak, Languages Commissioner for Nunavut.

[original article]

Posted by thinkum at 03:15 PM

Farmers tackle pests with colas

By Alok Prasad Putul in Raipur

For farmers in the eastern Indian state of Chhattisgarh it is cheaper than pesticides and gets the job done just as well. The product? Pepsi or Coca-Cola.

Agricultural scientists give them some backing - they say the high sugar content of the drinks can make them effective in combating pests.

Unsurprisingly, Pepsi and Coca-Cola strongly disagree, saying there is nothing in the drinks that can be used in pest control.


Farmers in the Durg, Rajnandgaon and Dhamtari districts of Chhattisgarh say they have successfully used Pepsi and Coke to protect their wheat plantations against pests.

The practice of using soft drinks in lieu of pesticides, which are 10 times more expensive, is gaining so much popularity that sales of the drinks have increased drastically in remote villages.

More soft drinks are now being sold than tea and bottled water.

Farmers say the use of pesticides costs them 70 rupees ($1.50) an acre.

By comparison, if they mix a bottle of Pepsi or Coke with water and spray it on the crop it costs 55-60 rupees less per acre.

Old practice

Agricultural specialist Devendra Sharma says farmers are mistaken in thinking that the drinks are the same as pesticides.

He says the drinks are effectively sugar syrups and when they are poured on crops they attract ants which in turn feed on the larva of insects.

Mr Sharma says using sugar syrup for pest control is not a new practice.

"Jaggery made from sugar cane has been used commonly for pest control on many occasions. Pepsi and Coca-Cola are being used to achieve the same result," he says.

Fellow scientist, Sanket Thakur, says: "All that is happening is that plants get a direct supply of carbohydrates and sugar which in turn boosts the plants' immunity and the plantation on the whole ends up yielding a better crop."

Vikas Kocchar, regional manager of Coca-Cola, says claims that the drink can be used as a pesticide have no scientific backing.

Anupam Verma, Pepsi sales manager in Chhattisgarh, sales figures in rural areas of the state have increased by 20%.

But he adds: "If there was any truth in these claims then we would rather be selling our product as a pesticide rather than soft drinks.

"There is more money in selling pesticides than in selling soft drinks. Their claim smacks of lies. At best it is idle natter."

[original article]

Posted by thinkum at 02:12 PM

Slow Down! You Move Too Fast

'Slow Movement' Encourages Less Stressful Living


Nov. 1, 2004 -- Carl Honoré, a recovered "speedaholic," had an epiphany three years ago that caused him to slow down the hectic pace of his life.

A journalist based in London, Honoré read a newspaper article on timesaving tips that referenced a book of one-minute bedtime stories. He found it an appealing idea since he'd already gotten in the habit of speed-reading "The Cat in the Hat" to his son.

"My first reaction was, yes, one-minute bedtime stories," he said. "My next thought was, whoa, has it really come to this? That was really when a light bulb went off in my head."

He realized he had become so anxious to rush through the nightly ritual that he'd rather get seven or even eight stories done in less time than he'd normally spend reading one, quality time be damned.

So he embarked on finding a way to address the issue of "time poverty," the constant fast-forward motion in which many overscheduled, stressed-out Americans are always rushing toward their next task ? work, meals, family time, even sex ? rather than savoring what they consider most important.

Honoré's recent book, "In Praise of Slowness: How a Worldwide Movement Is Challenging the Cult of Speed," has made him the unofficial godfather of a growing cultural shift toward slowing down.

"[There's a] backlash against the mainstream dictate that faster is always better, which puts quantity always ahead of quality," he said. "People all across the West are waking up to the folly of that."

For advocates of the Slow Movement, it's not about rejecting technology or changing modern life completely, but rather about keeping it all in balance ? not talking on the phone, driving and checking a BlackBerry while headed to the drive-thru before the next meeting.

"I love technology. I love speed. You need some things to be fast ? ice hockey, squash, a fast Internet connection," Honoré said. But, he said, "My passion for speed had become an addiction. I was doing everything faster."

Americans Start to Embrace the Slow

The Slow Movement has been thriving for years in Europe, where Slow Cities encourage walking and more interaction with people. Slow Food, which advocates both healthy ingredients in cooking as well as enjoying meals, has been a force since the 1980s.

In the United States, the movement is small but growing. Slow Food USA has grown to 12,000 members in 140 chapters from 1,500 adherents when it was founded in 2000.

Erika Lesser, executive director of Slow Food USA, said part of the movement is about slowing down enough to not only enjoy food but spend time eating ? not just at a desk or in front of the TV. "It's something that we talk about all the time, something which manifests itself in what we try to set as an example for our members," she said. "Slowness is a philosophical idea. It's not like following a diet. People interpret it in their own way."

Even people with the most hectic schedules can apply some of the values to their lives, she said, by cooking one meal a week with family and friends and shopping at local farmer's markets rather than supermarkets.

In addition, Slow Food USA is working with schools to create gardens and utilize their produce to teach about biodiversity in the food supply. "We've tapped into this vein of interest in alternative food choices," she said.

Seeking a Work-Life Balance

Between working long hours and constantly being connected to the office by technology, the division between work and personal time is often blurred for many Americans. But there's momentum behind a movement to ensure that a work-life balance can be achieved.

The Take Back Your Time initiative in North America is advocating more personal time and simpler lives for all individuals. "Our feeling was one of the biggest prices that Americans pay for our endless obsession with having more stuff and ever-expanding material life and we never get a break from work, despite labor-saving and time-saving devices," said national coordinator John de Graaf. "We feel the cost of our country's extreme orientation to consumerism."

De Graaf said the group hopes to initiate legislation to address things such as paid family and medical leave, three weeks minimum annual paid vacation and a cap on mandatory overtime, policies that are in place in other countries.

In fact, if you lived in many parts of Europe and had not taken any time off, as of this week you could take nine weeks vacation ? the rest of the year. To highlight this, Oct. 24 marked "Take Back Your Time Day," symbolizing the 350-hour difference in work time. "That's a lot of time that's taken away from other things people might be able to do," de Graaf said.

To mark the day, the group encouraged people to host such things as barbecues and family events, as well as church discussions. But the effort should not be mistaken for "international slackers day," de Graaf said.

"We're not about being lazy," he said. "We believe work is important and valuable, but we believe Americans have pushed themselves too far.

"We certainly believe that companies can do this," he added. "We need some legislation that sets some floors. Everything that we're asking for is pretty much already the law in other industrialized countries in the world, capitalist countries."

What to Do?

To transition to a slower life, Honoré has several suggestions: don't schedule something in every free moment of your day; prioritize activities and cut from the bottom of the list; limit television watching; and keep an eye on your "personal speedometer" so you can gauge when you are rushing for speed's sake rather than necessity.

But don't expect the change to happen immediately ? or even naturally. "You don't slow down by snapping you're fingers, 'Now I'm slow,' " said Honoré, who got a speeding ticket on his way to a Slow Food dinner as he researched the book.

"That happens," he said. "My life has been transformed by it, but I still feel that old itch."

Though it may seem radical to opt out of standard activities or turn off your cell phone, you won't be alone. There are many people saying "slow" should not be demonized but celebrated as a healthier way of life.

"They're battling against basic human impulses, as well as the prevailing culture," Honoré said. "But once they make the jump and see how much it pays off, they don't look back. Nobody has two burnouts."

[original article]

Posted by thinkum at 02:10 PM

November 01, 2004

Campaigns Rally Against Wrong T-Shirts

Wearing Opponent's Gear Can Mean Arrests, Ejections

NEW YORK, Nov. 1, 2004 --  Behind the scenes of one of the most contentious presidential races in recent memory, both Democrats and Republicans have organized what can only be called the T-shirt defense squads.

It is an all-out effort to spot T-shirts supporting the other candidate and block them from view, or in some cases to actually have the T-shirt-wearing offenders ejected or arrested.

ABC News conducted a bipartisan experiment in which producers and volunteers went to rallies for each candidate wearing the other party's T-shirt, and found that each campaign had its own methods of preventing the shirts from being seen.

"We've reached a sad state of affairs when a T-shirt is that offensive," said Yale professor Robert Post, a specialist in First Amendment law. "It tells me that these are photo opportunities, and not about dialogue."

Both Campaigns Take the Offensive

The rules were to behave exactly the same at each rally, to be polite participants and to leave when asked. The ABC News team obtained tickets for all of the events attended — tickets for Kerry events can be attained from the official campaign Web site and tickets for Bush events from local Republican party or campaign offices.

At an Oct. 21 Kerry rally in Minneapolis, ABC news producers were surrounded and followed by a team of dancing Kerry campaign workers with large signs, effectively obstructing the Bush-Cheney T-shirts from the view of the national press.

"My job tonight was to run interference so that we didn't have any negative situation on our hands," said a female Kerry campaign volunteer. "Our job was to stand in front of them and make sure that, number one, that press had access to Kerry stuff and not necessarily Bush."

The Bush campaign was even more aggressive in its response to the opposing party's T-shirts.

When ABC News volunteers Matt Walter and Sherrie Varpula tried to attend an Oct. 23 Bush rally at Space Coast Stadium in Melbourne, Fla., they were told by event volunteers the Kerry-Edwards T-shirts they were wearing would cause them not to be admitted.

"I'm sorry, but they're Kerry shirts," a female Bush volunteer said. "We were told not to let people with Kerry shirts into the rally."

And as they approached the gates of the stadium, Lance "Chip" Borman, a Bush campaign worker and attorney who worked for the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq, directed them toward the Brevard County sheriff's deputies waiting at the exit.

"Hey folks, it's a private event," he said. "Can you find your way to the nearest exit? Maybe some law enforcement can help?"

'Low Point' in Public Discourse

A second team of ABC News producers waited until entering Space Coast stadium before showing its Kerry-Edwards T-shirts, but was still quickly spotted and ordered out by Borman, who identified himself as working for the Republican National Committee.

He said the rally of some 18,000 people was a "private event," and it made no difference that producers Christine Romo and Jessica Wang had tickets and remained silent and respectful.

"But you wore the shirts; you wore the shirts," Borman said. "And honestly, if you would have come without the shirts and sat quietly, you would have had a fun time and enjoyed it, but I mean it's not that kind of event." He then instructed the sheriff's deputies to escort the ABC News team out to the parking lot.

This was hardly the first time those wearing dissenting T-shirts have been forced to leave a Bush campaign event.

Jeff Rank and his wife, Nicole, were arrested July 4 at a Bush rally in Charleston, W.Va., for wearing shirts that read "Love America, Hate Bush" and refusing to relocate to an area for protesters. Earlier this month, at a Bush event in Cedar Point, Ore., Janet Voorhies and two friends were ejected for wearing T-shirts with "Protect Our Civil Liberties" printed on them.

"I think this represents a low point in public discourse in this country, where the mere sign of disagreement is intolerable to candidates," Post said. "That can't be right. That can't be American."

A Kerry staffer at an Oct. 24 Kerry rally in Boca Raton, Fla., told Bush-Cheney T-shirt wearers that the campaign held a permit to rent the site and could remove anyone who made a disturbance.

"We hold the right to remove you, but other than that, enjoy and hopefully at the end of the event you'll want to wear a Kerry T-shirt," he said.

The Irrelevant First Amendment

One thing the rallies had in common were the taunting remarks the opposition's T-shirts drew.

"We're not allowed in your party, because your party's exclusive and stupid," said one Kerry supporter at the Minneapolis rally.

A Bush volunteer said at the Melbourne event, "You guys know you have to love America to stand in this line, not France. Just letting you know. I don't want you guys to get beat up in there by Americans."

Post said that First Amendment laws most likely did not apply to these rallies, as the ticketed campaign events in private venues would be seen legally as private affairs.

"But what does apply are the basic morals of politics," he said. "And the morals of politics are, we talk to the people whom we want to convince. That's how we get votes. We convince people to vote for us, and we give them reasons when they disagree."

And at Kerry's Boca Raton rally, one of the faithful Democrats could be seen calming a woman upset at the sight of the Bush-Cheney T-shirts.

"Feel proud that we let them in," he said. "That's what democracy is all about, that's what we're fighting for."

[original article]

Posted by thinkum at 07:56 PM

Cleveland Clinic plans first facial transplant

CLEVELAND, Ohio (AP) -- The Cleveland Clinic says it is the first institution to receive review board approval of human facial transplant for someone severely disfigured by burns or disease.

Several independent medical teams around the world also are pursuing the procedure. The Cleveland Clinic said its approval on October 15 followed 10 months of debate on medical, ethical and psychological issues.

It has no current patients or donors for the procedure.

"We are at this point ready to begin screening patients," said Dr. Maria Siemionow, the hospital's director of plastic surgery research and training in microscopic surgery, who advocated the procedure.

Doctors at the clinic said finding an appropriate donor cadaver for the facial skin and underlying tissue might be more difficult than choosing a patient, which could take up to two years.

"It may not happen in our life, or it may happen sooner than you expect," Siemionow said.

She said she will tell patients there is as much as a 50 percent chance of failure because of tissue rejection or other complications.

A central question in debate over the procedure has been whether patients should be subjected to risks of transplant failure and life-threatening complications from anti-rejection drugs for an operation that is not lifesaving.

Siemionow said she wants to start with a relatively simple procedure that would involve transplanting only the skin and underlying fat. The patient's own muscles shape the face, so the patient would not take on the appearance of the donor, she said.

Current facial reconstructive surgery uses skin grafts and flaps -- tissue containing blood vessels -- from other parts of a patient's body. The result "following major trauma, burns and tumor resections has been, at best, mediocre," Dr. Graham Lister, a retired professor of plastic surgery and a mentor of Siemionow's, wrote on her behalf to the clinic review board.

[original article]

Posted by thinkum at 07:48 PM

Shuttle Enterprise takes center stage, at last

CHANTILLY, Virginia (Reuters) -- Space shuttle Enterprise was born to be an astronautical bridesmaid, never a bride.

Built in 1976 as one of the first trio of U.S. shuttles, Enterprise never left Earth's atmosphere and was used as a test vehicle to help its more famous sister ships Challenger and Columbia carry a generation of astronauts into space.

Both Columbia and Challenger were destroyed in deadly accidents, but Enterprise has come out of storage and into its own as the centrepiece of a new exhibit at the National Air and Space Museum's Udvar-Hazy Center outside Washington D.C.

Visitors can almost rub noses with Enterprise in the middle of the 53,000-square-foot (4,924-sq-metre) space hangar near Dulles International Airport in Virginia. The big space plane has been on display since November 2003, but was kept at some distance from the public while cleaning and preservation proceeded.

With maintenance complete, the public can get close enough to see the individual tiles -- similar in appearance to bathroom tiles, rather than the heat-shielding tiles on other shuttles -- on Enterprise. The new exhibit opens November 1.

There will be no tours of Enterprise's interior, though, because even now, Enterprise is no mere museum piece. It's still important to the shuttle fleet.

"NASA stripped this vehicle completely," retired Gen. Jack Dailey, the museum's director, said at a briefing. "It's the lead ship (in the trio of shuttles) and that's why it was so valuable to NASA in the accident investigation on Columbia ... There are many spares that have been removed from this vehicle."

After shuttle Columbia disintegrated over Texas on February 1, 2003, investigators worked for months to determine how superheated air managed to get through the leading edge of the shuttle's left wing. The answer turned out to be that foam insulation fell from the shuttle's external tank during liftoff, damaging the wing.

To help in the investigation, experts used the leading edge of Enterprise's left wing, and the place where that edge should be has been replaced by a light green material.

NASA borrows spare parts

"These (panels) were borrowed by NASA for use in the Columbia accident investigation and they're continuing to be used in testing for return to flight activities," said Valerie Neal, a museum curator. "So we hope to have those back in the new year."

The remaining three shuttles have been grounded since the Columbia accident, with no return to shuttle flight expected before next May.

Because Enterprise is still used for testing and investigation by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, parts of it must be kept in flight-ready condition, Dailey said in an interview.

Enterprise was given to the museum, part of the Smithsonian Institution, in 1985, but was kept outside for two years before a special hangar could be built to contain it at Dulles airport. When the museum was ready in 2003, workers had to tow Enterprise across the airfield -- but that happened to be the period when Hurricane Isabel was battering the area.

"Actually, it was an advantage because (the hurricane) did a pretty good job of washing," Dailey said.

After that, a team of workers used household cleaning liquid, sponges, rags and scrapers to refurbish the exterior of the craft.

"When you're working with a scraper that's maybe an inch and a quarter (3 cm) wide, that's a big object," said Ann McCombs, one of the specialists who worked on Enterprise.

McCombs pointed out the handful of holes left by woodpeckers in the high-density foam on the shuttle's tail. She also recalled seeing some four dozen ladybugs gathered at one spot on the ship.

Besides Enterprise, the space hangar has more than 100 large artifacts of human space exploration, including space capsules that carried astronauts back to Earth, a quarantine trailer to isolate any possible "Moon germs" after the first human lunar mission and a selection of cruise missiles and satellites.

Some of the smaller artifacts are equally arresting, including an android designed to help develop spacesuits, a 1985-vintage virtual reality helmet, an unappetizing array of vacuum-packed food for 1970s-era astronauts and a Disposable Absorption Containment Trunk -- an early space diaper.

[original article]

Posted by thinkum at 07:46 PM

Researcher Risks Killer Snails for Study

Farming Venomous, Killer Cone Snails for Research Is a Risky Affair for Biochemist

POTSDAM, N.Y. Nov 1, 2004 -- Jon-Paul Bingham puts his life on the line every week for the sake of science. One wrong move, and he could become the hapless victim of a snail attack that could kill him.

Bingham, a biochemist at Clarkson University, is a self-described "conehead" whose livelihood depends on scuba diving for tropical marine cone snails and coaxing them to discharge their venom in his laboratory.

"It's like snake-charming," he said with a grin.

Cone snails churn out a cocktail of toxins, each with its own unique chemical properties. Scientists are studying these poisons with the hope of turning them into potential drugs that could one day treat chronic pain, epilepsy and neurological disorders such as Alzheimer's.

For centuries, shell collectors have bagged cone shells for their intricately patterned armor. Cone snails are among the sea's most abundant creatures with more than 500 species, and are mostly found in coral reef environments in the IndoPacific region.

But cone snails are potentially dangerous, especially the fish-eating types. There is no antidote if a person gets stung. Usually, the victim is paralyzed and can't breathe, and is immediately placed on respiratory support in the emergency room. Recovery can take several hours to a few weeks.

In unfortunate cases, a person can die within an hour of being stung. Some 30 people have been reported killed by cone snails during sea expeditions dating back to the 1930s.

Several companies worldwide are testing different cone snail toxins in animals and humans. The most advanced work is being done by Elan Corp., a biotechnology company based in Dublin, Ireland, which is trying to get Food and Drug Administration approval for its pain-killer Prialt.

Prialt is synthetically made from a naturally occurring toxin from the marine snail Conus magus, and works by blocking nerve channels in the body responsible for transmitting pain signals.

The drug, which is injected into the fluid surrounding the spinal cord, reduced severe chronic pain in human patients in three experiments carried out by the company.

Scientists believe cone snail venom may someday be used in pain management as an alternative to or in tandem with morphine, but without morphine's addicting side effects. Yet its use may be limited because of the way it's administered, said David Goldstein, a pain researcher at Indiana University and a board member of the American Society for Clinical Pharmacology and Therapeutics.

To get venom from snails, most scientists either dissect dead cone snails found in nature or create it chemically in the lab.

Bingham thinks he can reap a more diverse mixture of toxins by milking cone snails in captivity. He is one of the few scientists in the world who farms cone snails in his lab nestled in the northern foothills of New York's rustic Adirondack Mountains near the Canadian border.

Bingham, a 33-year-old Australian who has milked snails for over a decade, has never been stung and he never wants to be. But just in case there's an accident, his medical file at the Canton-Potsdam Hospital down the road from the university contains instructions on how to treat a sting.

Baldomero Olivera, a biologist at the University of Utah and a pioneer in the field, used to milk cone snails in his lab, but hardly does it anymore because the task became too monotonous.

"The problem with milking is that it's quite tedious," Baldomero said. Not only do researchers need to perform several milkings to get a good sample, but how much venom they collect is also dependent on the cone snails' behavior on a particular day, he said.

Olivera, who has been studying cone snails since the 1960s, discovered early on that certain snail venom made up of protein-like molecules called peptides can work as an anesthetic.

In the 1980s, students in his lab injected different snail toxins into the nervous systems of mice. Depending on the type of toxin, the mice acted differently. Some would shake and others would sleep, leading scientists to isolate the chemical properties of the venom for potential medicinal use.

In 1996, Olivera and a colleague founded Cognetix Inc., a privately held biopharmaceutical company based in Salt Lake City that studies cone snail venom.

One day recently, Bingham demonstrated the milking process.

Inside Bingham's lab is an average-sized fish tank carrying an ominous warning on the lid: "Danger! Venomous Snails." Nine fish-eating snails collected from Panama four years ago live in the tank filled with salt water and beach sand for them to bury themselves. Only the largest one at 2 1/2 inches is named: Big Bertha.

With his bare hands, Bingham took a pair of long metal forceps, stirred the water and waited. The ripple effect caused the elephant trunk-like noses of the cone snails to slowly poke out of the sand.

Like a surgeon getting ready for an operation, Bingham got everything in order. He gingerly picked up the snails with the forceps, lined them all up on one side of the tank and counted them to make sure none was hiding in the sand a potential recipe for a surprise sting.

Now the milking can begin.

Hunching over the tank, Bingham dangled the bait an unsuspecting goldfish in his left hand using a pair of forceps. Behind the fish, Bingham held a small plastic container shaped like an inverted triangle with a piece of non-lubricated condom slipped over the opening.

The trick, Bingham explained, is to entice the snails to sting the fish and release their venom into the container.

Big Bertha, smelling the fish, inched forward and whipped out her harpoon-like proboscis. She stung the fish, but her proboscis failed to penetrate the condom. No venom was released into the container.

Looking disappointed, Bingham tried again.

Lying in wait like a hunter, he got into position and eyed his gloveless hands holding the trap. The room is silent. Bingham wrinkled his nose and licked his lips.

Another snail came forward toward the twitching, paralyzed fish. This time, its proboscis penetrated the fish's tail straight through the condom, pumping poison into the container. The milking was over in the wink of an eye.

Out of four tries that day, only one milking was successful. Bingham got a droplet of the venom no larger than a poppy seed. On good days, he gets much more. The next step is to put the poison in the freezer where its chemical content will be studied later.

Scientists studying cone snail poison have found that a single snail can produce up to 100 different kinds of toxins. Now they're trying to find out why and how it happens.

"These animals are like craps players," Bingham explained. "Every time they roll the dice, they make a new compound."

[original article]

Posted by thinkum at 07:44 PM