Friday, November 30, 2007

A man is accused of having child pornography and having it on the job, police said.On Friday, a former city of Dayton worker, Charles Evans, 62, made his intial court appearance on federal charges.Evans pleaded not guilty to receipt of child pornography and possession of child pornography, police said.Evans will have another court appearance on Dec. 6.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

The al-Qaida leader, Osama bin Laden, called on European governments to end their military cooperation with the US in Afghanistan in a new audio message broadcast today.With his fifth public message this year, bin Laden sought to exploit tensions between European capitals and Washington over the ongoing Nato military campaign in Afghanistan.He reiterated that he was responsible for the September 11 attacks on the US, not the Taliban, who ruled Afghanistan at the time."The American tide is ebbing," he said in a message addressed directly to the European public. "It is better for you to restrain your politicians who are thronging the steps of the White House."

In a quick rebuttal to bin Laden's audio message, parts of which were carried on al-Jazeera television, the Afghan government said bin Laden had no right to interfere with its sovereignty. It also rejected his accusations that Afghan civilians were being killed by Nato troops, saying they were being killed by extremists.His message came as Poland is reconsidering its commitment of 1,200 troops to the Nato mission, following the election of a new government.
Bin Laden has issued four other public statements this year: on September 7, September 11, September 20 and October 22. The September 7 video was bin Laden's first in three years and was issued to mark the sixth anniversary of 9/11.

The last message in October was an audiotape broadcast on al-Jazeera television where bin Laden called for Iraqi insurgents to unite and avoid divisive "extremism".Bin Laden's followers in Iraq have angered other Sunni groups and tribes through their hardline interpretations of Islam and the indiscriminate killing of civilians.As a result, Sunni tribal leaders in Anbar province have turned against al-Qaida in Iraq and allied themselves with US forces.

In his October tape, the speaker said the strength of faith was in bonds between Muslims, not in a tribe, nationalism or an organisation.A message released on 20 September called for a holy war against Pakistan's President Pervez Musharraf, who has sided with the Bush administration against the Taliban since 9/11.Earlier this week, al-Qaida's media wing announced that it would soon release a new message from bin Laden. As-Sahab said bin Laden would address European countries in the message.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

To an endangered animal, a zoo is supposed to offer sanctuary.A macaque monkey may even consider itself fortunate to live in one - safe from poachers and predators.Fortunate, that is, until the rare Indonesian animal falls foul of Newquay Zoo's strict approach to cage discipline.Animal charities and conservationists condemned the 'awful' decision to kill two adult male monkeys who behaved aggressively.

The two rare macaques Venus and Ia were killed because the zoo could not find a place for them
Venus and Ia were put down by lethal injection despite being members of the most endangered species of macaque - there are just 100,000 in the entire world.Keepers at the Cornish zoo say they killed two of their three male macaques because they could neither live together or be found new homes.But the decision was slammed as 'unacceptable' after it emerged that a nearby monkey refuge had not even been contacted about the problem.Matt Thomas, a keeper at The Monkey Sanctuary in Looe - just 40 miles away from the zoo - said: "They never contacted us."What they have done is horrendous and would not happen here. It would never be considered."There are other options and places which could have taken these animals on."Another keeper, Rachael Hevesi, added: "Our staff would have been willing to help to find a suitable place for the monkeys - but they did not ask us. I am very saddened and shocked."
The macaques cannot be kept alongside other monkeys because of their agressive nature
The pair of male Sulawesi black crested macaques were two of three males kept in their own enclosure at the zoo where the mission statement describes it as a "charity dedicated to conserving our global wildlife heritage and inspiring [...] a life long respect for animals and the environment."The pair initially lived harmoniously with the zoo's other male macaque but later became aggressive and started to fight.Director of the zoo, Stewart Muir, said efforts to find a new home for one or both monkeys had failed.He defended the decision to put the animals down, saying "The male Sulawesi macaques can be very aggressive towards each other."This resulted in us having to separate permanently one animal. This could not continue as primates should never be kept alone."Sulawesi black crested macaques are an endangered species so the enclosure at Newquay Zoo is valuable to the future breeding and long term survival of this species."He continued: "No suitable home could be found in any other zoo or sanctuary. "We had to look at the long term welfare of the animals and what would happen if they fought or one died, leaving one permanently on its own."After looking long and hard at the situation and much soul searching, we came to the conclusion that we could not re-home these two males and guarantee their long term health and welfare."The only option left open to us was to put them to sleep."This will give us the opportunity to bring in young females to join our breeding male, so we can continue with this much needed breeding programme."It is an incredibly hard decision to make and we all feel very sad at the turn of events, but we are dedicated to the long term conservation of this species and hope that with the introduction of breeding females we can help play an active part in securing the species futuresurvival."Keepers say it would have been impossible the separate the animals as they must live in groups and cannot be housed in isolation.The crested black macaque is found on the island of Sulawesi in Indonesia and is threatened by over hunting for food where its meat is considered a delicacy.Its habitat is also threatened by human settlement, land clearing for agriculture and logging.Macaques are social creatures and were often seen in groups of 100 or more before their decline in the wild.They feed on fruit, vegetation, insects and small animals such as mice, crabs and lizards and interact by grooming each other and communicating vocally with grunts.It is classified as endangered on the world conservation union's red list and listed on appendix II of convention on international trade in endangered species.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Having frequently pedaled his bike over the Gowanus Canal’s bridges in Brooklyn, Ludger K. Balan was familiar with its sickly green tint, oil-slicked surface and rotten-egg smell. Then, one day about eight years ago, he looked into the canal and saw a school of striped bass chasing minnows.Soon he was putting on his diving gear and jumping right in.“I assumed like everybody else that it was open sewage,” he said. “I didn’t realize it was a connected tributary.”The popular conception about New York City waterways is that the only people diving in them are the ones getting dumped in body bags. But the resilience of those bass inspired Mr. Balan. He wanted to demystify urban waters like the Gowanus to change them from environments that are ignored and shunned to those that are protected and perhaps even loved.In 1998, he founded the Urban Divers Estuary Conservancy, a group of people who literally immerse themselves in the problem they are trying to fix.Based at the Marine and Ecology Center in the Bronx, the Urban Divers run youth educational projects and river cleanups with six divers and 150 land-based volunteers. They monitor pollution, make recommendations to the city and conduct demonstrations in which they show live video of their dives. On Dec. 6, the group and several city officials will hold a forum on the future of the Gowanus Canal.

Over the summer, the Department of Parks and Recreation contacted the group, which has only three paid staff members, to monitor an oyster restoration project in the East River. Restoring the population of oysters, which once flourished beneath the East River’s murky waves, could have a significant impact on cleaning up the river. The Urban Divers said that one oyster can filter up to a gallon of water.Sheathed in their neoprene suits, the divers resemble members of the Starship Enterprise, perhaps with good reason: Mr. Balan said diving in the Gowanus Canal “is like going to the moon.”To save money on gas, they often dive from an inflatable boat, with a detachable motor, that looks like a children’s wading pool. They take turns blowing it up with a foot pump. Divers are expected to buy their own equipment, which can cost up to $1,500.When Avra Cohen, 55, went into the Gowanus this past summer to collect samples from an unidentified microbial colony growing on the bottom, he wore a suit of vulcanized rubber, two pairs of gloves and a full face mask.Mr. Cohen was inoculated against hepatitis A and tetanus. A friend suggested that he get vaccinated for typhoid, too. “And the doctor asked me where I was traveling,” Mr. Cohen said. “And I told him, ‘Brooklyn.’”

Mr. Cohen, with a ponytail and graying beard that give him the weathered look of a born adventurer, described another dive in Sheepshead Bay. He said he found shopping carts, tires and an old bicycle frame with barnacles growing on it.“It shows you, a land-lubber person, that when you dump stuff in, it stays,” Mr. Cohen said. “And if it happens to be car batteries, eventually the lead leaches into the water and ends up in fish that might be on your dinner plate.”Pollution has plagued the 1.8-mile Gowanus Canal since its early days as a commercial waterway and shipping hub. A tunnel to sweep in clean water from New York Harbor broke down in 1960 and was not repaired until 1999.The Gowanus is cleaner today than in previous decades, but still bedeviled by sewage overflow and runoff from local industrial plants. Biology students from the New York City College of Technology recently detected gonorrhea in a drop of water from the canal, according to Scienceline, a New York University publication. And scientists have yet to identify the microbes that Mr. Cohen collected, though they do know that they kill red blood cells.

Because urban waters present unusual challenges, like entanglement in fishing line, river currents and low visibility, Mr. Balan said it was important to “zen” with a dive beforehand, to visualize each step. During a recent East River dive, Mr. Cohen accidentally touched the bottom of the river, and plumes of sediment ballooned around him. “I was in a nine-foot impenetrable cloud,” he said.He spent nearly an hour underwater taking photographs and video of the substrates — layers of clam shells — that the Parks Department had placed in the river to encourage oyster growth. He found old oyster shells that crumbled to dust in his fingers.As for new spats, or young oysters, the prognosis was not good. “Maybe a few,” Mr. Cohen said, “but it wasn’t like a big plate of oysters waiting for me.”As the sun set, the Urban Divers headed back to Clason Point in the Bronx. They sped past the bony legs of a dilapidated dock and the lights of La Guardia Airport. Beneath the hulking jets, their inflatable boat looked like a water insect barely skimming the river’s surface.Mr. Balan grew up diving in the Caribbean, with its clear waters and explosion of natural life. In contrast, sediment levels in the New York-New Jersey Harbor Estuary inhibit visibility.“So everything you encounter is an amazement,” he said.Audiences that watch his live diving demonstrations react the same way. “Every time we see a fish,” he said, “we get a standing ovation.”

Monday, November 26, 2007

As a first-time mother, Sara Herman thought it was only to be expected that she had an enormous bump after five months.What she and doctors failed to realise was that the petite mother-to-be, who is only just over 5ft, was expecting a giant.When Jack eventually arrived at 37 weeks he weighed an astonishing 14lb 8oz. Doctors had to move Jack to a bigger incubatorAnd now, after health problems kept him in hospital for four months, he is enjoying life at home in Manchester with 37-year-old Mrs Herman and her husband Keith.

"At five months I looked like I was going to give birth at any moment and the size of my bump meant it was difficult for me to get around," said Mrs Herman, a product sourcer."But because it was the first time I'd been pregnant, I just thought this was normal."Mrs Herman became pregnant in September last year, shortly after marrying Keith, who runs a sales promotion business. A scan at 14 weeks showed the baby was growing fast and doctors even thought that the due date was wrong as the baby was so large."When they said they thought Jack was going to be big, I imagined a 9lb or 10lb baby at the most," she said. "And that's what the doctors thought too."When she was five months pregnant, the couple went on holiday to New York, where strangers asked her if her baby was due any day.

She said: "Jack was actually about 7lb then, so he was actually the size of an average new-born baby."I was finding it very difficult to get around the department stores, and had to lie down in the afternoons as I was so exhausted from all the weight I was carrying."At 37 weeks, Mrs Herman was admitted to Wythenshawe Hospital in Manchester as she had not felt the baby move much for the last two days."He was actually so big that there wasn't much room for him to move around, which is why I hadn't felt much movement," she said."I was taken straight down for a caesarean. The doctors actually gasped when they brought him out."

Tests showed that Jack had grown so big because of a condition called hyperinsulism which causes the body to produce too much insulin, leading to weight gain.His heart muscle had thickened since it had to work extra hard because of his size. All right, Jack: He now weighs 22lb and wears clothes for an 18-month-old Mrs Herman said: "He may have looked big and healthy, but he was actually life-threateningly ill. They had to put him on a drip."I went in to see him after a few hours and I couldn't believe his size. He was in the unit with premature babies, who looked tiny compared to him. He actually filled the whole incubator. After a few days, the doctors had to get him a bigger one."Jack was transferred to Pendlebury Children's Hospital in Manchester, which is setting up a support group for children with hyperinsulism.

At the age of 14 weeks he had 95 per cent of his pancreas removed to treat his condition. The operation was a success and he was allowed home with medication.His heart condition has also improved.He weighs nearly 22lb, compared with the average weight at six months of 16lb, and wears clothes for a child aged 12 to 18 months.Mrs Herman added: "I have to manage his weight very carefully because of his condition. Surprisingly, he doesn't have a good appetite but he's starting to eat rice and mashed banana."He's such a happy baby, always laughing and giggling. People can't believe that he's only six months old when I take him out in his pram."Britain's heaviest baby was Guy Warwick Carr, delivered in Cumbria in 1992 weighing 15lb 8oz.The biggest ever born was a boy produced in 1879 by Anna Bates of Canada, who like her husband was more than 7ft tall. The infant weighed 23lb 12oz and died 11 hours after birth.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Millions of young people are putting their careers at risk by using social networking websites, a report from Britain's privacy watchdog says.The study for the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) showed 60 per cent of 14- to 21-year-olds did not realise their online details could be accessed years into the future.Seven in 10 questioned in the study did not like the idea of potential universities or employers seeing their current networking site content.

Not ashamed: More young people, such as these drunken girls, are not embarrassed by their pictures on FacebookICO deputy commissioner David Smith said: "Many young people are posting content online without thinking about the electronic footprint they leave behind."
"The cost to a person's future can be very high if something undesirable is found by the increasing number of educational institutions and employers using the internet as a tool to vet potential students or employees."In addition, posting personal information leaves young people vulnerable to identity fraud. If information such as dates of birth and addresses is put together with details which might be used to create passwords, like a mother's maiden name, fraudsters might be able to access online bank accounts.
The report revealed nearly two thirds post their date of birth, a quarter their job title and almost one in 10 give their home address.But despite the risks one third of the 2,000 youngsters who logged onto sites such as Facebook, MySpace or Bebo never read the privacy policies.The findings come days after a security blunder at HM Revenue & Customs in which personal details of 25 million people were lost in the civil service's internal post.The ICO has launched a new online guide at with tips about protecting identity.The guidance includes the warning that a "blog is for life" and can leave a permanent electronic footprint.It says: "If you don't think you'll want it to exist somewhere in 10 years' time, don't post it."The ICO's findings were based on a survey of 2,000 14- to 21-year-olds carried out last month by market researchers Dubit.The ICO is an independent body which polices the Data Protection Act.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

A curious cat narrowly escaped death after getting trapped behind a bathroom cupboard for 44 days.Pensioner Jessie Sculpher, 79, was devastated when her new pet Tabitha went missing just three days after she took her home from the RSPCA.After searching her home and garden, Jessie resigned herself to the idea that Tabitha had run away. It was only when Jessie heard a strange sound coming from behind the vanity unit in the bathroom over a month later, was she finally reunited with her feline friend.

Jessie recalled: "It was 4am and I heard some scratching and knocking coming from the bathroom."At first I thought it was a rat but then I heard a miaow."Upon further investigation, Jessie found the tabby trapped behind the unit and the wall.Jessie explained: "I had to get my arm in and break the top of the hardboard. When I looked all I could see were her legs sticking out."My arm was all bruised but I pulled her out by her legs. She couldn't hold her head up and she couldn't stand." Worried Jessie rushed Tabitha to the Garth Veterinary Group in Driffield, East Yorkshire; where the cat was diagnosed with severe dehydration.

Jessie said: "They put her on a drip to get fluid into her but said she might not pull through.
"After she had gone for six weeks, I had given up hope. The vets think she had been unconscious for some of the time through dehydration."The vets thought she must have gone into some sort of coma but wondered whether she had licked condensation off the sink pipes."Fortunately, Tabitha pulled through and is content to remain at home after bonding with her new owner.

Protective Jessie enthused: "She is still a bit nervous but she is very affectionate and is playing and eating just fine."Paul Thompson, partner at Garth Veterinary Group, said it was a miracle the cat survived.He said: "She would have got to such a state of dehydration that she would have lapsed into a low-activity state."It is extremely rare to have survived this long and she is an extremely lucky cat that she is back to normal with no ill-effects."

Friday, November 23, 2007

A Canadian cruise ship struck ice off Antarctica and began taking on water, but all 100 passengers and crew took to lifeboats and were rescued safely Friday by a passing Norwegian liner, officials said.The passengers and crew from the Explorer were picked up by the Nordnorge, a Norwegian cruise ship that was nearby and responded to the distress call, said Susan Hayes of G.A.P. Adventures of Toronto, which owns the stricken vessel.

It was believed that the 91 passengers included at least 22 British citizens, 10 Canadians and an undetermined number of Americans. Earlier, the British coast guard had said 154 people were aboard.''The passengers are absolutely fine,'' Hayes said. ''They're all accounted for, no injuries whatsoever.''The Nordnorge has enough room to accommodate all the passengers, ''so they may very well continue their journey on the Nordnorge,'' Hayes said.The Explorer was completing an ecological tour of Antarctica when it struck a chunk of ice that tore a hole about the size of a fist in its hull, Hayes said.

She called the evacuation process ''calm,'' saying pumps were able to deal with incoming water until the Nordnorge arrived.Still, Hayes said the ship is in danger of sinking.''It is listing. ... There is a possibility we may lose the ship,'' she said.The British coast guard said it was told at 12:24 a.m. EST of the incident involving the 2,646-ton Explorer near the South Shetland Islands and Graham Land, an Antarctic peninsula.Rescue centers in Norfolk, Va., and Ushuaia, Argentina, were taking charge of coordinating the rescue, the coast guard said.An Argentine rescue and command center received a first distress call at 11:30 p.m. EST Thursday from the Explorer amid reports it was taking on water through the hull despite efforts to use onboard pumps, said Capt. Juan Pablo Panichini, an Argentine navy spokesman.

A navy statement said the captain ordered passengers to abandon ship about 90 minutes after the first call and that they and the crew took to eight semi-rigid lifeboats and four life rafts, with the captain leaving the ship later.The statement said Explorer was some 475 nautical miles southeast of Ushuaia, the southernmost Argentine city and a jumping-off point for cruise ships and supply vessels for Antarctica.Seas were calm and winds light at the time, what Panichini called ''optimal conditions for carrying out the evacuation,''G.A.P Adventures is a tour company that provides eco-friendly excursions with an environmental focus. The Explorer was in the midst of a 19-day circuit of Antarctica and the Falkland Islands that allowed passengers to observe penguins, whales, and other forms of local wildlife.The Nordnorge, built in 1997, is 403 feet long and has a capacity of 691 passengers in 214 cabins.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

An investigation has been launched into the circumstances that allowed a man to be released from custody, only to kill a passenger on a bus a few hours later - despite an outstanding warrant for his arrest.Richard Whelan, 28, was stabbed seven times in the heart and torso after remonstrating with Anthony Joseph, 23, who was throwing chips at his girlfriend on a London bus in July 2005.Joseph today pleaded guilty to his manslaughter due to diminished responsibility, having argued that he was suffering from paranoid schizophrenia at the time of the attack.It emerged today that Joseph had been mistakenly released from a young offenders' institution in Manchester only hours before the attack, after charges of abduction and unlawful sex with a 15-year-old were dropped. Because of a separate arrest warrant, issued after Joseph failed to attend court in Liverpool four weeks before the killing on charges of burglary, he should have been retained in custody, but was instead released in error from Forest Bank young offenders' institution.

Eight hours after his release, at around 10pm on the evening of July 29, he killed Mr Whelan in what was described today by Detective Chief Inspector John Macdonald, who led the investigation, as a "horrendous" attack.A government spokeswoman said ministers from the Ministry of Justice and Home Office, along with the solicitor general, had written to "chief inspectors of the crown prosecution service, court administration, constabulary and prisons to gain a full understanding of what happened in June and July 2005 and to make sure any mistakes that may have occurred do not happen again".Merseyside police said today the force had followed the correct guidelines and circulated Joseph's details on the national police computer as soon he failed to appear in court.

Joseph's admission of manslaughter came after a second jury failed to reach a verdict on a charge of murder. But speaking outside the court, Mr Whelan's family said they did not accept that Joseph was mentally ill at the time of the killing."We feel the defence of diminished responsibility has been used as a defence for the undefendable, with so much evidence showing that Anthony Joseph was an angry and vindictive man," the dead man's sister Theresa Ward said."He has tried to excuse his actions by claiming mental illness. In our opinion, he callously killed Richard for no reason at all."Joseph has been remanded to a secure hospital to await sentencing, pending psychiatric reports.Ms Ward described her brother, an events manager originally from Gortahork in Co. Donegal, as "a very private, quiet man brought up with high values [who] treated people with respect.

"Our lives are changed forever. We miss Richard every day, his gentleness, his kindness and his love, and we will always miss him in a way that is so painful we cannot put it into words."Earlier, Mr Whelan's girlfriend, Kerry Barker, had told the court that they had been travelling home on the upper deck of a No 43 bus between Islington and Archway in north London when they noticed Joseph, seated behind them, throwing chips at another woman, who moved to the lower deck.After a chip hit Ms Barker on the back of the head, her partner looked around, at which point Joseph approached them, she said. Mr Whelan stood up and was attacked. "I remember trying to pull the man off Richard," she said. "I was ringing the bell. I was screaming: 'Leave him alone.'"Fellow passengers described hearing a thumping sound from the upper deck and Ms Barker screaming, "Get off him, get off him. Oh my God, what's he doing? Make him stop."

Jo Uttley, who was sitting on the lower deck, described hearing Ms Barker's screams before Joseph came down the bus stairs. "He just walked away down from the top deck with a gangster swagger as if it meant nothing to him," she told the court."Some said he was grinning. He looked around the bus and demanded to be let off. He seemed to be unconnected to what happened. He behaved so calmly."Mr Whelan staggered down the stairs where he removed his jacket and was heard to say: "Look, he stabbed me."He was taken to hospital but died shortly afterwards.
For the defence, a psychiatrist, Professor Nigel Eastman, told the court Joseph was now being treated for paranoid schizophrenia at Broadmoor secure hospital and that he believed he had been suffering from the illness and the start of a personality disorder in July 2005.But Dr Paul Chesterman, a psychiatrist for the prosecution, had argued that Joseph made no complaint about his mental health until he was on remand at Belmarsh prison.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

It’s official. I have been conclusively disqualified from presenting medals to winners at the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games. It’s not because I don’t have a million-dollar smile or the ability to place a medal around someone’s neck. It’s just that the Olympic Organizing Committee decided to go with young hot chicks and not over-the-hill, out-of-shape dudes. I do not meet any of the requirements to be a medal bimbo in Beijing. The Organizing Committee is in the process of recruiting a team of highly motivated individuals to present medals and raise flags during the two weeks of Olympic competition this summer. The BOCOG requires that medal presenters be between 5′6″ and 5′10″. I, unfortunately, am too tall. And when it comes to weight, there are no strict requirements however the director of the BOCOG’s cultural activities department told Reuters “Generally speaking, they can’t be too fat. Their figure should be good. They shouldn’t be too heavy.” I, unfortunately, am probably too fat. The medal bimbos also must be between the ages of 18 and 25, which again doesn’t work for me. I, unfortunately, am too old. You also have to be female, which I am not. And finally, the last requirement I do not meet is that applicants “must have a very clear understanding of the Olympic spirit and the Olympic movement.” I have no Olympic spirit and I wasn’t aware of any “Olympic movement.” So whatever. I won’t be a medal presenter. Their loss. There’s always London 2012. And judging by their Olympic logo, the London committee has absolutely no aesthetic standards.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Britain will demand the right to catch more cod after the fishing industry warned that EU quotas are forcing crews to dump thousands of tonnes of dead fish into the sea.Environmentalists, however, have branded the idea "madness", saying it would endanger the recovery of cod stocks.Fishermen often catch large amount of fish such as cod by accident after exceeding their quotas.
Quotas strictly limit the amount of fish that each vessel can bring back to port, not the amount of fish they actually catch.

Often boats catch a species or size of fish which is not what they were targeting.They then have no choice but to dump the fish back into the sea, which leaves them struggling to make a living.The problem has been acknowledged by Joe Borg, the EU commissioner, but he said there was no clear solution.

However Jonathan Shaw, the Fisheries Minister, said this morning that stocks of cod had recovered enough to allow British fishermen to have their quotas increased.He said: "Throwing back good quality fish is heart-breaking, particularly for some of the hard-pressed fishermen."Why did we introduce discards in the first place? The reason that we did that is that we knew that stocks were going down."We have seen a recovery in cod in the North Sea in particular. That is good news and that's why we will pushing the commissioner in December for an increase."He added: "We are confident we have a position that is backed up by science - that's the crucial thing."

But environmentalists say increasing the quotas is exactly the wrong thing to do.Oliver Knowles, a Greenpeace campaigner, said: "We think it would be madness to increase the cod quotas to try to remedy this problem."The solution to over-fishing lies in a much more wholesale review of the fishing industry."If stocks of cod in the North Sea are returning then it is at its very earliest stage and one way to destroy that recovery is to send the fishing fleet back."UK vessels landed 614,000 tonnes of sea fish, including shellfish, in 2006, worth £610m, a 13 per cent reduction in quantity on 2005 but seven per cent up in value.The number of young cod in the North Sea has risen for a second year in a row, but the International Council for the Exploration of the Seas has called for a 50-per-cent cut on 2006 catch levels to sustain it.

Monday, November 19, 2007

What do Siberian tigers do when they are cooped up in a freezing North China zoo that cannot afford to feed them? They go after one of their own. In a gruesome act of cannibalism Saturday, four adult Siberian tigers attacked a 12-year-old 330-pound tiger with which they had peacefully shared a compound for over 5 years. According to a Xinhua report Monday, the killer tigers ripped off the leg of their unlucky friend and then proceeded to eat the dead body as visitors to the zoo looked on in amazement. Imagine taking your small child to the zoo one weekend and observe four tigers go absolutely crazy on one of their own. Perhaps as comedian Chris Rock pointed out when a tiger attacked Las Vega performer Roy Horn of “Sigfried and Roy” back in 2003, the tigers didn’t go crazy, the tigers went tiger. Rock said during a performance, “That tiger was crazy when he was cycling around on stage wearing a little hat!” But according to zoologists, in the case of tigers snacking on their own species, the cats actually have to go crazy. Fan Zhiyong, species program director with the WWF, told Xinhua “This kind of tragedy of tiger eats tiger is unheard of. It rarely happens in the wild. It is obvious that the zoo’s management should be held responsible.” Reportedly, the Shenyang Zoo, where the attack took place, has been in a financial crisis for the last two years and has not been able to sufficiently feed the tigers. An adult tiger requires 20 pounds of meat a day, and the Siberians at the Shenyang Zoo were being fed a mere chicken every few days. This is not the first time starvation has led to disaster at the Shenyang Zoo. Last year, a starving elephant went crazy, not elephant, and smashed through the wall of its habitat.

A second case of the deadly H5N1 strain of bird flu has been confirmed on the Norfolk-Suffolk border, it was announced today.The news comes just days after confirmation of an outbreak at the Redgrave Park farm, operated by Redgrave Poultry.

More than 28,000 free-range turkeys on four farms closely linked to the infected site, in Suffolk, were culled following the outbreak."We have confirmed a second case of H5N1," a spokeswoman for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said.
"It is on one of the four farm premises we confirmed last week. All the birds there have already been culled."

The site of the new infection - Hill Meadow Farm, in Knettishall - is outside the two-mile protection zone set up around Redgrave Park by Defra following news of last week's outbreak.
The declaration of a protection zone bans the movement of birds, eggs and carcasses into or out of the area and restricts other movements within it.However, the new farm is within a wider restricted zone that covers Suffolk and much of Norfolk.Hill Meadow Farm was identified as having "dangerous contact" with the initial outbreak last week because workers for Redgrave Poultry, which operates all five sites on which culls have taken place, moved between the farms.

Defra said the birds appeared healthy when they were first inspected, but a precautionary cull was completed on Saturday. Yesterday, a Defra statement said 28,600 birds had been culled at four premises."The laboratory test results today highlight the importance of poultry keepers in the area being extremely vigilant," the acting chief veterinary officer, Fred Landeg, said.
"It is essential they practise the highest levels of biosecurity and report any suspicions of disease to their local animal health office."

The operations director for Redgrave Poultry, Geoffrey Buchanan, said Defra had told the company "a small number of turkeys" culled at Hill Meadow Farm had tested positive for the H5N1 strain."It stated that on clinical inspection the flock appeared healthy, which indicates the infection was in its early stages," he added.

According to the company, Hill Meadow is a seasonal farm that rears turkeys for Christmas, and no birds have been slaughtered for food or sent to customers. All staff at the farm have been offered preventative medicines against avian flu.A new two-mile protection zone has been set up around the farm, and an extended surveillance zone, surrounding both sites, has also been established.

Officials are still awaiting results following culls at two other Redgrave Poultry farms - Stone House, in West Harling, and Bridge Farm, in Pulham, both in Norfolk.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Cyclone disaster toll climbs

Still recovering from its summer floods, Bangladesh faces another grim struggle after a storm that killed at least 1,700 people
Aid agencies have called for urgent international assistance to help survivors of the cyclone which has devastated parts of Bangladesh, ripping up roads, tearing down buildings and damaging as many as two million homes.

The government said around 1,700 people had died, but that toll might rise as aid workers, helped by ships and military helicopters, battle to reach hundreds of villages cut off by the damage. Power and phone lines were knocked out by heavy rains, slowing down relief efforts and making the full scale of the disaster difficult to estimate.

Bodies littered flattened rice fields along the coast and Bangladesh TV described relatives joining a 'procession of deaths' as they hurried to bury corpses. Local TV put the death toll at 2,000 or more and reporters said hundreds of fishermen, out at sea when the cyclone hit on Thursday, were still unaccounted for.

'The toll is rising fast as we are receiving more information from outlying areas, where telephone lines have been restored,' Mokhlesur Rahman, a Ministry of Disaster Management official, said.

Villagers made their way back to their homes in the south-west of the country yesterday, visibly distressed by the destruction. Homes here, typically made from straw, bamboo, corrugated iron and flimsy timber, were unable to withstand winds of up to 100mph. Many of those buildings which did remain standing were washed away in the tidal wave that followed Cyclone Sidr.

Survivors whose shacks were destroyed sought refuge with neighbours, as volunteers began constructing more permanent shelters. 'We survived, but what we need now is help to rebuild our homes,' said Chand Miah, a resident of Maran Char, an island off the coast.

With as much of 80 per cent of the main annual rice crop ruined by the winds, aid agencies were looking beyond the rescue operation, and warned that the cyclone's longer-term consequences would be severe, further impoverishing a nation already suffering from the effects of this summer's catastrophic flooding in the north of the country.

'We will need to build long-term solutions for those who have lost their homes,' said Ali Asgar, of the Red Cross, estimating that as many as two million homes had been damaged. He said help from the international community was needed urgently. 'These people are very poor and have lost everything. Their need will be very high, and we don't believe the Bangladesh government can help all of them,' he said.

While acknowledging that the final death toll could be much higher, there was relief among many that the disaster had not killed more. In 1970 between 300,000 and half a million people died in a cyclone and Thursday's storm was as strong as a 1991 cyclone which killed around 140,000.

Because Bangladesh is known to be so vulnerable, the government and NGOs have devised cyclone preparedness programmes, building shelters, organising simulated cyclone evacuation exercises and educating villagers in the most exposed areas on how to flee. Efficient early warning systems and the widespread use of mobile phones meant that this time even people in remote regions were aware of the impending disaster.

'Given the scale of the cyclone and given that the areas it hit were so densely populated, it could have been much worse,' Juliet Parker, Christian Aid's representative, said. But she stressed that these preparations had helped to save lives but not livelihoods, adding that millions now risked hunger. Bangladesh is one of the world's most disaster-prone nations. The United Nations Development Programme said it had the highest disaster mortality rate in the world, with at least 516,239 people having lost their lives in 171 calamities between 1970 and 2005.

Kelland Stevenson, country director for Save the Children, said: 'People can be very cynical about Bangladesh because it is so disaster-prone. This country is still coping from the floods of the summer. It will be difficult for the government to manage this too.'

Friday, November 16, 2007

One of the Cold War's most baffling mysteries has been solved after an elderly Russian man admitted to killing a British spy in the fifties. Cdr Lionel "Buster" Crabb disappeared while spying on a Soviet warship in 1956. The vessel was en route to Portsmouth Harbour, bringing Soviet leaders to Britain for talks. At the time, the Navy feared that Cdr Crabb had drowned in the nearby Stokes Bay. But several months later, the diver's headless corpse was found floating along the coast. Now the final moments of Cdr Crabb's life have been put together after a retired Russian sailor told a documentary he needed to clear his conscience before he died. Eduard Koltsov told filmmakers he cut the Englishman's throat as he caught him placing a mine on the Soviet ship Ordzhonikidze, which was bringing Joseph Stalin's successor Nikita Khrushchev and other leaders for meetings with the British prime minister Anthony Eden. Mr Koltsov, who was 23 at the time of the James Bond-style incident, says he had been ordered to keep a watchful eye for any suspicious activity around the ship. It was then that he apparently saw Cdr Crabb planting the mine to the hull of the ship. In an action that would see him secretly awarded for his bravery, the frogman cut the throat of the impostor with a dagger which he revealed to the Russian film crew. "I saw a silhouette of a diver in a light frogman suit who was fiddling with something at the starboard, next to the ship's ammunition stores," Mr Koltsov said. "I swam closer and saw that he was fixing a mine." Cdr Crabb, decorated with the George Medal and an OBE for his actions during World War II, was 47 when he disappeared. The murky incident in Portsmouth sent relations between the Soviet state and Britain into freefall, ending any hopes of a rapprochement. The Russian envoys maintained that they were being spied upon and Mr Eden's conservative government was lambasted in the Commons for their loose grip on the security services.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Shanghai needs a Disneyland like it needs 18 million more people. But often times here, like in the case of Tongren Lu or the Oriental Pearl Tower, garishness supersedes function. And in the case of the Shanghai Disneyland, the plans for which have been resuscitated as of Tuesday, garishness supersedes the thousands of Chinese people who are being relocated to make way for a giant fake castle. According to Wednesday’s China Daily, “Qian Weizhong, director of the economy committee of Nanhui district, said residents had moved off the land targeted for Shanghai Disneyland, in suburban Chuansha town.” We all know what that means. The “residents had moved” could translated as “the residents were moved.” Anyhow, Disney, who refused to acknowledge any new development in China, said that it would only comment on its existing failed venture in China, Hong Kong Disneyland, and not any future failing ventures. But the ball is rolling on Shanghai Disney, which will occupy 6.7 square kilometers in the Nanhui district of Pudong, 4 times the size of its Hong Kong counterpart. Authorities have begun construction on a Disneyland exit to the A20 highway in Pudong and plan on putting a Disneyland stop on the upcoming Metro Line 11. They could build a teleportation device to Shanghai Disneyland, and Chinese people still probably wouldn’t be the slightest bit interested in going. And if they were, then Hong Kong Disneyland might not have been such disaster. That place has offered discounted ticket promotions about as many times as the “It’s A Small World” ride operator has heard that song. Disney is an American thing. It’s hard to adore Donald Duck and Goofy in China when both of them would be more suited for a lunch menu than a theme park.Correction: Shanghai Disneyland will occupy 6.7 square kilometers, not 6.7 square meters. Thanks to Yokie Kuma for reading the posts so carefully.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

WASHINGTON, Nov. 13 — Federal agents investigating the Sept. 16 episode in which Blackwater security personnel shot and killed 17 Iraqi civilians have found that at least 14 of the shootings were unjustified and violated deadly-force rules in effect for security contractors in Iraq, according to civilian and military officials briefed on the case. The F.B.I. investigation into the shootings in Baghdad is still under way, but the findings, which indicate that the company’s employees recklessly used lethal force, are already under review by the Justice Department. Prosecutors have yet to decide whether to seek indictments, and some officials have expressed pessimism that adequate criminal laws exist to enable them to charge any Blackwater employee with criminal wrongdoing. Spokesmen for the Justice Department and the F.B.I. declined to discuss the matter. The case could be one of the first thorny issues to be decided by Michael B. Mukasey, who was sworn in as attorney general last week. He may be faced with a decision to turn down a prosecution on legal grounds at a time when a furor has erupted in Congress about the administration’s failure to hold security contractors accountable for their misdeeds. Representative David E. Price, a North Carolina Democrat who has sponsored legislation to extend American criminal law to contractors serving overseas, said the Justice Department must hold someone accountable for the shootings. “Just because there are deficiencies in the law, and there certainly are,” Mr. Price said, “that can’t serve as an excuse for criminal actions like this to be unpunished. I hope the new attorney general makes this case a top priority. He needs to announce to the American people and the world that we uphold the rule of law and we intend to pursue this.” Investigators have concluded that as many as five of the company’s guards opened fire during the shootings, at least some with automatic weapons. Investigators have focused on one guard, identified as “turret gunner No. 3,” who fired a large number of rounds and was responsible for several fatalities. Investigators found no evidence to support assertions by Blackwater employees that they were fired upon by Iraqi civilians. That finding sharply contradicts initial assertions by Blackwater officials, who said that company employees fired in self-defense and that three company vehicles were damaged by gunfire. Government officials said the shooting occurred when security guards fired in response to gunfire by other members of their unit in the mistaken belief that they were under attack. One official said, “I wouldn’t call it a massacre, but to say it was unwarranted is an understatement.” Among the 17 killings, three may have been justified under rules that allow lethal force to be used in response to an imminent threat, the F.B.I. agents have concluded. They concluded that Blackwater guards might have perceived a threat when they opened fire on a white Kia sedan that moved toward Nisour Square after traffic had been stopped for a Blackwater convoy of four armored vehicles. Two people were killed in the car, Ahmed Haithem Ahmed and his mother, Mohassin, a physician. Relatives said they were on a family errand and posed no threat to the Blackwater convoy. Investigators said Blackwater guards might have felt endangered by a third, and unidentified, Iraqi who was killed nearby. But the investigators determined that the subsequent shootings of 14 Iraqis, some of whom were shot while fleeing the scene, were unprovoked. Under the firearms policy governing all State Department employees and contractors, lethal force may be used “only in response to an imminent threat of deadly force or serious physical injury against the individual, those under the protection of the individual or other individuals.” A separate military review of the Sept. 16 shootings concluded that all of the killings were unjustified and potentially criminal. One of the military investigators said the F.B.I. was being generous to Blackwater in characterizing any of the killings as justifiable. Anne E. Tyrrell, a Blackwater spokeswoman, said she would have no comment until the F.B.I. released its findings. Although investigators are confident of their overall findings, they have been frustrated by problems with evidence that hampered their inquiry. Investigators who arrived more than two weeks after the shooting could not reconstruct the crime scene, a routine step in shooting inquiries in the United States. Even the total number of fatalities remains uncertain because of the difficulty of piecing together what happened in a chaotic half-hour in a busy square. Moreover, investigators could not rely on videotapes or photographs of the scene, because they were unsure whether bodies or vehicles might have been moved. Bodies of a number of victims could not be recovered. Metal shell casings recovered from the intersection could not be definitively tied to the shootings because, as one official described it, “The city is littered with brass.” In addition, investigators did not have access to statements taken from Blackwater employees, who had given statements to State Department investigators on the condition that their statements would not be used in any criminal investigation like the one being conducted by the F.B.I. An earlier case involving Blackwater points to the difficulty the Department of Justice may be facing in deciding whether and how to bring charges in relation to the Sept. 16 shootings. A Blackwater guard, Andrew J. Moonen, is the sole suspect in the shooting on Dec. 24 of a bodyguard to an Iraqi vice president. Investigators have statements by witnesses, forensic evidence, the weapon involved and a detailed chronology of the events drawn up by military personnel and contractor employees. But nearly 11 months later, no charges have been brought, and officials said a number of theories had been debated among prosecutors in Washington and Seattle without a resolution of how to proceed in the case. Mr. Moonen’s lawyer, Stewart P. Riley of Seattle, said he had had no discussions about the case with federal prosecutors. Some lawmakers and legal scholars said the Sept. 16 case dramatized the need to clarify the law governing private armed contractors in a war zone. Workers under contract to the Defense Department are subject to the Military Extraterritorial Jurisdiction Act, or MEJA, but many, including top State Department officials, contend that the law does not apply to companies like Blackwater that work under contract to other government agencies, including the State Department. Representative Price’s bill would extend the MEJA legislation to all contractors operating in war zones. The bill passed the house 389 to 30 last month and is now before the Senate. He said it cannot be applied retroactively to the Sept. 16 case, but he said that the guards who killed the Iraqis must be brought to justice, under the War Crimes Act or some other law.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

With the Beyoncé Experience in the rear view mirror and the Linkin Park Shanghai concert just around the bend, it’s clear that the old attitudes toward Western-minded cultural events in Shanghai, and mainland China in general, have changed drastically. Just two years ago, the announcement of an Ice-T concert at the now defunct Pegasus Club in Shanghai was described as “Breaking News” on the media site Danwei. China has come a long way from those old days of when Ice-T, Richard Marx and Michael Bolton were the major international draws. China-based promoters are now faced with the task of welcoming two of the biggest world tours to Shanghai just 15 days apart. While this may seem like a blessing more than a curse, China’s demand for live international acts may have outgrown the infrastructure in place to support these massive productions.A Washington Post story over the weekend examines the concert market in mainland China and how this new concert industry operates under the connections, corruption and confusion of old China. Here’s an excerpt from the story:Live events in China have been government-controlled since the Communists took power in 1949.Until recently, “the government would select a state-run or related company to organize an event,” says Li Bin, marketing manager at promoter Beijing Gehua Live Nation Entertainment. “If you had connections with the government or that company, you’d get a bunch of tickets for free.”The hangover from that culture means selling tickets to the public can be difficult, while local authorities and others may still expect free ones.“These days,” Li says, “paying for a ticket is like losing face — it means you’re not well connected.”And here’s a bit about how scalpers get their hands on so many tickets for these events.China has a major ticket-scalping problem, mainly because some venue operators and government officials demand “huge” numbers of free tickets in exchange for green-lighting events, says Archie Hamilton, CEO of Beijing-based promoter Split Works, which handled Sonic Youth’s China shows in April.“They give the tickets to the huangniu (scalpers) to sell at whatever they can get,” Hamilton notes.Fake tickets proved a major problem at Avril Lavigne’s August 15 Qi Zhong Tennis Centre show in Shanghai.“We turned away many disappointed fans who had purchased fakes, often unknowingly,” Emma Ticketmaster marketing director Robb Spitzer says.Unlike most major cities where ticket scalping is regulated and undercover police officers weed out fake ticket vendors, in China’s major cities, scalping is part of the game. In a sense, Beijing and Shanghai, in particular, have taken a total Chinese attitude toward managing live music events. Similar to how Hu Jintao describes “democracy with Chinese characteristics,” these concerts featuring Beyoncé and Linkin Park are simply Western shows, aimed at the expats and Chinese elite, with Chinese characteristics. Tickets are delivered by couriers and paid for in cash. The content of the shows is censored carefully by China’s Ministry of Culture. Finally, when it comes to procuring a ticket to one of these shows, like everything else in China, if you don’t know nobody, you’re nobody.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Several Palestinians were killed and dozens were wounded in Gaza today when a mass rally to mark the third anniversary of the death of Yasir Arafat, the longtime Palestinian leader, ended in armed clashes. The official Palestine Authority television reported that seven people had been killed and more than 150 had been wounded. A doctor at Shifa Hospital in Gaza City, Fathi Abu Warda, said that at least six people had been killed and more than 100 were injured. Tens of thousands of Gazans turned out to honor Mr. Arafat, the founder of the Fatah movement. It was the largest show of support in Gaza for Fatah, the mainstream Palestinian organization, since the rival Islamic group Hamas seized the territory in an armed struggle last June. Different Fatah officials estimated attendance at the rally at somewhere between 250,000 and 500,000. Hamas and Fatah traded blame for the outbreak of the violence. Ahmed Helles, a senior Fatah leader in Gaza, said that Hamas militants had opened fire on the people at the rally because they “didn’t like the scene of such a large number of Fatah supporters participating in the rally.” According to The Associated Press, Hamas security officials said they fired toward protesters who threw stones at security compounds. But the Interior Ministry, run by Hamas, said in a statement that Fatah gunmen had opened fire on its police officers in several areas in Gaza. Among the injured was one Hamas policeman who was shot in the head, according to news reports. Speaking at a rally in Ramallah on Sunday, the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, of Fatah, denounced the takeover of Gaza by Hamas and called on Hamas to retreat from its “black coup.” Borrowing phrases from the Koran, he appealed to God to set Ismail Haniya, the Hamas leader in Gaza, back on the rightly guided path, to cheers from the crowd. A Fatah spokesman in Gaza said on Sunday that the Hamas police had confiscated thousands of hats, scarves and Arafat posters meant for the rally today in Gaza City. The Hamas police confirmed the raid, saying that the materials had been allowed to pass through a crossing from Israel into Gaza while Israel restricts the entry of food and fuel.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

The cyber school for killers

A group of young people who idolised the Columbine High School killers may have shared information on the internet
The YouTube killer who shot dead eight members of his school in Finland before turning his gun on himself had internet contacts with an American teenager who was planning a shooting spree in a high school in Philadelphia, it was claimed yesterday.

The disclosure could turn upside down previous assumptions about the dynamics of school massacres. Until now, teenage killers were regarded as depressed loners whose imagination had been stoked by aggressive computer games. Now it seems that information may have been shared by potential killers over the internet: a virtual community of young people who idolise the 1999 Columbine High School murders.

“It’s highly probable that there was some form of contact between Pekka-Eric Auvinen and Dillon Cossey,” a spokesman for the cyber crime department of Helsinki police said. Dillon Cossey, 14, was arrested last month on suspicion of planning to storm his old school, Plymouth Whitemarsh. Police acting on a tipoff found a 9mm semi-automatic rifle, handmade grenades, a .22 pistol and a .22 single-shot rifle at his home. Less than two weeks later Auvinen, already a member of a shooting club, was buying his first gun — a .22 pistol — and expressing interest in a 9mm semi-automatic.

Police do not believe this to have been a coincidence. The two youths are thought to have made contact over two MySpace groups, “RIP Eric and Dylan” — a reference to Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, who killed 12 schoolmates at Columbine — and “Natural Selection”.

Dillon Cossey used the alias Shadow 19462 on internet forums. Overweight and bullied, he had been withdrawn from Plymouth Whitemarsh and was resentful. His MySpace profile lauded the Columbine killers as heroes.The 18- year-old Finnish killer made a rambling testimony on YouTube, clearly drawing on the rhetoric used in the Natural Selection group and related chat rooms. His YouTube account — under the pseudonym Sturmgeist89 — included snippets from violent films, shots of him posing with his “beloved” pistol and tributes to other mass murderers. It was viewed 200,000 times before being closed down after the Finnish high school killings on Wednesday.

Police are trying to establish whether the Jokela massacre was in some way a copycat event or whether it resulted from an exchange of tips across the internet. Across Europe cyber-crime experts are nervous that some of the abuses on the net committed by Islamic fanatics could become a model for other marginalised groups. The diaries of the Columbine killers also give detailed guidance about their crime.

The two 18-year-olds in Columbine had planned to set the school on fire to spread panic. This appears to have also featured in the plans of Auvinen. However, he brought only a small quantity of lighter fuel, not enough to cause a blaze. Instead he relied on an enormous cache of ammunition for his Sig Sauer Mosquito handgun. He pumped 68 bullets into his eight victims; the 69th he shot into his own skull. Police found 500 rounds of unused ammunition in his rucksack.

“We have to look out for the warning signs,” said Tonni Karpela, a Finnish security expert. “Plainly there is a problem if a young person openly espouses violence and regards it as a solution.” Finnish authorities were trying to piece together the clues on the internet and in the classroom. More concrete measures to protect schools have been ruled out. “I am firmly against metal detectors in schools,” Mr Karpela said. “That won’t make pupils feel better or more secure.”

The Government has said that it will look again at gun control regulations but it is unlikely that they will be tightened severely. Guns are common in Finland: 56 per cent of the population owns one. Everybody over the age of 15 can apply for a gun permit; usually the applicants are hunters. Auvinen was a member of the Helsinki Shooting Club, which enjoys some notoriety in the capital. Eight years ago a member suffering from schizophrenia shot three men dead.

“If we suspect anyone of being mentally sick we will not accept him as a member of the club,” Mari Kiuru, the owner of the club, said. Auvinen showed no outward sign of psychological problems, even though his schoolmates noted that he talked obsessively about his gun.

Unlike in the case of Dillon Cossey there is no sign that Auvinen’s parents were drawn into his fantasy world. Dillon Cossey’s mother has been arrested in America for buying weapons for her son. Auvinen’s parents are regarded as somewhat bohemian in the small dormitory township of Jokela. His father plays part time in a jazz band and composes his own music; Auvinen’s mother is an activist for the Greens. They are regarded as stalwart members of the community and neighbours describe them as a “normal family”. Since Wednesday they have been living under police protection.

Friday, November 9, 2007

Mark O'Dwyer owes his life to a 14-year-old punk rocker and an edgy television science program.The 54-year-old was waiting at Lisarow train station on the Central Coast at 2.45pm on October 19 when he fainted and toppled two metres from the platform onto the tracks below, as a freight train bore down on the station.Julian Shaw, who is 180 centimetres tall and weighs 70 kilograms, was travelling home from school with classmates when he saw Mr O'Dwyer, who is 187 centimetres tall and weighs 110 kilograms, fall. Julian leapt into action."I jumped down on to the tracks, lifted him off the ground and put him on my shoulder - he was heavy but there was enough adrenaline rushing through to help me," said Julian, who is in year 9 at Lisarow High School and plays guitar in punk rock band Checkered Fist.With the train "just a couple of metres away", Julian moved the North Gosford resident to the edge of the track and rolled him under the platform.But danger was not totally averted."[As the train roared past] the noise pierced your ears and there was a suction that pulled us in," Julian said."I'd seen that on MythBusters, so I stayed right back and pulled Mark back towards me."The train eventually passed safely, and the pair chatted until ambulance officers arrived."What an amazing young man," said Mr O'Dwyer, recovering at home with a back injury, three fractured ribs, a fractured shoulder, damaged knee and general bruising."What he did was amazing. He took it upon himself and saved my life."I was very emotional [afterwards], I gave him a hug and thanked him for saving my life."Mr O'Dwyer said teenagers usually did not get much positive publicity, but it was important to "highlight when someone of this age group stands up and does what Julian's done"."I had my girlfriend make him a medallion recognising his bravery, humanity, and what he did," he said.The Department of Education has also sent Julian a formal letter of commendation.Julian has already written a song about the incident for his band, featuring the chorus "I saved your soul".He couldn't explain what spurred him to help Mr O'Dwyer - a stranger - despite the danger to himself."It was scary [but] I probably would have felt heaps bad if I didn't jump in," he said."Everyone at school knows about it - kids are buying me ice-blocks and hamburgers."Julian's proud mother, Rachel, said the public reaction to Julian's brave deed had surprised her."A lot of people have called up saying 'I don't think I could've done what he did,' " she said.

Really good news out of Beijing Thursday for those Olympic athletes who are devoutly religious. Bibles will be permitted in the Olympic Village during the Beijing Summer Games. Not only permitted, but according to Olympic organizers, they are welcome. I know some of you Flumesday readers abroad might be thinking, “why wouldn’t Bibles be welcome in Beijing next summer?” And sound question. Well earlier this week the Catholic News Agency (who knew that Catholic news required its own agency?) published a report that cited Italian newspaper La Gazetta as saying that Bibles were included on the list of prohibited items in the Olympic Village. The story spread about as fast as the legs of a godless harlot, appearing in all major news wires in America, Europe and Asia. Fox News reported this week that bibles and items such as video cameras and cups would be banned. Cups? Well late Thursday, China said that the Bible ban was “an “intentional distortion of the truth” and that Bibles would be allowed at the Olympics. But only one. Seriously. According to the Olympic website, “Each traveler is recommended to take no more than one Bible into China.” Because more than one would imply that you might be spreading the good word around the Olympic Village. Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao assured those religious athletes that religious services for Christians, Jews, Muslims and Hindus would be offered in the Olympic Village. He said, “According to the Provisions on the Administration of Religious Activities of Aliens Within the Territory of the People’s Republic of China, foreigners are allowed to bring in religious publications, audio-video materials or other objects for personal use.” Pretty much everything except for cups.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

No Smoking…Even at Home

Not to sound like Bill O’Reilly by proclaiming “wars” on things, but it appears there really is a war on cigarette smokers in America. I feel compelled to begin by saying that smoking is harmful to your health and leads to lung cancer, emphysema and bad breath. And kids, it doesn’t make you look older or cooler. In theory, the prohibition of smoking in public places seems reasonable as one of the fundamental roles of government in a civilized society is protecting one citizen from the harm of another. So in the case of a bar, restaurant or any other enclosed space where a non-smoker can be harmed by a smoker’s cigarette, it seems fair enough that lawmakers protect non-smokers from the effects of cigarette smoke. The problem I had with city-wide smoking bans, like the one in New York City, wasn’t that bars are going to suck without smoking, but rather that once you give smoke-free activists an inch, they take a mile. And sometimes more like 3 miles. A New York Times story Monday depicts the newest trend in the war on smokers, a push by various legislative bodies and real estate companies to ban smoking inside people’s homes. According to the Times, this year two California cities banned smoking inside individual units of residential buildings and two major real estate companies with holdings in various states have followed suit. Moreover, thousands of individual housing complexes are imposing bans on cigarette smoke inside apartments, on balconies and on rooftops. First of all, it always strikes me ridiculous that California, the state that contains the 12 most polluted counties anywhere in America in terms of air quality, complains so much about cigarette smoke. Second and most important, when did Americans surrender their individual property rights to the smoke-free movement. Granted, I live in China, but I missed this memo on this. The Flumesday Legal Correspondent researched this issue and found that the Fair Housing Act, part of the 1968 Civil Rights Act, expressly outlaws “interfering with a person’s enjoyment or exercise of housing rights based on discriminatory reasons.” And while this correspondent holds no credible legal degree, he does pull up some nice facts. Smoking isn’t against the law and a local government doesn’t have the right to tell people they can’t do it behind closed doors. And if the basis is that it damages the air quality of the hallway outside of the apartment, then by that same principle, my housing complex in Shanghai would be justified in prohibiting my neighbor from cooking nasty-smelling shit every evening at around six. The point is, Americans pride themselves on freedom and are so quick to throw epithets like “fascist” and “police state” at their ideological enemies, namely the Chinese. But instead of worrying about how China should become more like the U.S., Americans should begin to worry about how the U.S. is becoming more like China.

Monday, November 5, 2007

Monday night, for the first time ever, those Shanghai residents crazy in love with the R&B star Beyoncé Knowles will get to experience her music up close and personal at the Shanghai Grand Stage. Beyoncé’s Shanghai stop is part of the 8-stop Asia leg of her “The Beyoncé Experience” world tour, a seven-month sweep of five continents and over 90 cities. “The Beyoncé Experience” features an all-female band and a set list that includes such kiddy classics as “Crazy in Love,” “Baby Boy,” “Déjà Vu,” “Irreplaceable” and some of those old Destiny Child jams like “Say My Name,” “Bug a Boo” and “Soldier.” And those of you who like shiny costumes, you’re in for a treat — the singer will change six times and according to Emma Entertainment, the concert promoter, most every costume is silver. Emma told state-run Xinhua that the show will showcase “the most imaginative choreography ever to have graced the Shanghai Grand Stage” which if you ask me, is a swipe at another soulful songstress who performed at this venue in June, someone who goes by the name “Xtina.” I guess they’re just trying to sell tickets. Of which there are many still available. Only the 2000RMB ($275) seats are sold out. It is a familiar pattern in Shanghai that only the most expensive seats sell out quickly and I’ll tell you why. Half these seats go to wealthy Western expats who are so tormented by the guilt of raising their Western children in mainland China, that when a Beyoncé concert comes to town, the whole family’s gonna sit front row. And the other half goes to super rich Shanghainese, who despite knowing not one song of Beyoncé’s, would never miss the opportunity to be front and center at a glitzy American cultural event like “The Beyoncé Experience.” Beyoncé said of the Shanghai show, “China is one of the few countries that I haven’t had the opportunity to travel to and experience. I’m so honored that China is welcoming me as well as my band, dancers and staff. I’m very excited to meet the fans and embrace the culture.” Beyoncé’s entourage includes around 80 people, including her mother/stylist Tina Knowles who makes sure that Beyoncé’s hair gets did. Beyoncé was slated to perform in Shanghai alongside her boyfriend Jay-Z last October, however China’s censors canceled the show due to the graphic nature of the rapper’s lyrics.

Sunday, November 4, 2007

The Beijing Daily, perhaps China’s best resource for bizarre stories, reported Sunday that over 3,000 Chinese babies have been named “Olympics,” as an homage to the 2008 Beijing Games. The paper said that since 2000, when Beijing was bidding for the Games, records show that 3,491 kids have been given the Chinese name 奥运, pronounced aoyun, the Chinese word that means “Olympics.” Considering the girl who makes my coffee at Starbucks is named “Zero” and Lady Flumesday came across a “sandwich artist” at Subway named “Silence,” the name “Olympics” sounds kind of pretty. It’s not so far off from the name Olympia, the name of a certain actress who won a little something called an Academy Award for her role in the 1987 film Moonstruck (see photo). And while in this case, the name Olympia belongs to a unquestionably feminine aged beauty, it isn’t so clear whether “Olympics” is a girl’s name or a boy’s name. According to the AP, who translated the story, the vast majority of those named “Olympics” are boys. And only six of them live in Beijing, the host city. Not only this, but parents are naming their kids after the Olympic mascots, the Five Friendlies. As the AP points out, this strange trend in naming is not only a product of a creepily nationalistic pride for the Olympics, but rather the fact that everyone in China has the same name and the Chinese are looking for some new names. If you, like me, still think it’s stupid to name your child “Olympics,” consider this: would you rather have this unique name or be one of the 5,598 people walking around China with the name Yao Ming?

Saturday, November 3, 2007

Colbert Dropped rom Ballot

Thursday, Stephen Colbert, the host of Comedy Central’s satirical news show “The Colbert Report,” learned that his native state of South Carolina had denied his application to appear on the state’s primary ballot as a candidate for President of the United States. Colbert, who officially announced his candidacy on his own show on October 16, complied with all of the known bureaucratic and financial rules governing a presidential bid. According to the New York Times, Colbert paid the required $2,500 fee by Thursday’s deadline in order to be considered. However, the chairwoman of South Carolina’s Democratic Party said that the denial of Colbert’s application was based on his inability to meet two requirements: that he be generally consider a viable candidate and that he would actively campaign for support. But the 13-3 council vote to block Colbert’s campaign seems a bit unfair. First of all, on Sunday, Colbert went to his home state’s capital of Columbia to garner support and not only did Columbia’s mayor give Colbert the key to the city, but he proclaimed the day “Stephen Colbert Day.” I don’t know of any other candidates who could claim such support in the Palmetto State. And second, a Rasmussen poll last week found that Colbert is favored by 2.3% of Democratic voters, which puts him tied with Senator Joe Biden and makes him a more viable candidate than Mike Gravel, Bill Richardson and Dennis Kucinich. Moreover, an Editor and Publisher article points out that Colbert’s 2.3% support comes only after a week of announcing his candidacy, and if the comic were to gain support at this alarming rate, he would be the leading Democratic candidate before the end of November. Furthermore, the Facebook group dedicated to Colbert’s election has attracted nearly 900,000 members, the most of any political association on the site. So shame on South Carolina for effectively squashing the candidacy of a perfectly viable candidate. Colbert’s candidacy and his overwhelming support, mostly from young voters, highlights a sad truth about America — presidential politics has become a joke. And in a time where most of the “real” candidates — the George Bushes, the Fred Thompsons, the Dennis Kuciniches — are laughable, why not go all the way and elect an actual comedian?

Friday, November 2, 2007

A University of Washington professor announced that he and his team are able to create 3D statues like the one pictured at right by overlaying dozens of photos from Flickr. As he said in the release, "The big breakthrough here is being able to compute very accurate 3D models from people's vacation photos." The professor came up with a software tool called Photo Tourism, which allows them to compute depth based on using the various angles that tourists have taken pictures from. As the German co-author explained, "You get multiple views from different points of a scene, and then you find the same point in different views and infer from that the depth of the object." Urine as Chemical Fingerprint: University of Liverpool scientists have discovered that female mice identify potential mates by a series of proteins in the male mice's urine. Apparently, the ladies pick their mates based on who has most recently urinated on the floor. The discovery could lead to an explanation of alpha-male behavior at frat parties. The team also came up with an excellent new acronym: MUP, or major urinary proteins. As the lead researcher put it, "Each individual has a slightly different set of proteins, allowing each animal to be easily recognised. Our results demonstrate that this protein 'barcode' allows females to identify individual males accurately."

Thursday, November 1, 2007

‘Don Vito’ Gets Pinched

Vincent Margera, known to fans of the MTV reality show Viva La Bam as “Don Vito,” was convicted Wednesday of two counts of sexual assault on a child and could face life in prison. The obese, often sweaty, often tormented uncle of prankster Bam Margera reportedly collapsed in court as his conviction was read and screamed, “Just kill me now.” Witnesses also claimed he yelled to the court, “You can all go rot in fucking hell.” As the story goes, Don Vito made an appearance at the Colorado Mills Mall in Lakewood, Colorado in August of last year and scores of Viva fans showed up to meet the 51-year-old reality star. According to a San Francisco Chronicle article last week, Vito showed up so unbelievably drunk to the event that he not only groped the tits and ass of two 12-year-old girls and one 14-year-old girl, but he also pissed his pants. The prosecutor in Vito’s trial described Margera’s behavior as “out of control.” During the trial, Vito’s sister-in-law April Margera testified that she had never seen him grope young girls before. Prosecutors promptly impugned April’s testimony when they showed the court multiple photographs of Vito groping and kissing girls’ breasts. On Thursday, MTV published an article claiming Don Vito is on suicide watch in a Colorado jail where he will be held until his December 20 sentencing. As a fan of Viva La Bam, it’s sad to find out that Don Vito is actually the crass, bumbling bum that he appears to be on TV. My favorite Vito moment is when Bam’s gang dug a 30-foot tunnel that led to the floor of Vito’s bedroom. As they popped through the carpet, Vito goes in his thick Philly accent, “Whata you, retarded or something?” Perhaps someone needs to ask that same question to Vito.