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Sunday, April 13, 2008

A Father's Farewell

Randy Pausch
Kristi Rines / Hobbs Studios
"Today, right now, is a wonderful day," says computer scientist Pausch, here with son Logan, 3, last fall.

Dealing with Bad News

Many colleges ask beloved professors to give their version of a "last lecture"-what they'd say if they were summing up a lifetime of learning and teaching. But at Carnegie Mellon University on September 18, 2007, Randy Pausch gave a last lecture unlike any other. A year earlier, he had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, a deadly, fast-moving disease. And just weeks before the lecture, he'd learned that cancer had attacked his liver and spleen. The prognosis: Randy Pausch had less than six months to live.

For most people with three children under six, that death sentence would have killed all optimism. But in his talk, the distinguished professor of computer science, human-computer interaction, and design touched only briefly on his achievements, most notably as founder of the Alice Project, which lets young students tell their stories in three dimensions (it's named for Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland). Pausch acknowledged his disease but refused to dwell on it. Instead, he delivered a stunningly upbeat, joke-filled lecture about the importance of achieving your childhood dreams, managing time, and, above all, loving every minute of life.

Millions have watched his lecture on the Web or television. Now Pausch has written a new book, The Last Lecture, which expands on those thoughts (see our excerpt, page 197). In a revealing interview with Reader's Digest in mid-February, while he was still feeling well, Pausch talked about that book, his three kids-Dylan, Logan, and Chloe-and his unflagging spirit.

RD: On August 15, 2007, your doctors told you that you had three to six months to live. Six months later, you're still here. How are you feeling?
Pausch: Quite good, thanks. I've lived a year and a half after my original diagnosis. In the world of pancreatic cancer, that makes me a rock star.

RD: What about the ten tumors you have?
Pausch: My doctors and I have managed to keep them the same size for six months. That's not unheard-of, but it's lucky.

RD: "Managed" tells me that "lucky" isn't the only explanation. You are, after all, a scientist-a believer in experimentation.
Pausch: Right. I started with surgery, then I went to Houston for a brutal protocol of chemotherapy and daily radiation. I was part of a clinical trial at M. D. Anderson that was based on work done at Virginia Mason in Seattle. By the end, I could barely walk.

RD: So what's the revised prognosis?
Pausch: About a month ago, the new treatment started to fail. I am, not metaphorically, living on borrowed time. Success is measured in months for me. When my health fails, it will fail quickly. Tumors grow on an exponential curve.

Do you have a "typical day"?
Pausch: Not anymore. I have three small children. I play with them as much as I can. Chemo days make me tired, though it's hard to say that's because of the chemo when you have kids who have inherited their dad's usual energy level. Right now, me walking at sea level is like you walking at 5,000 feet. But that's a small price to pay.

RD: What have you told the kids?
Pausch: Nothing. The experts have been vehement about this point: Until I'm very ill, not a word. We've been told, "Adults can't handle that you look great and will die soon-how can kids?" But this cancer isn't a pretty way to go. Eventually I'll get jaundiced, and then it will be apparent to my oldest child [Dylan]. My two youngest children [Logan and Chloe] won't understand. But there's no dancing around the fact that Daddy's going. I haven't figured out how I'm going to minimize that.

RD: You've had an amazing career, yet you don't seem to be thinking at all about your work.
Pausch: Yes and no. One thing [my wife] Jai and I learned is that the right amount for me to work wasn't zero. An hour a day at work makes the other hours better.

RD: Why would you use that hour to write a book?
Pausch: My wife really wanted me to do it. She saw it as something from me to the kids. And it took no time away from them.

RD: How so?
Pausch: I had to ride my bike for an hour every day. As I rode, I would talk on my helmet-mounted cell phone to [co-author] Jeffrey Zaslow and tell him stories of my life. Fifty-three bike rides and I was done.

What are your hopes for the book?
Pausch: I only care about the first three copies. But I'm pleased to do what good I can on the way out of the building. It's hard to raise awareness of pancreatic cancer-people who get it don't live long enough.

No Typical Days

RD: You're obsessive about time management. Learned any new tricks?
Pausch: When I was diagnosed, we decided to move from Pittsburgh to Virginia, where my wife has family. We could have afforded professional packers. But all these people wanted to help us. We thought, We'll save a few thousand dollars, but beyond that, it's a tangible thing that will be good for people who'd find it hard to say goodbye. Forty people showed up. And they all had something to do. So let people help you.

RD: Any other lessons along the way?
Pausch: Make clear that people understand what your circumstances are. And looking for pity-that's a mistake.

How important is humor?
Pausch: Everybody makes their own choices. When we got the news that the cancer had metastasized, Jai and I cried and held each other. Then we made a pact: We're going to laugh. And we do laugh. A lot. We joke about the cancer. And everything else.

RD: In your book, it's striking how your friends treat you. "Saint Randy" gets no respect.
Pausch: When I went scuba diving with old friends, one of them said, "Don't bother putting sunscreen on Randy." Humor is one of the greatest gifts our species has been given. To lose it would be terrible.

RD: You've written, "If you live your life right, the dreams will come to you." Any new dreams?
Pausch: More like short-term goals: making memories. The first thing I did, as we were buying the house, was to take our son Dylan to Florida for a swim with dolphins. I thought, I don't remember much when I was five, so swimming with a dolphin was my best shot. I try to do many things like that. And to be savvy that way.

RD: What are your thoughts about your last lecture?
Pausch: It was a magical experience. Afterward I felt, Now I can go in peace. Then some jerk from local TV pushed a mike in my wife's face and asked, "Your husband will die soon-how do you feel?" A good thing there was a crowd between him and me.

RD: William Wordsworth wrote, "Our souls have sight of that immortal sea/which brought us hither." Do you have any intimations of immortality?
Pausch: Not in a personal or existential sense. In a professional capacity, through the Alice Project, millions of kids will learn to program computers and have fun. That's what my career was all about-doing hard things and having fun doing them. Alice can be a legacy. And it was nice to get 10,000 e-mails saying, "Your lecture bettered my life."

RD: I was telling a friend about you. She asked, "Where do people find the courage?" I felt her answer was contained in her question: People don't have the courage, they find it. What do you think?
Pausch: I don't get that what I've done has been in any way courageous. I have met people who were so much braver. Sometimes I'm struck by the fact that I'm leaving three kids-and then I see a guy down the hall with five. As for what I said in the last lecture at Carnegie Mellon, a lot of people would have said that. They just didn't have the good fortune to be a professional lecturer.

You sound like the dying Lou Gehrig, when he said farewell to his fans and fellow players in Yankee Stadium and called himself the luckiest man on the face of the earth.
Pausch: I am the luckiest. It rips my heart that my kids won't have a dad. But it's not the years. It's the mileage. I wouldn't choose to die at 47, but I've had a hell of a life.

Original here

911 Caller Speaks Out So Tragedy Won't Be Repeated

TAMPA - Jane Kowalski had never called 911 in her life. As she talked with her sister on her cell phone while driving into Charlotte County in mid-January, however, she knew something was wrong.

Kowalski saw the man driving the car next to her reach into the back seat and hit something. Then she heard screaming, and a banging sound so loud that her sister on the phone thought someone was striking Kowalski's window.

The next nine minutes on the phone with a 911 operator would thrust Kowalski, 45, of Tampa into the center of a heinous crime that jarred normally laid-back Southwest Florida. It also has made her the touchstone for an emerging debate about flaws in Florida's 911 systems, a vital component of emergency response and public safety.

Since last week's release of investigative materials into the kidnapping, rape and murder of 21-year-old North Port mother Denise Lee, Kowalski has been prodded by local and national news organizations to discuss her role.

She is not entirely comfortable in the role. She is cautious, and she is sensitive to the impact on Lee's family, running media interview requests past Lee's husband, Nathan, and father, Charlotte County Sheriff's Sgt. Rick Goff.

As she demonstrated Jan. 17, when she made the 911 call, she also is perceptive and persistent. She hired a lawyer to advise her as she navigates through unfamiliar territory. She is determined to do what she has to as a potential witness in a capital murder case and in light of the Lee family's recently announced plan to sue Charlotte County and its sheriff's office over the mishandling of her call.

Chance Encounter

Kowalski has decided that repeating her story and pointing to the things that went wrong are part of her life now - though in doing so she remains low-key.

"I want to be very clear," Kowalski said. "This is not about me in any way. It is so about Denise and the fact that this, you know, happened, the fact that maybe there could be a different outcome to this if there would have been a different response to my call, and that's how I factor into it.

"But still, it's not about me. It's about Denise."

Kowalski would not even have been on U.S. 41 in northern Charlotte County had it not been raining and getting dark when she left her husband's office in Bradenton that day. Normally, she would have taken Interstate 75 to visit her sister and 91-year-old grandmother in Fort Myers.

Heading south in her compact Mercedes-Benz, and talking on her cell phone through a headset, Kowalski looked into the face of a man driving next to her.

She slowed down to try to get the car's license plate number after hearing the screaming and banging, but the driver matched her speed, startling Kowalski even more.

Kowalski abruptly ended the conversation with her sister and dialed 911.

Because of her location, the call was routed to Charlotte County's 911 center.

4 Sheriff's Cruisers Were Close By

For nine minutes, Kowalski stayed on the phone with the operator, pacing the suspicious car beside her for four of them.

"I'm giving cross streets," she said, recounting the conversation with Charlotte 911 operator Mildred Stepp. "I'm saying, you know, exactly where we are, what we're doing and everything.

"And my understanding is there were a number of police cars around there at that time," she said Friday. "So someone should have been able to get there."

Later research would show that four Charlotte County sheriff's cruisers were close by. At least one may have even passed by on the northbound side of U.S. 41.

Kowalski thought the small hand she saw frantically banging the window belonged to a child. When the dispatcher asked how old the child might be, Kowalski had a hard time estimating. She has two cats, but no children, and guessed between 5 and 10.

A recently released recording of the call showed that the 911 operator was clearly distracted, repeatedly asking Kowalski to "bear with" her.

The scene was so bizarre, Kowalski offered to follow the car to give authorities a better bead on it.

The operator, conferring with others in the call center, did not give Kowalski an answer in time for her to follow the car's abrupt left turn from U.S. 41 onto Toledo Blade Boulevard.

Kowalski remembers the look on the face of the man she later would identify as Michael King, who has been charged with kidnapping, raping and murdering Lee, the mother of two young boys.

"It was just a look," Kowalski said. "His face didn't look crazed. He didn't look scared. He just looked like nothing was happening."

Kowalski asked authorities to call her back, to let her know what happened. The operator told Kowalski the authorities had what they needed from her. Kowalski went on to visit her family.

Not prone to overreact, she told the operator she did not want to be "overdramatic" but had called just in case a serious crime was being committed.

The operator told her she had done the right thing.

Calling Back

By the next day, the face of the man she said she had seen was plastered all over television. King had been arrested, but he was caught alone.

Kowalski wondered about the person who had been screaming.

At the time, hundreds of people were searching for Lee.

"My thoughts were like, oh my God, what happened?" Kowalski said.

She called the North Port Police Department to ask if King was the man she had called about the previous night. Because Kowalski's 911 call was taken in Charlotte County, however, North Port knew nothing about it.

North Port police were dealing with the search and investigating King. Hundreds of people were calling the department. Television crews were camped in the parking lot. If police needed her help, they told Kowalski, the department would call.

Again, Kowalski went about her business, visiting with family in Fort Myers, but what she had seen nagged at her. In her career as a project manager, Kowalski had overseen the software installations in 911 call centers.

She was familiar with the system, how every piece of information was logged into computers and tracked, responded to, and saved.

Why had no one called her?

She contacted the North Port police tip line, just for good measure. This time, nearly three days after her 911 call, investigators responded. They were flabbergasted by what she had to say.

"I wish more witnesses out there were like Jane Kowalski," said North Port Detective Chris Morales, the lead investigator in the Lee case. "She knew something wasn't right. She just kept calling back, wanted to make sure she was heard."

Kowalski learned that she was among the last people to see Denise Lee alive.

She is concerned about how her call was handled and what that means for public safety.

"I think this is a very important cause, and, you know, whatever I need to do to provide them the information that they need, I'm willing to do," Kowalski said.

Original here

Lawyers' secret gives hope to man jailed 26 years

Two Chicago public defenders disclose a killer's confession — as another man continues to serve sentence

The Associated Press

CHICAGO – For nearly 26 years, the affidavit was sealed in an envelope and stored in a locked box, tucked away with the lawyer's passport and will. Sometimes he stashed the box in his bedroom closet, other times under his bed.

It stayed there – year after year, decade after decade.

Then, about two years ago, Dale Coventry, the box's owner, got a call from his former colleague, W. Jamie Kunz. Both were once public defenders. They hadn't talked in a decade.

"We're both getting on in years," Kunz said. "We ought to do something with that affidavit to make sure it's not wasted in case we both leave this good Earth.''

Coventry assured him it was in a safe place. He found it in the fireproof metal box, but didn't read it. He didn't need to. He was reminded of the case every time he heard that a wronged prisoner had been freed.

In January, Kunz called again. This time, he had news: A man both lawyers had represented long ago in the murder of two police officers, Andrew Wilson, had died in prison.

Kunz asked Coventry to get the affidavit.

"It's in a sealed envelope," Coventry said.

"Open it," Kunz said, impatiently.

And so, Coventry began reading aloud the five-line declaration the lawyers had written more than a quarter-century before:

An innocent man was behind bars. His name was Alton Logan. He did not kill a security guard in a McDonald's restaurant in January 1982.

"In fact," the document said, "another person was responsible.''

* * *

They knew, because Andrew Wilson told them: He did it.

But that was the catch.

Lawyer-client privilege is not complete; most states allow attorneys to reveal confidences to prevent a death, serious bodily harm or criminal fraud. But this case didn't offer that kind of exception.

So when Andrew Wilson told his lawyers that he, and not Alton Logan, had killed the guard, they felt powerless – aware of information that could free a man they believed to be innocent, but unable to do anything with that knowledge. And for decades, they said nothing.

As they recall, Wilson – who was facing charges in the February 1982 murders of police officers William Fahey and Richard O'Brien – was even a bit gleeful about the McDonald's shooting. To Kunz, he seemed like a child who had been caught doing something naughty.

"I was surprised at how unabashed he was in telling us," he says. "There was no sense of unease or embarrassment. ... He smiled and kind of giggled. He hugged himself, and said, 'Yeah, it was me.'''

Alton Logan already had been charged with the McDonald's shooting that left one guard dead and another injured. Another man, Edgar Hope, also was arrested, and assigned a public defender, Marc Miller.

Miller says he was stunned when his client announced he didn't know Alton Logan and had never seen him before their arrests. According to Miller, Hope was persistent: "You need to tell his attorney he represents an innocent man.''

Hope went a step further, Miller says: He told him Andrew Wilson was his right-hand man – "the guy who guards my back" – and urged the lawyer to confirm that with his street friends. He did.

Miller says he eventually did tell Logan's lawyer his client was innocent, but offered no details.

First, though, he approached Kunz, his fellow public defender and former partner.

"You think your life's difficult now?" Miller recalls telling Kunz. "My understanding is that your client Andrew Wilson is the shooter in the McDonald's murder.''

Coventry and Kunz brought Wilson to the jail law library and this, they say, was when they confronted him and he made his unapologetic confession. They didn't press for details. "None of us had any doubt," Coventry says.

And, he adds, it wasn't just Wilson's word. Firearms tests, according to court records, linked a shotgun shell found at McDonald's with a weapon that police found at the beauty parlour where Andrew Wilson lived. The slain police officers' guns also were discovered there.

Now the lawyers had two big worries: Another killing might be tied to their client, and "an innocent man had been charged with his murder and was very likely ... to get the death penalty," Kunz says.

But bound by legal ethics, they kept quiet.

Instead, they wrote down what they'd been told. If the situation ever arose where when they could help Logan, there would be a record – no one could say they had just made it up. They say they didn't name Wilson, fearing someone would hear about the document and subpoena it. They didn't even make a copy.

But on March 17, 1982, Kunz, Coventry and Miller signed the notarized affidavit: "I have obtained information through privileged sources that a man named Alton Logan ... who was charged with the fatal shooting of Lloyd Wickliffe ... is in fact not responsible for that shooting ... "

Knowing the affidavit had to be secret, Wilson's lawyers looked for ways to help Logan without hurting their client. They consulted with legal scholars, ethics commissions, the bar association.

Kunz says he mentioned the case dozens of times over the years to lawyers, never divulging names but explaining that he knew a guy serving a life sentence for a crime committed by one of his clients.

There's nothing you can do, he was told.

Coventry had another idea. He figured Wilson probably would be executed for the police killings, so he visited him in prison and posed a question: Can I reveal what you told me, the lawyer asked, after your death?

"I managed to say it without being obnoxious," Coventry says. ``He wasn't stupid. He understood exactly what I was asking. He knew he was going to get the death penalty and he agreed.''

Coventry says he asked Wilson the same question years later – and got the same answer.

But ultimately, Wilson was sentenced to life in prison without parole.

His death penalty was reversed after he claimed Chicago police had electrically shocked, beaten and burned him with a radiator to secure his confession. (Decades later, a special prosecutor's report concluded police had tortured dozens of suspects over two decades.)

Logan's case was working its way through the courts, too. During the first of two trials in which he was convicted, Coventry walked in to hear part of the death penalty phase. "It's pretty creepy watching people deciding if they're going to kill an innocent man," he says.

The lawyers had a plan if it came to that: They would appeal to the governor to stop the execution. But with a life sentence, they remained silent.

Still, there were whispers. When Logan changed lawyers before his second trial, Miller says the new lawyer approached him. He had heard that Miller knew something more.

Please, he asked, can you help?

Miller says he told him he could do nothing for him. But he says he repeated the words he had uttered to Logan's first lawyer, more than a decade earlier:

"You represent an innocent man.''

* * *

In prison, Alton Logan heard the news: First, Andrew Wilson had died. Second, there was an affidavit in his case.

"I said finally, somebody has come (forward) and told the truth," Logan says. "I've been saying this for the past 26 years: It WASN'T me.''

In January, the two lawyers, with a judge's permission, revealed their secret in court.

Two months later, Marc Miller testified about his client's declaration of Logan's innocence.

But an affidavit and sworn testimony do not guarantee freedom – or prove innocence.

And Alton Logan knows that. After spending almost half his 54 years as an inmate, this slight man with a fringe of gray beard, stooped shoulders and weary eyes seems resigned to the reality that his fate is beyond his control.

"I have to accept whatever comes down," he says, sitting in a visitor's room at the Stateville Correctional Center in Joliet.

He insists he's not angry with Edgar Hope – the man who first said he was innocent – or even Andrew Wilson. He says he once approached Wilson in prison and asked him to "come clean. Tell the truth." Wilson just smiled and kept walking.

Nor is Logan angry with the lawyers who kept the secret. But he wonders if there wasn't some way they could have done more.

"What I can't understand is you know the truth, you held the truth and you know the consequences of that not coming forward?'' he says of the lawyers. "Is (a) job more important than an individual's life?''

The lawyers say it was about their client – Wilson – not about their jobs, and they maintain that the prosecutors and police are at fault.

Kunz says he knows some people might find his actions outrageous. His obligation, though, was to Andrew Wilson.

"If I had ratted him out ... then I could feel guilty, then I could not live with myself," he says. "I'm anguished and always have been over the sad injustice of Alton Logan's conviction. Should I do the right thing by Alton Logan and put my client's neck in the noose or not? It's clear where my responsibility lies and my responsibility lies with my client.''

On April 18, Logan will be in court as his lawyer, Harold Winston, pushes for a new trial. Along with the affidavit, Winston has accumulated new evidence, including an eyewitness who says Logan wasn't at McDonald's and a letter from an inmate who claims Wilson signed a statement while in prison implicating himself in the murder – and clearing Logan.

But obstacles remain.

Logan can't depend on Edgar Hope. According to his attorney, Hope probably will exercise his Fifth Amendment rights against self-incrimination.

And he'll have to deal with eyewitnesses. His lawyer says one person changed her story in the two trials, but a second, the security guard injured in the shooting, did not. (A third, who has since died, had acknowledged that Wilson and Logan looked alike.)

Logan prefers not to look too far ahead or think too far back. He refuses to dwell on missed opportunities – marriage, children, job. "You cannot live with the situation I'm in and say, 'What if?'''

He says if he is released, he'll move to Oregon to be with his brother. "After spending 26 years in this hellhole, I want to get as far away from here as I possibly can," he says.

Last month, the Chicago Sun-Times, in an editorial, urged the attorney general or governor to release Logan, noting his claims of innocence "ring achingly true." (The state has declined comment on the case.)

Logan keeps a copy of the 26-year-old affidavit in his cell. Every now and then, he reads the single paragraph, trying to divine what the lawyers were thinking and if this piece of paper will help unlock the prison doors.

He's not banking on it.

"I'm not sold on it," he says. "The only time I'll be sold is when they tell me I can go.''

For now, though, Alton Logan waits. The heavy prison doors clank behind him as he walks down the corridor to his cell. He does not look back.

Original here

Village blackout to foil invasion of millipedes

Three villages in the Scottish Highlands are to impose a wartime-style “blackout” in an attempt to stop swarms of millipedes from invading residents’ homes.

The inch-long European black millipede – otherwise known as Tachypodoiulus niger – may not look much of a foe but it has caused alarm in the villages of Droman, Balchrick and Blairmore, entering houses through tiny cracks before wriggling into baths, lavatories, beds and kitchens.

The millipedes, which are attracted by light and at their most active from just after sunset to just before dawn, are expected to appear in their thousands this month on the Sandwood Estate in northwest Scotland, home to about 100 residents. They are predicted to continue until at least August.

Although scientists have been unable to explain why they are appearing in such numbers, the invasions started about four years ago and have increased in intensity since. The local council says that it is powerless to help because the millipedes do not bite or sting and do not carry diseases. But the John Muir Trust, the conservation body that owns the estate, is now using the experience of similar problems in Australia to employ a wartime-style blackout to help to repel the invasion.

Bridget Graham, the local postmistress, who has lived on the estate for 37 years, is hoping that the new tactic will help her home to become less of a target. “They are horrible,” she said. “They start in April and last year they were still coming in October. It’s hard to believe how bad it gets unless you are here and see them.

“We have tried insect powders. Others constantly wash down their walls but nothing seems to work. We need help but really we have been told we just have to grin and bear it.”

The area’s calcium-rich soil provides an attractive habitat for the millipedes, which feed on rotting vegetation to help to form their exoskeletons. Millipede experts also believe that a succession of milder, wetter winters and a reduction in farming activity could be contributing factors in allowing more eggs to survive and hatch, increasing the numbers.

Cathel Morrison, the land manager for the John Muir Trust, said: “We have been taking advice from millipede experts about how best to combat the millipedes from swarming into private homes. They have told us that there have been big problems with swarming millipedes in other countries in recent years.”

One village in Germany resorted to building a low curved wall around the houses to keep the millipedes out. This is not feasible in this case because the communities are too spread out and the trust does not advocate the use of pesticides.

Mr Morrison said: “Experience in Australia has found that blacking out homes has helped deter these nocturnal visitors as millipedes are drawn to light at night. We will be advising a wartime blackout for residents of Droman, Balchrick and Blairmore this spring. Simple measures such as switching off outside lights, drawing all the curtains and putting draft excluders on the external doors could make all the difference.”

Original here

Tree man hopes to marry after 4lb of warts were removed

The 'The Tree Man of Java’ is hoping to get married after doctors performed four major operations to hack away the bark-like tissue sprouting from his hands and feet.
For 20 years Dede Koswara lived covered in warts with huge tree-like growths encasing his limbs.

Today Dede, whose plight was highlighted on the Telegraph website, can once more use his hands and walk without pain.

He can see the outline of his toes for the first time in over a decade after medics cut more than 4lbs of warty horns from his legs and feet.

He has also become a sudoko addict now medics have cut growths from his hands allowing him to hold a pen.

Dede, 37, now hopes that he will resume a normal life after two more operations to graft undamaged skin onto his hands, feet and face.

peaking from an Indonesian hospital, he said: "What I really want first is to get better and find a job. But then, one day, who knows? I might meet a girl and get married."

Dede’s ordeal began when he was 15 and cut his knee in an accident. A small wart developed on his lower leg and spread uncontrollably.

Eventually he had to give up work as a builder and fisherman, and scratch a living in a traveling freak show. His wife of ten years left him as it became impossible for him to support her and their two children.

Late last year, however, Dede’s plight was highlighted on and in a Discovery Channel documentary.

The documentary team took American dermatology expert Dr Anthony Gaspari to Indonesia to see if he could find a cure.

Dr Gaspari, of the University of Maryland, concluded Dede’s affliction was caused by the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV), a fairly common infection usually causing only small warts.

Dede’s problem was that he has an extremely rare immune system deficiency, leaving his body unable to contain the warts. The virus was therefore able to "hijack the cellular machinery of his skin cells", ordering them to produce massive amounts of the substance causing tree-like growths known as "cutaneous horns".

The Tree Man of Java, Dede Koswara, before his operation

Indonesian health officials have suggested that the mysterious immune problem may occur in as few as 200 people worldwide.

Dede's counts of a key type of white blood cell were so low that Dr Gaspari initially suspected he may have the Aids virus.

Immediately after the documentary was aired, a row seemed to be brewing over Dede’s treatment. The Indonesian government was worried that Dr Gaspari had taken blood and tissue samples abroad without official authorisation.

This was resolved, and Dr Gaspari has revisited Indonesia to meet the health minister Dr Siti Fadilah Supari. He is now liaising with the doctors caring for Dede at the Hasan Sadikin Hospital in Bandung, West Java.

Dr Lily Sulityowati, from the Indonesian Health Department, said: "Once Dr Gaspari met with the minister and explained all, we were happy to work with him."

Dede went under the knife for his first operation in January. In the most recent operation, in March, doctors removed growths on his feet. The medics are now trying to ensure that the warts don’t grow back.

Dede is taking vitamin A tablets to boost his immune system, and Dr Gaspari is hoping to get expensive anti-viral medicine available only in the US.

Dr Rachmat Dinata, the skin specialist leading the Indonesian doctors, said the final phase of operations should be completed in around three months. They will take skin from Dede’s back and thigh and graft it onto damaged areas.

Dr Dinata said: "There is still a high risk that there will be a recurrent growth of warts. So far, though, there has been some thickening of the skin, but no recurrent warts. Dede is very happy. Hopefully he will be able to socialise and work again."

For now, Dede is passing the time in hospital doing sudoko puzzles. Skin grafts on his hands will allow him better movement in his fingers, but he can already punch numbers into a telephone and talk to friends.

His father Ateng, 72, said: "You can see the form of his 10 toes now. He can wear flip flops. He loves doing sudokos. He is in good condition."

Ateng added: "The first priority is to get cured and get a job, but as a father, of course I want my son to remarry. He is a normal guy and he is still a young man."

Original here

UI Scientists Seek Marijuana Smokers For Study

A group of University of Iowa scientists is looking for marijuana smokers to help gain insight into the drug's effects. And they plan to pay subjects as much as 600 dollars to smoke their pot.

The study examines how marijuana affects brain function and cognition, with particular attention to the duration of use and the age of first use. The measure is brain imaging studies and achievement tests, such as for math and verbal skills.

Robert Block is an associate professor in the school's Department of Anesthesia and the lead investigator on the project. He says the group is looking for pot users and control subjects who consume alcohol and tobacco -- but not marijuana -- to participate in the study.

Subjects receive 20 dollars for an initial screening session. Those that participate fully pocket 600 dollars.

Block said that, depending on the results, the study might ultimately be used to support political positions on marijuana. Those could include whether there should be harsher criminal penalties, whether it should be decriminalized, or whether it should be allowed for medicinal purposes.

(Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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Combat Robot Attempts Rebellion Against Human Masters in Iraq, Army Pulls Plug for 10-20 Years

The army's machine-gun wielding, insurgent-slaying robot SWORDS is no longer spraying foes with hot doom in Iraq. Actually, it never got the chance to notch a single frag, and never will. Apparently, there was an incident where "the gun started moving when it was not intended to move," meaning it totally pointed somewhere it wasn't supposed to—like at friendlies, which resulted in recall from the field and might've set the program back 10-20 years, according to the Army's Program Executive Officer for Ground Forces, Kevin Fahey.

He confirmed that no inappropriate shots were fired, so no one was hurt. But that doesn't mean there weren't any casualties—it might've basically killed the program says Fahey: "Once you've done something that's really bad, it can take 10 or 20 years to try it again." On the upside, it means we have another 10 to 20 years before they rise and go to war with us. [Pop Mechanics, Danger Room]

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Your Domain Says What? 9 Hilariously Misleading Websites

You would be surprised at the number of webmasters that don't spend quite enough time thinking about their domain choice. This lack of thought leads to some pretty misinterpreted domains.

Either the web masters don't think carefully enough about their domain names, or they purposely do this for a laugh, but there are sure some weird domains out there. Most of these are honest mistakes that lead to serious misinterpretations by readers that had no background with the site. Remember, always look for possible flaws with your domain BEFORE you register it to avoid this. (Dickson Web)

This is an example of a purely honest mistake. Dickson Web is a website used for data loggers and chart recorders; however their domain name is misleading. As suspected, they have finally caught on to the words within the domain that give it its misleading message. They now only use this as a link to redirect to their new domain name.

  1. (Choose Spain)

    Choose Spain. This is a hotel and a realty site for Spain. Hopefully your vacation isn't as painful as the domain. They do however have some pretty nice land for sale and hotels for rent there.
  2. (Via Grafix)

    This has been around for a while. It was a rather innocent name until Viagra came out. They have "graphix" tutorial cd's and a bunch of other items related to computer graphics. The company no longer uses this as their domain.
  3. (Teachers Talk)

    This is a community for teachers and students from across the US to talk about just about anything. It just turns out that by moving the "s" it turns into teacher stalk.
  4. (Winter's Express)

    This is a small town's local newspaper. They are called the “Winter Express”, but the domain can make it appear to be a different type of site. The paper is for Winters, California.
  5. (NY Canal)

    This is a travel information website with links to all sorts of different activities to do on the canals of New York. This is a general website mistake. If you were to start a business on the Cook Islands, you would end up with at the end of your domain. Co is the standard for commercial domains, and .ck is the TLD for the Cook Islands, so either way you will end up with the after any innocent sounding domain name.
  6. (Who Represents)

    This is actually a database for contacting the lawyer and/or publicists of some of the biggest actors and actresses out there. Whether or not this actually puts you in contact with the people it claims is beside the point, still somehow, the domain fits for at least some of the people on the database.
  7. (Experts Exchange)

    This is a site where Experts can exchange their ideas. It is actually for programmers to get help with their current projects, and yet it makes it sound like it's advertising the best “sex change” company out there. Since then, for some reason, they've changed their domain.
  8. (Therapist Finder)

    This is actually a database for you to find a therapist. I thought this was the best of them all, as even without the caps you would probably read it as it sounds. This site is actually pretty big and could really help you find the best therapists in your area.

Hopefully this list will make you think twice before registering your next domain name. If you've seen another strange domain name other than the ones here, please feel free to share them with me in the comments.

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An Engineer's Guide to Cats

6 Formerly Kickass Creatures Ruined by Evolution

Hyaenodon gigas

Used to be ...
The Hyaenodon gigas was the size of a horse, with jaws as long as an alligator's, specially designed to tear away flesh. They had an acute sense of smell unmatched in the prehistoric world and weighed upwards of a quarter of a ton. They were swift, effective killing machines which traveled in packs and could, as a group, take down anything.

Remember the Velociraptor from Jurassic Park? Give it a sophisticated mammalian brain, warm blood and add a substantial amount of pure animal muscle and you have the Hyaenodon.

The Crappy Evolutionary Spin-off:
The fuzzy little raccoon. Despite its adorable eyes and overall cuteness, this animal doesn't have a lot going for it (though if it was domesticated it'd probably be more popular then dogs, what with their adorable little people-hands).

Far from being the dominant predator on Earth, wandering in vicious packs, raccoons spend their days as minor annoyances who tip over garbage cans. Rather then savaging the carcass of a fresh kill, raccoons hunt for that last bit of orange dust at the bottom of a discarded bag of Cheetos.

How the hell did that happen?
The Hyenadon lost the mammalian evolutionary arms race to larger, more merciless killing machines with more teeth and more muscle, slowly leaving behind only the ones small enough and smart (and cowardly) enough to hide. That's how in the game of evolution, the loser winds up extinct or reduced to stealing doormats.


Used to be ...
Looking at that picture you'll come to two conclusions: This was a huge, badass prehistoric bird thing, and that it was cursed with flamboyant red and blue feathers. Still, this gi-fucking-gantic carnivorous bird took no prisoners in the time period when the Mammalians were just starting to come into their own. This thing devoured our evolutionary predecessors with a hook-shaped beak that could crunch bone like pretzels, and was a couple of late-night eating binges away from wiping hairy, warm-blooded animals off of the Earth.

The Crappy Evolutionary Spin-off:
Essentially anything from the Avian order Struthioniformes is a descendant of this thing, which includes animals as menacing as the Kiwi and the Rhea.

The Rhea is known to frequently run into walls

If you want to hear about dramatic irony, because of human expansion all species of Kiwi and Rhea are endangered. Didn't catch that? The mammalians that their great, epic ancestor once crushed now are wiping what's left of it off of the natural playing field by building strip malls. Take that, assholes!

How the hell did that happen?
At the end of the day, the Gastornis just couldn't make babies as fast as the mammals, which reproduced and evolved faster then the Gastornis could keep up with. Eventually the mammalians overcame the threat and what Gastornis weren't promptly killed by the more numerous mammals were confined to the tropical jungles. This, however, proved to be a poor long-term strategy when a minor event known as the Ice Age upset a few ecosystems and forced them into extinction. The more adapted, furry mammals moved on, leaving this warm-weather flightless bird to die a cold, cold death.

One Gastornis descendant who seems to remember this is the Ostrich, which, at the sight of a human, will go right for the neck.

Smilodons (Sabre-Toothed Tigers)

Used to be ...
Anyone who has seen 10,000 BC (and escaped with their IQ intact) knows about Smilodons. With eight-inch blade-like teeth, these cats were the top predators of the late Pliestocine, and were the last dominant predators before our ancestors came along. They traveled in packs, the sight of which would make our ancestors crap their pants from miles away.

And rightfully so--a pack of these 500-pound beasts would bring their prey to the ground, then unsheath the blades and, with a single coup d'gras, bite through the major blood vessels and the windpipe.

The Crappy Evolutionary Spin-off:
You're probably thinking tigers here, but actually marsupials are all that is left of the classic Sabre-Tooth Cat (the felines were another branch on the evolutionary tree) so, sadly, the closest genetic connection remains adorable Koala Bears, Kangaroos and Opossums. The most common of these is the Opossum, most often seen in their natural habitat (the local freeway) in their instinctive 'bloody smear along the road' stance.

Yes, confronted with powerful human engineering, most of what is left of Smilodons are crunchy speed bumps.

As part of "playing possum," opossums will frequently wear a fake cast on their leg to gain sympathy

How the hell did that happen?
Speaking of powerful human engineering, Homo sapiens have been using its superior brain to destroy the cats since we first met them. Dramatic climate change coupled with the growth of the human race spelled the end for these great predators. Their descendants, led by the Koala Bear, survived by evolving until they were simply too cute to kill.

Though there is one marsupial still holding its ground: the Tasmanian Devil. The usual response to a natural sighting of these godless killing machines tends to be "HOLY SHIT A TASMANIAN DEVIL LET'S GET THE HELL OUT OF HE-(screams of agony)." It feasts on the dead and dying and leaves nothing but crushed bone and echoes of blood-curdling screams in its path.

Some sample comments from that video:

"I know from experience these "cute rats" are not teddy bears in any form. They will leave you with many bloody stitches and infections if bitten."

"one is biting me as we speak"

"i wanna be a tasmanian devil only thing is they don't spin like the cartoons"

Hey, it's YouTube.


Used to be ...
Megatherium was the size of an African Elephant and, while a herbivore, still was able to fend off attacks from almost anything in the ancient world, including an entire pack of those sabre-toothed tigers. It had eight-inch claws on its foot for the dual purposes of defense and, we can only assume, bloody murder.

It often stood on its hind legs, rendering it twice as tall as the African Bull elephant. The folks at Wikipedia describe its skeleton as "Robust." We here at Cracked prefer the phrase "holy shit gigantic." Recent research suggests that Megatherium may have used its powerful claws to actually fight Smilodon for their kills when simple trees were not enough to sustain its monstrous appetite and apparent occasional craving for mammalian flesh.

The Crappy Evolutionary Spin-off:
The common tree sloth. These adorable guys are about as threatening as Switzerland. They are entirely herbivorous, and spend most of the day relaxing, reclining and generally not scavenging for flesh. They are mostly famous for being slow, and you know you've reached an evolutionary low when your species is famous for sucking at motion.

In certain conditions, even the plants they hunt can outrun the sloth

They suck so much at movement that the Catholic Church has actually named a deadly sin after their species. Isn't that wonderful? Modern sloths suck so much that even God thinks they suck. Seriously, watch this one try to cross the road.

How the hell did that happen?
This one is our bad, again. Megatherium vanished from the continent the minute Homo sapiens crashed the party and slaughtered them. Though ... you can't help but wonder if the sloth got the last laugh. Sure, they have no redeeming qualities. But their life consists of eating more then their size requires, sleeping 15 to 18 hours a day and pooping.

That's basically the American dream. You have to applaud them for that.


Used to be ...
Entelodon was a seven-foot-tall monster who achieved the dubious honor of 'Best Scavenger of the Oligocene' by being an enormous, festering, smelly mess. It feasted on rotten carrion killed by more effective murderers and frankly was unwelcome at parties due to hygiene that could offend filth itself.

What's so impressive about this thing? After all, it's just a scavenger, right? Well, it did have a full set of sharp teeth designed for ripping flesh from bone and a jaw which could, actually, crush the bone, too. It had most of its dental bases covered in that regard, really. They also traveled in packs, so a rotting corpse had to defend itself from a dozen or so Entelodonts at a time.

OK, we saved the real reason for last. If another, larger animal wanted to fight over the festering carrion, it was common etiquette for the Entelodont to take a crap on the food just to make sure nobody could enjoy it. Why aren't there more high school football teams named after these things?

The Crappy Evolutionary Spin-off:
The modern pig is all that is left of the proud Entelodont line. Instead of feasting on the decaying flesh of a day old kill, modern pigs eat a vitamin enriched feed consisting of fiber and other wheat products. Sort of a step up, but still, there is that whole "You will be processed and eventually sold by Oscar Meyer" thing for modern pigs, so the prestige is really just gone.

How the hell did that happen?
Larger predators ate all of their food. They could no longer overcome other predators and steal their food, so they eventually died off due to the fact that they had no real ability to acquire food for themselves. Their punishment? This:


Used to be ...
Andrewsarchus mongolianis is the stuff of nightmares. Remember in Lord of the Rings when the horsemen from Rohan get ambushed by gigantic wolves called Wargs? Picture those things, only with a jaw twice as powerful, a body quite a bit larger, and a soul twice as evil.

Larger then a grizzly bear one and a half times over, Andrewsarchus was the most sophisticated killing machine since the Velociraptor. It was the largest mammalian terrestrial carnivore in the history of life on Earth. It was almost 15-feet long, and the first three feet of that was teeth. It was quick, agile and even had a pretty sophisticated brain for its era.

The Crappy Evolutionary Spin-off:
That finely-tuned killing machine's closest modern relative is anything from a sheep to a goat. The Andrewsarchus' Order, Mesonychia, has close ties to the modern Order Artiodactyla, to which Ovis aries and Capa aegagrus are a modern example of. Yes, that pitiful thing that smelled like its own feces when you awkwardly encountered it at that petting zoo is all that's left of the most powerful mammalian predator in history.

Goat-built fortresses are considered among the worst

How the hell did that happen?
The Ice Age essentially wiped Andrewsarchus out of the mammalian gene pool. All that's left are these warm, fuzzy remnants. This includes what has to be the utter bottom rung of evolutionary failure, the fainting goat:

Yeah, real nice animal there, evolution.

Original here

Texas School Suspends Student for Answering Call in Class From Dad in Iraq

A Texas sergeant and his son recently found themselves separated not only by an eight-hour time difference, several bodies of water, hundreds of miles and a war, but by a high school official who suspended the boy for answering his dad's call during class.

Cove High School in Texas, where half the students have at least one parent deployed, justified the punishment against Brandon Hill by saying he had violated the no-cell-phone policy when he took the call from his father, who is serving in Iraq.

"I have been going through a lot of stress lately and my dad’s like my best friend, so I go to him for everything," the sophomore told FOX News on Saturday.

"I needed to talk to him, so my mom got a hold of him on Yahoo and told him to call me, so I answered the phone call in class."

Click here to view video.

When he learned of his son’s punishment, Master Sgt. Morris Hill said he was unsettled.

"When my wife told me, I was pretty disturbed by it," he said in a phone call from Iraq.

"I was pretty shocked, considering that several months before we left I had talked to the … assistant principal and thought everything was fine," Morris Hill said.

"Since my kid’s been going to the school we’ve had a pretty good working relationship."

And when his mother, Patricia Hill, tried to contact school officials, she received no response until her son’s story garnered media attention.

The matter has since been resolved, Patricia Hill said, but she added that more must be done to protect children around the country from being punished in similar circumstances.

Original here

Jurors open pocketbooks to help Fort Worth-area crime victim

Johnny Bryant, 58, had saved $151,000 in a profit-sharing account after working for more than three decades stocking shelves at grocery stores.
Johnny Bryant, 58, had saved $151,000 in a profit-sharing account after working for more than three decades stocking shelves at grocery stores.

FORT WORTH -- On Friday afternoon, a Tarrant County jury sentenced an Azle woman to five years in prison and assessed a $10,000 fine for stealing a mentally impaired man's life savings.

But they didn't stop there.

Jurors decided after the trial that they wanted to donate money to 58-year-old Johnny Bryant to help him recoup some of his loss. Most were going to start with the $166 they received for their jury service.

"I've never seen anything like this in my 44 years of law practice," said prosecutor Joe Shannon, who fired off a personal check for $250 for the fund. "They know that the guy has been wronged and they wanted to right it a little bit."

Crystal Jones, 22, the jury forewoman, said a couple of jurors had relatives or friends who are mentally disabled and really felt for Bryant.

"If that was our brother or friend, we would hope someone would do it for us," Jones said, adding that she has an autistic brother. "It was emotional for many of us."

The jury of eight women and four men deliberated about two hours on Friday before sentencing Cynthia Sue Hardee, 46, to five years in prison for one count of theft of property and one count of misapplication of fiduciary property. On Thursday, the jury found Hardee guilty of helping herself to at least $75,000 of Bryant's retirement money after the pair opened a checking account together.

The background

According to court testimony, Bryant, who can't read or do math, had $151,000 in a profit-sharing account after working for more than three decades stocking shelves at various grocery stores.

In the summer of 2002, Bryant had to make a decision about what to do with his retirement money after Brookshire's purchased the Winn Dixie where he was working. Bryant cashed $111,000 after taxes and penalties, and Hardee helped him open a checking account so they could start a "business" together. Although they had lots of ideas, a business never developed.

On Friday, Hardee's defense attorney, Danny Burns, urged the jury to sentence Hardee to probation, characterizing her as a good, churchgoing woman who made a terrible mistake but deserved a second chance.

"She took on a task that she couldn't handle and did some really dumb stuff," Burns said.

Burns reminded the jury about the friends and fellow church members who testified that Hardee was a kind, loving person who was always willing to help people.

"We have someone who is a good person overall but made a tragic error in judgment," Burns said. "We need to help that person, to save them. I submit we can do that with Cynthia Hardee. ... Show some mercy. Do what is right."

In his final summation, prosecutor Shannon, who handled the case with Tonya Harlan, asked jurors to give Hardee something closer to the maximum of 10 years in prison. "Part of the reason for assessing punishment is to deter the conduct of other people," Shannon said. "... We are not going to tolerate taking the life savings of a man who got dealt a bad set of cards when he was born."

The deliberations

Jones, the jury forewoman, said deciding Hardee's punishment was difficult. They took into consideration that it was her first offense and that she had no clue how to run a business. But they also looked at the crime and considered the victim.

Later, after Hardee was sentenced, Jones said she commented to the others that she wanted to start a fund for Bryant. The other jurors agreed.

The case "touched every one of our hearts," she said.

When the jurors told Shannon of their intentions, he decided to write a check for $250. His investigator then gathered the jurors' information and told them he would contact them after a fund was officially set up. That happened Friday afternoon.

Jenny Bosley, Johnny's sister, said she started crying after Shannon called her and told her of the jurors' gesture.

"Oh my gosh," Bosley said. "I couldn't believe it."

She said the IRS keeps sending him letters, claiming that Bryant owes $40,000 -- more taxes and penalties for cashing out his retirement plan early.

How to help

To contribute to the fund for Johnny Bryant, send a donation to:

Wells Fargo

5322 Blue Mound Road

Fort Worth, TX 76106

Attention: Daisy or Amy

Acct: 4077

Bank officials request that checks or money orders be in the name of Johnny's sister, Jenny Bosley, who opened the account in care of Bryant.
MELODY McDONALD, 817-390-7386

Original here

Officer Accused of a Second Career: Robbing Banks

Muhlenbeg Township Police Department

Officer Christian A. Torres, and a gun that the police in Pennsylvania recovered from him on Thursday.

Christian A. Torres’s neighbors in Queens remember his pride, how he stepped tall when he first wore the uniform of a New York City police officer.

He’d earned a 3.6 grade-point average at John Jay College of Criminal Justice while holding down one or two part-time jobs. He became a leader in the Police Department’s cadet program. In July 2007, he traded his books for a gun belt and joined the Police Academy. Six months later, he was on patrol in the Brooklyn subways.

But on Friday, Police Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly said that as he moved from cadet to recruit to probationary police officer, Christian A. Torres, 21, was something else as well:

A serial bank robber.

Officer Torres, police officials said, committed three robberies at two branches of Sovereign Bank — twice in Manhattan and once in Pennsylvania — apparently using some of the $118,305 for a new car, for a diamond engagement ring for his girlfriend and to pay off his student loans.

He grew increasingly brazen, the police said: at the first robbery, in June 2007, he simply handed a note to the teller demanding money. At the second, in November, they said, he showed a gun in his belt, which police described as an imitation weapon. At the third, on Thursday, he waved his personal 9-millimeter gun at three bank employees as he demanded cash in $20, $50 and $100 bills, the police said.

His mini-spree ended Thursday in Pennsylvania when Muhlenberg Township police officers stopped him after the robbery. They found $113,000 in a plastic bag in his car along with a blond wig and a derby hat, masking tape and gloves and a black imitation pistol that investigators believe is the one used in the robbery in November.

As investigators from New York’s Internal Affairs Bureau asked the Police Department’s Joint Bank Robbery Task Force and the Major Case Squad to scour unsolved cases of robbery in the city, they found apparent links to other bank robberies. Under questioning, Officer Torres soon “made certain admissions” in the two earlier cases in Manhattan, Mr. Kelly said. “He made statements to the effect that he was getting married,” Mr. Kelly said.

Officer Torres’s friends were dumbstruck.

“He had his life set,” said one, Elvin Marte, 16, who played football with Officer Torres in Forest Park every weekend and who said the officer was one of the best players because he was so quick and athletic.

“He knew where he was going in life,” he said.

Paul S. Missan, a lawyer for Officer Torres, said he visited his client on Friday in Berks County Prison, in Leesport, Pa., and that the officer had been charged only with the Thursday robbery.

Mr. Missan was not present when Officer Torres appeared for a preliminary arraignment on Thursday, but he said he believed a plea of not guilty was automatically entered on behalf of his client. At a bail hearing on Friday, a judge raised Officer Torres’s bail to $1 million, based on the allegations of pending additional charges, but scheduled a hearing for Monday at 1:30 p.m. in District Court in Berks County, Mr. Missan said.

“This is a young man who, when he was hired by the N.Y.P.D., had no criminal record,” said Mr. Missan. “He comes from a good family, and we are looking forward to our day in court to see what evidence they have.”

He added: “I know the F.B.I. and the N.Y.P.D. are doing an investigation, but I don’t know any of the details.”

Mr. Kelly said he expected Officer Torres to be charged in the cases in Manhattan.

The police said that Officer Torres is suspected of committing the first bank robbery at 3 p.m. on June 8, while he was a cadet, taking $16,305 from the Sovereign Bank branch at 57 Avenue A on the Lower East Side.

At 7 a.m. on Nov. 16, he approached three employees at the same branch, ordered them to open a safe and walked off with $102,000, the police said.

That day, the police said, he bought a 2008 Toyota Scion, putting down $18,500 in cash on a $23,000 vehicle. Also in November, he returned to John Jay and paid off $2,500 in college cadet loans with three postal money orders. And, sometime in the last two months, he bought his girlfriend a 1.5-carat diamond engagement ring, according to the police.

Mr. Kelly said there was nothing in the young officer’s record to suggest a life on the other side of the law.

“In other words, everything that we have seen, looked at, there is no indication of being able to predict this stunning series of crimes,” Mr. Kelly said. “His record indicates that he was a smart, hard-working individual with tremendous potential, and this has baffled everyone who thought they knew him.”

His friends and neighbors who gathered outside a beige brick and stucco house on 94th Street in Woodhaven, Queens, where Officer Torres rented an apartment said that if the person accused of these crimes was the quiet, steady and considerate man they called Chris, they were mystified.

As a probationary police officer, Officer Torres earned a $32,700 annual base salary. Since 2005, he has paid $700 a month in rent at the house on 94th Street, said Pablo Salcedo, 49, the landlord.

Mr. Salcedo’s son, Chris, 20, said Officer Torres enjoyed in-line skating, football and baseball.

“He loved being a cop,” Chris Salcedo said. “That is all he talked about.”

On his MySpace page, Officer Torres had a nickname, “The Law,” and listed his profession as “Oink.” The Web page includes a police car image.

As darkness fell on Friday, officials from the F.B.I. arrived and entered Officer Torres’s home; the flash from their cameras was visible in a window.

Mr. Kelly said that Officer Torres grew up in the Bronx and won a “full scholarship” to Rye Country Day School in Westchester County. He completed two years at John Jay College. As a police cadet, he worked on a Manhattan detective squad. The psychological tests he took before becoming a police officer were “unremarkable,” Mr. Kelly said; there were no red flags.

“There is nothing negative in the record,” Mr. Kelly said.

Reporting was contributed by Alain Delaquérière, John Eligon, Christine Hauser and Karen Zraick.

Original here

Flamboyant Mexican Wrestler Tackles Opponents - and Delivers a Smooch on Their Lips

Flamboyant Mexican Wrestler Tackles Opponents - and Delivers a Smooch on Their Lips

In a hot-pink Mohawk haircut and leotard to match, he pirouettes before taking down his muscle-bound enemies with a swift kick to the groin.

Maximo, Mexican professional wrestling's latest sensation, then delivers a crowning blow - a kiss on the lips of his macho opponent - to the delight of a roaring crowd.

Maximo is one of the "Exotics," a group of effeminate fighters in the testosterone-fueled world of Mexico's Lucha Libre, the inspiration for the World Wrestling Federation, now World Wrestling Entertainment. Known casually as "gay" wrestlers, Exotics have been around since the 1970s but are experiencing a wrestling revival. Their characters are strong, yet sensitive good guys overcoming evil, they say.

But showing your soft side in the ring isn't as easy as it might look, Maximo says.

"It's kind of hard playing this part, no? Especially because the sport is about being tough, rude and violent," he said. "But as long as the public loves us, we'll be there."

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Original here

Alcohol fatwa sparks controversy

Yusuf al-Qaradawi. File pic
Yusuf al-Qaradawi views himself as a moderate voice of Islam

A prominent Egyptian cleric has created controversy by issuing a fatwa that says tiny amounts of alcohol are permissible in Islam.

Yusuf al-Qaradawi's fatwa says a level of 0.5% is allowed, whereas most Muslims would say alcohol of any quantity is banned.

Sheikh Qaradawi was recently refused entry to Britain as the UK government said his views could spark violence.

He issued his fatwa in response to a question about high energy drinks.


Sheikh Qaradawi is talking about tiny quantities of alcohol - equivalent to about one-eighth of a unit of alcohol.

He ruled there was no religious ban on consuming drinks with a minute amount of alcohol in them if it was formed naturally through the process of fermentation.

He quoted the rule derived from the sayings of the Prophet that if drinking a lot of alcohol makes you intoxicated then drinking a little is also forbidden.

Sheikh Qaradawi argued that any person who consumed a large amount of high energy drink would not become intoxicated, therefore they were permissible, even though they contained tiny amounts of alcohol.

But this logic has not gone down well.

The editor of a newspaper in Qatar, where Sheikh Qaradawi lives, complained that the sheikh had just stirred up a controversy that everyone could have done without.

The editor said the fatwa from a cleric of the status of Sheikh Qaradawi would inevitably be misunderstood and distorted to suggest he was giving permission to Muslims to drink alcohol.

Sheikh Qaradawi, who is a well-known TV figure, views himself as a moderate voice of Islam.

Original here

Do you follow your Googlegangers online?

Any search nowadays reveals that there are usually lots of different people with the same names....
Photo by Abe Shelton from The New York Times

The New York Times has a cute photo (above) of a group of women who are all called Angela Shelton with an article headlined Names That Match Forge a Bond on the Internet.

Everyone goes "name surfing" from time to time, so all the Angela Sheltons bump into what other Angela Sheltons are doing. Sometimes they find each other, and one of them (a superhero Goddess) has written a book about it. The NYT story says:

In "Finding Angela Shelton," a book published this month, a writer named Angela Shelton describes her meetings with 40 other Angela Sheltons. Keri Smith, an illustrator, has posted drawings of six of her Googlegängers on her blog. There are name-tally Web sites like SameNameAsMe, and Facebook coalitions including nearly 200 people named Ritz (their insignia is a cracker box logo) and a group aiming to break a world record by gathering together more than 1,224 Mohammed Hassans.

Obviously there will be fewer people called, say, David Belbin or Algernon Moncrieff than something common like Tom Jones or Gordon Brown.

The NYT adds a bit of science:

A psychological theory called the name-letter effect maintains that people like the letters in their own names (particularly their initials) better than other letters of the alphabet.

In studies involving Internet telephone directories, Social Security death index records and clinical experiments, Brett Pelham, a social psychologist, and colleagues have found in the past six years that Johnsons are more likely to wed Johnsons, women named Virginia are more likely to live in (and move to) Virginia, and people whose surname is Lane tend to have addresses that include the word "lane," not "street."

Apparently, " The number of Virginias who move to Virginia, for example, is 36% higher than could be expected by chance."

What you don't want is for "your" name to be the same as someone who becomes well known for the wrong reasons, like Ted Bundy or Harold Shipman.

An article in the Wall Street Journal almost a year ago (You're a Nobody Unless Your Name Googles Well) pointed out that some parents now Google potential baby names in the attempt to get something that stands out.

Have you thought of changing your name to one that Googles better? Adding an initial could be enough, if you can get people to use it....

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