Friday, June 6, 2008

Polar bear killed after 300km trek

The bear, an adult male weighing around 250kg, was presumed to have swum some 300km from Greenland or from a distant chunk of Arctic ice to Skagafjordur in northern Iceland.

It was planned to sedate the animal and move it back to Greenland but the police decided it was safest to kill the bear immediately.

"There was fog up in the hills and we took the decision to kill the bear before it could disappear into the fog”, said police spokesman Petur Bjornsson.

Environment Minister Thorunn Sveinbjarnardottir gave the green light for police to shoot the bear because the correct tranquiliser was not available in Iceland and would not be flown in for a day, Icelandic news channel reported.

However, a veterinarian said he had the drugs available in his car. He also criticised police for not closing a mountain road where people congregated after hearing news of the bear.

Polar bears were recently listed as a threated species by the US because its Arctic sea ice habitat is melting due to climate change.

Why they must be saved: Knut, the world's most famous polar bear

US government scientists have predicted that two-thirds of the polar bear population of 25,000 could disappear by 2050.

The shooting came as the Japan Whaling Association revealed it could justify an increase its minke whale kill to "tens of thousands" based on data it says shows an abundance of the giant mammals in the Antarctic.

Japanese whaling spokesman Glenn Inwood told The Australian newspaper the research would be presented at the next International Whaling Commision meeting.

"It is certainly hopeful that when that figure is run through the quota system of the IWC that it will be looking at the sustainable harvest possibly of tens of thousands of minke whales each year," he said.

"This new abundance estimate for Antarctic minkes will be one of the greatest threats to Australia's position on whaling. It will be very hard to deny Japan a quota."

Also at the conference will be teenage anti-whaling crusader Skye Bortoli, who will be taking The Daily Telegraph's fight right to the top.

The 16-year-old is getting ready to travel to Chile for the annual conference, where she will lobby for a worldwide ban on the slaughter of whales.

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Mortgage turmoil snares Ed McMahon

Ed McMahonEd McMahon, the longtime sidekick to Johnny Carson on "The Tonight Show," is fighting to avoid foreclosure on his multimillion-dollar Beverly Hills estate.

McMahon defaulted on $4.8 million in mortgage loans with a unit of Countrywide Financial Corp., which filed a notice of default in March, according to ForeclosureRadar, a company that sells default data pulled from public records.
The 85-year-old pitchman for various products, including American Family Publishers, is the highest-profile person to be caught up in the nationwide real estate downturn and mortgage crunch.

"He's not alone. There are plenty of people affected by the weak economy, bad housing market or bad health," McMahon's spokesman, Howard Bragman, said late Tuesday.

An article in Business on Wednesday about the possible foreclosure of television personality Ed McMahon's house quoted real estate agent Alex Davis as saying 100 paparazzi had gathered outside the nearby home of Britney Spears. In fact, Davis said the paparazzi had been outside the gate of the community, not an individual house, and he did not estimate their number.
Bragman said McMahon fell and broke his neck about 18 months ago and has been unable to work since.

"The ideal situation would be that he would be healthy and able to earn a living to pay for his house," Bragman said.

The six-bedroom, five-bath home on Crest Court is listed for sale at $6.25 million, said real estate agent Alex Davis of Alex Davis Estates, who has the listing. It's been on the market for two years, he said.

It would seem to be an ideal home. The Hilton & Hyland luxury real estate website described the home as a celebrity Mediterranean estate in the prestigious Beverly Hills gated community of The Summit, which overlooks Coldwater Canyon and Mulholland Drive.

"This once-in-a-lifetime offering is full of charm and character. The foreign imported doors and meticulously chosen fireplaces are unlike any other," the website boasts. It also has a master suite with his-and-hers baths and closets overlooking the yard and a sweeping canyon.

But Davis said The Summit has been a difficult area to sell.

"In the midst of trying to sell this property, there were a lot of distractions," Davis said, citing paparazzi who have converged around the nearby home of Britney Spears.

"When we were trying to sell the house one time, there were about 100 paparazzi there," he said.

Another difficulty for the area has been a mold contamination that has plagued a number of homes, including McMahon's and one purchased for the director of the Getty Museum.

McMahon won a $7.2-million insurance settlement after claiming that mold in his house killed his dog Muffin and sickened him and his wife.

According to a lawsuit he filed, the trouble began when a pipe broke and water flooded a den. Mold was later discovered throughout the house. McMahon and his wife, Pamela, blamed faulty cleanup.

"When your family loses its health and your home is a wasteland, that's a colossal disaster," McMahon said at the time.

Both the Hyland website and list the property, built in 1989, at $5.75 million. Davis said it was still priced at $6.25 million.

McMahon took out two loans on the property totaling $4.5 million and later borrowed an additional $300,000 against the house, according to ForeclosureRadar. The loans were obtained through Countrywide Home Loans Inc.

A Countrywide spokesman declined to comment, citing privacy concerns.

The Wall Street Journal first reported the story. Though McMahon was in negotiations with Countrywide, the paper said it wasn't clear whether McMahon and his wife would be able to remain in the home.

McMahon was about $644,000 in arrears on the loan when the notice of default was filed, the paper said.

Federal regulators have been urging lenders to ease loan terms, but it wasn't clear if that would happen in McMahon's case.
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Scenes from a group marriage


June 4, 2008 | One day in the summer of 1971, my parents held hands, closed their eyes and jumped out of their conventional marriage into something strange and new. I was 9 years old at the time, and we were camping at Betsy Lake in the High Uintas Wilderness with another family of five. We were halfway into the camping trip when the six of us kids realized our parents had mixed and matched: My father was in the tent with their mother, and their father was in the tent with my mother.

No sound came from either tent. I remember the smell of mosquito repellent. I remember gray ripples in the lake, squirrels scrambling up pine bark and us kids nervously discussing. I remember trying to believe my life hadn't shot off its safe, predictable tracks.

Of course, it had. We began seeing the other family at least once a week; one of my parents spent each Sunday at their house and one of theirs at mine. And then we all moved in together. The arrangement felt uncomfortable, if only because no one else's parents were doing anything like it. One day, as I lay reading on my bed, the girls from the other family came downstairs with moving boxes in their arms. That night, the adults erected a screen to separate the dining room from the living room. In place of our dark varnished table and the buffet with its china and silver appeared a king-size bed. Downstairs, the salt-and-pepper sofa and the desk where my father tracked investments gave way to bunk beds for two of the girls. Over the next few days, my brother and I learned to grab for our bathrobes when our new sisters slipped through our room on the way to the toilet in the morning. They learned to duck behind closet doors when we trespassed through their bedroom on our way upstairs.

Fiction about the 1970s -- including "The Ice Storm" or the new "Swingtown" TV series -- typically depicts such experiments as frivolous and irresponsible. "How could they have done this to you?" my wife still asks me. It's true that boredom was an element in my parents' motivation. It's also true that the arrangement embarrassed me in front of my friends, and that it threw me off balance at a nervous time of life. But behind that -- at least sometimes -- lay an idealism that has disappeared from the public recollection.

My parents saw themselves as part of a movement, promulgated in visionary writings like Alvin Toffler's "Future Shock." The notion was that an adult could simultaneously maintain more than one intimate relationship as long as all the partners agreed. The movement, which now calls itself "polyamory," is still going, though mostly underground. Webster's accepted the word two years ago.

But my parents didn't take a public stance. They kept their sex lives to themselves; they never suggested I should want to follow their example. And the communal household enjoyed a kind of camaraderie I have never felt since. I liked the party we made when all of us kids sat down to watch "Hogan's Heroes" or danced to the soundtrack from "Cabaret." Over the next two years, I swapped books with my stepsisters, listened in awe to their stories of crushes, exchanged tips on teachers. Their father imparted his love of great music and their mother her passion for cooking. A sort of bond formed among the 10 of us.

I found out it was ending one day, after a tennis lesson, when my mother picked up my brother and me in her blue Dodge Dart with its painted butterflies. I knew from her silence something was wrong. She pulled into the parking lot of a drug store and sat for a moment. Without turning to face us, she said that the two families were splitting into separate households -- but not in the original configurations. My father would live with the other woman, my mother with the other man.

I didn't ask for the story of the foursome's disintegration. Despite the intimacy of our crowded household, or perhaps because of it, we kids refrained from probing the details of the adults' love lives. Instead I stared at the smudged upholstery of the seat in front of me, feeling in my stomach as though we had just driven off a cliff.

Over the next few years, that falling sensation accelerated. My father married the other woman. The other man found a new lover and left my mother. I switched back and forth every six months between my parents' households. For the first time in my life, my mother let me see her tears. I learned to hide mine in my pillow.

Divorce is commonplace now, but group marriage is still weird, almost incomprehensible to most people. Only recently have I overcome the shame that used to make me gloss over that period when I told new friends the story of my life. But now, when I think back, I can see it wasn't the group marriage that cast a lasting shadow on my childhood; it was the divorce. For a few years I'd had something more than a family, then suddenly I had something less. And the loss was wrenching.

This year, my youngest son is 10, as I was at the beginning of my parents' odyssey. His brother is 14 -- close to my age at the end. I've felt for myself the stress that our hyper-individualist culture puts on families. Few of us live with extended family; fewer and fewer of us know our neighbors, go to church or belong to a social club. We measure success by the size of our houses and our paychecks. We see child rearing as a lifestyle choice, not a community endeavor. But two grown-ups sometimes aren't enough to pay the bills, to wipe the noses, to coach the soccer team and listen to the stories of schoolyard bullying. After 17 years, my wife and I are still passionate about each other. I have no desire to engage in the bold sort of experiment my parents took on. But sometimes, even when all four of us are home together, our world feels too small, and I understand the hope with which my parents blindly plunged into uncharted love.

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Man Scales Times Building and Is Arrested


Listen to an interview with Alain Robert

Updated, 6:30 p.m. | Alain Robert, a French stuntman known for climbing tall buildings, scaled the north face of the New York Times building on Thursday, ascending 52 stories to the roof and clutching a bright green banner, before police officers arrested him around 12:22 p.m. (Update: Hours later, a second man was arrested after climbing to the roof on another part of the building. For a complete account of the day’s events, see the article prepared for Friday print editions.)

Police and security officials cordoned off the sidewalk below, on West 41st Street, as a crowd assembled. The words on the banner were illegible from the sidewalk, but from office windows inside the tower the slogan on the banner could be clearly read: “Global warming kills more people than 9/11 every week.”

The man later confirmed, moments after being arrested on the roof of the tower, that he was Alain Robert, a 46-year-old stuntman famous for scaling structures like the National Bank of Abu Dhabi, the Sydney Opera House in Australia and the Eiffel Tower and Montparnasse Tower in Paris.
He wore a T-shirt with his name and the address of a Web site (, exercise pants and climbing shoes. He had long blond hair. He used no rope, harness or parachute.

Police officers blocked off the sidewalk at the base of the building and asked members of the crowd to move along. Construction workers on a building directly across West 41st Street, facing the northern face of the building, looked on with expressions of astonishment and amusement. A crowd gathered on the sidewalk, pointing, gawking and capturing pictures and images with cellphones, digital cameras and video cameras.

“This is a publicity stunt, it looks like,” Janet L. Robinson, the chief executive of The New York Times Company, said as she entered the building. “There is definitely going to be an arrest.”

Wearing a backpack slung over one shoulder, Arthur Ochs Sulzberger Jr., the chairman of The Times Company and publisher of The Times, who is himself an avid climber, ducked under the police tape and examined the spectacle. He declined to comment.

Alain Robert, a stuntman, climbed the 52-story New York Times building on Thursday before he was arrested. His banner read, “Global warming kills more people than 9/11 every week.” (Photo: Sewell Chan/The New York Times)

Inside the building, reporters and editors pressed their faces to the glass windows to catch a glimpse of the climber. He weaved in and out of the ceramic rod facade, seeming to rest on the building’s exterior beams every few floors before swinging himself back out the face of the rods to resume his climb. He stopped occasionally to wave to the crowd, which included construction workers on a building across the street and others in front of the Port Authority.

Each time he took his hand away to wave, there were gasps from observers who feared he might fall.

As Mr. Robert climbed the building, police officers from the Emergency Services Unit, using a freight elevator, assembled on the roof. “He’s up to 30-something,” one police officer radioed another. “No, he’s up to 45,” another officer radioed back.

A security guard remarked, “Apparently, he’s a professional climber,” and a police officer replied: “To be honest, looking at this building, you don’t have to be a professional. This building is like a ladder.” (Designed to be environmentally sensitive, the tower is sheathed in distinctive horizontal ceramic rods that are intended to diffuse sunlight, allowing natural light to enter the building while keeping out heat and increasing the building’s energy efficiency.)

Around a dozen police officers were on the roof when Mr. Robert arrived there. One of them put on a hard hat, harnessed himself to the building and sat out on a beam, a couple of feet from the building, as Mr. Robert reached the top. When he got to the top, he calmly perched himself on the same beam, beside the officer, and raised his hands. The pair began talking.

Mr. Robert was placed in handcuffs and led across the roof and into a service elevator. The police officers had evidently made preparations in case he resisted, but he submitted peacefully. A Times reporter asked, “Where are you from and why are you doing this?” Mr. Robert said, “France. Paris.”

Mr. Robert was taken down through the service elevator to an underground service area of the building. A reporter asked why he had chosen The Times’s building. His reply: “This is a green building, which is a fantastic step.” He proceeded to talk about global warming as the police led him away. He said he believed the news media would give more prominence to coverage of global warming if a man climbed a prominent building.

A view of Alain Robert from inside the Times building, as he climbed it. (Photo: Matthew Orr/The New York Times)

Asked about the difficulty of the climb, he replied: “No, the building was easy. It was just a statement. Plus, I’m a professional climber.”

He added: “My name is Alain Robert. I did climb about 80 buildings around the world and I climbed even the five tallest.”

Then he was moved into a squad car and driven away, east on West 40th Street. He was taken to the Midtown South police precinct.

New York’s skyscrapers have long been sites for death-defying stunts. In 1974, a French stunt artist, Philippe Petit, famously walked a high-wire strung between the twin towers of the World Trade Center. (Mr. Petit’s feat is the subject of a new documentary, “Man on a Wire,” which has received critical acclaim.)

More recently, in 2006, another stuntman, Jeb Corliss, was arrested after trying to jump off the observation deck of the Empire State Building. (Mr. Corliss challenged his indictment in court. A trial judge ruled last year that as a professional jumper, he was experienced and careful enough to jump off a building without endangering his own life or anyone else’s. But this year, an appellate court overturned the ruling, although it reduced the charge in the indictment from a felony charge of reckless endangerment with depraved indifference to life, to a misdemeanor charge of reckless endangerment.)

Mr. Robert is a practitioner of free-soloing, a kind of climbing done without ropes, harnesses or other external supports. (”Free climbing,” another kind of climbing, involves no equipment to aid in the climb, but does include ropes for protection in the event of a fall.)

Alain RobertAlain Robert stands on a ledge outside the building. (Photo: Matthew Orr/The New York Times)

“Climbing is my passion, my philosophy of life,” Mr. Robert states on his Web site, adding, “Although I suffer from vertigo, although my accidents left me disabled up to 60 percent, I have become the best solo climber.” The Web site states that in eight years, Mr. Robert has climbed more than “70 skyscrapers and mythical monuments around the world.”

The 52-story steel-and-glass Times building, at 620 Eighth Avenue, between West 40th and 41st Streets, was designed by Renzo Piano and opened last year. A personal assistant at Mr. Piano’s architectural studio in Paris said he was traveling and not immediately available for comment.

Along with The Times, it is occupied by several law firms, including Covington & Burling, Seyfarth Shaw and Goodwin Procter. Before The Times moved last year, it had previously occupied a neo-Renaissance building at 229 West 43rd Street since 1913.

Inspector James McCarthy, the commanding officer of the Midtown South police precinct, said Mr. Robert would likely face several criminal charges, including, at the least, reckless endangerment.

Reporting was contributed by Corey Kilgannon, Eric Konigsberg, Jennifer 8. Lee, Conrad Mulcahy and Allen Salkin.

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When Awkward Happens 6

Women trapped in trunk on Google Street View! Doesn’t look like she fits.

A couple of guesses on who this unfortunate person might be:

- Britney Spears hiding form paparazzi

- Rosie “Rosie” O’donnell

- Sam Cassell

Leave your guesses in the comments.

See the location.

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