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Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Thousands of Golden Rays in Amazing Mass Migration

By Nick Allen

Looking like giant leaves floating in the sea thousands of Golden Rays are seen here gathering off the coast of Mexico.

The spectacular scene was captured as the magnificent creatures made one of their biannual mass migrations to more agreeable waters.

Gliding silently beneath the waves they turned vast areas of blue water to gold off the northern tip of the Yucatan Peninsula.

Sandra Critelli, an amateur photographer, stumbled across the phenomenon while looking for whale sharks.

She said: "It was an unreal image, very difficult to describe. The surface of the water was covered by warm and different shades of gold and looked like a bed of autumn leaves gently moved by the wind.

"It's hard to say exactly how many there were but in the range of a few thousand.

"We were surrounded by them without seeing the edge of the school and we could see many under the water surface too.

"I feel very fortunate I was there in the right place at the right time to experienced nature at his best."

Measuring up to 7ft (2.1 metres) from wing-tip to wing-tip, Golden rays are also more prosaically known as cow nose rays.

They have long, pointed pectoral fins that separate into two lobes in front of their high-domed heads and give them a cow-like appearance.

Despite having poisonous stingers they are known to be shy and non-threatening when in large schools.

The population in the Gulf of Mexico migrates, in schools of as many as 10,000, clockwise from western Florida to the Yucatan.

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The Rhino With the World at His Feet

The

The "Air Mohan," left, was custom-made for Mohan, above, after the Indian rhino's feet started to abscess. A book describing his footwear struggle will be released next month. (Photos By Ron Magill)

Mohan, thought to be the world's oldest Indian rhino and the first to wear shoes, turns 39 this month. But as he kicks back and relaxes in a Florida old-age home, his former caretakers, especially in Washington, can't help but reminisce about their time together, like former groupies in a rock star's shadow.

"He is one of the icons," says Ron Magill, the communications director for the Miami Metrozoo, who began caring for Mo, as his fans call him, in the early '80s.

"That's kind of the highlight of my career," Randy Pawlak, a farrier in Round Hill, says about fashioning shoes for Mo in 2003. "It was probably the neatest thing I've ever done."

Mo was born in 1969 and captured out of the wild by a team that included Lowell Thomas, the world's first roving newscaster, who filmed the 1919 documentary "Lawrence in Arabia" during World War I. The team gave Mohan to the 39-acre Crandon Park Zoo in Key Biscayne, Fla.

Ever since, he has been in the limelight. And in July he'll be in bookstores in "The Rhino With Glue-On Shoes," in part an account of his struggle to stay on four feet after years of hard charging. Mohan is the title tale in the collection of stories from wild animal veterinarians, which was co-authored by former National Zoo director Lucy Spelman.

As a 1,500-pound babe, he was mentioned in Time magazine's April 26, 1971, issue next to a blurb on "the latest Jackie book," which documented the former first lady's "passionate perfectionism."

"Mohan munched the greens," Time wrote, on the occasion of his captor Thomas's 79th birthday, "and went right on munching until he was lunching on Thomas' trousers."

With wrinkled jowls, pimpled legs and platinum-blond ear hair, Mo has survived hurricanes and stagflation. Dry heat and Reaganomics. Along the way, he has moved from Crandon to its expanded iteration, the 740-acre Miami Metrozoo, and from there to Washington's National Zoo in 1998.

Mohan moved for the ladies, though he had issues with performance. He was genetically valuable, since his species was (and is) endangered in a region where people believe rhino horns possess medicinal value. Only 2,600 wild Indian rhinos remain.

So stud books -- the technical term -- were kept all over the country, tracing Mo's pedigree as well as those of potential mates. When experts with the American Zoological Society decided to make a match, well, Mo picked on up and rumbled down the highway.

Yet Mo wouldn't take to his female friends -- and people started to whisper. First, it was Shanti he turned down. Then Mechi. The star clearly wanted something else. Magill recalls Mohan would get excited every time he ate, but had less appetite for mating.

Another problem: Mo's feet started giving out. Somehow, this only made him a bigger celebrity. In June of '91, he had an abscess toward the bottom of one foot. Magill couldn't get bandages to stick.

He figured only a boot would do the job. And "who makes stronger rubber than Pirelli?" So Magill phoned the tire company and asked them for a "one-of-a-kind piece." Noting the success of the Reebok Pump (the hoops shoe that inflates to fit your foot), Pirelli modeled a basketball-size galosh with a built-in air bladder. The label on the front: "Air Mohan." Mo wore it for several weeks until he healed, becoming the first sneaker-wearing rhino in the world. Then Mo left him, moving to Washington, and the legend grew. His keepers here called him "Psycho Mo" because of his moody, lead-singer tendencies. He'd let you scratch him one minute and then charge you the next. Like all captive rhinos, he had a thing for self-mutilation, grinding his keratin horn against hard surfaces until it was a six-inch nub. He was a bad boy. Spelman fell for him.

"Mo's case was difficult, and we'd wracked our brains," e-mails Spelman -- who resigned from the zoo in 2004 as the National Academy of Sciences released a report critical of mistakes that led to zoo animal deaths -- from Rwanda, where she now works for an organization that cares for mountain gorillas. Mo's feet had become a swollen, rotten muck, "an exuberant growth of granulation tissue," according to his keepers' tell-all slide show "Chronic Foot Disease -- One Rhino's Story."

The rehab? Caretakers sedated Mo regularly to carve dead tissue from the three hoofed toes of each foot. They'd cut until blood streamed from his soles.

But it resolved only the symptoms. According to her book, it wasn't until Spelman attended a talk on rhino feet that she realized the underlying cause: Except for summer, Mo was mostly kept on a concrete floor, a surface much harder than his natural habitat, a muddy swamp that allows a rhino to balance on its hoofed toes, relieving its soles from bearing weight. The zoo's concrete floors shaved those hooves down, forcing Mohan to land on his footpad.

Thus was born the second iteration of Mo's footwear -- not boots this time, but flats -- cut up horseshoes, one for each rhino toe on the front, adhered with epoxy and covered with Kevlar.

And the National Zoo celebrated what it thought unprecedented: a rhino strutting in its own shoes. "Bet this is a first," Spelman says in her book, not realizing how much bigger Mohan was, how he had other firsts before hers.

Mo is back in Miami now, having left Washington in June 2003, to breed (unsuccessfully). He lives a quiet life, in a non-exhibited part of the zoo -- "a nice retirement area where he doesn't get disturbed by anybody," Magill says, "kinda like the Club Med for rhinos." The surface is soft dirt and sand, his hooves have regrown and he doesn't need footwear.

In July, Mo scratched his shoulder, and he was lethargic in September, and in November he passed a soft stool. But for an otherwise healthy rhino, such symptoms are normal.

Even a rock star has to slow down.

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How Smart Is the Octopus?

Bright enough to do the moving-rock trick.

An octopus

Aristotle didn't have a high opinion of the octopus. "The octopus is a stupid creature," he wrote, "for it will approach a man's hand if it be lowered in the water." Twenty-four centuries later, this "stupid" creature is enjoying a much better reputation. YouTube is loaded with evidence of what some might call octopus intelligence. One does an uncanny impression of a flounder. Another mimics coral before darting away from a pushy camera. A third slips its arms around a jar, unscrews it, and dines on the crab inside. Scientific journals publish research papers on octopus learning, octopus personality, octopus memory. Now the octopus has even made it into the pages of the journal Consciousness and Cognition (along with its fellow cephalopods the squid and the cuttlefish). The title: "Cephalopod consciousness: behavioral evidence."

So, is the octopus really all that smart? It depends on how you define intelligence. And if you've got a good definition, there are quite a few scientists who would love to hear it. Octopuses can learn, they can process complex information in their heads, and they can behave in equally complex ways. But it would be a mistake to try to give octopuses an IQ score. They are not intelligent in the way we are—not because they're dumb but because their behavior is the product of hundreds of millions of years of evolution under radically different conditions than the ones under which our own brains evolved.

You'd have to go back about 700 million years to find the moment in the history of life when humans and octopuses diverged. Our most recent common ancestor, scientists suspect, was a little wormlike creature with eyespots and little more. Since then, our lineage evolved bones; theirs evolved boneless bodies they control with water pressure. We've accumulated so many and such incredible differences over that time that 20th-century scientists were excited to discover a few deep similarities. In the 1950s, for example, biologists demonstrated for the first time that octopuses have massive brains.

Cephalopods belong to the same lineage that produced snails, clams, and other mollusks. A typical mollusk might have 20,000 neurons arranged in a diffuse net. The octopus has half a billion neurons.* The neurons in its head are massed into complex lobes, much the way our own brains are. In comparison with their body weight, octopuses have the biggest brains of all invertebrates. They're even bigger than the brains of fish and amphibians, putting them on par with those of birds and mammals.

In the late 1950s, Oxford biologist N.S. Sutherland decided to put the big brains of octopuses to the test. He would show them two shapes and reward them for touching one but not the other. They might learn to tell a rectangle in a horizontal position from the same rectangle rotated 90 degrees. And once they had figured out this test, the octopuses knew to select any horizontal rectangle they saw, no matter what its particular dimensions. They were learning what to learn.

Over the years, octopuses have shown many more signs of intelligence. They proved to have an excellent memory. They were clever and unpredictable. Jennifer Mather, a Canadian biologist, has tossed toys into octopus tanks and watched as the octopuses inspect them and puff them around with jets of water.* They are playing, she argues. Clams do not play. Humans do.

Mather is also the author of the new paper arguing for consciousness in octopuses. She does not claim that they have full-blown consciousness like we do but a simpler form known as primary consciousness. In other words, they can combine their perceptions with their memories to have a coherent feel for what's happening to them at any moment. Mather bases her claim not just on how octopuses behave but also on how their brains work.

For example, one sign of the complexity of the human brain is that we can be left-handed or right-handed. Our preference comes from one side of the brain dominating over the other—a sign of how the two sides of our brains are not identical. Instead, they divide up mental work and communicate with each other to create a unified sense of reality. Octopuses may not be left-handed (or left-armed), but Mather claims that they show similar kinds of specialization with their eyes. In a 2004 experiment, she and her colleagues found that when they looked out from their dens, some preferred to sit with their left eye facing out, others with their right.

But some octopus experts are skeptical of these bold claims. Many reports of weird octopus behavior come from casual observations in aquariums. Even some experiments have not held up to scrutiny. Last year, Jean Boal of Millersville University and her colleagues found fault with Mather's experiments on left- and right-brained octopuses. The problem was that the scientists had looked at too few octopuses. It was impossible to rule out the possibility that octopuses might not have any preference at all for either eye. The results of the experiments might simply have been a matter of chance.

After 50 years, in other words, we still don't know that much about what's going on in the heads of octopuses. Carefully designed experiments will be essential for finding out more, but so will a more octo-centric attitude. What we call intelligence is really just a set of behaviors and abilities that evolved in our ancestors as they adapted to a particular way of life. Octopuses evolved behaviors of their own, but they were adapting to a way of life that's hard for us to imagine—they were naked mollusks in a world of fish.

The earliest cephalopods, which lived about a half-billion years ago, had shells. Over the next 250 million years, they evolved into giant predators. They shot bursts of water out of siphons to swim—a prehistoric form of jet propulsion.* But their glory was cut short by fish with jaws—our ancestors. Fish could swim faster by bending their bodies than cephalopods could move by jetting. Today, only a single shelled cephalopod survives—the nautilus, which spends most of its life lurking deep underwater.

The other living cephalopods lost their shells. While they gave up a defense against predators, they were free to evolve new skills. Squids became fast swimmers. Octopuses instead moved to the sea floor, where they could use their shell-free bodies to explore cracks and crevices for prey. But in order to survive in this new niche, they had to become fast learners.

Jean Boal and her colleagues have done some experiments that show how good octopuses are at learning geography. Boal put the octopuses in tanks with an assortment of landmarks, such as plastic jugs, plates of pebbles, and clumps of algae. It took only a few trials for the octopuses to find the quickest route to a hidden exit in the bottom of the tank. What made Boal's results particularly impressive is that the octopuses were learning two completely different mazes at once. Boal would move them from one to the other after each trial. Somehow, the octopuses could keep track of two geographies concurrently. When octopuses are moving across new terrain, they can perhaps learn the best escape from predators.

Octopuses escape from predators not just by hiding quickly but by deceit. One of the most impressive examples of this deception is what marine biologist Roger Hanlon calls the moving-rock trick. An octopus morphs into the shape of a rock and then inches across an open space. Even though it's in plain view, predators don't attack it. They can't detect its motion because the octopus matches its speed to the motion of the light in the surrounding water.

For Hanlon, what makes this kind of behavior remarkable is that it's a creative combination of lots of behaviors, used to address a new situation. Similarly, when an octopus escapes an attack, it may puff up its body and turn white to scare a predator, shoot off puffs of ink to distract it, zigzag through the water, and then suddenly switch its skin to match the surrounding coral.

There's not much point in trying to pin this sort of behavior to some human-based scale of intelligence, because our behavior emerged as apes adapted to life spent on two legs, in groups, and using our hands to make tools. We'd fail pretty badly at an octopus-based test of intelligence, but surely we wouldn't hold it against ourselves.

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Imus says race comment misunderstood


The Associated Press

NEW YORK – Just months after returning to the airwaves with a pledge to mend the wounds caused by his racist and sexist comment about a women's basketball team, Don Imus is again drawing fire for injecting race into his radio show.

During an on-air conversation Monday about the arrests of suspended Dallas Cowboys cornerback Adam Jones, Imus asked, "What colour is he?''

Told by sports announcer Warner Wolf that Jones, who used to be nicknamed Pacman, is "African-American," Imus responded: "There you go. Now we know.''

Later Monday, Imus responded to criticism of his comments, saying he had been misunderstood.

"I meant that he was being picked on because he's black," Imus said in a statement released by his spokesman.

The on-air exchange came six months after Imus' return to work on a new show on WABC-AM following his firing from MSNBC and CBS Radio for making a racially and sexually charged comment about the Rutgers University women's basketball team. When he returned to work, Imus gave a lengthy on-air apology and pledged to use his new show to foster an open dialogue on race relations.

Earlier Monday, before Imus explained his words, civil rights leader Al Sharpton criticized him. Sharpton was one of the chief critics who successfully pushed for Imus' firing from his televised radio show in April 2007.

"I find the inference of his remark disturbing because it plays into stereotypes," Sharpton said in a statement. "We will determine in the next day or so whether or not his remark warrants direct action on our part.''

WABC and Citadel Broadcasting Corp. Vice President Phil Boyce said Imus would explain his comments on his Tuesday morning show and said it was unlikely the broadcasters would take disciplinary action against him.

Boyce said Imus had explained himself in a private conversation Monday afternoon and the explanation was satisfactory.

"I think some people may be misunderstanding what he meant,'' Boyce said.

Jones' attorney did not immediately respond to an email.

Rutgers University women's basketball spokeswoman Stacey Brann said there was "no need to revisit the past" and wouldn't comment further.

On Monday's show, Imus and Wolf were discussing Jones' request Saturday that people stop using his nickname. Wolf explained Jones was suspended from the NFL following a shooting at a Las Vegas nightclub, and he added that Jones had been "arrested six times since being drafted by Tennessee in 2005.''

Imus' next words were, "What colour is he?''

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Brain Study Shows Differences Between Gays, Straights

Washington Post Staff Writer

Is there such a thing as a "gay brain"? And, if so, are some people born with brains that make them more likely to be homosexual? Or do the brains of gay people develop differently in response to experiences?

Those are some of the thorny questions that have been raised by a provocative new study that found striking differences between the brains of homosexuals and heterosexuals in both men and women.

Some scientists say the new findings are part of an increasingly convincing body of evidence that suggests sexual orientation results from fundamental developmental differences that are probably caused by hormonal exposures in the womb.

"This research is pointing to basic differences in the brain between homosexual and heterosexual people that are likely there right from the beginning," said Sandra F. Witelson, a professor of psychiatry and behavioral neurosciences at McMaster University in Ontario. "These could be reflecting some genetic or hormonal factors that predetermine your sexual orientation."

Others, however, argue that such research is far from conclusive.

"I remain skeptical," said William Byne, a professor of psychiatry at Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York. "There's been a history of jumping to conclusions and overinterpreting findings in this field."

Several earlier studies have found what appear to be differences between the brains of gay and straight people. In 1991, brain scientist Simon LeVay reported that the hypothalamus, which is involved in sexual behavior, tended to be smaller in gay men. Other researchers subsequently showed that the brains of gay and straight people appeared likely to respond differently to sexual images. The researchers who conducted the new study previously reported that the brains of gay and straight men seemed to react differently to suspected pheromones -- odors thought to be involved in sexual arousal.

But such research is fraught with uncertainty, and it could not rule out that the findings were the result of changes that occurred in response to experiences and behaviors, rather than being inborn.

"The next question was 'If there is a difference, could there be differences in parts of the brain that have nothing to do with sexual behaviors?' " said Ivanka Savic of the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, who led the new research published online last week by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

So Savic and her colleague Per Lindstrom first used magnetic resonance imaging, or MRI, to compare the symmetry of the brains of 25 straight men and 25 straight women with those of 20 gay men and 20 gay women.

Gay men tended to have brains that were more like those of straight women than of straight men -- the right and left sides were about the same size, the researchers found. Gay women's brains tended to be more like those of straight men than of straight women -- the right side tended to be slightly larger than the left.

Next, the researchers used positron emission tomography (PET) scans to examine how a part of the brain involved in processing emotions -- the amygdala -- was connected to other brain regions. Again they found that gay men tended to be more like straight women, with a stronger link between the amygdala and regions involved in emotions. Gay women tended to be more like straight men, with stronger connections to motor functions.

Savic and Lindstrom stressed that their findings need to be confirmed by additional research and that it remains unclear how the differences might affect behavior.

While other researchers agreed, some said the findings about the amygdala could help explain why gay men tend to respond to emotional situations more like women and gay women more like men, and could even play a role in their sexual orientation.

"This ancient structure is involved in 'orienting' our attention to biologically important stimuli in our environment (such as attractive partners . . .)," Qazi Rahman, who studies sexual orientation at Queen Mary, University of London, wrote in an e-mail.

Others said that that interpretation was highly speculative, but at the very least the findings support the idea that there tend to be fundamental differences in brain structure, supporting the idea that sexual orientation is inborn.

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"This suggests that there's something going on during development that influences sexuality and the brain," LeVay said. "It points more persuasively to some early biological difference."

LeVay and other researchers said the findings fit with studies that found gay people tended to have different ratios in the lengths of their fingers and in the frequency of imperceptible clicking sounds in the ear.

"There's this cluster of interrelated findings," said Richard A. Lippa, a professor of psychology at California State University at Fullerton, who has found evidence that in gay men, the hair on the back of the head is more likely to curl counterclockwise than in straight men. "These are all biological markers that something must have gone on early in development."

These findings also fit with studies showing gay men tend to choose professions that typically attract women, such as teaching and social work, and have verbal and other cognitive skills that tend to be more like women's, he said.

"You get a sort of global shift in gender traits in gay people and straight people that affects not only their sexual orientation but other things as well," LeVay said.

Many researchers suspect that changes may be the result of the levels of hormones, such as testosterone, that fetuses are exposed to in the womb.

"We see the same asymmetries in the brains of rats and mice, and in rats and mice testosterone seems to be controlling it prenatally," said Marc Breedlove, a neuroscientist at Michigan State University.

But researchers say many questions remain about all this research. And there are as many differences within groups individuals of the same sexual orientation as between those of different orientation. Moreover, the new work involved adults, meaning there is no way to know with certainty when the structures and connections formed and why.

"It takes a snapshot of a group of people at a particular age," said Anne Fausto-Sterling, a professor of biology and gender studies at Brown University. "Even if there are reliable brain differences, it doesn't tell you anything about how those brain differences came into being."

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Italian soldiers floored by 77-year-old Japanese woman

By Nick Allen

Italian soldiers are facing the embarrassment of being beaten up daily by a 77-year-old Japanese grandmother.


Keiko Wakabayshi, 77, training Italian soldiers, in Livorno, Italy
BARCROFT MEDIA
Keiko Wakabayshi, nicknamed the "Samurai Granny" effortlesssly neutralises an opponent

Martial arts expert Keiko Wakabayshi, nicknamed the "Samurai Granny", has been hired by the country's military to train recruits in hand-to-hand combat.

Miss Wakabayshi, who stands exactly 5ft tall, looks tiny compared to her charges who are mostly over 6ft.

But the pensioner is a trained master in an array of martial arts disciplines including jujitsu, jojitso, kenjitso, judo, kendo and karate.

She wipes the floor with soldiers of the Folgore brigade at their barracks in Livorno on a daily basis.

Miss Wakabayshi was born in Japan but now lives in Northern Italy.

She tells her students to look at her and believe that nothing is impossible.

After flooring an opponent she tells them: "Don't think it's unbelievable. The physique doesn't matter."

Sparring is regarded as the most effective method of teaching martial arts and senior Italian military officers hope the experience of being humiliated by Miss Wakabayshi will toughen up their soldiers.

Miss Wakabayshi trained for many years to achieve her level of expertise and believes she can carry on defeating brawny soldiers for years to come.

The term martial arts is synonymous with the Far East, but actually derives from Mars, the Roman god of war and literally means the "arts of war".

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The Carla Effect

By MAUREEN DOWD

The French are different from you and me.

Yes, they have Sarkozy.

And they have Carla.

And they have “the Carla effect,” as it’s known in Paris.

If an American first lady, or would-be first lady, described herself as a “tamer of men” and had a “man-eating” past filled with naked pictures, Mick Jagger and Eric Clapton, sultry prone CD covers, breaking up marriages, bragging that she believes in polygamy and polyandry rather than monogamy, and having a son with a married philosopher whose father she had had an affair with, it would take more than an appearance on “The View” to sweeten her image.

It’s hard to imagine the decibel level on Fox News if Michelle Obama put out a CD this summer, as Carla Bruni-Sarkozy is, with songs featuring lyrics like “I am a child/despite my 40 years/despite my 30 lovers/a child”; and this song, “Ma came”: “You are my junk/more deadly than Afghan heroin/more dangerous than Colombian white. .../My guy, I roll him up and smoke him.”

Or if Michelle gave an interview, as Carla did in a new book, “La Véritable Histoire de Carla et Nicolas,” revealing that she fell in love with her husband for his many fertile brains.

“I didn’t expect someone so funny and so alive,” she said, recalling their blind date at a dinner party.

“I was seduced by his physical appearance, his charm and his intelligence. He has five or six brains which are remarkably irrigated.

“I didn’t go out with cretins before I met him. That’s not my style. But he is really, really quick.”

One chapter of the book is called “Le Diable s’Habille en Carla,” or “The Devil Wears Carla.” And the most repeated anecdote is the one where Carla slyly teases the French justice minister, Rachida Dati, a Sarko protégé, as they pass by a bed in the Élysée: “You would have loved to occupy it, wouldn’t you?”

But somehow the French — who are “polymorphously perverse,” as Woody Allen admiringly called Diane Keaton in “Annie Hall” — have become so enamored of their new first lady that they’re starting to like her husband more.

At the funeral of Yves Saint Laurent in Paris, Sarkozy got some catcalls when he got out of his car, while Carla, a former model for the designer, who calls herself “nothing more than a folk singer,” got applause and oohs and aahs.

“Preceded by a sulfurous reputation,” Le Journal du Dimanche reported, “Carla Bruni has improbably succeeded in a country so traditionally attached to conventions: in less than six months, the third wife of Sarko has conquered, after that of the President, the heart of the French: 68 percent of them, according to our JDD poll, appreciate their new first lady.”

In a recent survey in Le Figaro, the French president was back up at 37 to 41 percent favorables from a low of 32 percent last month.

“The president is better,” a close adviser to the mercurial Sarko told a reporter.

“There is definitely a serenity in his life now,” the French writer Olivier Royant told me.

“He has stopped behaving like a twit since the marriage,” a veteran observer of European politics agreed. “And unlike Cécilia, who seemed like a self-conscious pill who hated being at the Élysée, Carla is playing her role well. She is bien dans sa peau, happy in her own skin.”

Intuitively aware of the media, she handles both the French and foreign press with a down-to-earth aplomb. She has said she will keep her personality “while respecting the dignity of the position” and take her job “seriously.” She plans to write a diary, adding: “I write in French and dream in Italian.”

The magazine Le Point had a cover with Carla’s gleaming face and the headline “La Présidente,” with a picture inside of Sarko standing docilely behind his wife, as she sat at his desk and offered that assured feline gaze to the camera.

Just as Carla charmed the Queen of England and Princes Charles and Philip with her demure French schoolgirl look, she charmed George and Laura Bush on their visit, inviting Laura 30 minutes early for a girls’ tête-à-tête, and then sitting next to the American president and keeping him entertained with a spirited conversation in English, one of her three languages and sort of his one language.

At a press availability the next day, W. interrupted his own boring observation about “the importance of the Doha Round” to smilingly tell his pal Sarko: “It was a great pleasure to have been able to meet your wife. She’s a really smart, capable woman, and I can see why you married her. And I can see why she married you, too.”

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Woman uses bra as SOS signal

By Our Foreign Staff

An American woman has been rescued from a German mountain after sending an signal for help using her bra.

The woman, who had been missing for more than three days after being hurt while hiking, hooked the brightly coloured sports bra on a cable used for transporting logs to a valley below, hoping it would lead rescuers to her.

The 24-year-old outdoors enthusiast from Colorado was hiking alone in the Bavarian Alps hiking alone near Berchtesgaden, close to the border with Austria, last Monday.

She lost her way when the weather turned bad and she fell 18 feet down a crevasse, injuring her shoulder, ankle and head.

Hoping to attract the attention of rescuers, she sent the bra down the valley on the cable and hung out her underwear on a crag. She then waited, with only a small flask of water and some biscuits to sustain her.

The bra's owner, whose name has not been released by police, was found a few hours after the bra was spotted on Thursday by a helicopter crew. But, stuck on the crag, more than 4,000 feet up, winching her to safety was no easy task. Police described her rescue as a "tense situation."

"She was saved because she was really clever and in good physical shape," said police chief Adolph Gunther. "Hanging the bra out saved her life because a logger saw it, heard about the search for a missing woman, and called mountain rescue."

Her parents flew to Germany on Saturday to be with her. Authorities said she will make a full recovery.

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Predicting Where You’ll Go and What You’ll Like


Suzanne DeChillo/The New York Times

Gregory Skibiski, left, and Tony Jebara of Sense Networks, a company that uses location data to make recommendations for businesses and consumers.

THAT hoariest of real estate truisms — location, location, location — may soon be a clarion call for all sorts of businesses.

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Suzanne DeChillo/The New York Times

Its software shows busy areas in San Francisco.

We’re in the midst of a boom in devices that show where people are at any point in time. Global positioning systems are among the hottest consumer electronics devices ever, says Clint Wheelock, chief research officer at ABI Research, a technology market follower. And cellphones increasingly come with G.P.S. chips. All of these devices churn out data that says something about how people live.

Such data could redefine what we know about consumer behavior, giving businesses early insight into economic trends, better ways to determine sites for offices and retail stores, and more effective ways to advertise.

Just this month, the journal Nature published a paper that looked at cellphone data from 100,000 people in an unnamed European country over six months and found that most follow very predictable routines. Knowing those routines means that you can set probabilities for them, and track how they change.

“What we do is really not random, even though it may appear random,” says Albert-László Barabási, a physicist at Northeastern University who is one of the paper’s authors.

It’s hard to make sense of such data, but Sense Networks, a software analytics company in New York, earlier this month released Macrosense, a tool that aims to do just that. Macrosense applies complex statistical algorithms to sift through the growing heaps of data about location and to make predictions or recommendations on various questions — where a company should put its next store, for example. Gregory Skibiski, 34, the chief executive and a co-founder of Sense, says the company has been testing its software with a major retailer, a major financial services firm and a large hedge fund.

Tony Jebara, also 34, the chief scientist and another co-founder of Sense, said, “We can predict tourism, we can tell you how confident consumers are, we can tell retailers about, say, their competitors, who’s coming in from particular neighborhoods.”

Mr. Jebara, who is also an associate professor of computer science at Columbia University, says the key to drawing such conclusions starts with having very large sets of data that go back several years. Sense’s models were developed initially from sources like taxicab companies that let it look at location data over such a period. Sense also uses publicly available data, like weather information, and other nonpublic sources that it would not disclose. “We had three-quarters of a billion data points from just one city,” Mr. Skibiski says.

Mr. Jebara’s statistical models interpret those patterns and look at whether they correlate with things in the real world, like tourism levels or retail sales. The algorithms are complex. Even so, the model doesn’t work for everything Sense tries it on, often because more data is needed. But Mr. Jebara says that when it has the data, the model works well. Several hedge funds made an investment in Sense earlier this year.

The Macrosense tool lets companies engage in “reality mining,” a phrase coined by Sandy Pentland, an M.I.T. researcher who was also a co-founder of Sense and now advises it on privacy issues.

Sense is not the only company engaged in reality mining. Inrix, a Microsoft spin-off, uses traffic data to predict traffic patterns. Path Intelligence of Britain monitors traffic flow in shopping centers by tracking cellphones.

Reality mining raises instant questions about privacy, especially when cellphone data is involved. In the United States, it is illegal in many cases for cellphone companies to share customers’ location data without their consent.

Mr. Skibiski says that Sense is interested only in aggregate data and that it’s looking for broad patterns, not the specific behavior of individuals. But he recognizes the privacy issue. He says he believes that people should own their own data, control when it is disclosed and receive some remuneration for it. His original idea in 2002 was to pay people for their data, but a formula for doing so proved too complicated.

Instead, Sense decided to trade services for data. On the same day it released Macrosense, it announced a new software package called Citysense, which uses location data to show where people are going, say, for nightlife, and maps their activity. Consumers who have iPhones or BlackBerrys can sign up for the service, which does not ask for personal information. Over time, the software will learn their patterns and recommend places they might like to go, or show them where other people with similar patterns are going. If they want to purge their data, they can do so at any time.

There’s little doubt that products we use everyday, like our cellphones or cars, will increasingly allow for us to be tracked. And after years of hype, there also seems to be demand for services built around location. Gartner, a technology researcher and consulting firm, says that the market — which includes various navigation and search devices and subscriptions and services — will nearly triple in revenue this year, to $1.3 billion from $485 million in 2007, and will reach $8 billion in 2011.

Annette Zimmermann, a Gartner analyst, says Macrosense seems to have a novel offering, one with a potentially large market.

“So many companies are just sitting on data” that they can’t do much with, she says. That could make Macrosense a powerful tool.

Still, Sense’s model is not a sure thing.

“The reality is that location data is new, and we don’t have 10 years of history to work from,” says Ted Morgan, the chief executive and founder of Skyhook Wireless, which sells a service that lets people use WiFi network access points to get information about their location.

“But if their algorithms can do the things they say, we’d probably do a lot with them,” Mr. Morgan says.

Michael Fitzgerald writes about business, technology and culture. E-mail: mfitz@nytimes.com.

Original here

Angry kids protest gas prices after losing cable TV

Pyper, 7, and Sadie Vance, 9, hold signs in downtown Salt Lake City on Monday, June 23, 2008 to protest against high gas prices. The sisters decided to demonstrate after their mother was unable to pay the cable bill for their cartoons due to high fuel costs. (AP Photo/The Salt Lake Tribune, Katie Drake)
AP Photo: Pyper, 7, and Sadie Vance, 9, hold signs in downtown Salt Lake City on Monday,...

SALT LAKE CITY - Sadie and Pyper Vance have had just about enough of high gas prices. The sisters are still years away from being old enough to drive, but that doesn't mean the $4 per gallon price tag isn't hitting them as hard as anyone else.

Cable TV was one of the family's budget-cutting casualties, leaving Sadie, 9, and her 7-year-old sister without their favorite cartoons and shows.

"Gas prices are too high," Sadie said. "I just decided to come and protest so they'd go down."

The girls marched through downtown Monday chanting and carrying signs made from old campaign signs.

"All of my mom's monny goes to the gas tank!" Pyper's sign read. Sadie carried a sign asking drivers to honk to lower gas prices — adding that her mom had to cut "cabel."

The girls got some waves and a few thumbs-up to show support.

"I think it's great," said Hamid Tayeb, who was walking past on his lunch break. "It's unfortunate that kids are doing it before we do."

Original here


Victoria's Circuit

Harnessing the untapped power of breast motion.

Illustration by Rob Donnelly. Click image to expand.

As a woman who loves sports, I've always found the concept of breasts bothersome. If all goes according to plan, they will fulfill their intended function for about three of the 70 years that I have them. The rest of the time, they alternate between getting in my way and embarrassing me. They are a favorite target of Frisbees and soccer balls. Finding sports bras is a chore. Shirts don't fit.

And these are just the physical discomforts. I am still tortured by the memory of three cousins standing in a circle around me, at the impressionable age of 10, mocking my early development and telling me that I was going to be the Asian Dolly Parton. Fortunately, that never happened, but the possibility haunted my late childhood.

Then one day recently I had an idea. As I rode public transportation to the office, my messenger bag slung uncomfortably across my chest, I thought, "Why not put the girls to work?" Human-powered devices are showing up everywhere, from Rotterdam's sustainable dance floor to human-powered gyms in Hong Kong. The time seemed perfect—perhaps even overdue!—for a bra that could harness the untapped power of breast motion.

The idea of an energy-generating bra isn't as crazy as it might sound. A company called Triumph International Japan recently unveiled a solar-powered bra that supposedly will generate enough energy to power an iPod. But I live in foggy San Francisco and prefer not to walk around in my underwear in public. Could someone design an iPod-powering bra for me?

I decided to run the question past some scientists. It turns out that the physics of breast motion have been studied closely for the last two decades by a gamut of researchers, most of them women. LaJean Lawson, a former professor of exercise science at Oregon State University, has studied breast motion since 1985 and now works as a consultant for companies like Nike to develop better sports bra designs. Lawson was enthusiastic about my idea but warned it would be tricky to pull off. You would need the right breast size and the right material, she explained, and the bra itself would have to be cleverly designed. "It's just a matter of finding the sweet spot, between reducing motion to the point where it's comfortable but still allowing enough motion to power your iPod," she said.

Lawson explained that breasts move on three different axes: from side to side, front to back, and up and down. The most motion is generated on the vertical axis. Naturally, the bigger the breast, the more momentum it generates. "Let's face it—if you're a double-A marathoner, you're probably not going to get that iPod up and running," Lawson said. Measurements compiled by Lawson and her colleagues show that a D-cup in a low-support bra can travel as much as 35 inches up and down (35 inches!) during exercise, while a B-cup in a high-support bra barely moves an inch.

Fabric and design are also important factors in distance traveled. Elastic fabric allows the breast to move more. Choosing between an encapsulation design, in which the cups are separated, or a compression design, where they are hugged close to the body, can also affect breast motion. An encapsulation design further reduces motion because two smaller masses are easier to control than one large one. "Also, if you have a really high neckline, the breasts won't fly up," Lawson said. So I was in the market for an elastic, compression-style bra with a low neckline. Sexy!

Of course, even a bra that perfectly maximized motion (without sacrificing support and comfort) would be useful to me only if there were a way to turn that motion into energy. For a primer on how to do that, I turned to Professor Zhong Lin Wang of Georgia Tech, who is currently working to develop fabric made from nanowires that will capture energy from motion. Wang's wires are about 1/1,000th the width of a human hair. When woven together in a fabric, these nanowires rub up against one another and convert the mechanical energy from the friction into an electric charge. According to Wang, the fabric is cheap to produce and surprisingly efficient; his team hopes to use it to create energy-generating T-shirts and other articles of clothing. A square meter of fiber produces about 80 milliwatts of power, which is enough to run a small device like a cell phone. Wang expects to have a shirt available for purchase within five years.

Many bra patterns call for about a meter of fabric, which would probably mean that a regular bra would have enough energy to power an iPod. But the fabric could also be layered, doubling or even tripling the amount of energy produced. I asked Wang whether his fabric could be used to make a bra. "Bras would be ideal," he said. "There is a lot of friction and movement in that general area. And the fabric would be thick."

"So you can generate enough energy to power an iPod?" I asked.

"Definitely," Wang said.

I asked Wang if this bra would be machine-washable.

"You don't need to wash a bra!" he said.

I disagreed. Wang said his team has been working on the washing problem for a while. Nanowire technology can generate electricity only if the space between the wires is maintained, and that space might be affected if the fabric were agitated by washing. One solution would be to layer the fabric so that the parts that directly touch the skin could be washed, leaving the nanowires in between untouched.

There was one more approach I wanted to investigate, one that might supplement Wang's technology. Was there a way to capture the energy of the bra strap, which bears the pressure of holding up the breast mass? To answer this question, I called Larry Rome, a biology professor at the University of Pennsylvania and the creator of Lightning Packs. The Lightning Pack, intended for long-haul hikers and for the military, generates kinetic energy from the vertical displacement of a heavy backpack. Would it be possible to use the kinetic energy generated from a breast's vertical displacement?

"The backpacks we've built are intended to carry between 40 to 80 pounds," Rome said.

I cited the D-cup numbers given to me by Lawson. "Well, that's not normal, is it?" Rome asked.

I said that it probably wasn't. Yet after a moment's thought, Rome came up with an idea. The Lightning Pack uses a rotary generator, which converts motion into energy by winding a rotor as the backpack moves up and down. Rotary generators produce up to 7 watts of energy, enough to power a compact fluorescent light bulb. Rome said it might be possible to insert a linear generator into the bra. A linear generator is a lot smaller and creates energy by moving a piston up and down. Rome conceded that with the right body type, this just might work, though he warned it "probably wouldn't be very comfortable."

Still, if someone were to engineer a kinetically powered bra, even one that isn't quite as comfortable as the old-fashioned kind, I'd be intrigued—and I might just start looking at my breasts in a different light. Maybe it's not very sexy to see breasts as a pair of batteries, but oil prices are so high, people are jogging to work. It may be time for breasts to start pulling their own weight.

Original here

Border yoga event stretches boundaries at U.S.-Mexico fence



Guillermo Arias/Associated Press
Residents practice yoga on both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border fence as they take part in the "Yoga without borders" encounter in Tijuana, Mexico, Sunday.

Associated Press
A U.S. resident practices yoga at the U.S.-Mexico border fence.

Original here
TIJUANA, Mexico – The rusty fence may divide the beaches of U.S. and Mexico, but it can't break up a yoga class.

A few dozen yoga aficionados rolled out their mats Sunday on both sides of the wall between Tijuana, Mexico, and San Diego. The international group stretched and meditated together before exchanging hugs through the fence bars.

The session was organized by the Border Meetup Group, which promotes cross-border understanding by staging social events on the divided beach.

Coordinator Dan Watman said the group aims “to make friends across cultural, political, societal, even emotional barriers.”

The Tijuana beach is a popular destination for families who come to chat through the fence with loved ones on the other side.

Boy, 18, feared drowned as dinghy is blown out to sea but brother, 10, swims to safety

By Daily Mail Reporter


A 18-year-man was tonight feared dead after an inflatable dinghy was blown out to sea by "hellish" winds.

Lifeguards said the rubber boat was seen "cartwheeling" across the waves shortly after the man disappeared off Great Yarmouth, Norfolk, last night.

Coastguards said the missing man, who was wearing jeans and a white T-shirt, could not swim.

Emergency service workers said the man was with his 10-year-old brother when the inflatable was swept away.


Lifeguards at Great Yarmouth, Norfolk search for a missing 18-year-old boy swept out to sea on a inflatable dingy

The youngster swam about 500 metres to shore to raise the alarm after the boat capsized, coastguards said.

'They got into trouble because the off-shore winds were absolutely hellish,' said lifeguard Rory Abel, 18.

'Witnesses told us they had seen these two boys in a dinghy and it had blown out about 500 metres to sea.

'They had either fallen or jumped out and after that the dinghy cartwheeled across the water.'

He said the man and his brother had been on an area of beach not patrolled by lifeguards.

Coastguards called off the search early today after finding no trace of the man, thought to come from Norwich, or the dinghy.

Lifeguards said the 10-year-old boy swam back to three of his other brothers flying a kite on the beach.


The area where the teenager went missing on the North side of Britannia Pier

The boy and his brothers on the beach, thought to be aged between 11 and 21, underwent hospital checks.

Mr Abel added: 'They were obviously a bit emotional, so we were trying to calm them down.'

Coastguards received a 999 call at about 5.40 pm from a member of the public who saw the youth being thrown into the sea.

Five lifeboats from Gorleston, Caister and Hemsby were searching for him along with an RAF Sea King rescue helicopter.

Mario Siano of Yarmouth Coastguard said: 'We have been concerned throughout the day that inflatable toys would be blown out to sea with people on them in these strong offshore winds.

'Despite a major search by many rescue workers today, tragically, our worst fears appear to have been realised. Our thoughts are with the family of this young man.'

A helicopter from RAF Wattisham, Suffolk, had rescued two other boys blown out to sea on a blue inflatable dinghy at Great Yarmouth earlier that afternoon.

Original here

More than 800,000 on 'sicknote' benefits for more than 10 years, new figures show

By Steve Doughty

Nearly a third of people claiming 'sicknote' benefits have been doing so for more than a decade, new figures showed yesterday.

More than 800,000 people have been paid Incapacity Benefit or similar state handouts for illness for more than ten years.

They make up over 30 per cent of the 2.64 million people who live on the state sick note payment most often blamed for keeping millions of families mired in benefit dependency.

People who say they are unemployed and claim Jobseekers' Allowance get less money than those who claim sickness benefits

The new details of how hundreds of thousands appear to have backed away from any possibility of returning to work throw fresh light on the way Incapacity Benefit has replaced unemployment benefits as the real measure of worklessness.

People who say they are unemployed and claim Jobseekers' Allowance get less money than those who claim sickness benefits, and come under pressure to find work.

Reforms to Incapacity Benefit this autumn are intended to introduce checks on how sick or disabled claimants really are, and to find out what kinds of work they may be fit for. But they will apply only to new claimants and are expected to take no more than 20,000 people a year off the benefit lists.

Tory Work and Pensions spokesman Chris Grayling, who obtained the new figures, said: 'Sometimes you have to wonder what the point of a Labour Government has been.

'Despite all the grandiose promises and the billions of pounds that have been spent, they have delivered virtually no improvement for the most vulnerable in our society.'

Numbers claiming sickness benefits exploded in the 1980s when old heavy industries suffered heavy closures in the north of England and Wales. But numbers of claimants have declined by only a hundred thousand over the past decade and half a million people aged under 35 now live on the hand outs.

High proportions of claimants say they suffer from bad backs, which are notoriously difficult for doctors to disprove, and growing numbers claim for stress. More than 100,000 are on sickness benefits because they are too ill to work because of their heavy use of alcohol or drugs.

The new figures show that 806,630 claimants have been on Incapacity Benefit for more than 10 years.

Earlier this year MPs of the Public Accounts Committee said that a majority of claimants - six out of ten - have been taking the handout for more than five years.

Incapacity Benefit is considered one of the key reasons why six million people in Britain live in homes where no-one has a job. They make up nearly one in six of all households.

The figures showed most of those claiming for more than a decade were in the North West, where there were more than 130,000 long-term claimants.

Of the top 10 constituencies for the highest percentage of people claiming incapacity benefit for more than a decade, five were from the North West.

But the worst-hit constituency was the former coal mining town of Easington in the North East, where 42 per cent of incapacity benefit claimants have been on the handout for more than 10 years.

Welsh constituency Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney and the North West's Wirral South were also badly affected, with 41 per cent and 40 per cent respectively.

The cost of Incapacity Benefit to the taxpayer is now calculated to run at ?16 billion a year - an amount that compares with the ?10 billion cost of the 2012 Olympics.

The figure includes the cost of Housing Benefit and Council Tax Benefit that can be claimed by anyone who has successfully claimed IB.

Original here

Girl Spins On Escalator Thanks to Physics or Magic


There are moments in which, for whatever reason, being it a scientific discovery, a voyage into the unknown, or somebody's excessive alcohol intake, humanity advances one step forward into its destiny, a final state of clarity and peace that will take us all to the stars. This moment complies with the three reasons. Ah, you Ms. Spinning Blonde in Jeans you. We love you.

Original here

Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory Refuses Bathroom Access to 5-Year-Old, Who Then Has Diarrhea In Front Of Them

A reader writes: "Last night we were out with friends and went to the Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory at Bella Terra/Huntington Beach. We were eating outside as my 5 year old daughter got an uncontrollable urge to use the bathroom and began crying and screaming 'diarrhea, diarrhea.' I ran into the store with her in my arms, begging to use the bathroom and they refused multiple times."

I explained she had diarrhea and couldn't hold it and told them she was about to go on the floor. They refused again and never offered me any alternatives. I begged them to have a heart and that she was 5 but by that time she had lost it all over herself and me. I ran with her in my arms to the movie theater that let me use their bathroom. I cleaned her up, threw out some of her clothes and went back to the Chocolate Factory - asking for names and number of management. I again pleaded with them to use their heart in situations like this.

I called the manager today and she finally called me back. She supports the employees and tells me that it is an insurance decision. She told me to sue if it makes me feel happy. She laughed at me when I told her I would be using my extensive contacts to begin a viral campaign to boycott her store and the entire chain and told me that she was "sure that would make my daughter very proud." My daughter was humiliated, forced to defecate on herself due to the lack of compassion exhibited by the store - which the owner continued to support on the phone with me. I don't want anything, I just want them to have a bit of compassion in the future.

Longtime Consumerist readers know this isn't the first time we've written about a company refusing a customer with a bathroom emergency and ending up with disastrous results. Last summer, a similar story involving Jo-Ann fabrics prompted enough complaints to the CEO that he issued an apology and "immediately changed [company] policy to allow any customer to use [store] restrooms upon request." Our reader pointed us to a situation a few years ago when Old Navy denied bathroom access to a customer with Crohn's disease that ended up with the customer's state legislator introducing a bill requiring businesses to open up their bathrooms for emergencies. We don't think a law is necessary, just basic human decency: if someone has an emergency, let her use your bathroom.

UPDATE: After reading some of the comments, I searched around some more to find out whether a place that serves food has to provide a bathroom to customers. As it turns out, Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory may have violated existing California Code provisions. An organization called the American Restroom Association has a Uniform Plumbing Code that requires a "toilet facility for customers, patrons, and visitors of all mercantile and business establishments." The Uniform Plumbing Code has been adopted by California, so it seems that there IS a requirement for businesses to provide restroom facilities for customers.

(Photo: Getty)

Original here

Shyness drug could boost confidence

By David Thomas

A drug that combats shyness and social awkwardness, dubbed "social Viagra", could be developed after scientists investigated a hormone released by new mothers.

Scientists in the US found that oxytocin, a natural hormone that assists childbirth and helps mothers bond with newborn babies, helps reduce anxiety and calm phobias.

There are also signs it may help people with autism.

Teams in the US, Europe and Asia are now racing to commercialise a drug based on the hormone, which can be produced synthetically.

Paul Zak, a professor of neuroscience at California's Claremont Graduate University, who has tested the hormone on hundreds of patients, said: "Tests have shown that oxytocin reduces anxiety levels in users. It is a hormone that facilitates social contact between people. What's more, it is a very safe product that does not have any side effects and is not addictive."

The research has been backed up by studies in other countries.

Researchers at Zurich University in Switzerland were able to ease symptoms of extreme shyness in 120 patients by giving them oxytocin hormone treatment half an hour before they encountered an awkward situation.

A spray of the hormone has also been successfully trialled at the University of New South Wales.

Millions of people in the UK suffer from shyness, and one-in-10 people say it seriously affects their daily life. Some resort to drink or illegal drugs to help overcome their awkwardness.

As well as being released by mothers after childbirth, the hormone is believed to make people more generous. Research shows that the higher the natural level of oxytocin people have in their brain, the more likely they are to give money to charity and act kindly towards strangers. It has also been shown to increase the level of monogamy in rodents.

There is speculation that oxytocin might be able to help new mothers who have trouble bonding with their babies or orphans whose mental scars from neglect make it hard for them to love adoptive parents.

It could have other commercial benefits. For instance, it could be sprayed in restaurants to put diners at ease, or be used as an alternative to tear gas to calm rioters.

Original here

College girls banned from whistling at builders

By Rupert Neate

A further education college is having to protect builders from wolf-whistling girls, in a reversal of traditional gender stereotypes.

Officials at West Kent College in Tonbridge, Kent, sent an email to all pupils warning that the behaviour was "totally unacceptable", and saying any students caught harassing contractors would face disciplinary action.

The email was sent after a demolition team started work on a £94 million, three-year building project at the campus.

The email read: "It has come to the attention of the college that some female students have been making comments to, or whistling at, the builders both whilst on site and as they walk around the campus.


"Although we are sure no offence is meant, this constitutes harassment and is wholly unacceptable.

"We have asked the contractors' representative to pass on all instances of harassment to the college and we will take appropriate action which may include disciplinary action."

A spokeswoman for the contractors, Galliford Try, said: "We have no registered complaints on this issue. However we do not condone inappropriate behaviour from any parties on our sites."

Meanwhile new laws could see wolf-whistling builders placed on the sex offenders register. The Sexual Offences (Scotland) Bill will create a new offence of "communicating indecently", punishable by up to 10 years in jail.

The legislation is intended to punish sexual harassment by text, emails and letters, but ministers also aim to include sexually explicit comments to strangers. It is expected that the law would only apply to persistent offenders.

At the moment, workmen who repeatedly make obscene comments to passers-by can be convicted of a breach of the peace.

Original here

5 Superpowers From the Bible That Put Marvel and DC to Shame

By Levi Ritchie


If we could ask God for just one thing, it'd be this: We want superpowers like people in the Bible had.

Is that too much to ask? We could do a lot with our powers, some of it good. So why not? It used to happen quite a bit, the Bible is full of people who God infused with powers that would put most of the Marvel and DC lineup to shame. Such as:

#5.
Ezekiel and His Zombie Army

Ezekiel was a prophet. For most Biblical prophets, this meant having freaky visions, telling them to people, being mocked and most likely being executed for heresy. But it was all worth it, when things like this happened:

That's Ezekiel 37: 1-14, and that's him raising a freaking army of the undead.

If we could do that ...
An army of the undead, right at our fingertips? Imagine the bank-robbers running when suddenly rotting arms reach up from the ground, grab that sack of cash, steal his car and beat him with his own intestines. But crime fighting is just the beginning, we're thinking there's really an incredible number of uses for your legions of undead henchman.

Also, it's not too far-fetched to assume that this would work on animals as well, so zombie horsemen could give us some serious mobility.

The Downside:
This special ability seems to require having a lot of exposed skeletons laying around, a resource we probably won't find while fighting crime with Spider-Man in New York (unless there are some neighborhoods that are way worse than we initially thought).

Secondly, some people might get a bit uneasy about the whole walking around town followed by an army of terrifying zombies. It's one of the tenets of being a superhero that your presence doesn't prompt horrified shrieks from children. So we would have to move somewhere where freakishly impossible and ethically questionable things won't seem out of place. Maybe the Netherlands.

#4.
Moses, Aaron and Their Magic Staff

In a part of the Bible some of you know from the movie The Ten Commandments, Moses and sidekick Aaron were about to lead the Jews out of Egypt when God told them to show the Pharaoh a new trick with his staff. So in Exodus 7:10-12:

Sure the magicians were able to pull off the snake trick with slightly less hungry snakes. But based on our experience with Egyptian magic, we bet those guys just threw down rubber snakes their magicians assistants wiggled around the floor with a wire.

Also, the above example is only one of many times those staffs come in handy. Before long, Moses and Aaron were using their magic staffs to turn rivers into blood, spread disease through the land and even summon armies of locusts. It was basically like God declared their staffs to be wild cards in a hand of terrifying superpower poker.

If we could do that ...
Crime does not want to see us out on the streets with one of these. Point a gun at us, buddy? Watch as it turns into a swarm of killer bees that sting your face off.

We'd be like a combination of Batman and Harry Potter, only instead of tiny wands we'd have huge freaking staffs that would also serve as clubs, or giant legs of fried chicken if we got hungry, or wanted to make a beating particularly humiliating. Though despite their ability to do anything, we suspect we'd still use the "turn into a snake" feature the most.

The Downside:
Like wizards, they seemed to become very weak without their staffs, so there are some serious problems there, particularly when you've got it in snake mode and it goes slithering under a car.

#3.
Samson and His Lion-Crushing Strength

Samson is well known as one of the all-time badasses, and he got started early. From Judges 14: 5-6:

The writer points out that Samson tore apart a lion as easily as one would tear apart a young goat, which says something about the era they lived in since we're not sure we could tear apart a goat with the aid of a machine designed for the purpose.

He then made sure that his parents, who were with him, didn't know anything about it, probably using the old "Hey, look over there, and continue to do so while ignoring the grotesque sounds and spray of blood coming from this general direction." Most intriguing about this might be the fact that the Lion came "roaring" toward Samson, and yet he still killed it so quickly that his folks didn't find out. Big points for efficiency, right there.

After this, the legacy of Samson began, in which he killed enough people to populate a small city.

If we could do that ...
Biblical scholars have bitterly debated whether or not Samson could have stood up to modern weaponry. He clearly could not be killed with swords or spears, but was later killed when a building fell on him. We're actually not sure how much crime we'd want to be fighting if we could still be brought down with a bullet to the head.

No, we'd probably wind up with a lucrative career on the Mixed Martial Arts circuit instead. As for the lion-wrestling thing, it's hard to imagine that ever coming up unless we were drunk at the zoo.

The Downside:
Worth noting that Samson really only uses his super strength at times when danger is imminent, or (more often) when he was pissed off about something. We do believe we've got ourselves an Incredible Hulk on our hands.

But unlike the Hulk, Samson's weakness was that all his powers came from his long hair, so should it ever be shaved, he would lose his strength. That weakness seems pretty easy for the bad guys to exploit should they find out about it.

In Samson's case, his bitchy girlfriend, Delilah, nagged him until he revealed this fact at which point she shaved him and handed him over to his enemies. So we guess you could say Samson had two weaknesses, the other being boobs.

#2.
Jesus, Like a Non-Useless Aquaman

Jesus. Maybe you've heard of him. But of all the healing and feeding and returning from the dead he did, this has got to be the most awesome superpower he had, from Mark 4:35-41:

So they're out in the middle of a hurricane, tossed around like the guys on Deadliest Catch and Jesus, because he was just hardcore like that, didn't mind the drenching rain and the loud thunder and continued sleeping. His disciples woke him up and started griping with stupid complaints like "The boat is halfway under water!" and "We are going to die!"

Jesus told them they were faithless wusses and the disciples shut up. If that wasn't cool enough, he chewed out the storm, and it shut up, too. That has to be our favorite part, how he's just annoyed by the whole thing, as if being bothered to stop an entire weather systems was equivalent to getting woken up by your girlfriend to go kill a spider in the bathroom.

If we could do that ...

Between communicating with storms, walking on water and turning water into wine, the man pretty much had the whole water thing under his thumb. In some sense, we'd be like a non-useless aquaman, if that is even possible.

The Downside:
We're not completely sure what street crime we could stop with this ability, since the city would probably rather deal with the Joker than the eight-foot wall of water we'd use to kill him.

But man, if you're trying to commit a crime on the high seas, watch out. We're telling you right now that, with the simple addition of Jesus' water-command, ours would be a world entirely without pirates. Well, without the shitty boring kind at least.

#1.
Elisha and Elijah's Abilty To Summon Bears, Split Rivers with Dirty Laundry

Elijah and Elisha were an epic miracle-producing tag team in their time (sort of like if Superman had a younger protege named "Duperman"). Elijah, after a life spent raising the dead and calling down fire to smite heathen prophets, goes out like this:

That's 2 Kings 2: 11-14 where God, deciding that waiting thousands of years for someone so incredibly badass as Elijah to die would be too long, just plucked him from the ground and up through the pearly gates while he was still alive. And since God likes to make those rare public appearances count for something, he stages the whole thing in a cool-ass flaming chariot.

Elisha, now that his name would no longer be confused with anyone else, found that he could reach his full potential. Not to be outdone by the whole "whirlwind" thing, he uses Elijah's coat to casually split a river in half. That's right, something that was a huge deal for Charleton Heston's Moses was accomplished using only the powers that had rubbed off on a piece of Elijah's dirty laundry. How could Elisha, who was to be Elijah's successor, possibly top that?

When confronted by a gang of smartass kids, he summoned two bears to attack them. Yep, that'll do it.

If we could do that ...
We'd pretty much rule the world. Unlike Moses and Aaron, Elijah and Elisha didn't have those ridiculous "staff" things holding them back. These guys were basically plugged into The Matrix here, and could do anything they wanted whether the laws of physics were cool with it or not.

The thing is, we'd settle for any one of their powers by itself; the flaming, flying chariot for instance. Or just the ability to summon bears at will. Holy crap, there's like five situations a day where we'd like to do that.

But throw it all in, including calling down fire from the sky and controlling water? We wouldn't just be stopping criminals, we'd be stopping crime. You want to rob a bank? Well you'd better have a suit that's fireproof, waterproof and freaking bear proof. Multiple bear proof, in fact.

The Downside:
Well, for Elijah, the answer is quite obviously "none," considering that if he hadn't gotten a flaming ride up to heaven, he'd presumably still be alive today. We're not seeing a downside.

The Bible doesn't describe exactly how Elisha died, only that his last recorded act was telling the king that he was a moron. We wonder if that might not be why it was his last recorded act.

Original here