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Astronomy Picture of the Day

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Thursday, July 24, 2008

PHOTO IN THE NEWS: "Conjoined" Birds Puzzle Experts

An apparent pair of conjoined barn swallows is causing a flutter among bird experts.

Judsonia, Arkansas, resident Danny Langford found the odd couple on July 17 after they fell out of their nest and onto his driveway. Barn swallows have nested near Langford's house for the past seven years, he said, before completing their annual migration to South America.

Arkansas wildlife officials who examined the young swallows said the phenomenon of conjoined twinning in birds is very rare.

"I can't even say it's one in a million—it's probably more than that," Karen Rowe, with the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission, told the Associated Press. "There's just very little to no records of such a thing."

But two barn swallows are not better as one. The birds stopped eating soon after they were found, and one died on July 18. A veterinarian later euthanized the surviving twin. Rowe told AP that she plans to send the bodies to the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., for further study.

The news, however, isn't flying with everyone. Gary Graves, curator of the Smithsonian's bird division, told National Geographic News that, while it's possible the birds are the result of a genetic abnormality that started in the egg, he thinks this scenario is unlikely.

X-rays of the bodies taken at the Little Rock Zoo did not show shared internal organs or skeletal elements, which are typically present in conjoined twins. Also, the birds were initially thought to share only three legs, but later examinations found a fourth leg tucked under the skin connecting them, AP reported.

"More likely it's something that happened in the nest," Graves said. One baby bird could have suffered a cut, for example, which the other stuck its foot into or became stuck to, joining them as the wound scabbed and healed.

"It could be stuck together by glue for all we know. At this point, there's nothing scientific you can say about anything," Graves said. "This could be something far less of a spectacle and far more mundane."

—Kimberly Johnson

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Judge: Girl's name, Talula Does The Hula, won't do

WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) -- A family court judge in New Zealand has had enough with parents giving their children bizarre names here, and did something about it.

Just ask Talula Does The Hula From Hawaii. He had her renamed.

Judge Rob Murfitt made the 9-year-old girl a ward of the court so that her name could be changed, he said in a ruling made public Thursday. The girl was involved in a custody battle, he said.

The new name was not made public to protect the girl's privacy.

"The court is profoundly concerned about the very poor judgment which this child's parents have shown in choosing this name," he wrote. "It makes a fool of the child and sets her up with a social disability and handicap, unnecessarily."

The girl had been so embarrassed at the name that she had never told her closest friends what it was. She told people to call her "K" instead, the girl's lawyer, Colleen MacLeod, told the court.

In his ruling, Murfitt cited a list of the unfortunate names.

Registration officials blocked some names, including Fish and Chips, Yeah Detroit, Keenan Got Lucy and Sex Fruit, he said. But others were allowed, including Number 16 Bus Shelter "and tragically, Violence," he said.

New Zealand law does not allow names that would cause offense to a reasonable person, among other conditions, said Brian Clarke, the registrar general of Births, Deaths and Marriages.

Clarke said officials usually talked to parents who proposed unusual names to convince them about the potential for embarrassment.

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Sex, blood and baby names: U.S. mad for free gas

A gas station owner holds on to the money given to him by a customer to prepay for fuel at his station in Arlington, Virginia, June 11, 2008. REUTERS/Jim Young
Reuters Photo: A gas station owner holds on to the money given to him by a customer...

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Some U.S. motorists sick of getting clobbered at the pump seem willing to do just about anything for free fuel, from giving up the right to name their children to stealing from day-care centers to donating blood.

In Orlando, Florida, David Partin pledged to name his son after local radio hosts to win a $100 gas card as part of a contest. Partin will collect the card in December, when his son is born, if he can produce a birth certificate proving the baby is named Dixon Willoughby Partin, after the hosts.

"(His wife said) this is his problem to explain when the child is older," Greg Stevens, WHTQ-FM program director told Reuters.

At the Shady Lady Ranch brothel in Beatty, Nevada, clients who spend $300 or more this month will receive $50 gas vouchers as part of a promotion to beat the summer slump in business.

"It's rocking along. We're doing quite well. June and July historically are not big months," said James Davis, who co-owns the ranch with his wife, Bobbi.

The first $1,000 in gas cards were given out within a week, he added.

In Mesquite, Texas, thieves drained $100 worth of gasoline from buses used by the Higher Ground Church day-care center and have hit four or five other church center fleets in the area.

"It was someone who was desperate," said James Green, the church's pastor. "All he had to do was come and ask us and we would have bought him a tank of gas."

The American Red Cross, meanwhile, is running a summer raffle where blood donors are eligible to win a year's supply of fuel.

At St. Ann's Parish in West Bridgewater, Massachusetts, the Rev. Edward McDonagh has decided to institute a drawing for a $50 gasoline card at weekly mass.

The drawings are symbolic gestures and not intended to boost attendance, he said.

"When Jesus was at the wedding feast of Cana, the groom ran out of wine, he produced the wine for them," he said. "In that spirit, we feel that this might be comparable."

(Editing by Michelle Nichols and Xavier Briand)

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Identical twins marry, give birth to identical twins

When identical twin sisters Diane and Darlene Nettemeier met identical twin brothers Craig and Mark Sanders a decade ago, they could never have guessed just how much of their lives would be based around perfect sets of two.


The two Sanders families with their children Photo: BARCROFT

The sets of twins, from Texas, fell in love, went on a double date to Las Vegas, and won thousands of dollars at poker.

Sensing they were on a winning streak, they got engaged on the same day, married at a joint ceremony (officially "quarternary marriages"), and built a pair of homes, side by side.

Soon afterwards, despite a million-to-one odds, Diane and Craig went on to have identical twins of their own - Colby and Brady, now seven.

But the happy unions weren't all down to incredible odds - one decade after they started dating Craig, 44, and Diane, 37, are returning to the Twin Day festival in Twinsburg, Ohio, where they met in 1998.

This year they will be taking their own seven-year-old boys to celebrate their good fortune at being part of a double double-act.

Twin Days are annual gatherings in which genetically identical siblings gather, in matching outfits, to celebrate sameness.

Five weeks after meeting "the girls", the Sanders twins went to visit them in St Louis, where the sisters lived together, and had their first kisses in the Busch Stadium parking lot after watching the Astros play the Cardinals in baseball.

The following winter, the sisters went to visit the brothers in Houston, where they celebrated New Year's Eve at a restaurant called Sabine-- because it was owned by twins, naturally.

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Who Said It: Bush or Batman?

Can you guess which of these quotes -- provided by Philadelphia sketch group, Secret Pants -- belong to our president, George W. Bush, and which belong to Batman from his 1960s TV series?

It's harder than you think...

The old guy came closest to getting a perfect score.

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