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Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Three-year-old buys pink convertible on eBay
Mom had stored credit card information on auction site


LONDON - Jack Neal briefly became the proud owner of a pink convertible car after he managed to buy it for 9,000 pounds ($17,000) on the Internet despite being only three years old.

Jack’s mother told the BBC she had left her password for the eBay auction site in her computer and her son used the “buy it now” option to complete the purchase.

“Jack’s a whiz on the PC and just pressed all the right buttons,” Rachel Neal said.

The seller of the second-hand car, a dealer from Worcestershire, central England, was amused by the bid and agreed not to force the sale through.

“Luckily he saw the funny side and said he would re-advertise,” Neal said.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Pets orphaned by Lebanon war to come to U.S.
300 homeless dogs and cats to be airlifted out of Beirut for adoption
The Associated Press

BEIRUT, Lebanon - They endured a summer of war, but now relief is coming for Lebanon’s little known victims — cats and dogs abandoned when their owners fled the country during the early days of fighting between Israel and Hezbollah.

Some 300 of the former pets are being flown to the United States on Monday for adoption.

For Mona Khoury, who has helped take care of the animals the past few weeks, the rescue operation is tinged with sadness.
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“I’ve grown attached to them and I’m very, very sad that they’re leaving. But I know they’ll be in good hands and have a better life there,” she said.

Khoury is co-founder of Beirut for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, which is working on the project with the American animal society Best Friends.

BETA rounded up many of the pets left behind when tens of thousands of foreigners and Lebanese with foreign passports evacuated the country in July and August.

The U.S. Embassy and others told the evacuees that pets would not be allowed on the ships and helicopters carrying them to safety, and many families had to abandon their animals or leave them with friends who later got rid of them.

'Largest animal airlift'
Michael Mountain, president of the Utah-based Best Friends, which describes itself as America’s largest refuge for abused and abandoned pets, said in a phone interview that about 300 of the homeless pets would be put on a special cargo plane Monday and flown to the United States

“This is certainly the largest animal airlift operation we’ve ever done overseas,” he said.

There will be two refueling stops — one in Manchester, England, and another at New York’s JFK Airport — before arriving in Las Vegas, where the orphans will be put on Best Friends trucks for a 3½-hour ride to temporary housing at the Best Friends Animal Sanctuary in Kanab, Utah.

“Once there, the pets will undergo a final health and behavior evaluation before they’re off to their new, permanent homes,” Mountain said. “We’ve already had a lot of offers to adopt these cats and dogs.”

He said the operation is costing around $250,000, most of it from donations raised by animal activists.

Best Friends arranged a similar operation just a year ago in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, when it moved more than 6,000 animals out of the disaster zone to new homes.

The society has also been assisting animal groups in Israel, where people also had to evacuate their homes in the north without their pets during the recent war.

But the major crisis for animals has been in Lebanon.

On July 12, at the start of what proved to be a 34-day war, BETA had to move dogs and cats from a shelter near a Hezbollah stronghold in Beirut that was repeatedly pounded by Israeli warplanes. The animals were taken to an abandoned pig farm in Monteverde in the hills. Other BETA shelters were also damaged.

Hundreds of adoption offers
At the height of the war, the abandoned animals were featured on ABC’s “Good Morning America,” after which adoption offers from the U.S. “started coming down on us by the hundreds,” Khoury said.

Jutta Sold, a 36-year-old German animal activist who is also a BETA volunteer, said the airlift is “a very good thing.”

“It’s sad for me. I knew some of these dogs when they were just puppies, but I’m very hopeful that their chances for adoption are much better over there,” said Sold, who has adopted one of the dogs herself.

She said Lebanese don’t have much connection with animals. “The attitude here is very different from Europe or the United States. A lot of people are afraid of animals, they kick them around.”

Sold also noted there are no laws to protect animals, and said chances of them being adopted are much higher in the West.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Real-Life Fairy Tale
A West Virginia woman discovers she’s an African princess.

By Elise Soukup

Sept. 25, 2006 issue - It’s something that every little girl fantasizes about ... that the phone will ring and the voice on the other end of the line will tell her she’s not the lonely, gawky girl that she thought she was. That she is, in fact, a princess.

And that’s exactly what happened to Sarah Culberson. In 2004, 28-year old Culberson, a biracial woman who had been adopted by a white family in West Virginia as a baby—hired a private investigator to find her biological father. (Her mother, she had been informed a few years earlier, had died of breast cancer.) The investigator called back within three hours; the information he yielded was a shocker: her father was a member of the ruling family of the Mende tribe in the Southern Province of Sierra Leone. She was, by birthright, a princess. “I just about fell off my seat,” says Culberson, an aspiring actress who had trained in San Francisco. “I mean, a princess. To be totally honest, it was really cool.”

If a bit frightening. Culberson was able to contact her father’s brother, who promised to pass on her contact information to her dad. Two weeks went by, time Culberson spent wondering if she’d be welcome in her father’s life—or his world. When he called, the first words he spoke to her were comforting: “He told me, ‘Please forgive me. I didn’t know how to find you,’” she says. “And then he said, ‘When can I meet you? I want you to come.’” In December, Culberson flew to his village, Bumpe. She brought along a filmmaker friend to record the reunion.

Culberson received a royal welcome. As she drove into the city, hundreds of villagers swarmed the car to welcome her. The women of the village, dressed identically in long, green dresses, sang and danced. And then she met her father, who—to her delight—had eyes similar to her own. “To look like some one is amazing,” says Culberson. “Most people take it for granted, but I grew up in a family where my sisters had blonde hair with green eyes. I stood out. For the first time to look like someone… it was the most beautiful gift in the whole world.”

But Culberson quickly discovered that being a princess wasn’t all diamonds, castles and princes. Bumpe had been nearly decimated by the country’s 11-year civil war. One of her aunts had been killed by rebels; another bore scars from being slashed in the neck with a machete. Her father had hidden in a small room outside of the village for four years while many of his friends were hunted—and slaughtered. Most people lived in poverty and the village’s school, where her father was headmaster, was in ruins.

Even still, the villagers were unbelievably generous. Before Culberson arrived, her father asked what kind of food she liked. She told him that she loved rice and chicken—not knowing that chicken is a delicacy in Bumpe. Most families have only one chicken, which they raise throughout the year and then save for a special occasion. But when news spread about her preference, people showed up every day—some traveling from nearby villages—to leave her a live chicken at her door. “I was so overwhelmed,” she says. “They have so little. I never would have asked for so much.”

Now Culberson is making it her mission to return the favor. When she returned to the United States, she established a foundation to raise funds to save her dad’s school; her goal is to have it completely rebuilt by fall, 2007. Her filmmaker friend has turned her quest into a feature-length documentary, “Bumpenya.” The film is still in production and Culberson hopes it will raise awareness for her cause. “My life and my priorities have completely changed,” says Culberson. “I don’t get upset at silly things anymore. My purpose now is to rebuild the school and bring peace to the people of Sierra Leone.” Or, in other words, to allow them to live happily ever after.

* For more information about Bumpe, visit

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

How to handle panhandlers
You may give or not give, but chances are you feel guilty and a little angry every time you're asked for money. You're hardly alone.

By Liz Pulliam Weston

I met my first beggar when I was 15.

She was tiny, perhaps 5 years old, with huge brown eyes and a tangle of black curly hair. She was ostensibly selling packets of gum, wandering from table to table at an outdoor restaurant in a Mexican resort town.

(Younger folk, raised with ubiquitous urban homelessness, may find incredible that I'd never before come face-to-face with a panhandler. But I lived in a rural area in an era before U.S. homeless populations skyrocketed.)

I think we bought gum from the little girl -- I can't remember. What I do remember is that she wouldn't leave our table, but kept staring at us sadly with those big eyes. I also remember the emotions I felt as we tried to shoo her away: Pity. Irritation. Sadness. Suspicion. Embarrassment. And a little outrage at a world where such things could occur.

The emotions, in short, that most of us feel when a stranger asks us for money on the street.

Small change, big decision
The amount of cash requested or given in these encounters is rarely very large, but few small-dollar transactions in our lives generate so much internal turmoil as being panhandled. Deciding whether and when to give is, for many, no easy task.

Every major religion tells us to take care of the poor, and many people feel a moral obligation to help the less fortunate. But when asked for a dime, or a buck, or money for a meal, we still squirm. Are we helping, or being scammed? Are we brightening somebody's day or aiding someone's downfall? Will they accept what we offer, demand more, or threaten us if we say no? What does it say about us if we give -- and what does it say if we don't?

Here's how one poster on the Your Money message board, LolaStressed1, put it:

"When I was young and in Sunday school, they'd talk about Bible stories where the poor and downtrodden were ignored and no one would help them. I always thought I'd never be like that to someone in need. Then you grow up and get in the real world and suddenly you're taking the long way around the block to avoid the park where all the bums hang out."

The sheer volume of beggars in cities discourages poster DFish from giving.

"In most major cities there are panhandlers on every freeway exit ramp or busy street corner," DFish wrote. "If I gave money to all of them I would be broke."

No way to win
Some try to distinguish the "deserving" from the not through various means: how pathetic or needy the beggar looks, how convincing the story or even how witty the approach. (The "Why lie? It's for beer" signs seem to be a particularly popular gambit.)

But bad experiences with ungrateful or aggressive panhandlers lead some to ignore requests for help, while others cite safety concerns.

"I always, always say no," wrote BerryBlack, a Your Money poster who is importuned daily on the streets of Washington, D.C. "I'm not heartless, but I usually carry no cash anyway, and if I do have cash on hand, I'm not about to open up my bag to fish for my wallet. … There's too much risk of someone grabbing it and running."

Many worry that their generosity will backfire on the recipient and on their communities.

"I believe that just giving them money is a form of enabling, and will do nothing more than encourage them to spend more time on the corner begging," poster Nervous1 wrote. "And it will bring more beggars in time."

Indeed, there are those who work with the homeless who urge us not to give cash to panhandlers.

Andy Bales, president of the Union Rescue Mission in downtown Los Angeles, said that not everyone who begs is homeless or indigent, and some panhandle primarily to get drug or alcohol money. Even beggars in the direst straits would be better off, he said, getting their needs met at a shelter rather than through individual donations on the street.

"What they need is a hand up and encouragement to give life another try," Bales said. "They need a relationship that will help them out of a hopeless lifestyle."

Some alternatives
Many shelters offer free business cards, printed with their addresses, hours and services, that can be handed out instead of cash. Gift certificates to fast-food joints are another alternative when panhandlers ask for money for a meal.

Bales acknowledged that he doesn't always have time to respond to everyone who hits him up for money, but said he always tries to be civil, since those in need often feel invisible.

"You can always say, 'No, thank you,'" Bales said.

Not everyone agrees that directions to the nearest shelter are an appropriate response. Randy Cohen, who writes "The Ethicist" column for the New York Times Magazine, said he finds people's reluctance to give money to beggars who might misspend it "slightly priggish."

"You're giving them a dollar," he says. "You don't get to judge their life."

Still, he admitted he's far from having the answers. Cohen said he rarely gives cash when panhandled, preferring to give money to charity and to work for political change to end poverty and homelessness. But every time he's asked for money, he says, he feels "shame and guilt … I never quite know what to do."

Some of his friends, Cohen said, try to resolve their unpleasant stew of reactions by never giving money to anyone who asks. Others always give. Some attempt to thread the needle by only giving in certain situations -- if the panhandler has a child, say -- while others refuse to give in those same situations because the beggar "is using a child in that Dickensian way," said Cohen, author of "The Good, The Bad & The Difference: How To Tell Right From Wrong in Everyday Situations." Many are consistent only in their inconsistency -- sometimes an appeal is rewarded, other times they turn away.

One thing he and his friends have in common: "No one feels good" about the solutions chosen.

Whatever you decide, here are some thoughts for the next time you're panhandled:

• Stay civil. If you're not going to give, a simple "No, thanks" is an appropriate response, mission operator Bales said. A snide comment or argumentative tone can provoke aggression, while ignoring a request can make the other person feel invisible -- something the homeless already experience often enough. Bales says he's asked for money many times every day, but says, "I've never had trouble when I treated the other person as a human being."

• Stay safe. That said, there's no denying that some panhandlers are just plain scary. If you feel unsafe, Bales said, the most important thing is to get away quickly. Don't feel obligated to talk to anyone or go anywhere alone with someone who approaches you on the street. If you do want to give cash, keep the money readily accessible so that you don't have to dig into your pants or purse for a wallet.

• Explore alternatives. Donations to your local shelters ensure that your money goes for feeding and clothing the homeless, rather than supporting a panhandler's vices. (Such donations are also tax-deductible if you itemize.) Some folks carry old blankets, coats and even nonperishable food in their cars to give to the homeless. If someone asks for money and you want to give something else, though, ask if the person wants the item before thrusting it into his or her hands. (And don't give anything that requires a can opener.) The same rule applies if you want to buy a meal rather than give cash. My experience has been that many panhandlers welcome a fast-food meal, but others really do want the cash; either way, my offers tend to be well-received when I make eye contact and inquire politely.

The Tears of a Panda
What happens when a zoo animal gets depressed?
By Daniel Engber

A sleep-deprived panda inadvertently crushed her newborn cub to death at a zoo in China last week. "Pandas who lose their young tend to be depressed for a month or so," said a zoo official. "Yaya appeared to be so sad when she couldn't find her baby. … Tears could be seen in her eyes." What happens when a zoo animal gets depressed?

It gets special treats or psychiatric treatment. Keepers can tell something's wrong when an animal becomes lethargic and unresponsive or stops eating its food. Other warning signs include excessive grooming (like picking fur or plucking feathers), rocking in place, and pacing in circles. Zoo employees must first rule out physical ailments that could cause similar symptoms. An animal with an ulcer or a broken finger, for example, might mope around in the corner because it's in pain. A skin condition might elicit a grooming response that looks something like OCD.

A sad-sack animal can sometimes be coaxed out of a funk with "enrichment items" like toys and special foods. The pandas at the National Zoo get "fruitsicles"—apple-juice-flavored ices with embedded pieces of fruit. A blue period may also pass on its own, given enough time.

Some zoo veterinarians prescribe antidepressants as a last resort. Last year, the Toledo Zoo admitted that it had been running an extensive psychiatric program: One gorilla took Prozac for anxiety that seemed to be associated with her menstrual cycle, zebras and wildebeests were given the antipsychotic Haldol to relax in a new environment, and an agitated tiger was dosed with Valium.

It's not clear how well these drugs work for exotic animals—there aren't many placebo-controlled studies of antidepressant use in gorillas, zebras, and tigers. We've got more information on dogs and cats: Both SSRI-class drugs (like Prozac) and tricyclics (like Anafranil) seem to work. Researchers assess a pet's anxiety by counting anxious behaviors, like the number of times it urinates in a stressful situation.

When veterinarians dole out antidepressants, they almost always go off-label. That means they're prescribing a drug that's only been approved for human use. (This is perfectly legal.) The Food and Drug Administration has approved only one antidepressant for animal use—Clomicalm, which is the same drug as Anafranil. But the approval extends only to dogs, and only to treat "separation anxiety." Studies reveal that training an anxious dog works just as well as giving it Clomicalm, but it takes a lot longer.

Bonus Explainer: Are antidepressants tested on animals as they're developed? Yes. Drug companies use animals to check both the safety and the efficacy of new compounds. Antidepressants are deemed effective if they extend the amount of time an animal—like a mouse—is willing to endure unpleasant situations—like swimming in a pool of water. No one knows if this really corresponds to the animal's "happiness," but researchers have found that it correlates with drug efficacy in humans. As the president of R&D at Wyeth explained to the New York Times a few years ago, "[W]e don't try to relate the behavior in an animal to a human behavior."

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Muslims deplore Pope speech, want apology
By Jonathan Wright
2 hours, 54 minutes ago

CAIRO (Reuters) - Muslims deplored on Friday remarks on Islam by Pope Benedict and many of them said the Catholic leader should apologize in person to dispel the impression that he had joined a campaign against their religion.

In a speech in Germany on Tuesday, the Pope appeared to endorse a Christian view, contested by most Muslims, that the early Muslims spread their religion by violence.

"The Pope of the Vatican joins in the Zionist-American alliance against Islam," said the leading Moroccan daily Attajdid, the main Islamist newspaper in the kingdom.

"We demand that he apologizes personally, and not through (Vatican) sources, to all Muslims for such a wrong interpretation," said Beirut-based Sayyed Mohammad Hussein Fadlallah, one of the world's top Shi'ite Muslim clerics.

The Pope on Tuesday repeated criticism of the Prophet Mohammad by the 14th century Byzantine Emperor Manuel II Palaeologus, who said everything Mohammad brought was evil "such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached."

The Pope, who used the terms "jihad" and "holy war" in his lecture, added "violence is incompatible with the nature of God and the nature of the soul."

Pakistan's National Assembly, parliament's lower house, unanimously passed a resolution condemning the Pope's comments.

"This statement has hurt sentiments of the Muslims," the resolution said. "This house demands the Pope retract his remarks in the interest of harmony among different religions."

The Muslim Brotherhood, the Arab world's largest group of political Islamists, demanded an apology from the Pope and called on the governments of Islamic countries to break relations with the Vatican if he does not make one.


The Jordanian branch of the Egyptian-based movement said the Pope's remarks would only widen a rift between Muslims and the West and revealed deep hatred toward Muslims.

The rift is already deep because of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, Chechnya and Lebanon.

Sheikh Hamza Mansour, who heads the Shura Council of the Islamic Action Front, Jordan's largest opposition party, said only a personal apology could rectify the "deep insult made by the provocative comments" to over 1 billion Muslims.

And in Iraq, the Pope's comments were condemned at Friday prayers by followers of radical Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr.

Sheikh Salah al-Ubeidi, one of Sadr's aides, condemned "the offence to Islam and the character of the Prophet."

"This is the second time such an offence has been give before Ramadan," he said, referring to last year's publication of cartoons in a Danish newspaper that led to violent protests by Muslims around the world.

Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi defended the Pope's lecture and said he did not mean to offend Muslims.

"It was certainly not the intention of the Holy Father to undertake a comprehensive study of the jihad and of Muslim ideas on the subject, still less to offend the sensibilities of Muslim faithful," Lombardi told Vatican Radio.

The Egyptian government, which opposes political Islamism and is friendly with Western governments, said it was worried about the effect the Pope's speech might have.

A foreign ministry statement quoted Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit as calling for "dialogue between civilizations and religions and to avoid anything that is likely to exacerbate confessional and ideological differences."

Syria's mufti, or senior exponent of Islamic law, said he hoped reports of the Pope's speech were wrong and Syrians wanted to cooperate to propagate divine values.

As the Pope's historical reference showed, the dispute between Muslim and Christian religious leaders over the conditions for the use of violence is an ancient one.

The Koran endorses the concept of jihad, often translated as holy war, but there is a wide range of opinion among Muslims on the conditions for declaring and waging jihad.

Some say it applies only in cases of self-defense against external attack, as in the "just war" concept endorsed by St Augustine, Thomas Aquinas and other mainstream Christians.

Aiman Mazyek, head of Germany's Muslim council, said he found it hard to believe that the Pope really saw a difference between Islam and Christianity in attitudes toward violence.

"One only need think of the Crusades or the forced conversions of Jews and Muslims in Spain," he said.

Muslims express fury over pope's remarks
Associated Press Writer

1 hour, 6 minutes ago

ANKARA, Turkey - Muslims around the world expressed outrage Friday over Pope Benedict XVI's comments on Islam, with Turkey's ruling party accusing him of trying to revive the spirit of the Crusades and scores taking to the streets in protest.
Pakistan's parliament unanimously condemned the pope, and the Foreign Ministry summoned the Vatican's ambassador to express regret over the remarks.

The Vatican said the pope did not intend the remarks — made in Germany on Tuesday during an address at a university — to be offensive.

Benedict quoted from a book recounting a conversation between 14th century Byzantine Christian Emperor Manuel Paleologos II and a Persian scholar on the truths of Christianity and Islam.

"The emperor comes to speak about the issue of jihad, holy war," the pope said. "He said, I quote, 'Show me just what Muhammad brought that was new, and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached.'"

Benedict did not explicitly agree with the statement nor repudiate it.

The comments raised tensions ahead of his planned visit to Turkey in November — his first pilgrimage to a Muslim country.

Salih Kapusuz, a deputy leader of Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's party, said Benedict's remarks were either "the result of pitiful ignorance" about Islam and its prophet, or a deliberate distortion.

"He has a dark mentality that comes from the darkness of the Middle Ages. He is a poor thing that has not benefited from the spirit of reform in the Christian world," Kapusuz was quoted as saying by the state-owned Anatolia news agency. "It looks like an effort to revive the mentality of the Crusades."

"Benedict, the author of such unfortunate and insolent remarks, is going down in history for his words," he said. "He is going down in history in the same category as leaders such as (Adolf) Hitler and (Benito) Mussolini."

Turkey's staunchly secular opposition party also demanded that Benedict apologize to Muslims before his visit.

"The pope has thrown gasoline onto the fire ... in a world where the risk of a clash between religions is high," said Haluk Koc, deputy head of the Republican People's Party, as a small group of protesters left a black wreath in front of the Vatican's embassy in Ankara.

Lebanon's most senior Shiite Muslim cleric denounced the remarks and demanded the pope personally apologize.

"We do not accept the apology through Vatican channels ... and ask him (Benedict) to offer a personal apology — not through his officials — to Muslims for this false reading (of Islam)," Grand Ayatollah Mohammed Hussein Fadlallah told worshippers.

After Benedict returned to Italy on Thursday, Vatican spokesman the Rev. Federico Lombardi said, "It certainly wasn't the intention of the pope to carry out a deep examination of jihad (holy war) and on Muslim thought on it, much less to offend the sensibility of Muslim believers."

Lombardi insisted the pope respects Islam. Benedict wants to "cultivate an attitude of respect and dialogue toward the other religions and cultures, obviously also toward Islam," he said.

Turkey's top Islamic cleric, Ali Bardakoglu, said Lombardi's comments were not enough. "The pope himself should stand at the dais and say 'I take it all back, I was misunderstood' and apologize in order to contribute to world peace," he said.

In another development, the pope appointed Archbishop Dominique Mamberti, a French prelate with experience in the Muslim world, as the Vatican's new foreign minister.

But anger still swept across the Muslim world, with Pakistan's parliament unanimously adopting a resolution condemning the pope for making what it called "derogatory" comments about Islam and the Foreign Ministry summoning the Vatican ambassador.

The pope's words were "deeply disturbing for Muslims all over the world, and had caused great hurt and anguish," the Foreign Ministry said.

The Vatican's envoy "regretted the hurt caused to Muslims and said that the media had totally misconstrued certain historical quotes that the Pope used in his lecture," the statement said.

Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh, of the Islamic Hamas group, said the pontiff had offended Muslims everywhere and called on him to reconsider his statement. He said there would be organized protests later in the day "to express Palestinian anger."

In Iraq's Shiite Muslim-stronghold of Kufa, Sheik Salah al-Ubaidi criticized the pope during Friday prayers, saying his remarks were a second assault on Islam.

"Last year and in the same month the Danish cartoon assaulted Islam," he said, referring to a Danish newspaper's publication of caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad, which triggered outrage in the Muslim world.

Indonesia, which has more Muslims than any other in the world, had no immediate response to the pope's comments, but religious groups were quick to protest, condemning the words as insensitive and damaging.

"A respected religious leader like the pope should not say such things, especially as nations across the globe are struggling to find ways to bridge differences between faiths and build understanding," said Ma'ruf Amin, a member of Indonesia Council of Clerics, the country's highest Islamic body.

Din Syamsuddin, chairman of Muhammadiyah, Indonesia's second-largest Islamic organization, also expressed disappointment but urged calm.

The head of Britain's largest Muslim body said it was disturbed by the pope's use of a 14th century passage. The Muslim Council, which represents 400 groups in Britain, said the emperor's views were "ill-informed and frankly bigoted."

"One would expect a religious leader such as the pope to act and speak with responsibility and repudiate the Byzantine emperor's views in the interests of truth and harmonious relations between the followers of Islam and Catholicism," said Muhammad Abdul Bari, the council's secretary-general.

Elsewhere, Syria's top Sunni Muslim religious authority, Sheik Ahmad Badereddine Hassoun, sent a letter to the pope that he feared the comments would worsen interfaith relations.

Later, he delivered a scathing sermon in which he denounced the remarks. "We have heard about your extremism and hate for Arabs and Muslims. Now that you have dropped the mask from your face we see its ugliness and extremist nature," he said.

In Cairo, Egypt, about 100 demonstrators gathered in an anti-Vatican protest outside the al-Azhar mosque, chanting "Oh Crusaders, oh cowards! Down with the pope!"

Dozens of lawyers in Indian-controlled Kashmir also protested, while two separatist leaders were placed under house arrest as they were planning to lead demonstrations.

Benedict, who has made the fight against growing secularism in Western society a theme of his pontificate, is expected to visit Turkey in late November. He was invited by the staunchly secularist Turkish President Ahmet Necdet Sezer, who said the invitation was part of an effort to strengthen dialogue between religions.

Single parents’ survival tips
By Bob Strauss

Back when I was a kid, one of my favorite movies was With Six You Get Egg Roll, a wholesomely unrealistic family flick in which Doris Day, a widow with three sons, marries Brian Keith, a widower with a teenage daughter, which covered the same terrain with a smaller crew. Despite the usual plot points — Keith’s daughter resents having a new mom, and Day’s oldest son can’t stand his new dad — everything is happily resolved by the closing credits, making pop culture safe for perky sitcom fare like The Brady Bunch.

As we all know, though, matters never work out quite so neatly in real life. The fact is, dating can be incredibly stressful and time-consuming for an unencumbered 16-year-old, much less a 40-something divorced mom or dad with a couple of toddlers or a surly teen in tow . Here are some tips for maintaining your sanity:

Stay focused on each other. During the awkwardness of a first (or second, or seventeenth) date, it’s natural to zero in on what you have in common—so before you know it, you’ve spent your entire three-hour dinner discussing your kids’ school plays. To keep the conversation from straying you-know-where, ask your kids to please not call you on your cell phones during a specific interval — say, 7:30 PM to 9 PM — except in the event of a crisis, obviously (their not knowing the square root of 36 doesn’t quite qualify as an emergency…). Then, with your date, declare that time period’s conversation a kid-free zone.

Keep the little ones distracted. When toddlers or grade-schoolers are involved, the biggest challenge of dating can be getting the kids out of your hair long enough to, well, do your hair. “I’d put my son in the bathtub while I put on my makeup, then let him watch an hour of Sesame Street,” says Lisa Cohn, co-author (with William Merkel) of One Family, Two Family, New Family: Stories and Advice for Stepfamilies. Or arrange for something special — like setting up a make-your-own ice-cream sundae activity — while you’re getting ready.

Don’t lie. For many parents, the only thing scarier than actually going out on a date is having to tell their kids that they’re going out on a date. As tempting as it is to say you’ve been called back to work for an emergency or you’re visiting an elderly aunt in the hospital, if your kids are as smart as you hope they are, they’ll have long since figured out why you’re getting all dressed up and putting on perfume. By telling the truth now, you avoid unnecessary complications later on if you and your beau really get serious.

Beware the “ex effect.” If your kids put up a teary-eyed fuss when you head out the door, it’s usually for one of two reasons: Separation anxiety (which is normal) or a jealous ex stirring things up (which, unfortunately, is also normal, and doesn’t lend itself to a quick fix). Ex-spouses can be a real wrench in the works (it goes both ways, of course), says Cohn, especially when it comes to logistics: “Sometimes your ex isn’t willing to change his visitation schedule just so you can go out on a date.” And if your new relationship becomes serious, that ex may well linger in the background, telling the kids dire tales about their potential new stepmom. The grown-ups involved — you and your former spouse — may want to meet with a counselor to discuss how to handle such issues in advance... rather than having arguments erupt in front of the kids. Dating again often re-opens the wounds of divorce, and you want to be prepared to handle the situation in a mature and calm way.

If the kids fight, don’t overreact. “If he’s got teenagers and you’ve got a three-year-old, you’re in trouble,” says Cohn. But if your kids and his kids are roughly the same age and squabble and bicker during family excursions, keep in mind that past performance doesn’t necessarily guarantee future results. “If they don’t get along,” says Cohn, “it doesn’t mean that they won’t learn to get along.” But you and your date have to take an active role in talking to the kids—in private, and on your turf, not as a group. The kids need to know that you expect certain behavior from them—in clear terms with consequences spelled out (“If you tease Timmy, we will leave before watching the movie. You know I don’t tolerate that behavior.”). And they need to hear that from you, their parent, not from you talking to them and your date’s kids, as if they were already a blended family. Honor allegiances, and they’ll honor your requests... in time.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Study: Teenage brain lacks empathy
Area of brain associated with higher-level thinking underused in youths

By Sara Goudarzi
LiveScience staff writer

If you ever sense teenagers are not taking your feelings into account, it's probably because they're just incapable of doing so.

The area of the brain associated with higher-level thinking, empathy, and guilt is underused by teenagers, reports a new study. When considering an action, the teenage medial prefrontal cortex, located in front of the brain, doesn't get as much action as adults.

"Thinking strategies change with age," said Sarah-Jayne Blakemore of the University College London Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience. "As you get older you use more or less the same brain network to make decisions about your actions as you did when you were a teenager, but the crucial difference is that the distribution of that brain activity shifts from the back of the brain (when you are a teenager) to the front (when you are an adult)."

Teen thinking
In the study, teens and adults were asked how they would react to certain situations. As they responded, researchers imaged their brains.

Although both adults and teens responded similarly to the questions, their brain activity differed. The medial prefrontal cortex was much more active in the adults than in the teens. However, the teenagers had much more activity in the superior temporal sulcus, the brain area involved in predicting future actions based on previous ones.

Adults were also much faster at figuring out how their actions would affect themselves and other people.

"We think that a teenager's judgment of what they would do in a given situation is driven by the simple question: 'What would I do?'" Blakemore said. "Adults, on the other hand, ask: 'What would I do, given how I would feel and given how the people around me would feel as a result of my actions?'"

Developing sensitivity
Children start taking into account other people's feelings around the age of five. But the ability develops well beyond this age, the new research suggests.

And while some of this sensitivity could be the result of undeveloped regions in the brain, the experience that adults acquire from social interactions also plays an important role.

"Whatever the reasons, it is clear that teenagers are dealing with, not only massive hormonal shifts, but also substantial neural changes," Blakemore said. "These changes do not happen gradually and steadily between the ages of 0–18. They come on in great spurts and puberty is one of the most dramatic developmental stages."

The results of the study were presented today at the BA Festival of Science in the UK.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Irwin Was 'An Ordinary Bloke,' Dad Says
The Associated Press

BEERWAH, Australia -- "Crocodile Hunter" Steve Irwin, killed in a stingray attack this week, knew the risks involved in his work and often discussed the possibility he might die doing it, his father said Wednesday.

The 44-year-old star was being filmed for a new TV program as he swam with a stingray on the Great Barrier Reef Monday when it lashed out with its tail, plunging a poisonous barb into his chest. He died within minutes.

In the first public comments by Irwin's family since the tragedy, Bob Irwin, who started the wildlife park that his son turned into a major tourist attraction, said both were aware of the inherent dangers of their occupation.

"Both of us over the years have had some very close shaves and we both approached it the same way, we made jokes about it," he said. "That's not to say we were careless. But we treated it as part of the job. Nothing to worry about really."

Thousands of fans have flocked to Irwin's Australia Zoo wildlife park in Queensland state, creating a shrine of flowers, candles and written tributes. Stuffed animals poke out from between flags of Australia, the United States and England, and some visitors signed and left khaki shirts similar to those worn by Irwin in lieu of a condolences book.

Bob Irwin, 66, thanked fans for their messages of support and reassured them his son had died doing what he loved.

Queensland Premier Peter Beattie has offered a state funeral, and Prime Minister John Howard said that would be appropriate, calling Irwin a great ambassador for Australia. But Bob Irwin said it wouldn't be what Steve wanted.

"He's an ordinary guy, and he wants to be remembered as an ordinary bloke," he said. "The state funeral would be refused."

Michael Hornby, the head of one of Irwin's wildlife charities, Wildlife Warriors, said the star's wife, Terri Irwin, was considering the state funeral offer, but Australian Broadcasting Corp. radio later reported that she had decided against it.

Hornby said Terri Irwin was thinking about having a smaller, private ceremony at an Outback location and approving a separate large event at a stadium in the state capital, Brisbane.

He also urged people to be careful in sending donations to Irwin's charities as a tribute, saying two or three bogus Web sites had been set up attempting to divert some of the money.

Separately, Irwin's manager and close friend John Stainton said the videotape showing him being fatally stabbed should never be publicly aired.

"It should be destroyed," Stainton told CNN's "Larry King Live." He said he has seen the footage and it shows Irwin pulling the barb from his chest in his last moments.

The tape is in the possession of police as evidence for the coroner.

The Discovery Channel, which produced and aired Irwin's programs to a reported global audience of more than 200 million, said it will not show the footage.

Police have said there are no suspicious circumstances in Irwin's death, and no decision has been made about whether a coroner will hold a formal inquest or simply accept the police findings. No formal cause of death has been announced.

Terri Irwin briefly addressed park staff late Tuesday over a public address system.

"She was very choked up. It was a very frail comment," Hornby told The Associated Press Wednesday. "But she wanted to say to the staff how grateful she was for their support and how much it meant to her."

Bob Irwin said he had just spent nearly a month with his son's family on Cape York in tropical northern Australia doing crocodile research.

"Steve was probably the best I had seen him in many years, in his own personal attitude," he said. "He was peaceful. He was not under stress. And he was doing something that he really loved doing. I won't ever forget that three or four weeks."

Monday, September 04, 2006

Crocodile Hunter Steve Irwin killed
The Associated Press
55 minutes ago

CAIRNS, Australia - Steve Irwin, the hugely popular Australian television personality and conservationist known as the "Crocodile Hunter," was killed Monday by a stingray while filming off the Great Barrier Reef. He was 44.

Irwin was at Batt Reef, off the remote coast of northeastern Queensland state, shooting a segment for a series called "Ocean's Deadliest" when he swam too close to one of the animals, which have a poisonous bard on their tails, his friend and colleague John Stainton said.

"He came on top of the stingray and the stingray's barb went up and into his chest and put a hole into his heart," said Stainton, who was on board Irwin's boat at the time.

Crew members aboard the boat, Croc One, called emergency services in the nearest city, Cairns, and administered CPR as they rushed the boat to nearby Low Isle to meet a rescue helicopter. Medical staff pronounced Irwin dead when they arrived a short time later, Stainton said.

Irwin was famous for his enthusiasm for wildlife and his catchword "Crikey!" in his television program "Crocodile Hunter." First broadcast in Australia in 1992, the program was picked up by the Discovery network, catapulting Irwin to international celebrity.

He rode his image into a feature film, 2002's "The Crocodile Hunters: Collision Course" and developed the wildlife park that his parents opened, Australia Zoo, into a major tourist attraction.

"The world has lost a great wildlife icon, a passionate conservationist and one of the proudest dads on the planet," Stainton told reporters in Cairns. "He died doing what he loved best and left this world in a happy and peaceful state of mind. He would have said, 'Crocs Rule!'"

Prime Minister John Howard, who hand-picked Irwin to attend a gala barbecue to honor President Bush when he visited in 2003, said he was "shocked and distressed at Steve Irwin's sudden, untimely and freakish death."

"It's a huge loss to Australia," Howard told reporters. "He was a wonderful character. He was a passionate environmentalist. He brought joy and entertainment and excitement to millions of people."

Irwin, who made a trademark of hovering dangerously close to untethered crocodiles and leaping on their backs, spoke in rapid-fire bursts with a thick Australian accent and was almost never seen without his uniform of khaki shorts and shirt and heavy boots.

His ebullience was infectious and Australian officials sought him out for photo opportunities and to promote Australia internationally.

Irwin's public image was dented, however, in 2004 when he caused an uproar by holding his infant son in one arm while feeding large crocodiles inside a zoo pen. Irwin claimed at the time there was no danger to the child, and authorities declined to charge Irwin with violating safety regulations.

Later that year, he was accused of getting too close to penguins, a seal and humpback whales in Antarctica while making a documentary. Irwin denied any wrongdoing, and an Australian Environment Department investigation recommended no action be taken against him.

Stingrays have a serrated, toxin-loaded barb, or spine, on the top of their tail. The barb, which can be up to 10 inches long, flexes if a ray is frightened. Stings usually occur to people when they step on or swim too close to a ray and can be excruciatingly painful but are rarely fatal, said University of Queensland marine neuroscientist Shaun Collin.

Collin said he suspected Irwin died because the barb pierced under his ribcage and directly into his heart.

"It was extraordinarily bad luck. It's not easy to get spined by a stingray and to be killed by one is very rare," Collin said.

News of Irwin's death spread quickly, and tributes flowed from all quarters of society.

At Australia Zoo at Beerwah, south Queensland, floral tributes were dropped at the entrance, where a huge fake crocodile gapes. Drivers honked their horns as they passed.

"Steve, from all God's creatures, thank you. Rest in peace," was written on a card with a bouquet of native flowers.

"We're all very shocked. I don't know what the zoo will do without him. He's done so much for us, the environment and it's a big loss," said Paula Kelly, a local resident and volunteer at the zoo, after dropping off a wreath at the gate.

Stainton said Irwin's American-born wife Terri, from Eugene, Ore., had been informed of his death, and had told their daughter Bindi Sue, 8, and son Bob, who will turn 3 in December.

The couple met when she went on vacation in Australia in 1991 and visited Irwin's Australia Zoo; they were married six months later. Sometimes referred to as the "Crocodile Huntress," she costarred on her husband's television show and in his 2002 movie.

Friday, September 01, 2006

Researchers find Bach’s oldest manuscripts
Handwritten copies of works by other composers date back to 1700

The Associated Press

A restorer points to the signature of Johann Sebastian Bach on an original handwritten music script of the composer. The document, along with another script recently recovered in the Anna Amalia Library in Weimar, Germany, dates around 1700 and is classified as the oldest handwritten music script of Bach.

WEIMAR, Germany - The oldest known manuscripts of Johann Sebastian Bach — handwritten copies of works by two other composers — have been discovered in a library that was heavily damaged in a fire two years ago, researchers said Thursday.

The two manuscripts date from around 1700 and contain copies Bach made of organ music composed by Dietrich Buxtehude and Johann Adam Reinken, said Hellmut Seemann, president of the Foundation of Weimar Classics.

Researchers found the documents in the archives of the Duchess Anna Amalia library in Weimar, where a previously unknown aria by Bach was discovered last year.

The library, housed in a 16th century palace, was badly damaged by a fire in September 2004. While some 50,000 books were lost, the Bach manuscripts survived because they had been stored in the vault.

The foundation said the discovery provided vital clues about Bach’s early development. He was a 15-year-old schoolboy when he copied the two chorale fantasias — “Nun freut euch, lieben Christen gmein” by Buxtehude and “An Wasserfluessen Babylon” by Reinken.

It said Bach attached a note to the Reinken copy that confirmed he was studying at the time with the organist Georg Boehm in the north German town of Lueneburg.

The manuscripts were found together with two previously unknown fantasias by Johann Pachelbel, copied by Bach’s student Johann Martin Schubart.

“Technically highly demanding, these organ works document the extraordinary virtuoso skills of the young Bach as well as his efforts to master the most ambitious and complex pieces of the entire organ repertoire,” the foundation said.

It said the find also made clear that Bach went to Lueneburg in order to learn more about the influential North German organ school in Hamburg and Luebeck.

Schubart succeeded Bach as organist at the court of Weimar in 1717, and the newly discovered documents were passed to the library as part of Schubart’s estate, the foundation said.

Both the manuscripts and the aria found last year were unearthed by researchers from the Bach Archiv foundation in Leipzig, who have been combing German archives for information about the composer since 2002.

The manuscripts will be exhibited at the library from Sept. 1 and at the Bach Archiv in Leipzig from Sept. 21.

Bartender gets $10,000 tip on $26 tab
‘I couldn't move,’ Applebee's staffer says after customer's generosity

The Associated Press

HUTCHINSON, Kan. - Two weeks ago, one of Cindy Kienow's regular customers left her a $100 tip on a tab that wasn't even half that. This week, he added a couple of zeros.

Kienow, a bartender at Applebee's, got a $10,000 tip from the man — for a $26 meal — on Sunday.

"I couldn't move," Kienow said. "I didn't know what to say. He said, `This will buy you something kind of nice, huh?' And I said, `Yeah, it will.'"

Kienow said the man, whom company officials have declined to name, comes in several times a month and eats at the end of the bar. He has always tipped well, she said, usually leaving $15 on a $30 tab.

Then came the $100 tip, followed by the real shocker.

"He usually signs his ticket and flips it upside down," said Kienow, 35, who has worked at the restaurant for eight years. "But this time, he had it right-side up and said `I want you to know this is not a joke.'"

It's not, company officials agreed.

"This is a great deal for us and a great deal for Cindy," said Rhodri McNee, vice president of operations for JS Enterprises, the owner of the Hutchinson Applebee's. "We did have a guest leave this tip on a credit card, and we're doing everything to make sure it's a valid charge."

Great employee
The company is in the final stages of verifying the tip, McNee said, while also working to maintain the customer's privacy and make sure the money goes through the proper channels to get to Kienow.

"Nothing would make us happier than to present her with that check," McNee said. "She's been with us for eight years, and she's a great employee who does a great job."

Kienow said that while she always talks with the man when he comes in — usually about current events or the weather — she can't think of anything that would have prompted the huge tip.

"I've been waiting on him for about three years," Kienow said. "We'd just talk across the bar he's a really nice guy. I hope he comes back in so I can tell him thank you, because the other day I was kind of dumbfounded."

Kienow, whose father will have to take some time off work for surgery on both of his knees, said she hasn't decided what to do with the money.

"I'd like to take care of my parents, since they always took care of me," she said. "But I feel like he wanted me to buy something for myself, and there's a Jeep that I've had my eye on for a while."