Sunday, December 10, 2006

Black Powder

A guy enters a bank to see about getting a business loan.

"What kind of business do you want to start?" asks the bank manager.

"I have some black powder. You sprinkle it on a women's vagina and it makes it taste like a peach."

"I don't think we can give you a loan." he replied.

So the guy left. A few months later he went into the bank with a wheel barrel filled with money.

The same bank manager said, "Congratulations, I guess that idea for black powder really paid off."

"Nah, that didn't go anywhere. I made my money with this white powder."

"Really," replied the bank manager. "What does it do?"

"Give me a peach and I'll show you."

Friday, December 01, 2006

Separate but Equal? Single-Sex Classes Make Waves

The girls at the Irma Lerma Rangel Young Women's Leadership School in Dallas feel that they accomplish more without boys around. "Here, you don't have guys, so you pay more attention to your classes, and you Ye more focused," eighth grader Yadira Perez told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram of Texas. Rangel is one of about 240 public schools offering all-boys or all-girls classes.
Single-sex schools and classrooms are becoming more popular. The US. Department of Education recently relaxed the rules surrounding Title IX, a 1972 law that prohibits sex discrimination in public education. Now it's easier for school districts to offer single-sex education.

Supporters of single-sex education say boys and girls can focus better on schoolwork when they are separated. But some people disagree, saying single-sex education is discriminatory and unrealistic.

Better Learning
Boys and girls have better results in separate classes, some educators say. "We have found that the kids get more involved if we segregate them by sex," Mike Durbin, the principal of Gaston Junior High School, told The Oregomian of Portland, Ore.

Teacher Kristi Anderson of Ronald McNair Middle School in Lake City, S.C., says she uses a competitive team-based approach to teach her boys-only math class. "It gets them excited about learning," Anderson told The Tampa Tribune. "They love the competition."

Some students, including seventh grader Gabrielle Buffington, say separating boys and girls into different classes works. She told the Detroit Free Press that she was skeptical when her school began separating classes but changed her mind after a few classes. "We have our attention on learning. Our grades have gotten better," Gabrielle said.

Inherently Unequal?
Equality advocates, such as Emily Martin of the American Civil Liberties Union Women's Rights Project, say supporters of single-sex schools use faulty research. "The regulations give the green light to schools to develop programs based on … junk-science stereotypes, with the real potential to harm boys and girls." Martin says.

Other opponents say single-sex classes don't prepare kids for real life. "The real world is an integrated place where men and women compete for jobs, time, attention, and power," wrote Jennifer Bovair-Danulevicius of Arlington, Va., to the Free Press in response to an editorial about single-sex education.

Some students don't like being separated by gender. Ed Wilson, a student at Brandon Alternative School, told The Tampa Tribune that he doesn't like the lack of interaction with girls. "It doesn't feel right. It makes me feel like it's jail or something."

Current Events

Thursday, November 30, 2006

The Year In Medicine From A to Z

It was a year of old scourges and new drugs, from the first vaccine that prevents cancer to a bug that spoiled an entire crop of California spinach



Hoping to sharply cut HIV/AIDS transmission rates in the U.S., the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) took the unusual step of recommending that doctors ask all patients from ages 13 to 64 whether they want to be tested for the virus. One in four Americans living with HIV don't know they are infected; for them, early diagnosis could mean early treatment and longer lives. Antiretroviral drug therapy has already saved nearly 3 million years of life in the U.S. alone. Meanwhile, the number of people living with HIV/AIDS around the world continues to grow, to 40 million, according to estimates released last week by the U.N.


When Madrid barred ultrathin models from the city's fashion week in the aftermath of a model's death, it was clear acknowledgment that culture can fuel unhealthy body images. But genes play a role too. Researchers studying 31,406 identical and fraternal twins born in Sweden from 1935 to 1958 found that if one identical twin suffered from anorexia, the odds were significantly higher that the other did as well. Just because someone is genetically predisposed to anorexia, however, doesn't mean she or he will develop the disorder. The next step will be to figure out which genes are involved and how they affect the brain.

Read full text

Friday, November 10, 2006

How to Dream a Man

Eight countries collaborate in the Philippines on the Borges Project

Ich hab' im Traum geweinet
Mir träumte, du lägest im Grab.

I wept in my dream
I dreamed you were lying in the grave.

--Robert Schumann, Dichterliebe

Lying on the floor, sleeping, are the Americans--one in a fitful slumber and the other consumed by a romantic dream. The sound of a wood pipe followed by the call of the kubing, a bamboo mouth harp, represents the music of the Philippines. We see two men in white body suits, slowly extracting audio tape from each other's mouths. The stage fills with actors…then a song swells from the back of the house, a tenor voice intoning Schumann's Dichterliebe in German. A voice--melodic, poetic--speaks: "He wanted to dream a man. Dream him completely, in painstaking detail, and impose him upon reality." A woman enters, without registering the audience, sets up her laptop and types. Projected words appear: "No one saw him slip from the boat in the unanimous night, no one saw the bamboo canoe as it sank into the sacred mud."

These are the opening words of "Las ruinas circulares" ("The Circular Ruins"), a short story by Jorge Luis Borges, which served as source material for the Borges Project, an eight-country collaboration that culminated in a performance at the 2006 International Theatre Institute World Congress in May, and also opened the Manila International Theaterfest at the Cultural Center of the Philippines. The Borges Project was developed under the jurisdiction of the New Project Group, formed in 1995 with the aim of creating multinational projects. As a U.S. delegate to the Congress and a fundraiser for the Borges Project, I observed this collaboration's development (the third undertaken by NPG) through its final presentation, which opened with the theatrical prologue described above.

Over the past two years, artists in eight countries--Belgium, Cameroon, Croatia, Germany, Japan, Philippines, Switzerland and the United States--created 10- to 15-minute pieces using "The Circular Ruins" as thematic inspiration. The project was originally conceived at the ITI World Congress in Tampico, Mexico, in 2004, then further developed at a meeting in Heidelberg, Germany, in 2005. Line producers based in each country selected a creative team, raised funds and coordinated production details with project managers Emilya Cachapero, from the U.S., and Vitomira Loncar, from Croatia. The pieces were to be woven together during the Manila Congress into a globally resonant production and performed at the closing day's festivities.

The foreigner lay down at the foot of the pedestal. He wanted to dream a man. He wanted to dream him completely, in painstaking detail, and impose him upon reality.

--"The Circular Ruins," translated

by Andrew Hurley

BORGES'S STORY FOLLOWS A MAN, A FOREIGNER, on his quest to "dream a man." This sorcerer, as he is often called, spends 1,001 nights dreaming the man into being. In his first attempt, he dreams an entire classroom of students, but quickly discovers this is not the way to dream a man. He must dream this man organ by organ, hair by hair.

As Arena Stage dramaturg Mark Bly articulated in the program notes for the Borges Project, the story "offers a humbling, cautionary glimpse into the realm of the generative, creative act." The creation theme was the initial attraction for members of the New Project Group. But, in a twist that would surely have pleased Borges, the story served as more than a source for the artists; soon they found themselves, in their creative dreaming, mirroring aspects of the story itself.

In this version of "The Circular Ruins," instead of the sorcerer, there are 22 artists all eager to dream, to create. Like the main character, these artists are foreigners. "I'm sure I would have never come to the Philippines if not for this project," said German team member Alexander von Hugo, echoing the sentiments of most in calling the opportunity a "great gift." Most of the artists had never been to the Philippines before--and even the two Filipino artists were from Mindanao, the southernmost island of the Philippines, far from Manila. Culture shock---and likely jet lag--lulled the artists into a dreamlike situation, in which the only way out was to create--not a man, but a play.

The question was: What would happen when artists from eight countries with eight different translations tried to create connective tissue strong enough to join the disparate parts into a cohesive performance?

He understood that the task of molding the incoherent stuff that dreams are made of is the most difficult work a man can undertake.

--"The Circular Ruins"

Borges Project artists Larisa Lipovac and Bojan Navojec of Croatia (Photo)

Borges Project artists Larisa Lipovac and Bojan Navojec of Croatia.

Philippe Nauer and Dominique Rust of Switzerland (Photo)

Philippe Nauer and Dominique Rust of Switzerland.

Chikako Bando of Japan (Photo)

Chikako Bando of Japan.

UPON ARRIVING IN MANILA, I HAD just enough time to drop my bags in the hotel and wash off the grime from my 23-hour journey before being ushered into a fluorescent jeepney--an elongated, Las Vegasified jeep that transported us to rehearsal (and added a sense of peril to our daily routine). The artists from seven of the countries (the Cameroon team had yet to arrive) had already spent a week rehearsing in Los Baños, southeast of Manila in the province of Laguna. It was there--"in the jungle," as they called it--that the artists presented their work to each other for the first time. U.S. team member Michael John Garcés was impressed by the work and its "diversity of aesthetics and diverse approaches to the material." By the time I arrived, the pieces had been ordered and the artists were delving into transitions--an undertaking that ended up challenging, for some participants, the fundamental aims and structure of the project.

In addition to the 22 artists, the Borges Project had an overseeing director from Germany, Günther Beelitz; a dramaturg and stage manager from the United States, Liz Engelman and J. Paul Preseault; and two Manila-based company managers, Allan and Joyce Manalo. Many countries also brought their own directors. Furthermore, each team came with its own particular aesthetic, making it difficult for Beelitz to come up with a single vision for the piece. He chose to focus on creating bridges between the individual contributions--a decision that received backlash from many of the artists, who were more interested in interacting and experimenting with each other to create new work, than in finessing a compilation of existing pieces.

When I arrived in the rehearsal room, the isolated warm-ups did not reflect the collaborative spirit we had advocated in grant proposals. Some artists exchanged massages, others sat alone reviewing notes while others kicked around a soccer ball and one napped behind the tech table. But despite initial arguments about project goals (product versus process), rehearsals continued and everyone anticipated the imminent arrival of the Cameroonian team. The hope was that their piece, which had singing, drumming and movement, would help offset some of the more somber, stylized pieces. Unfortunately, due to difficulties within the Cameroonian government, the team was unable to attend at the last minute--a heartbreaking loss.

The performance began to take shape: After the prologue, the Swiss team opened with a technologically innovative installation piece in which a video camera moved along a table filled with objects and projected dream-related images onto a screen. With colorful traditional costumes, music and dance, the Philippine piece told of three communities in Mindanao and their struggle to coexist. Focusing on themes of identity and politics, U.S. artists explored the legacy of colonialism and its impact on American identity. Images of destruction and war flashed across the actors' bodies and the upstage screen.

The Croatian piece used an extremely precise movement style, and followed two characters, a man and a woman, struggling to make human contact in an urban environment. Directed in a modernized butoh style, the Japanese piece silently illustrated a being coming to life, learning to stand, discovering her voice, and finally discerning that she could not control her own destiny. The German piece featured an innocent young man undergoing an interrogation by a wily woman; the performers vacillated between German and English. The culminating piece was performed by the single Belgian actress at her laptop, typing to the audience. She used her computer to program a mechanized voice, the Mouth, and explore questions of what it means to "create" using a machine.

Each night he perceived [the heart] with greater clarity, greater certainty. He did not touch it; he only witnessed it, observed it, corrected it, perhaps, with his eyes. -- "The Circular Ruins"

OVER THE TWO WEEKS OF REHEARSAL, the artists developed their own methods of communicating. The artists began to feel creative ownership of the transitions; some took on a directorial role, while others practiced the art of flexibility. The Starbucks across the street from the rehearsal space became an indispensable safe zone at times when tensions mounted. This lingua franca even made its way into one of the transitions: The touching Philippine piece was followed by a condescending applause from U.S. team member Kevin Bitterman, planted in the audience. "The American Dream," he proclaimed, holding his Starbucks cup and introducing the U.S. piece. "You may complain about the American economic domination of your country, but hasn't your life improved since Starbucks arrived?" This was one transition the artists were especially proud of.

The preview performance--arrived at despite the treacherous jeepney's failing transmission and unceremonious backing into a garbage truck--proved the strength in unity. The performance came together as something greater than its parts; the transitions, some stronger than others, did serve as connective tissue. The parts maintained their disparate styles, but an energy passed from piece to piece, even through something as simple as shared breath.

At the end of Borges's story, the sorcerer discovers that although he has accomplished his mission, to dream a man, he is not just a creator but has all along been another man's dream--and he chooses to die. This Borges Project, however, will see more life. New Project Group members--as well as the World Congress's appreciative international audience--were so moved by the artists' dedication and the project's potential that they proposed to expand the Borges Project at the next World Congress in 2008.

By Heather Cohn

Heather Cohn is a New York City-based producer and stage manager and a founding member of Flux Theatre Ensemble. The New Project Group can be found online at http://www.npg.itiworldwide.orq/ More information about the Borqes Project's artistic teams can be found in the international section of TCG's website, http://www.tcq.orq/

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Health Warning!!! - Hand Bags

Have you ever noticed gals who sit their handbags on public toilet floors - then go directly to their dining tables and set it on the table? Happens a lot!

It's not always the 'restaurant food' that causes stomach distress. Sometimes "what you don't know 'will' hurt you"!

Read on...

Mum got so upset when guests came in the door and plopped their handbags down on the counter where she was cooking or setting up food. She always said that handbags are really dirty, because of where they have been.

Smart Mum!!!

It's something just about every woman carries with them. While we may know what's inside our handbags, do you have any idea what's on the outside? Shauna Lake put handbags to the test - for bacteria - with surprising results. You may think twice about where you put your handbag.

Women carry handbags everywhere; from the office to public toilets to the floor of the car. Most women won't be caught without their handbags, but did you ever stop to think about where your handbag goes during the day?

"I drive a school bus, so my handbag has been on the floor of the bus a lot," says one woman. "On the floor of my car, and in toilets."

"I put my handbag in grocery shopping carts, on the floor of the toilet while changing a nappy," says another woman "and of course in my home which should be clean."

We decided to find out if handbags harbour a lot of bacteria. We learned how to test them at Nelson Laboratories in Salt Lake, and then we set out to test the average woman's handbag.

Most women told us they didn't stop to think about what was on the bottom of their handbag. Most said at home they usually set their handbags on top of kitchen tables and counters where food is prepared.

Most of the ladies we talked to told us they wouldn't be surprised if their handbags were at least a little bit dirty. It turns out handbags are so surprisingly dirty, even the microbiologist who tested them was shocked.

Microbiologist Amy Karen of Nelson Labs says nearly all of the handbags tested were not only high in bacteria, but high in harmful kinds of bacteria. Pseudomonas can cause eye infections, staphylococcus aurous can cause serious skin infections, and salmonella and e-coli found on the handbags could make people very sick.

In one sampling, four of five handbags tested positive for salmonella, and that's not the worst of it. "There is fecal contamination on the handbags," says Amy. Leather or vinyl handbags tended to be cleaner than cloth handbags, and lifestyle seemed to play a role.

People with kids tended to have dirtier handbags than those without, with one exception. The handbag of one single woman who frequented nightclubs had one of the worst contaminations of all. "Some type of feces, or possibly vomit" says Amy.

So the moral of this story - your handbag won't kill you, but it does have the potential to make you very sick if you keep it on places where you eat.

Use hooks to hang your handbag at home and in toilets, and don't put it on your desk, a restaurant table, or on your kitchen countertop.

Experts say you should think of your handbag the same way you would a pair of shoes. "If you think about putting a pair of shoes onto your countertops, that's the same thing you're doing when you put your handbag on the countertops" - your handbag has gone where individuals before you have sneezed, coughed, spat, urinated, emptied bowels, etc!

Do you really want to bring that home with you? The microbiologists at Nelson also said cleaning a handbag will help.

Wash cloth handbags and use leather cleaner to clean the bottom of leather handbags.


Monday, October 30, 2006

Some misconception for orkut and forwarding emails...


* Orkut is NOT deleting profiles!
* Orkut is run by google which is having a 300% growth in terms of revenue for this fiscal year!
* They can handle any abysmal requirement of processing power or space!
* They are NOT experiencing any information processing or storage problems as yet!
* Orkut or google is not bankrup yet to send a single stupid mail to a person and ask him to forward it...They still hav technology to inform all the users at a single time..
* If any such thing was there orkut would surely have removed the invite friends option in its recent makeover.


* Until Today, there is no way to keep track of where a mail gets forwarded!
* Microsoft will not know if I send a mail from google server to my friend (EVEN IF IT IS A FORWARDED MAIL) unless you explicitly execute some code or click some link!
* However may I wish, I have no means to know whether my friend is forwarding the mail I sent to him or not. Nor does Microsoft, Google or any other corp. or inc.

Misconception #3: No comments about emotional messages appealing a person to forward a mail because it will either...

* suddenly make his love of life realize that she should call him/she should meet him/She should fall in love with him!
* or increase life expectancy of himself or his father/mother/ brother/sister /any other relatives!
* or make something "GOOD"(?) happen in his life!
* or earn him an unexpected fortune!
* or because some poor/crippled/ terminally infected/just infected/dying person will get money for every mail you forward!(I do not mean to disrespect the intentions but it is pointless as your forwards cannot be tracked)
* or just because it is part of a world record attempt!
* or because this e-mail is part of "chain" that many people have kept or going for no particular reason so you should also do the same!


Saturday, October 28, 2006

Love is an Addiction

Reportedly Men's Health, blood samples have revealed biochemical evidence that intense romantic love fades after a year in a new relationship, according to a recent study in the journal Psychoneuroendocrinology. Researchers tested the blood of 58 men and women who reported being newly and madly in love, and compared the blood with samples from people in long-lasting relationships. They looked at levels of nerve growth factor (NGF), believed to be a mediator of anxiety, emotions, and behaviors. Higher NGF levels corresponded to reportedly intense feelings of passionate love. And levels were nearly double in the new lovers, compared with those in long-term partnerships. "Love is not only poetry; it also has a strong biological basis," says Enzo Emanuele, M.D., of the University of Pavia, in Italy. "An adage says that 'love is an addiction.' Perhaps we may become tolerant of our partner, though nevertheless remaining 'addicted.'"

Sunday, October 15, 2006


Q What happens when we hallucinate?

A Although most of us immediately think of a Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas experience, or perhaps that weird guy muttering to himself on the street corner, recreational drugs and psychiatric disorders are not the only causes of hallucination. Stress, fever, illness or sleep deprivation can also trigger an episode.

Hallucination, also called sensory deception, happens when a person sees, hears, feels, smells, or tastes something that is not there. The general cause is abnormal chemical reactions, triggered by a drug or by misfiring neurons, that activate certain parts of the brain and disrupt their usual functions.

The exact nature of hallucinations is poorly understood, but here's what we know: With visual hallucinations, foreign chemicals (drugs or stray neurotransmitters) enter the synapses between the optic nerve and the occipital lobe, the part of the brain that processes visual information, triggering a signal on that neural pathway. Once the false signal reaches the brain, the occipital lobe is activated, and visual hallucination occurs. The same process occurs with hallucinations related to hearing, smell, taste (in the temporal lobes) and touch (in the parietal lobe).

If you wish to experiment (legally, mind you) with some hallucination of your own, try sleep deprivation. According to Michael Golder, a professor of psychiatry at George Washington University, "a person who has been sleep-deprived for 72 hours is as susceptible to hallucinations as someone taking LSD."

--Rachel Horn

Q Does a bland diet really help alleviate heartburn?

A Anecdotally, yes. Scientifically, no. Lauren Gerson, an assistant professor of medicine at the Stanford University Medical Center, says that none of the common dietary restrictions recommended to lessen heartburn-including limiting coffee, chocolate, caffeinated beverages, wine and citrus fruits-have stood up to scientific scrutiny.

Heartburn occurs when the ring of muscle between the esophagus and the stomach that regulates food traffic fails to close properly. This can allow stomach contents, including stomach acid, to leak back into the esophagus, causing a burning sensation. Before the 1980s, when prescription "proton-pump inhibitors" such as Prilosec and, later, Nexium were introduced, patients had to rely on feeble antacids or even surgery. Diet restriction seemed to be the best noninvasive alternative to lessen the symptoms.

When Gerson's patients complained to her about their bland diets, she decided to go straight to the source-the original studies that implicated diet in the first place-to see if there was any support for the strict limitations imposed on heartburn sufferers. After slogging through more than 2,000 peer-reviewed journal articles, she concluded that there was not. Although some foods (like carbonated beverages) were shown to cause the muscle between the esophagus and stomach to relax-a potential cause of heartburn-Gerson says, researchers never demonstrated whether consuming them would create the symptoms or if eliminating them from one's diet would lessen discomfort.

Blanket recommendations to cut out large classes of food may not be the answer to curing heartburn, but old ideas about diet are not completely obsolete, says Kenneth R. DeVault, chair of the gastroenterology division at the Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville, Florida. "If something gives you symptoms," he says, "then you should probably avoid it." Chalk one up for anecdotal evidence.

Q Why do I get a headache when I eat ice cream too quickly?

A "Brain freeze" or an "ice cream headache" hits when a cold substance makes contact with nerve endings in the roof of your mouth. A particular nerve in the back of your throat (impress your friends by calling it the sphenopalatine ganglion) stimulates the trigeminal nerve, the largest of the sensory nerves that lead from your face to your brain. The result is that characteristic stabbing pain, centered in the midfrontal part of the brain. Migraine sufferers are typically susceptible to cold-induced head-aches, and a 10- or 20-second brain freeze can often be a trigger for a longer, more severe migraine attack. There's really no way to avoid such headaches if you insist on wolfing down your icy dessert, says Seymour Diamond, founder and director of the Diamond Headache Clinic in Chicago. Next time you sip a Slurpee, just remember to take it slow.

--Rachel Horn

Q Can someone use my GPS receiver to track me?

A Conspiracy theorists can rest easy. Handheld global positioning system (GPS) receivers are just that-receivers. They are passive devices that intercept radio signals sent out by a network of 24 primary satellites in medium-Earth orbit. By timing how long a signal takes to reach the device from each of four satellites, a GPS device can pinpoint the user's position. For someone to be able to stalk you, your GPS device would have to have some way of transmitting that position data, whether by a GPS-enabled cellphone, a radio transmitter, emergency 911 services or wireless internet. Most simple handheld GPS devices are merely passive receivers and have nothing of the kind.

If a GPS device were to be used to track a person without his or her knowledge, it could cross into uncharted legal territory. "The idea that someone is able to gather a really nicely aggregated picture of your daily routine is something most people would see as an invasion of privacy," says Lee Tien, a senior staff attorney at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a nonprofit digital-rights group. "It's not much different from having someone following you around and keeping track of where you are at all times." If you're concerned, there's an easy solution: Just disable the GPS features on your cellphone when you're not using them.

--Nicole Price Fasig

Q Can I make snow with just my garden hose?

A Sorry, Jack Frost, but setting your puny garden hose to "mist" when it's cold outside isn't going to turn your frozen lawn into a sledding hill. Why not? The problem, in a word, is dirt. Natural snow forms in the upper atmosphere when tiny water droplets adhere to ice crystals or a small speck of dust and then change from super-cooled liquid water to solid ice. These crucial dust and ice "nucleation" points are missing from your DIY snow venture, says Matthew Pittman, co-founder of snow-machine manufacturer SnowatHome in Connecticut. "Just spraying water in a freezing environment won't make snow," he explains. "The water will not freeze until it makes contact with the ground."

Professional snow-making machines, which use a proprietary blend of nucleation particles, suck up 150 gallons of water a minute to keep the slopes of your favorite ski resort covered with the white stuff. A typical garden hose spews out a paltry six gallons a minute. So even if you did manage to get your water droplets to form snowflakes before they hit the ground, all you could hope for is a very slow accumulation, and the smallest snowman ever.

--Carla Thomas

An asteroid the size of the Rose Bowl is on a collision course with Earth, and scientists are racing to prevent an impact. (The rock, Apophis, has a 1-in-40,000 chance of striking Earth in 2036.) On this season's first episode of Nova: ScienceNow, researchers consider crashing a satellite into the asteroid to nudge it off its course or flying a gravitational tugboat in front of it to influence its path. Also covered in this hour-long episode: the struggle to create the 114th element, and a look at a genetic defect that may contribute to some forms of obesity. Airs October 3.


Sometimes it takes a kid to ask the important questions. Like, "Can we drink beer in space?" (Answer: Yes, although booze is strictly verboten to today's astronauts while they're in orbit.) Kids to Space: A Space Traveler's Guide is a gigantic Q&A on space exploration between North American schoolchildren and 80 experts in such fields as astrophysics, dentistry, and survival in extreme environments. The questions and answers are surprising and gratifying: Nationality of kids born in orbit? (Same as the parents'.) Will my cat survive liftoff? (Yes.)

By: Horn, Rachel, Fasig, Nicole Price, Popular Science, Oct2006

Chasing Down a Killer’s Story

A venerable cold-case squad probes a convicted murderer’s claim to 48 victims.

Former FBI and CIA agent Charlie Hess hadn’t expected to spend his golden years chasing killers. He was happily retired from crime fighting, living his dream of “a Robinson Crusoe existence” with his wife in a thatch-roof home in Baja, Mexico. But that was before Christmas Eve, 1990, when their son-in-law was fatally shot by burglars in Colorado Springs and Hess and his wife decided to move to Colorado to be with their widowed daughter. The killers were eventually caught, and through the whole ordeal Hess formed close ties with members of El Paso County, Colo., Sheriff’s Office. So when the sheriff asked Hess in 2001 if he would start a cold-case unit for the overburdened agency, Hess readily agreed. “I felt it was a way to do something productive, rather than grow old sitting on the couch watching TV,” says Hess, now 79.

Four years ago Hess began nursing a relationship with convicted murderer Robert Charles Browne, whom law-enforcement officers suspected might be a serial killer. Hess started sending letters to Browne, and the two eventually held face-to-face meetings. “He was lonely, and I showed interest,” says Hess. In the course of their meetings, Browne, who claims to have killed 48 people during a three-decade rampage, has provided Hess with details of 19 killings. Officials have already verified details Browne gave them in seven of those cases. If Browne’s claim holds true, that would rank the 53-year-old with the Green River Killer as the nation’s most prolific serial murderer. But that’s a big “if,” given that killers behind bars often lie about their “successes.”

So far, authorities have been able only to tie Browne definitively to the murders of two teenage girls: 13-year-old Heather Dawn Church in 1991 and 15-year-old Rocio Sperry in 1987. Browne was convicted in 1995 of the Church murder and given a life sentence; a second life sentence was added after he pleaded guilty on July 27 to Sperry’s murder. The task of evaluating Browne’s other supposed victims–by the FBI and law-enforcement officials around the country–is daunting, given that many of the cases are so old. “It’s too early to determine whether there’s any validity to his claims,” says Lt. Col. David Shaw, director of the Mississippi Bureau of Investigation, which is looking into Browne’s allegation that he killed two men near the Alabama border, dismembered their bodies and dropped them into a swamp some 25 years ago.

Meanwhile, Hess and his fellow cold-case workers have stayed on Browne’s trail. The volunteer group has come to be known as the Apple Dumpling Gang, both for a 1975 Disney comedy featuring a couple of hapless outlaws and because the group likes to gather for pastry at a German bakery in Colorado Springs. In addition to Hess, it includes a former investigator on the JonBenet Ramsey murder case, 71-year-old Lou Smit, and a former newspaper publisher and crime reporter, Scott Fischer, 60. Smit is the de facto leader, but Hess was tapped to approach Browne because the inmate holds Smit responsible for putting him behind bars in the Church case (Browne now claims he didn’t kill the girl).

Hess wrote his first letter to Browne in May 2002; he would send about 20 in all, and Browne responded to most. Hess kept him up on New Orleans Saints football scores, and Browne carped about the discomforts of prison. On Browne’s birthday, which is Halloween, Hess sent the prisoner a birthday card with a picture of a snowy owl: Browne wrote back that it was his favorite bird of prey. Hess eventually started giving Browne details about his family life, even telling him about his son-in-law’s murder. “I’m sorry for your loss,” Browne wrote. “I felt that if he was going to share with me, he needed to know that I would share deep personal feelings with him,” Hess says. Browne agreed to a meeting in September 2004, the first of several sit-downs between Hess and the 6-foot-2, 200-plus-pound prisoner. Browne controlled these interviews, deciding what information about the alleged killings to give Hess. Since pleading guilty last month to Sperry’s murder, Browne has stopped talking, on the advice of his state-appointed attorney. (The attorney did not respond to a call seeking comment.)

Browne never provided a motive, but he did speak of the peacefulness of going “rambling,” his term for his hunts. He also mentioned negative feelings toward women–who “try to present themselves to be one thing, and then always prove to be something else,” he wrote to Hess. He described one of his alleged victims as a “slutty, low-life woman.” Browne’s motivation is also a big question mark: Does he relish the idea of going down in infamy as one of America’s top-two serial killers? Or is it something else? Detective Ed Majors of the Tulsa Police Department has been working on tips Browne gave about two murders in Oklahoma, and he has met with the prisoner. “He didn’t seem like someone who’s in prison. Not hard at all,” Majors says. “He just wants to resolve this and give closure to the families.” It will take a lot more work by Majors and the Apple Dumpling Gang before those families find out whether closure will ever come.

By: Tolme, Paul, Atkins, Ace, Ordoñez, Jennifer, Newsweek

Joke of the Day

English, Irish, Scottish scientist

After having dug to a depth of 1000 meters last year, Scottish scientists found traces of copper wire dating back 1000 years and came to the conclusion that their ancestors already had a telephone network more than 1000 years ago.
Not to be outdone by the Scots, in the weeks that followed, English scientist dug to a depth of 2000 meters and shortly after headlines in the UK newspapers read; English archaeologists have found traces of 2000 year old fibre-optic cable and have concluded that their ancestors already had an advanced high-tech digital communications network a thousand years earlier than the Scots.

One week later, Irish newspapers reported the following: After digging as deep as 5000 meters in a County Mayo bog, Irish scientists have found absolutely nothing. They, therefore, have concluded that 5000 years ago, Ireland's inhabitants were already using wireless technology.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Who's Got Energy?

Rev Up Our Engines

"Brew Better Ethanol" ["The Future of Energy," July] is a very good idea, but the approach should be two-pronged. Modern engines are horribly inefficient at extracting the energy from ethanol. If ethanol is going to be a viable alternative, engines must be redesigned to take advantage of the alcohol's burn characteristics. To get similar power and fuel economy from ethanol and its lower energy density, engines should have higher compressions, better computer controls, direct injection and forced induction.

--Erik Lorentzen

Harness Hemp

I think it's worth mentioning that industrial cannabis hemp could be a valuable crop for the production of cellulose. Hemp contains up to 77 percent cellulose, is easy to grow, aerates the soil, and is superior to other cellulose sources (wood, corn, sugar cane). This cellulose can be distilled into ethanol or, as "Brew Better Ethanol" describes, fermented with enzymes found in termite guts. Unfortunately, farmers in the U.S. must acquire a federal marijuana permit to grow the crop, even though it cannot be used to produce the drug form of cannabis.

--Sameron Decker Harris

Go Nuclear

It is an unmitigated, self-imposed disaster that 75 percent of our electricity does not come from safe, clean, economical nuclear power. This would provide the power for your electric cars and to manufacture solar cells and wind generators, which are useful but not currently economically competitive with conventional sources.

--David M. Herring

Charge Our Cars

You missed one perfect alternative: electric cars. They're fast, good-sized and ready to go but were pulled by several car companies. One example is GM's EV1, the focus of the recent documentary Who Killed the Electric Car?. Ford also had an electric Ranger truck; my son had to fight Ford to keep his.

--Sheila Raboy

Lay Off the Luxuries

Nine of your steps to increase available energy are like trying to end traffic jams by building more lanes: They only delay the problem. The more energy made available, the more people will use. Your 10th step, efficiency, is one where we have a lot of room for improvement. In my home, for example, many lights are LEDs, which cost a bit more than compact fluorescents but last longer and use far less electricity than standard bulbs. My whole home is as small as is practical and comfortable. Americans need to learn the difference between luxury and necessity.

--Bakari Kafele

Hang It Out to Dry

Everyone is always looking for high-tech solutions to energy problems, but what about low-tech solutions that already exist? We would save a tremendous amount of electricity if everyone used clotheslines to dry their clothes.

--Michel Czehatowski

By: Lorentzen, Erik, Harris, Kameron Decker, Kafele, Bakari, Popular Science, Sep2006

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Sex and the Perfect Getaway

FOR A NEW COUPLE, THERE'S NO BETTER TEST OF COMPATIBILITY than that fateful first trip. There's much to be learned from seeing your sweetiemunchkins removed from her network of coping mechanisms and creature comforts. You may uncover negatives, like her packing 11 pairs of shoes for a weekend upstate. You may also discover a charming quality, like how cuddly she gets after one umbrella drink.

"When you travel, your companion is in your space all the time," says Patti Britton, Ph.D., author of The Art of Sex Coaching. "This kind of proximity magnifies everything: the sore spots and the sweet spots, the good, the bad, and the ugly."

U.S. couples go on 155 million romantic getaways every year. While some of these couples will end up necking in the lost-luggage office, others will find themselves at the precipice of an enchanting waterfall, arguing about who should carry the binoculars. Your journey should start With our step-by-step guide to travel for twosomes.

Step 1 Start smart
Don't be too ambitious too soon. "Early in a relationship, a shorter trip is more prudent," says Linda DeVillers, Ph.D., author of Love Skills: A Fun, Upbeat Guide to Sex-cessful Relationships. Long trips raise expectations, cost more, and represent a commitment. Unless you have a very good feel for her, put a 3-day cap on your maiden voyage.

Do: Spend a weekend in Vegas.

Don't: Go on a 2-week elk hunt.

Your best bet: Pick a spot that's no more than 4 hours away--half a day of livid silence on the way home is not fun. And opt for a place with plenty of activities to choose from. This way, if she's not a golfer, she can hit the spa while you hit some balls.

Step 2 Discuss great expectations
No, not the Dickens classic (although it's quite good). Talk about what you both want from the trip before you pack a bag. "This conversation doesn't have to be some big emotional thing," says Susan Moynihan, editor in-chief of Destination Weddings & Honeymoons magazine. "It can merely be a discussion of your dream vacation. She can say, 'I want to lie on the beach all day, then go have cocktails.' Then he can say, 'That would drive me crazy. I want to go kiteboarding all day, then go have cocktails.' Don't make an issue out of it. It's okay to have different interests. Other than cocktails, obviously, which are nonnegotiable."

Do: Have a lighthearted, enjoyable chat about your vision of the ideal trip.

Don't: Make it a tense summit meeting.

Your best bet: Meet someplace fun but quiet and keep the conversation casual. Concentrate on your expectations. Do you want to see the sights or spend the day on the beach? Must you spend every minute together, or can you split up for a few hours? How much time are you going to spend in the room (hint, hint)? What about shopping?

Oh, and one final do: Make sure you establish what the trip means. If you think you're going skiing and she thinks you're going to propose, things might turn ugly.

Step 3 Don't follow the reader
Many relationships have a natural leader who winds up making most of the decisions. If you just thought, Yeah, that's me, you're the one. If you just thought, Yeah, that's her, she's the one. Take this into account when planning, so neither of you winds up being dragged along on the other's dream vacation.

Do: Embrace democracy!

Don't: Expect her to understand when you skip the butterfly gardens because you want to get a good spot at the swim-up bar.

Your best bet: Identify the leader in your relationship. As a man, there's a strong possibility you are the leader. If this is the case, make absolutely sure your shy gal chooses her fair share of activities. Give her all the time she needs and encourage her to express her likes and dislikes. If she's reluctant to do this or gives you the ol' "Let's just do what you want to do," use your leadership abilities to coerce her into expressing herself. In other words, order her to give you orders!

Step 4 Don't mess around with money
Joy Davidson, Ph.D., the author of Fearless Sex, once went to Venice with a companion on a meals-included package. When she suggested exploring Venice's restaurants, "he couldn't stand the idea of wasting that money. I knew we had different outlooks on money before, but this really highlighted it. We ended up having a huge fight and spending most of our time apart."

Be frank about finances and split costs as equally as possible without allowing them to dominate the experience.

Do: Work out a system ahead of time.

Don't: Insist on being "The Man" and paying for everything.

Your best bet: "The best way to deal with it is to divide the payment by days," says Davidson. "For example, he pays for everything on Monday, she pays for everything on Tuesday, and so on. You'll end up spending roughly the same amount, but you won't have money overshadowing the good times every time you're presented with a bill."

Step 5 Go solo for an hour
You love your lover, but you also love it when she goes away for a while, right? "It's important to create some alone time in a way that's sensitive to your partner," Britton says.

Do: Go for an hour's jog on the beach.

Don't: Blow the day playing blackjack.

Your best bet: Take the pressure off. Split up, then reconnect to compare notes. Individual enthusiasms can be arousing. Or relax together with a room-service meal. Not every moment has to be life-changing.

Step 6 Steam up the hotel room
Hotel sex is one of the not-so-secret pleasures of travel. "There's a lack of responsibility in a hotel room," says Britton. Be irresponsible.

Do: It.

Don't: Not do it.

Your best bet: Pack something surprising in your suitcase--a toy, a DVD, or lingerie, DeVillers says: "It creates anticipation."

GRAPH: On vacation, she'll try (almost) anything

By: Connolly, Chris, Men's Health, Jul/Aug2006

Sunday, August 06, 2006

The Ticking Climate Bomb

Many americans remain unfazed by the impact of global warming on the planet, but we think they'll worry plenty when they consider its potential effect on their favorite travel destinations--a subject geotourism editor Jonathan Tourtellot tackles in "The Climate Bomb" on page 86. While scientists and politicians argue over the causes of global warming, nobody can debate its reality: The Earth's average surface temperature increased about 1 Fahrenheit in the past century; the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change projects a 3-10° rise by the end of this century. This is not a political issue. It 'S a planetary one. That's the message former Vice President Al Gore voices in his movie and book An Inconvenient Truth, both based on a riveting presentation he's been giving to packed auditoriums nationwide. In my chat with Gore, here's what he had to say about the impact of global warming.

Some Americans think the serious consequences of global warming are decades off. What's your response?
Well, that's the essence of the problem. [Climate change] is unfolding much more rapidly than scientists figured, and the range of consequences is much more serious. And in the effort to be conservative in their projections, they erred on the side of minimizing both the pace and the magnitude of the consequences. What's happening [to the planet] is an inconvenient truth, but it is the truth. Those of us who have found a way to take the blinders off and look at [the impact of global warming] are amazed by how serious it is. It's a challenge to the moral imagination.

How long do you think it will take to blunt the advance of global warming?
I really believe that ten years from now, we'll look back on this period as a time when we began to turn the corner. And we'll realize that some damage will continue to unfold in the century to come [and beyond], but that most of the damage can still be prevented. It won't be in our lifetime, but we'll be able to hand [the world] off to our kids with a clear conscience, tell them that we did the best we could, and [that] now [things] are on the right track.

For someone trying to cut carbon emission--lets jets are one of the biggest contributors--aren't you doing a huge amount of travel?
Too much. And I buy offsets for every bit of it. I live a carbon-neutral life. Both of my businesses are carbon neutral My wife and I put money into a project in India that substitutes highly efficient solar units at $300 a pop for very dirty kerosene burners, which verifiably reduces a lot of CO2. There's a micro-hydro project in Eastern Europe that does not involve darn building, but [it] directly offsets the burning of dirty coal. Now, in the short term those projects represent a compromise that allows me to feel a little better about traveling for a purpose that I think is more than legitimate. In the longer term, [they] are a model for others to save money while reducing pollution.

What do you see as the role of young people in combating global warming?
They need to claim the title of the Greenest Generation. It's up for grabs. The challenge represented by the climate process is equivalent to the challenge posed by global fascism. All analogies present difficulties, but if you look at the threat to the course of human civilization, [the impact of global warming] is a showstopper. And rising to meet this challenge can give us the ability to gain moral clarity on a lot of other issues--HIV/AIDS, more than 34 million orphans in sub-Saharan Africa alone, chronic civil wars with child soldiers, genocide in Darfur, tens of millions dying from easily preventable diseases, grinding poverty and degradation. These are not just political problems; they're moral challenges.

What do you say to climate expert James Lovelock's prediction that by 2150 there won't be any travel?
Lovelock's a smart man, and his Gaia hypothesis, which he published in 1972, was brilliant. His new book is The Revenge of Gala and does indeed have a dark vision of what he believes is now most likely. I don't share that vision, which is impertinent [of me] because he is wiser, more experienced, more knowledgeable than I am. But I do believe that the political system is like the environment, and that predictions of how we will react that are based on past reactions may well be wrong. We have two gears--slow and lightning--and when we shift gears, we are capable of moving very quickly, I believe we're about to see the U.S. move dramatically--shift gears---and make predictions like Lovelock's not come true.

By: Bellows, Keith, National Geographic Traveler, Jul/Aug2006

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

California Blues: Going West Italian Style

By Venera Di Bella Barles

The family moves to California from New York State in 1946. We travel along Route 66 in a homemade trailer.

California Blues: Going West Italian Style
I’m a fourteen-year-old girl filled with wonder. World War II is over, and everyone takes to the highways—in search of new lives and so will we.

Trailers are the fad in 1946, big beautiful shiny ones like the Spartan and Air Stream. Dad decides to build his own.

He takes the eighteen-foot rusty trolley bed that sits on the back part of the property of our first home on Fairlawn Ave, and reshapes it into our future. When he finishes building the aluminum, wheeled, cottage, it has a cast iron sink in the front end, a new stove, four Bentwood barroom chairs and a table, salvaged from the sale of Club Paradise. All our clothing, linen, and bedding are piled on top of Dad’s precious tools. This is Mom and Dad’s bed. My four-year-old brother, Nicky sleeps between them and I have an army cot in a small area between the stove and sink.
My dad says it’ll probably take a month or two to get us to California, and we’ll see palm trees again, just like Italy, and we’ll see Indians, the desert, and movie stars.

Father sells everything. The soft velvety armchair that I curled up in when I needed hugs—the one where I rubbed the nap of the fabric and dreamed while Salvatore and Antonietta battled out life.

Even my piano is gone. I can’t believe it’s gone. I think I will never be able to play on another one since I learned my lessons on this one. It’s sold, probably to another little girl. I watch as they lower the beautiful instrument over the side of the upstairs balcony.

Everyone is watching the gypsies. The Di Bellas are on the move again. Mom is taking her cream, satin bedspread, the one she uses only when company comes. All our houses have been sold: Fairlawn Avenue, three on Buchanan Street, the duplex on Allen Street, and finally this duplex on Pine Avenue.

My little brother is leaving his best friend Donny, and I say good-bye to my first year in parochial high school, miserable Algebra, to Albany, where I was born and all I have known. I have spent reasonably happy early years here, but since I’ve moved so often I have become a loner. I don’t have many close friends to miss or say good-bye to. But I am excited to go forward and not look back. As usual, I am an optimist and think my life will be good and plentiful.

Dad’s new, green Buick, a Roadmaster, does the heavy work. It is quite brave, dipping low when the trailer is hitched. Even though I have just turned fourteen, I am thrilled at the prospect of being the navigator and relief driver for my dad. Mom will sit in the back seat as is typical. I have never seen her in the front, she is always too fearful, probably with good reason. Her rosary helps. With this move she leaves her entire family, old friends and security behind. Another Di Bella chapter closes.

Just before dark, most times we find a trailer park where we can stay the night. Mom makes dinner on the new butane stove. Usually pasta—sometimes chops or steak. She even tries to make her spice cake in the oven. My cot is pretty hard. Dad smokes a lot and it makes me cough.

As we drive on Route 66, we hear the first strains of cowboy music on the radio, and I know we are truly going west. They play Dad’s favorite, The Yellow Rose of Texas. Somewhere along the way, Bobby Troup’s new song, Get Your Kicks on Route 66 welcomes us, we hear the wonderful sounds of Mexican brass bands and guitars.

I’ve never seen such night skies like these, filled with unfamiliar stars. It is all dream-like. The darkness is enveloping, and the quiet, yes the wonderful quiet, is womb-like. We do much of our driving at night. During the day it’s magic when the heat ripples in the distance, as if we are coming to an oasis.

We stop at the sign that says, “See the two-headed Snake - Gila Monsters - Reptiles!” Mom is afraid of snakes and won’t get out of the car. Navajo Indians sit by the side of the road with their exquisite wares of jewelry, blankets, and baskets, the lines on their faces like a map to their souls. Most speak only their native tongue. I can’t contain my excitement. I feel a special place in my heart for these impressive, gentle, gifted people.

Burma-Shave signs guide our destination. We’ve been on the road sightseeing for several weeks. There is cactus and tumbleweed as far as our eyes can see and the air is pungent with the smell of sage and old hot earth.

It’s just like the movies. Just like the movies!

In Oklahoma City, we buy Nicky a western hat, boots, and a new fake gun in a holster. Now he’s ready for the Wild West. He imagines he sees cowboys and Indians coming over the hills.

I think I see them too.

Heat waves on the highway continue to race ahead of us; the horizon glimmers like water. I have never felt such hot, intense temperatures, 115 degrees in Yuma, Arizona. The family suffers adjusting to the heat. I am light-headed and troubled with nosebleeds. Dad makes us sit on top of a block of ice until we are cooled. More often than not, it is Dad who nurses us. Even our Buick has a burlap bag filled with cool water hanging over the grill. Everything is so different. Each turn brings new thoughts.

I thought living in Italy and all my days before this were unique, now, this is to be our new life. An adventure I will never forget.

Sunday, July 30, 2006

Best Practices: Marketing & Merchandising

Stamps and sound offer innovative ways to establish connections between brands and consumers.

Special Delivery

Entertainment Rights Pic (ER), a UK-based independent media group that owns children’s and family programming, characters, and brands, secured a promotional agreement with the United States Postal Service (USPS) for marketing and promotional activities for its classic Postman Pat character. Postman Pat makes his first live appearance in the U.S. this month when he attends Washington 2006. the World Philatelic Exhibition being held May 27 to June 3. Occurring only once every decade, the Washington. D.C.- based exhibition aims to expand an interest in stamp collecting globally, and will host special activities for children. Postman Pat aims to teach children the values of community, sharing, and helping others. “The agreement with the USPS is an important step in the plan for a range of activities designed to build Postman Pat into a leading children’s character in the U.S..” says Kathleen Hricik. executive vice president and managing director, U.S.. Canada, and Latin America, Entertainment Rights. As such. Postman Pat will make personal appearances, appear in themed photo opportunities and on-stage performances, and will be part of an educational outreach program. The Postman Pat television series launched on HBO Family in fall 2005. followed by a successful HBO Family’s Postman Pat Marathon Christmas Day 2005. ER has secured a further broadcast agreement for new episodes: HBO Family has The Postman Pa/television series launched on HBO Family in fall 2005. committed to running another Postman Pat Marathon and is running back-to-back episodes May 29. In addition, a Postman Pattherre interactive educational pack will be sent to 5,000 schools in the seven states surrounding the D.C. area, and will be downloadable from the HBO Family Website.

A Sound Strategy

As customer experiences advance into the “multisensory” dimension—from iPods to gaming and online—branding consultants also are expanding their services to include “sonic branding,” a form of marketing that uses sound to develop a unified message. Audio-branding company Audiobrain identifies opportunities for companies to incorporate sound and music in developing the brand experience. “It’s no longer only about visuals and advertising.” says Audrey Arbeeny, partner and executive producer at Audiobrain. “Sound is at the forefront of this movement. From iPods to Startucks and American Idol, smart marketers know the key is to create an emotional connection between the brand and individual.” To incorporate sound. Audiobrain developed its customized “Sonic Toolbox,” which contains severai different music and sound files, which can be used both internally and externally in presentations, brand and sales videos. Web. and retail environments, as well as any other touch point that employees or customers interface with. The first step is to define the brand’s voice, which includes tone, tempo, and instrumentation, among other attributes. Once a core sound is developed, Audiobrain can extend it for different uses. For the launch of Microsoft’s Xbox 360 video game and entertainment system. Audiobrain created a seamless sound experience. It developed the sound signature, full product user interaction sounds, and additional branded soundscapes for both the MTV Reveal Telecast and the Xbox 360 E3 Briefing Event, as well as a Dolby 5.1 surround-sound mix for use in movie theaters and other venues.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Doctor, doctor...

An Irish bloke goes to the doctor and says "Dactor, it's me ahrse. I'd loik ya ta teyhk a look, if ya wood".

So the doctor gets him to drop his pants and takes a look. "Incredible," he says, "there is a £20 note lodged up here".

Tentatively he eases the twenty out of the man's bottom, only to see another £10 note appear. "This is amazing" exclaims the Doctor "What do you want me to do?.

"Well fur gadness sake teyhk it out man" shrieks the patient. The doctor pulls out the tenner and another twenty appears, and another and another and so on...Finally the last note comes out and no more appear.

"Ah Dactor, tank ya koindly, dat's moch batter, how moch is dare den? The Doctor counts the pile of cash

"£1990 exactly."

"Ah, dat'd be roit." he says "I knew I wasn't feeling two grand." funnies

See full collection on


A New York woman was at her East Side hairdresser getting her hair styled prior to a trip to Rome with her boyfriend.
She mentioned the trip to the hairdresser, who responded, "Rome?
Why would anyone want to go Rome?
It's crowded and dirty and worse yet, full of Italians. You're crazy to go to Rome."
"So, how are you getting there"?
"We're flying on Continental," was the reply. "We got a great rate!"
"Continental"? exclaimed the hairdresser. "That's a terrible airline.
Their planes are old, their flight attendants are ugly and they're always late."
"So, where are you staying in Rome"?
"We'll be at this exclusive little place over on Rome's left side called Trieste..."
"Don't go any further. I know that place.
Everybody thinks its gonna be something special and exclusive.
But it's really a dump. The worst hotel in the whole city!
The rooms are small, the service is surly and they're way overpriced."
"So, whatcha doing when you get there"?
"We're going to go to see the Vatican and we hope to see the Pope."
"That's rich," laughed the hairdresser. "You and a million other people trying to see him.
He'll look the size of an ant. Boy, good luck on this lousy trip of yours.
You're sure going to need it."

A month later, the woman, all smiling, came in for her hair appointment.
The hairdresser asked her about her trip to Rome.
"It was absolutely wonderful," explained the woman. "Not only did we arrive on time in one of Continental's brand new jets, but it was overbooked and they bumped us up to first class.
The food and wine were wonderful and I had a handsome 28-year-old steward who waited on me hand and foot.
And the hotel.
It was fabulous! They'd just finished a $5 million remodeling job and now it's just a jewel, the finest hotel in the city.
They, too, were overbooked, so they apologized and gave us their owner's suite at no extra charge!"
"Well," muttered the hairdresser. "I know you didn't get to see the Pope."
"Actually, we were quite lucky.
As we toured the Vatican, a Swiss Guard tapped me on the shoulder and explained that the Pope likes to personally meet some of the visitors and if I'd be so kind as to step into his private room and wait, the Pope would personally greet me.
Sure enough, five minutes later, the Holy Father walked through the door and shook my hand!
I knelt down and he spoke a few words to me."

"Really"? asked the hairdresser. "What'd he say"?

He said, "Where did you get that horrible haircut"? funnies

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Friday, June 30, 2006

Interesting Facts

To qualify for induction into the National Inventors Hall of Fame an inventor and his/her invention must:

contribute significantly to the nation's welfare,
promote the progress of science and useful arts,
be covered by a United States Patent.
February 11th is Thomas Edison's birthday. It's also the date inventors, selected for induction into the Hall of Fame, are honored at a ceremony in Arlington, Virginia, at the Patent and Trademark office during National Inventors Day.

Did you know?
• Our third president Thomas Jefferson was also an inventor. He is credited with inventing the swivel chair, pedometer, a hemp-treating machine, a decoding device, and an improved type of plow. He never received patents for any of his inventions.

Did you know?
• Abraham Lincoln is the only United States President who was ever issued a patent. He invented a device to help steamboats pass over sand bars. It was never manufactured.

Did you know?
• Benjamin Franklin is famous for inventing the lightning rod, the Franklin stove, and bifocal glasses. He refused to patent any of his inventions, seeing them instead as contributions to society.

What CAN'T you patent?
the laws of nature
an abstract idea
a new mineral or plant found in the wild
printed matter
a machine that is NOT useful
human beings

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

At home in the African bush

HE'S GOT A heart of gold, but he's living in the past," Gill Langebrink says with an affectionate chuckle. "He's living just like the colonials used to. Who in this country still leaves their drinks tray out all day, every day?"

The retro-man she's talking about is her neighbor, David Lambkin, with whom I've swapped houses for a week. He gets my Baltimore digs. I get his South African farmstead.

Truth be told, when I agreed to temporarily trade lives I had no idea, not the foggiest notion, that my counterpart was the type of person to keep a drinks tray--an elegant brass one, laden with numerous crystal decanters of port, gin, and scotch--perched upon his living room tea table.

Note to self: Check closets for polo ponies.

Lambkin, a novelist and former denizen of Johannesburg, recently abandoned the brash city in favor of renting a quaint, ramshackle farmhouse from Gill and her gracious, if taciturn, husband, David. It stands a couple of hundred yards from where I'm now sitting, inside the Langebrinks' open-air, rear garden room (think fully furnished triple garage with no doors), enjoying a cup of tea and a homemade jelly roll.

"We've had a satisfying life here, and we still have a satisfying life," says Gill, who at age 69 has a youthful, lilting voice that reminds me of cathedral bells chiming.

She came to Johannesburg in 1960 from her native England for an extended visit with a cousin. Fate intervened a few years later: Gill met and married David, permanently switching hemispheres in the process.

They have raised two daughters on this 7,400-acre farm that David's father first began working 68 years ago. It lies among flatlands in a historically conservative Afrikaans area of the country. Just under an hour's drive south lies Pretoria (Tshwane), the administrative capital of the country--a cultural hub with nearly two million residents and 70,000 flowering jacaranda trees. A half hour's drive north is Bela-Bela, a pleasantly flayed town that caters to just-passing-through tourists headed for the wildlife bounty of Kruger National Park 250 miles to the northeast and other big-name, big-game reserves strung along the Zimbabwe and Mozambique borders.

The Langebrinks used to be avid horseback riders. They'd saddle up at sunrise and trot the veld. "That is the most glorious time of day," Gill coos. Swallows swoop through the room as she speaks, and the metronomic tick-tick-tick of a lawn sprinkler punctuates her sentences.

Yes, a wonderful South African life. The jacaranda trees are in full, soft-purple bloom. David notes that 433 species of birds frequent the farm. Meanwhile, Gill tells me about once being chased by a pair of crazed young warthogs (adults are capable of killing a lion), about farm animals she has slaughtered for food, her recipe for antelope jerky, and the cobra that slithered into the house and attacked their Jack Russell terrier, Mia.

"We've seen lots and lots of pythons," she adds. "I've shot lots of puff adders."

Ah, that voice may be soft and sweet, but those hands can make a shotgun sing.

Isak Dinesen owned a farm at the foot of the Ngong Hills. I borrowed one on the outskirts of Bela-Bela. We were both the better for it.

I HAVE COME TO South Africa to sample everyday life, and accordingly I vow to shop for local thrills. After all, the point of house-swapping is to step into a relative stranger's life, to slow down and absorb the rhythms of an alternative world. The way I see it, spending a day here doing "nothing" might wind up being the best investment of my travel time.

My loaner farm has plenty to offer. Why, there are animal-viewing opportunities to be had right inside the Lambkin house, which David shares with Wolfie, his ever-faithful, ever-lumbering German shepherd, and 11 cats. (Or is it 111? When you're dealing with anything beyond four cats, it's impossible to get an accurate head count.)

Of course, the farm contains genuinely wild wildlife, too. I jog or walk the property almost daily, catching glimpses of warthogs, impala, kudu, a brown-hooded kingfisher, and a pearl-spotted owl. The duikers, steenboks, and porcupines have hidden out. At night I hear a jackal yammering. The stars are plentiful and on fire. They look seductively close, as if inviting me to step out into the universe for an evening stroll.

Late one afternoon I go on a bouncy mini-safari with the Langebrinks. Gill and I sit in the bed of their Isuzu truck. David takes the wheel, at one point pulling to a stop at a far corner of the farm in front of a gnarled camel thorn tree.

"It's a family joke," Gill explains. "We're all supposed to salute because his stepmother's buried under there." "Why this tree?" I ask.

There's a pause, then Gill breaks into a devilish grin, "Well, I guess because it's the farthest one from our house."

That presumably evil stepmother lived her last years next to the Langebrinks in the fenced compound David Lambkin now occupies. There are two satellite rondavels: conical, thatched-roof huts that can accommodate spillover guests. The two-bedroom main farmhouse was built in 1922. Its pressed-iron ceilings are high. Its pine-plank floors squeak in protest with every footstep.

Stacks of books line hallways. Animal skulls and animal skins lend an age-of-empire touch to the decor. A large, unscreened garden room faces the backyard, which has a plastic-bladder camp shower strung from a tall tree. Beyond a blanket of green lawn, scruffy veld stretches as far as the eye can see.

The place has the welcoming feel of a weather-beaten beach house filled with friendly ghosts of clambakes gone by. It's cozy and comfortable and conducive to lazy-bone hours of pleasure reading. Why not take advantage of this rare opportunity to sink into a spongy couch and devour an author's work within the confines of his own home, inside the very laboratory where creative juices bubble over onto the printed page? I choose Lambkin's The Hanging Tree, a winding-narrative novel with a large cast of characters, but, surprisingly, only one cat.

The nonfiction world can't be totally ignored, however. One day, I drive into Bela-Bela. I stop for lunch at the combination tree nursery-restaurant run by Jannie Bosch, an Afrikaner who moved here 14 years ago with his wife from the industrial city of Krugersdorp. "I think when you're living in nature," Bosch says of his rural lifestyle, "you're living close to your Lord."

Bela-Bela is known for its mineral springs. Aventura Warmbaths is a resort in the heart of downtown. I expect to encounter self-segregation on a grand scale. Instead, I see hundreds of blacks and whites soaking together in hot pools, gliding together down waterslides, zipping around together on go-karts. It's almost like stepping into an "I'd Like to Teach the World to Sing" Coke commercial.

Likewise, I'm heartened by a short walk through Bela-Bela's black township, unbowed by poverty, its streets buzzing with people in motion and children at play. When the cement was freshly poured for one of the curbs, somebody had written a message now fixed for posterity: Be Free for Love.

That wouldn't make a bad name for a certain homestead I know: Be Free for Love Farm. It has that requisite good vibe. Partly that's owed to the presence to Patrick Moyo, a Zimbabwean who is Lambkin's all-purpose majordomo. Soft-spoken, hardworking Patrick keeps the house in running order, makes breakfast and tea, builds cooking fires and does laundry on request, and answers oddball questions. When I spot what looks like a hairy Abominable Snow-midget squeezing through a hole in the back fence, Patrick sets me straight on what's going on.

"Vervet monkey," he tells me. "They come for the oranges."

ON THE RECOMMENDATION of David Langebrink, I phone Hugo Kuschke, a local surveyor and hiker. He lives about 15 miles from Bela-Bela, near Kranskop, a mountain that stands alone on an otherwise flat plain like a giant spaceship making an emergency repair stop in South Africa.

The next day we're on the trail by 5 a.m. Kranskop is considered by some to have mystical, holy powers. It definitely exerts a pull on Kuschke. He first climbed it when he was 12. He's now 78, still going strong despite two artificial hips and shoulder surgery. He hikes Kranskop every New Year's Day with members of his church; he trudged up it to seek solace last year when his wife, Elfriede, died.

We summit in just over an hour. It's an easy scramble, but one that rewards you with panoramic views of the Nyl River Valley. Kuschke shows me a metal pipe poking up from a cairn made of big boulders: a survey stake he set in 1952. There are old missionary reports of rhinos roaming the mountain, says Kuschke. Nowadays it's a playground for baboons.

"I'd rather stand here," he says, "than be in a sitting room and yap, yap, yap. I told my children, when I die they should throw my ashes on Kranskop. End of story."

And speaking of stories, I'll have plenty to tell when I get back home. Anecdotes of life in South Africa have been the best part of my house-swapping experience--such as the memorable mealtime conversation I had with David Lambkin's friend Pam Carr, an artist who grew up in a Zambian bush village. Pam told me about African witchcraft and villagers stomped by elephants and devoured by crocodiles. That's definitely not the stuff of dinner conversations back in Baltimore.

By: Dunkel, Tom, National Geographic Traveler, Apr2006

Saturday, April 22, 2006

God will provide

A Jewish girl brings her fiancé home to meet her parents. After dinner, her mother tells her father to find out about the young man. He invites the fiancé to his study for schnapps.
"So what are your plans?" the father asks the fiancé.
"I am a Torah scholar," he replies.
"A Torah scholar," the father says. "Admirable, but what will you do to provide a nice house for my daughter to live in, as she's accustomed to?"
"I will study," the young man replies, "and God will provide for us."
"And how will you buy her a beautiful engagement ring, such as she deserves?" asks the father.
"I will concentrate on my studies," the young man replies, "God will provide for us."
"And children?" asks the father. "How will you support children?"
"Don't worry, sir, God will provide," replies the fiancé.
The conversation proceeds like this, and each time the father questions, the fiancé insists that God will provide.
Later, the mother asks, "How did it go?" The father answers, "He has no job and no plans, but the good news is he thinks I'm God."