ROME – Silvio Berlusconi has survived corruption allegations, a playboy reputation and his wife’s wrath to become Italy’s longest-serving prime minister. Now come allegations from a high-end prostitute that she spent the night at his residence and can prove it.
Berlusconi denies the claim, but there are signs of trouble ahead: Prosecutors are examining images Patrizia D’Addario allegedly took of his bedroom and telephone recordings of him allegedly sweet-talking her — and the Roman Catholic Church is warning the “limits of decency” have been breached.
A defiant Berlusconi — sometimes referred to as the “Teflon” prime minister for his ability to escape controversy — says he has nothing to be sorry about.
But the scandal engulfing Berlusconi over his purported fondness for young models and starlets shows no signs of letting up. With newspapers competing for the last tawdry detail, Italians are taking a new look at the life of the man they voted into power three times and finding a very different Berlusconi.
On Wednesday, Berlusconi launched a new tourism campaign for Italy, saying the country needed to rehabilitate its image internationally because its reputation had been tarnished by his recent personal scandals and a garbage crisis in Naples last year.
Still, Berlusconi — known for his colorful quotes and international gaffes — seems to have a knack for dodging scandal. He won a landslide election victory last year despite corruption charges hanging over him, and recent scrutiny surrounding his use of government airplanes has had little impact.
The new accusations against the prime minister come just a few weeks before he hosts President Barack Obama and many of the world’s leaders at a G-8 summit in earthquake stricken L’Aquila.
“There is nothing in my private life that I should apologize for,” Berlusconi told the gossip magazine Chi, which he owns, in the issue on newsstands Wednesday.
“I have never paid a woman. I never understood what the satisfaction is when you are missing the pleasure of conquest,” the 72-year-old premier was quoted as saying.
Until the interview, Berlusconi had simply dismissed as “garbage” and a smear campaign reports that an acquaintance of his had recruited three women, and paid two of them, to attend parties at his residences.
To break the silence and address the accusations directly, the premier chose a popular magazine that is part of his Mondadori publishing house.
On the cover, above a headline reading: “Now I do the talking,” a smiling Berlusconi sits on a lawn, his one-year-old grandson at his side. In other photos inside, the premier is seen surrounded by his grandchildren and children, and in one, he’s playing at the piano with grandson Alessandro, dressed in a sailor suit.
The photos offer a stark contrast with the image of Berlusconi depicted in recent weeks by Italian newspapers: a rich and powerful flirt who liked being surrounded by pretty women while he boasted of his visits to the White House, cracked jokes and sang songs.
“There must be limits,” said Famiglia Cristiana, an influential Catholic magazine that is distributed in parishes across Italy. “Those limits of decency have been exceeded.”
“Those who have power, even with wide popular mandate, cannot claim they are in ethics-free territory,” the magazine said in an editorial this week.
Famiglia Cristiana was the second Catholic publication to criticize the premier. The newspaper of Italy’s bishops conference, Avvenire, urged Berlusconi to respond to the accusations last week.
The scandal began weeks ago when the premier’s wife, Veronica Lario, announced she was divorcing him. At the time, she voiced outrage at his selection of young starlets and showgirls for European Parliament elections and condemned his attendance at a birthday party for an 18-year-old girl, to whom he gave a gold and diamond necklace.
The woman at the center of the current scandal, Patrizia D’Addario, described by her friends as a high-end prostitute from Bari, told Corriere della Sera newspaper that she was paid euro1,000 (1,400) to attend a party in October 2008 at the premier’s residence in Rome, and then returned Nov. 4 and stayed the night.
She told Corriere she wore a recording device during her time with Berlusconi — recordings that have been turned over to prosecutors in Bari. The prosecutors are investigating a local businessman, Giampaolo Tarantini, who is accused of recruiting and paying the women.
Corriere also reported that telephone taps also uncovered an escort ring catering to wealthy businessmen spending weekends in the posh Cortina alpine ski resort, but Berlusconi was not linked to that.
“I have no memory of her. I didn’t know her name and didn’t remember her face,” Berlusconi told Chi. “I see dozens and dozens of people every day for the most different reasons. I don’t want to offend anybody, but obviously I cannot remember each of them.”
Berlusconi claimed D’Addario was paid to make the allegations, which have spurred the Bari investigation. D’Addario has denied she was paid to mount a scandal.
D’Addario’s friend, Barbara Montereale, told the left-leaning La Repubblica over the weekend that she, too, attended the Nov. 4 party. Corriere della Sera this week published what it said were photos taken by Montereale and another woman in a bathroom of Berlusconi’s Rome residence that evening.
Montereale has also said she attended another party at Berlusconi’s Sardinian villa in mid-January. For that party, Montereale said she received euro1,000 from Tarantini and another envelope with cash from the premier himself after she confided she was having problems raising an infant alone. She stressed she wasn’t a prostitute and didn’t have sexual relations with the premier.
In a subsequent interview, Montereale told Repubblica that during her stay at Berlusconi’s Sardinian villa she saw many other girls, who she said appeared to be Eastern European by their accents.
“They were very familiar with the premier and all called him ‘Daddy.’ They were all jealous of each other and in competition with each other,’” Montereale was quoted as saying. She said at one point they all dressed up as “little Santas.”
Both D’Addario and Montereale said they were offered candidacies in recent local elections in Bari with a party affiliated with Berlusconi’s Freedom People’s party, though neither won.
In an interview with Repubblica, Montereale showed off the gifts she said she had received from the premier — colorful pendants in the shape of turtles and butterflies, a flower-shaped ring and other trinkets.
Despite criticism at home and abroad that he is unfit to govern, Berlusconi appears to have kept his popularity virtually intact. His center-right forces have emerged victorious from EU elections earlier this month and a spate of local and provincial runoffs this past weekend.
Berlusconi was forced to resign after only a few months of his first term when a key coalition ally pulled out of the government, partially over a corruption scandal. So far his present alliance is sticking together.
Archive for June 24th, 2009
ROME – Silvio Berlusconi has survived corruption allegations, a playboy reputation and his wife’s wrath to become Italy’s longest-serving prime minister. Now come allegations from a high-end prostitute that she spent the night at his residence and can prove it.
PORTLAND, Ore. – Hackers defaced the home page of the Oregon University System, posting a caustic message telling President Barack Obama to mind his own business and stop talking about the disputed Iranian election.
Attempts to access the university system’s Web site were automatically redirected to another page, where readers viewed a message said to be from Iran that asserted there was no cheating in the election. That message was up for 90 minutes before university system technicians intervened Wednesday morning.
The hackers apparently took advantage of third-party software that had not been properly updated, university system spokeswoman Diane Saunders said. Hackers frequently attack the system’s computers, but technicians usually beat back their efforts, she said.
“They are able to stomp on most of them,” Saunders said.
She said nobody’s personal computers were attacked. Also, no malicious software — which could give hackers remote access to computer hard drives — was introduced.
There was no immediate indication why the hackers targeted the system, which oversees Oregon’s seven public universities.
The message that was posted on the Web site, made available to The Associated Press by the university system, addressed Obama and said it was being posted from Iran. The text, in red on a black background, calls on Obama to focus on the economic crisis instead of commenting on the Iranian election.
The message also makes derogatory comments about Iranian opposition leader Mir Hossein Mousavi, who has contended the June 12 vote was rigged.
TEHRAN, IranIran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, urged parliamentarians Wednesday to tolerate the voices of the opposition, government-run Press TV reported.
Ayatollah Ali Khamenei urged tolerance during a meeting with parliamentarians, Press TV reported.
Khamenei made the remarks to a group of lawmakers in Tehran, Press TV said. The report came hours after witnesses said police had broken up a planned demonstration outside the parliament building in opposition to the outcome of the June 12 presidential elections. But Khamenei added that the Islamic establishment and people “will never give in to coercive demands with regards to Iran’s presidential elections,” Press TV said. “Ayatollah Khamenei emphasized the significance of law and order and said violating the law would lead to dictatorship. “The leader argued that the country’s affairs must be run according to the law of the land as well as the principles of the Islamic revolution, so that the people’s demands are met. Ayatollah Khamenei also urged parliamentarians to tolerate voices of opposition and advised them to avoid factional leanings.”
Violence flares again in Tehran
Obama sent letter to Iran leader, sources say
Complete coverage of Iran election fallout
The newscast added that a spokesman for the Guardian Council, which oversees elections, had declared that “no major irregularities took place” in the presidential elections. The outcome has been challenged as rigged by the opposition. “After 10 days to scrutinize the results, the council’s spokesman said the vote was among the healthiest ever held in the country since 1979,” Press TV said.
It added that the spokesman said the council “looked into all the complaints made by the defeated candidates but found no major fraud or irregularities in the electoral process.” Though “minor irregularities” were found, they were not significant enough to change the results, the council spokesman said, according to Press TV.
Somali piracy spreads fear to Pacific
By Phil Mercer
BBC News, Sydney
The lawlessness of Somalia has spread fear and panic to one of the world’s smallest and most isolated nations, tiny Tuvalu, that sits in the South Pacific Ocean near the International Date Line.Eleven Tuvaluan seamen aboard the German cargo ship the Hansa Stavanger were abducted when Somali pirates stormed the vessel off the Horn of Africa in early April. Other crew members from Fiji, Ukraine and Germany were also seized by the gunmen, who have demanded a ransom believed to be around US15m (9m), which is more than Tuvalu’s entire annual national income. Tuvaluan authorities have described the pirates as “terrorists” and while negotiations appear to have stalled, efforts to secure the sailors’ safe release continue. Agonising experience”We are trying our best diplomatically,” said Solofa Uota, the Secretary to Government in the capital Funafuti, who told the BBC that officials are in contact with their German counterparts and the ship’s owners. “On humanitarian grounds we are concerned for our Tuvaluans and their fellow seafarers being held against their wishes.
“The close relatives are very worried should anything happen to their sons, their fathers and their husbands,” Mr Uota added. Tropical Tuvalu has a population of about 12,000 and comprises nine coral atolls that lie north of the Fijian islands, half way between Australia and Hawaii. The country has few exports and relies heavily on subsistence fishing and farming. An international trust makes an invaluable contributor to the government’s coffers, but many families rely on income from merchant seamen. About 40% of Tuvaluan men work on foreign freighters, mainly for German shipping firms. Their labour is an essential source of revenue and they generate more than a quarter of Tuvalu’s annual revenue. It is estimated that in 2006 their remittances were worth in the region of US4m. ‘It touches everyone’In such a small and remote community, the kidnapping of 11 seamen has been an agonising experience.
“The whole of the nation is worrying for what has taken place to the sons of Tuvalu who are being held hostage,” said Reverend Soama Tafia, whose cousin, Olataga, is among the hostages. “He has been working overseas for some time. I am worried. However, we are continuing to pray for them and hopefully something good will come out,” Rev Tafia told the BBC News website from his church in Tuvalu. Despite uncertainty over the men’s wellbeing or exact whereabouts, he remains optimistic. “We hope that the company or the owner of the ship would do something together with the German government, so that the hostages would be released. We are confident.” In a deeply religious country, special prayer services and vigils have been held for the men. The hostage crisis has also caused distress in expatriate Tuvaluan communities in Australia and New Zealand. Aoga Kofe has a close cousin among the sailors abducted at gunpoint. Speaking from her home in Queensland, she told the BBC how powerless she felt.
Pirates operating from Somalia have caused havoc in shipping lanes
“It is really sad because it touches everyone. We are a small country. We have no resources to help them,” she said. “We are just helpless in the sense that the [ransom] demand was so high. It is difficult to comprehend. It is beyond our thinking that something like this would happen to them. “We have to be really sensitive about this. We pray for their safety and plead to the bigger and powerful countries like Australia and New Zealand to help,” said Mrs Kofe. She added: “In Tuvalu, people have never seen a gun. It is something that we just do not understand. It frightens the whole nation. It just freezes us.”
Making friends with the Taliban
By M Ilyas Khan
BBC News, Pakistan
The desert sun beats down on us as we slip through the gate of a compound in Tank, a small but important town in north-western Pakistan.We are here for an appointment that we know has already been cancelled. The compound, formerly a city inn, houses the central office of a group of Taliban militants led by Qari Zainuddin Mehsud. But Mr Mehsud was murdered by one of his bodyguards on Tuesday, soon after the Muslim pre-dawn prayers and hours before his appointment with us for an interview. A sombre-faced Taliban guard with long hair and an assault rifle meets us inside the compound. He says he cannot invite us into the office because there is an emergency situation and all leaders of the group have left for Mr Mehsud’s funeral. Some 200m away, in an alley across the street, is the district office of the ministry of religious affairs which handles charity funds for the poor. At least this is what the sign on the building says. But actually, it houses the headquarters of another militant group, led by Haji Turkestan Bhittani. This place is also deserted. Everybody has gone to the funeral, say a couple of armed foot soldiers left behind to guard the premises.
These groups are seen by many in Tank as the army’s new “allies” in the impending military operation in South Waziristan, about 60km (37 miles) to the northwest. Top Pakistani officials say the operation will target Baitullah Mehsud, feared Taliban commander who heads the Tehrik Taliban Pakistan (TTP), an alliance of regional militant groups fighting the army in the north-western regions of Waziristan, Orakzai, Mohmand, Bajaur and Swat. Analysts say a military offensive in South Waziristan, if successful, can break the back of Islamic militancy in Pakistan. But they also point out that the assassination of Qari Zainuddin is evidence that Baitullah Mehsud’s supporters still have the capability to strike at his enemies at will. The Pakistani army started increasing troop numbers in South Waziristan in February, and accelerated the build-up in early May. The army has reoccupied most positions it abandoned following a 2005 truce with Baitullah Mehsud. It has faced little resistance so far.
But before launching a major ground offensive, the army appears keen to soften up the enemy. Its helicopter gunships and fighter jets have been bombing areas under Baitullah Mehsud’s control, driving thousands of people out of their homes. At the same time, it has been patronising the two Tank-based militant groups who have publicly opposed Baitullah Mehsud, accusing him of “un-Islamic” activities. The army apparently wants to use these groups as their proxies in the war in South Waziristan. The people of Tank interpret this as a strategy designed to eliminate Baitullah Mehsud, not Islamic militancy. They have been living under Taliban control since 2006 when militants loyal to Baitullah Mehsud walked into town and overpowered the local administration. Since mid-2008, the Turkestan and Zainuddin groups, backed by the army, have gradually replaced Baitullah Mehsud’s writ in Tank region. Differing tacticsOne Tank resident explains the difference between then and now. “Baitullah’s men would snatch only government vehicles, but the new groups don’t make such distinctions. If they like a car, they will take it, no matter who owns it.” And Tank is not the only town under threat. Some 60km south of Tank, the city of Dera Ismail Khan is in deep trouble, a top administrative official says. “Militants are protected by quarters that are beyond accountability, and the ensuing anarchy has opened many avenues of corruption for officials both in the police and the administration,” he says. Dera is the winter home of most tribesmen from South Waziristan, and sits on the only road out of that region. Since 2007, it has received several waves of refugees displaced by militant conflict in South Waziristan.
Police patrol in Tank, but no-one notices the armed men on the streets
Aid workers believe more than 50,000 people are again on the run ahead of the new operation, and most of them will end up in Dera. But extremist influences have undermined its sectarian relationships. Since 2007, more than 500 people have died in what appear to be tit-for-tat killings between the Shia and Sunni sects. The fact that the conflict has gone on for so long has led some in Dera to suspect that it might be fuelled by “those elements in the government who benefit by perpetuating extremist views”. Islamabad has long been accused by local and international observers of using Islamic militants to achieve its strategic aims in India and Pakistan. Three years ago, the army helped the militants of Mullah Nazir chase groups opposed to the army out of Wana region in South Waziristan. People say they are witnessing a repeat performance in the Mehsud region of South Waziristan now. This is clearly evident in Tank. The main commercial street in Tank reverberates with the sound of boots and the cocking of guns whenever an army patrol vehicle runs into a road jam. The purpose, apparently, is to scare away any potential suicide bomber among the public. But no soldier turns to take a second glance at the man behind a light machine-gun planted on a tripod in the middle of the street, just outside the alley where the office of the Turkestan group is located.
Bolivian Mennonite women ‘raped’
Seven members of Bolivia’s Mennonite Christian community have been detained over the alleged rape of 60 women or girls from their own community.Alleged victims in the Manitoba colony, which is in Bolivia’s eastern lowlands, include girls as young as 14, a prosecutor said. The allegations emerged after the suspicious behaviour of one of the men alerted community elders. All of those accused deny the allegations against them. Mennonites reject modern life and live in isolated communities. Some 30-40,000 live as farmers in Paraguay and Bolivia. ‘Jumping into windows’Six of the men came from the same colony, Manitoba, in the eastern lowlands of Bolivia.
The men have been charged with child abuse and rape, and forming a criminal gang. They are now in custody in a prison in the town of Cotoca, in the Santa Cruz region. Colony elders suspected something was wrong when they wondered why one man was getting up so late in the mornings, and they decided to shadow him, said prosecutor Freddy Perez. They then handed the case over to the police.
One suspect, who is from another Mennonite colony, is accused of complicity and of selling viagra to the men and narcotic sprays allegedly used on victims while they slept. Denying the charges against him, the suspect said he was a veterinary surgeon and used the drugs in his work. Mr Perez told the Associated Press: “Members of the community told us that for religious reasons, and because they didn’t have electric lighting, they didn’t move about late at night but these youths did and were spotted jumping into the windows of houses.” Forensic doctors and psychologists have been sent into the Manitoba community to examine the victims, the prosecutor said. Many in this very conservative and closed world have been traumatised, Mr Perez added.
A man, whose name was not given, told Bolivia’s Unitel TV that his wife had been sexually assaulted when she was six and a half months pregnant. “I spent US 1,500 to have a baby that was born weighing one kilogram,” he said. “It is very painful.” Some of the younger girls fear they will now be unable to find husbands. The criminal investigation into the case is expected to last six months.
KABUL (AFP) –
Former detainees of the Bagram air base in Afghanistan have alleged a catalogue of abuse at the US military facility, the BBC reported Wednesday, after a two-month investigation.
Human Rights Watch meanwhile called on the United States to investigate the death, apparently at a US air base, and alleged torture of a member of an Afghan armed faction last year.
BBC said ex-inmates of Bagram listed mistreatment including beatings, sleep deprivation and being threatened with dogs at the base north of Kabul.
“They did things that you would not do against animals, let alone to humans,” said one former detainee, identified as Dr. Khandan, while another described having a gun put to his head and being threatened with death.
The detainees were held in Bagram between 2002 and 2008. They were all accused of belonging to or helping Al-Qaeda or the Taliban but no charges were brought and some received apologies when released.
The Pentagon denies the allegations, made in interviews with 27 former detainees, the BBC said, adding that only two of those questioned reported having been treated well.
The US military in Kabul could not immediately comment.
The BBC quoted Mark Wright, a spokesman for US Defense Secretary Robert Gates, as saying conditions at Bagram “meet international standards for care and custody”.
“There have been well-documented instances where that policy was not followed and service members have been held accountable for their actions in those cases,” he added in a statement.
But a British legal rights lobby group, Reprieve, said the allegations confirm its concerns.
“Bagram is the new Guantanamo Bay,” it said in a statement, urging the British government to take action over two Pakistanis it claims Britain helped render to Bagram from Iraq.
The BBC noted that US President Barack Obama vowed to close down the Guantanamo Bay detention camp in Cuba immediately after taking office in January.
Unlike Guantanamo detainees, inmates in Bagram have no access to lawyers and they cannot challenge their detention, it said.
“The legal black hole in Bagram underlines the British government's moral black hole when it comes to rendering two Pakistani prisoners there in 2004,” said Reprieve chief Clive Stafford Smith.
“As we have said all along, beating people and holding them incommunicado is not humane, safe and secure,” he added.
Amnesty International said the BBC's findings were consistent with its own research that included interviews with former Bagram detainees.
“The allegations are familiar. So, too, is the absence of accountability and remedy for such abuses,” said Rob Freer, US Researcher at Amnesty International, in a statement.
“The USA continues to fail to meet its international obligation to fully investigate all such allegations and bring to account all those responsible for authorising and carrying out human rights violations,” it said.
Little is known about the roughly 565 detainees at Bagram, including the circumstances of their arrests or treatment and none has been allowed access to legal counsel or the courts, the global rights watchdog said.
The charges came as the New York-based Human Rights Watch urged the United States to investigate the death, apparently at a US air base, and alleged torture of a member of an Afghan armed faction.
Allegations about the death in December 2008 of the man, Agha Mohammad, were made public in a British documentary broadcast this month, it said in a statement released Tuesday.
Human Rights Watch?s own investigation of the incident in the western province of Herat and a post mortem examination report “show strong evidence of torture”, it said.
Mohammad?s body was recovered wearing an orange jumpsuit of the kind worn by detainees held by the United States in Afghanistan, it said.
“The death and alleged torture of a detainee who had been on a US air base is a gravely serious matter,” said the group's Asia director, Brad Adams.
On June 23, Iranian security forces, reportedly using live ammunition, clashed with protesters numbering in the hundreds in the area of the country’s parliament in Tehran. At the same time, there were indications that a behind-the-scenes struggle was intensifying in the corridors of power even as the government continued its campaign to quiet the populace through propaganda and entertainment. A resident of the capital, who asked for anonymity, sent TIME the following report:
In normal times, Iranian television usually treats its viewers to one or two Hollywood or European movie nights a week. But these are not normal times, so it’s been two or three such movies a day. It’s part of the push to keep people at home and off the streets, to keep us busy, to get us out of the regime’s hair. The message is “Don’t worry, be happy.” Channel Two is putting on a Lord of the Rings marathon as part of the government’s efforts to restore peace.
Lots of people, adults and kids, are watching in the room with me. On the screen, Gandalf the Grey returns to the Fellowship as Gandalf the White. He casts a blinding white light, his face hidden behind a halo. Someone blurts out, “Imam zaman e?!” (Is it the Imam?!) It is a reference, of course, to the white-bearded Ayatullah Khomeini, who is respectfully called Imam Khomeini. But “Imam” is at the same time a title of the Mahdi, a messianic figure that Muslims believe will come to save true believers from powerful evildoers at the time of the apocalypse. Isn’t that our predicament?
I wonder which official picked this film, starting to suspect, even hope, that there is a subversive soul manning the controls at seda va sima, central broadcasting. It is way too easy to find political meaning in the film, to draw comparisons to what is happening in real life. There are themes that seem to allude to Mir-Hossein Mousavi, the candidate President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad claims to have defeated: the unwanted quest and the risking of life in pursuit of an unanticipated destiny. Could he be Boromir, the imperfect warrior who is heroic at the end, dying to defend humanity? Didn’t Mousavi talk about being ready for martyrdom? (See pictures of Neda Agha-Soltan, the Iranian opposition’s martyr of choice.)
And listen: there is the sly reference to Ahmadinejad. Iranian films are dubbed very expertly. So listen to the Farsi word they use for hobbit and dwarf: kootoole, little person. Kootoole, of course, was and is the term used in many of the chants out on the street against the diminutive President.
In the eye of the beholder in Tehran, the movie is transformed into an Iranian epic. When Gandalf’s white steed strides into the frame, local viewers see Rakhsh, the mythical horse of the Rostam, the great champion of the Shahnameh, the thousand-year-old national epic. “Bah, bah … Rakhsh! Rakhsham amad!” someone says in awe.
At the moment, the ancient Treebeard bears Pippin through the forest, and the hobbit asks, “And whose side are you on?” Those of us watching already know the answer: Mousavi! Treebeard is decked in green, after all.
That’s as much as we can see of an opposition viewpoint on TV. The news has a droning sameness, the official message being “politics is a nasty business, but now it’s over.” At least nothing is really being hidden anymore. Except for that first night, Saturday the 20th of June, the broadcasts have not shied away from the violence. But they’ve found a way to turn it inside out, make it about the protesters and not what has happened. When they want to make a point, they lay it on, 10 minutes, sometimes close to 15. As a friend says, “This is not news. It’s interpretation.” (Read about the opposition’s options in Iran.)
TV reporters interview regular folk on the streets and in the parks for very much the same sound bites. Khastekonande, says one person, describing the protests as “getting old.” Says another: “I’m a businessman. For my business to succeed, I need for there to be calm.” “We just wanna make some bread, take care of our lives and our business.” “The ones who are rioting aren’t of the people. I don’t think that they’re part of the people.” “It’s been several days that I haven’t been able to bring my son and daughter to the park because of the violence.” And so on. (See pictures of the turbulent aftermath of Iran’s presidential election.)
And so we’re glued to the trilogy. We are riveted. A child in the room loudly predicts that Lord of the Rings will put an end to the nightly shouts, that people will not take to the rooftops and windows because this film will keep them occupied. Besides, there is a worrisome rumor going around that the Basij are marking the doorways of those households that continue to call out “Allah Akbar!” at night, a reverse Passover.
The child goes on to report that the kids on his school “service” (the long Toyota vans that act as school buses for Tehran’s students) have been chanting, “Pas rai e ma koojast?! Pas rai e ma koojast?!” (Then where is our vote?! Then where is our vote?!) I ask what the driver is doing while all this goes on and the kid tells me that the driver honks along. Honk honk-honk-honk! Pas rai e ma koojast?! Honk honk-honk-honk!
But the child is wrong about the evening shouts. Suddenly they begin, as a low roll from the park. Then they quickly build upward. “Allahu Akbar! Allahu Akbar!” No way. We rush to the window. They have continued night after night, beginning at 10 and continuing for 30 minutes. Each time I’ve lost faith, I’ve been wrong. Iranians are proving to be a sturdier lot than I have given them credit for, much mightier even than the formidable kootoole who stand in their way.
And so we see political meaning even in the notice that one part of the trilogy is ending, asking us to be ready for the next. In edame dare: This is to be continued. The phrase has become our hesitant slogan, our words of reassurance. As does this conversation, translated from Farsi, from the movie: “I wish the ring had never come to me … I wish that none of this had happened.” “So do all who live to see such times, but that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.” In edame dare. This will be continued. People are not going to let up so easily.
View this article on Time.comRelated articles on Time.com: Snow Angels and Married Life: Wedded Blisters
BRUSSELS (Reuters) –
The Belgian teen-ager who made headlines across the globe after claiming a tattoo artist had drawn 56 stars on her face, rather than the three she asked for, has admitted she lied.
Kimberley Vlaeminck from the city of Kortrijk, 90 km (56 miles) northwest of Brussels said she fell asleep during the procedure, and woke up in pain when her nose was being tattooed.
But the 18-year-old was caught off camera on Dutch television when she said she quite liked the tattoo, but lied about asking for all 56 stars when she saw her father's furious reaction.
Tattoo artist Rouslain Toumaniantz said Vlaeminck initially liked her new look, and that she got what she asked for.
(Reporting by Antonia van de Velde, editing by Paul Casciato)
Iran poll row set to rage on
By Jon Leyne
Nearly two weeks after Iran’s bitterly contested presidential election, there are signs that the government is beginning to regain control.With a heavy security presence on the streets, Wednesday appears to have had the least protests of any day since the result was announced. But any idea that the opposition is about to go gently into the good night is probably an illusion. There is still a depth of feeling in this argument, on both sides, that suggests the dispute could rage for weeks or even months. With the security forces and the state media under its control, the Iranian government has some powerful tools. It has been reluctant to use live fire on the demonstrators, if only because that would just stir more protests, though guns have certainly been used on occasions. Short of that, the government has been pressing hard to close down and discredit the opposition protests. Opposition’s optionsBut the opposition has avenues open to it as well. It will almost certainly try to hold more demonstrations. A “day of mourning” is already planned for Thursday.
The opposition could try to evade the security presence by simply urging supporters to go out onto the pavements or sidewalks across Iran’s cities and stand in solidarity, something that has already begun to happen spontaneously. Or it can launch a general strike, a radical step the leadership have so far been reluctant to authorise, or other forms of civil disobedience. The government would be particularly nervous of a strike amongst oil workers, or amongst the rich merchants, the Bazaaris, whose role in bringing down the Shah is almost legendary. There are options within the political system as well. Former President Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, a key figure behind the opposition, chairs the Assembly of Experts, a powerful body of clerics that has the power to monitor the performance or to dismiss the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Khamenei. Dismissal would be a political earthquake bigger than anything seen since the 1979 revolution, but even a hint of criticism of the Supreme Leader from an official body would be highly damaging. In recent days Mr Rafsanjani has reportedly been in the clerical capital, Qom, rallying support, though he has not yet openly shown his hand. Then there is the parliament, the Majlis. The majority of MPs are conservative, certainly not Mousavi supporters, but also quite hostile to President Ahmadinejad. They could cause problems when the president presents his new cabinet for approval from July 26 to August 19. Already the Majlis speaker, Ali Larijani, has voiced criticism of raids on student dormitories by the government militia, the Basij, and a committee of MPs called in the interior minister for questioning. Western roleIn recent days the government has been trying to move the focus, increasing the volume of criticism of the outside world, particularly Britain.
The Iranian foreign minister has talked of perhaps lowering the level of representation between Iran and the UK – a hint that the British ambassador might be expelled from Tehran. Targeting Britain is a tactic that will certainly rally the support amongst the faithful. Even opposition supporters are curious about Britain’s role. So foreign leaders, particularly US President Barack Obama, have been astute in limiting their comments and their criticism to the treatment of demonstrators, not the conduct of the election or the count. Mr Obama has already played his role by opening the door to dialogue with Iran. It is clearly one of the factors behind the current turmoil within the Iranian establishment. Hardliners must wonder whether the system can survive even a partial reconciliation with the US. But above all this is an argument within Iran about the future of the country. It is much more complex than pro- versus anti-Westerners, or even Islamists versus secularists. President Ahmadinejad has his supporters even amongst Iranians who have chosen to live in the West and in the US. Opposition supporters insist they are good Muslims, and argue that they would defend Iran’s independence as fiercely as anyone. But the two sides have deeply differing views on how Iran should be run, and its place in the world. And neither is about to give ground.
Report critical of Rock response
The Treasury was “leisurely” in updating its plan for dealing with a bank in trouble, according to a report by a committee of MPs.The weaknesses over readiness for a bank hitting difficulties were clear in 2004 – three years before the run on the Rock, the report said. The Public Accounts Committee (PAC) view is the latest critical report on the Northern Rock crisis. The bank was nationalised in February 2008 and remains in public ownership. “The Treasury must never again be so ill-prepared. As this crisis has shown, the Treasury’s ability to respond effectively to future financial crises must be maintained at the highest level,” said PAC chairman Edward Leigh. High-risk loansThe report draws the same conclusions as a National Audit Office review, published in March, that shortcomings over the readiness of dealing with a bank in trouble were clear in 2004. However, the pace with which the Treasury acted to remedy this was too slow, both reports found. “It is not surprising therefore that, in September 2007, when there was the run on deposits at Northern Rock, the Treasury was caught flat-footed,” said Mr Leigh. “The taxpayer was therefore exposed to enormous risks and liabilities to an unknown degree.” Until the bank – the fifth biggest mortgage lender in the UK – was nationalised, it still wrote around 750m of high-risk loans of up to 125% of the value of a property, the PAC report said. ‘Expertise’Very few people in the Treasury had the relevant skills to deal with the crisis at the Rock, the report said.
The Treasury relied on work done by advisers to the Bank of England and the Financial Services Authority, for separate purposes, instead of commissioning its own review of the Rock’s loan book. It also employed Goldman Sachs from September 2007 to provide advice over the future of the Rock. The PAC criticised the Treasury for “slavishly” following investment banking industry practice in agreeing to a 4m “success fee” in the initial contract with Goldman Sachs. “There was no clear definition of success in a complex and evolving situation,” the PAC report said. The fee was actually never paid, but the PAC also criticised the Treasury for another aspect of the contract with Goldman Sachs. This allowed the investment bank to refuse the National Audit Office access to the financial models it had developed to inform the Treasury’s decision on the future of the Rock. The PAC also hit out at the Treasury acceptance of the Rock’s business plan after nationalisation. This was “over-optimistic” about the future of house prices, even compared to forecasts available at the time, as it suggested that there would be a 5% fall in house prices in 2008. House prices actually fell by 15.9% in 2008, according to the the Nationwide building society. The committee also called for the Auditor General to be allowed the “unfettered power” to audit the Financial Services Authority’s work, given the billions of pounds of taxpayers’ money that was now tied up in the banking system. ResponseResponding to the report, a Treasury spokesman said: “Both the Public Accounts Committee and the National Audit Office have found that we took the right decision to protect depositors and taxpayers, and put the bank on a sound and proper footing. “The consequences of not taking this action would have been devastating, not just for savers but for the wider financial system and the economy as a whole.” By the end of December, the Rock had repaid 11.3bn of the loan from taxpayers, which was above its target of 8.3bn. In February, the government said the bank could start handing out mortgages again – expected to be worth 14bn by 2010.
WASHINGTON – President Barack Obama left the door open to a new tax on health care benefits Wednesday, and officials said top lawmakers and the White House were seeking 150 billion in concessions from the nation’s hospitals as they sought support for legislation struggling to emerge in Congress.
“I don’t want to prejudge what they’re doing,” the president said, referring to proposals in the Senate to tax workers who get expensive insurance policies. Obama, who campaigned against the tax when he ran for president, drew a quick rebuff from one union president.
The chief executive also met with governors and arranged a prime-time, town hall at the White House, the latest in a string of events designed to bend public opinion toward his top domestic initiative to reduce health care costs while making insurance available to the nearly 50 million Americans who lack it.
The flurry of activity extended to the Capitol, where the administration and its allies hoped for a prominent display of progress in the Senate before Congress begins a weeklong vacation on Friday.
Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, D-Mont., labored in a daylong series of meetings to produce at least an outline of legislation that could command bipartisan support. Of the five House and Senate committees working on health care, Finance is the only one that appears to have a chance at such an agreement.
For their part, key Republicans pressed the White House for assurances that any concessions made now would not merely lead to additional demands at a later date. “We want to know the president is working in good faith along the way as we are,” said Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, after meeting with Nancy-Ann DeParle, the top White House official on the issue.
Baucus appeared especially eager to show progress before the exodus from the Capitol began.
To that end, several officials said he was negotiating with representatives of the nation’s hospitals, hoping to conclude an agreement that would build on an 80 billion weekend deal with the pharmaceutical industry.
Hospitals were being asked to accept a reduction of roughly 155 billion over the next decade in fees they are promised under government programs such as Medicare and Medicaid, according to numerous officials.
Officials at the American Hospital Association and the Federation of American Hospitals said they could not comment on any discussions.
Baucus is seeking similar concessions from nursing homes, insurance companies, medical device makers and possibly others, noting that any legislation would create a huge new pool of customers for industry providers.
At its heart, any legislation is expected to require insurance companies to offer coverage to any applicant, without exclusions or higher premiums for pre-existing medical conditions.
Overall, Baucus has said he hopes to hold the size of any legislation to 1 trillion or less, and in private negotiations, there were discussions about further scaling back eligibility for insurance subsidies from the government.
Additionally, Baucus was still searching for ways to cover the cost of his emerging legislation, and numerous officials said he appeared roughly 200 billion shy of achieving that goal. They added that a proposal to make it harder for taxpayers to itemize their medical expenses was drawing renewed interest among key senators as one way to raise revenue.
Current law allows those expenses to be itemized when they exceed 7.5 percent of adjusted gross income. The proposal under review would raise that to 10 percent, officials said.
At the White House, Obama sidestepped when asked if he was open to taxing health care benefits — a proposal he opposed vigorously in the campaign for the White House.
“I have identified the ways that I think we should finance this. I think Congress should adopt them. I’m going to wait and see what ideas ultimately they come up with,” he said on ABC’s “Good Morning America.”
“I don’t want to prejudge what they’re doing. We’ve put forward what we think is best.”
Organized labor weighed in quickly.
Gerald W. McEntee, president of the 1.6 million-member American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, said in an interview that union leaders believe Obama is “a person of his word.” He was referring to Obama’s opposition to taxing those benefits during last year’s campaign.
“They’re not going to take it,” McEntee said of workers’ views of that proposal. “They’re not going to tolerate that.”
It was the latest in a series of signs of presidential flexibility. On Tuesday, he left open the possibility that he could sign legislation that does not contain an option for a government-run insurance plan. And he has said recently he could accept a requirement for individuals to buy insurance, a position he opposed in the campaign.
Baucus and many Republicans support taxing health care benefits, and officials have said discussions center on imposing the tax in cases in which premium costs exceed 17,000 combined in payments by the employer and worker. Democrats want to exempt union members covered by contracts, but Republicans are resisting.
The officials who provided specifics on the negotiations in the Senate did so on condition of anonymity, saying they were not authorized to disclose private talks.
Despite months of efforts, Obama said in the ABC interview, “I think that we’re still early in the process. All these issues are getting worked through.”
At the same time, some of the Democrats’ initial deadlines have slipped under the weight of higher-than-expected cost estimates from the Congressional Budget Office, internal disagreements and other difficulties.
Many Democrats insist on having an option for government-run insurance in the legislation so consumers can have a choice other than a plan from private insurers. Republicans are vehemently opposed, and compromise efforts have centered on a proposal for a nonprofit co-operative that would be initially funded by the federal government.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce said Wednesday that the government-run option would “gut the private market.”
ABC News was the lone network broadcasting Obama’s town hall — drawing criticism from Republicans who wanted equal time.
In defense, ABC News President David Westin said the show would “include a variety of perspectives coming from private individuals asking the president questions and taking issue with him, as they see fit.”
Associated Press writers Erica Werner, Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar, Charles Babington and Alan Fram contributed to this report.
Los Angeles (E! Online) –
It's a year too late for The Dark Knight, but maybe those Hangover guys will have something extra special to celebrate.
This year's Best Picture field will be expanded to 10 contenders, the Academy Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announced today.
The move could mean typically overlooked genres like sci-fi, comedy and animation could get a crack at the big prize—and could spell good news for this year's biggest hits, Star Trek, The Hangover and Up.
While the Best Picture category, like the rest of the Oscar fields, has traditionally been limited to five nominees in recent decades, it hasn't always been so.
During the early years of the Oscars, there were 10 (and sometimes more) nominees, up until Casablanca beat back nine rivals at the 16th Academy Awards at the 1943 ceremony.
Today's announcement comes as the Academy continues to mark the 70th anniversary of “Hollywood's Greatest Year”—1939 saw the release of such classic films as Best Picture winner Gone With the Wind, along with fellow Oscar nominees The Wizard of Oz, Stagecoach, Ninotchka, Dark Victory, Love Affair, Of Mice and Men, Wuthering Heights, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington and Goodbye, Mr. Chips.
Nominations for the 82nd Academy Awards will be announced Feb. 2, 2010, with the ceremony set March 7.
(Originally published June 24, 2009, at 10:35 a.m. PT)
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LOS ANGELES – So the best-picture race will be twice as crowded at next year’s Academy Awards, with the ceremony’s organizers announcing Wednesday that they’re expanding the field of nominees from five to 10.
It’s a move they said was intended to give even more worthy films a shot at recognition, and hopefully to increase ratings in the process. But what if they had made this decision for this year’s extravaganza of backslapping?
Here’s a look at the movies from 2008 that should have been up for the top prize if the field had included 10 nominees:
• “The Dark Knight”: The most obvious snub of all. A blockbuster that wowed critics and audiences alike to become the second-highest grossing film ever, behind “Titanic.” It would have been very easy to imagine this ambitious Batman epic in the best-picture category alongside more traditional picks like “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” and “The Reader.”
• “The Wrestler”: This stripped-down look at an athlete grasping at one last chance for glory made a lot of critics’ top-10 lists. It earned Mickey Rourke a Golden Globe win for best actor in a drama and an Academy Award nomination, but “The Wrestler” is more than just a great performance.
• “WALL-E”: Like “The Dark Knight,” this beautiful, touching story about the last robot on Earth would have fit in nicely among the best-picture nominees. Probably the greatest film yet from the masters at Pixar, it won the Academy Award for best animated feature, but its themes, complexity and emotional impact transcend its aesthetic medium.
• “Happy-Go-Lucky”: A small charmer with an irresistible performance from Sally Hawkins as a cheery British schoolteacher who never lets the absurdity of the world get her down. The Academy has acknowledged that it should be open to more comedies when handing out its top prizes, and films like this are a great place to start.
• “Frozen River”: A small downer — but an indelible one — about two women desperate for money who smuggle immigrants across the border from Canada into the United States. Melissa Leo earned a Spirit Award, the Oscars of independent film, as well as an Academy Award nomination for her turn as a desperate single mom, but everything about writer-director Courtney Hunt’s debut was powerful.
And some movies that are sort of out-there, but are the kind that might have a shot from now on:
• “Synecdoche, New York”: People either loved this movie and thought it was moving and profound, or they hated it and thought it was pretentious and incomprehensible. But Charlie Kaufman’s dreamy tale of a mopey theater director staging a never-ending production of his own life definitely left its mark.
• “Man on Wire”: It won the Academy Award for best documentary feature this year, and deservedly so. The story of Philippe Petit, the diminutive daredevil who walked a tightrope between the World Trade Center towers in 1974, played more like a breathtaking heist flick and earned 100 percent positive reviews on the Rotten Tomatoes Web site.
• “Vicky Cristina Barcelona”: Another comedy, and it’s Woody Allen’s best in a long time. This romp involving a pair of beautiful Americans (Scarlett Johansson and Rebecca Hall) and a seductive Spaniard (Javier Bardem) is playful, witty, and sexy. Despite a seriously wild turn from Penelope Cruz, who earned a supporting-actress Oscar as Bardem’s jealous ex-girlfriend, it never takes itself seriously.
• “Waltz With Bashir”: It was nominated this year as Israel’s entry in the foreign-language category, but it also could have competed as an animated film or a documentary. Why not as best picture? Writer-director Ari Folman inventively revisits hazy memories of his time as a young soldier at war in 1980s Lebanon; the results look like a graphic novel brought brilliantly to life.
• “Iron Man”: If we’re going to talk about best-picture chances for “The Dark Knight,” we may as well throw “Iron Man” into the debate. As comic-book inspired summer blockbusters go, it’s arguably as good if not better in some ways, with its mixture of brains, heart, thrilling action and a magnetic performance from Robert Downey Jr.
WASHINGTON – An offer for Iranian envoys to attend U.S. embassy Fourth of July parties has been rescinded as the violent crackdown in Tehran continues, the White House said Wednesday.
“Given the events of the past many days, those invitations will no longer be extended,” presidential spokesman Robert Gibbs said.
Postelection protests and violence have rocked Iran since the contested re-election of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. The past 10 days in Iran have posed the strongest challenge to that nation’s clerical rule since the system was established 30 years ago in the 1979 Islamic revolution.
President Barack Obama condemned the violence against protesters Tuesday and lent his strongest support yet to their accusations the hardline victory was a fraud.
No Iranian diplomat had accepted an invitation from U.S. diplomatic posts abroad to attend embassy Fourth of July parties, according to the State Department.
Department spokesman Ian Kelly told reporters that Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton had authorized U.S. envoys abroad some weeks ago to invite Iranian diplomats to attend the annual celebration. Her authorization was required because Washington has no formal diplomatic relations with Iran.
Kelly said no Iranians have accepted, and he indicated that the U.S. saw little reason for them to, given the political crisis over their disputed presidential election.
LONDON (Reuters) –
Saturn's icy moon Enceladus could contain watery underground caverns, forming a potential home for alien life, scientists said on Wednesday.
German researchers have found salt — a signature chemical for seawater — in ice grains from vapor jets streaming out of surface cracks, providing the strongest evidence yet of a liquid water reservoir beneath the moon's frozen crust.
A U.S. team said the amount of salt they had detected using a different method suggested an earlier theory that water was boiling explosively into the vacuum of space via geysers was wrong, and evaporation was occurring quite slowly.
Both studies were published in the journal Nature.
One explanation for the slower evaporation may be that water is emerging from pressurized chambers below the so-called tiger stripe fractures in the moon's surface, said John Spencer of the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colorado.
“Our picture of its sub-surface must now be expanded to include the possibility of misty ice caverns floored with pools and channels of salty water, lurking beneath the tiger stripes,” he wrote in a commentary on the two scientific papers.
“What else may lurk in those salty pools, if they exist, remains to be seen.”
The Cassini spacecraft first discovered huge plumes erupting from fissures near the south pole of Enceladus in 2005, sparking speculation of a vast underground ocean spewing vapor through giant Yellowstone-like geysers.
Since then, scientists have debated whether this meant that Enceladus (pronounced en-SELL-ah-dus), with a diameter of only 310 miles, was hiding a reservoir of liquid water. It is one of about 60 moons of the ringed planet Saturn.
Frank Postberg of the Max Planck Institute for Nuclear Physics in Heidelberg said the presence of sodium salts was compelling evidence, indicating salty minerals were washed out from rock on Enceladus in the same way oceans absorb salt on Earth.
He and colleagues reported they had found salty grains of ice after analyzing data from Cassini's cosmic dust detector as it flew through Saturn's outermost ring, where Enceladus orbits.
Whether or not Enceladus harbors life remains a mystery. But the evidence of liquid water, coupled with heat near the moon's South Pole, suggests it is possible.
“If you have this large amount of water in contact with a rocky core and you have heat, then you have very good conditions,” Postberg said in a telephone interview.
“On top of that we measured a slightly alkaline pH value, which is very good for the formation of complex organic molecules.”
Scientists hope to find out more when Cassini makes two more close fly-bys of Enceladus in November.
(Editing by Elizabeth Fullerton)
LONDON (Reuters) –
People have been making music for more than 35,000 years, judging by prehistoric bird-bone flutes excavated in southwest Germany.
Researchers said on Wednesday they had found a five-hole flute made from the radius bone of a griffon vulture and two fragments of ivory flutes in a cave in the Swabian Jura mountains.
The flutes are at least 5,000 years older than any previous confirmed archaeological examples of musical instruments.
“These finds demonstrate the presence of a well-established musical tradition at the time when modern humans colonized Europe, more than 35,000 calendar years ago,” Nicholas Conard of Tuebingen University and colleagues reported in the journal Nature.
(Reporting by Ben Hirschler, editing by Elizabeth Fullerton)
WASHINGTON – Mysterious space blobs aren’t infant galaxies as astronomers once thought. Scientists say they mostly consist of galaxies going through puberty, all hot and bothered.
A new study using NASA’s Chandra X-Ray Observatory and other space and ground telescopes comes up with an explanation for these high-energy glowing blobs that have been observed for about a decade. Astronomers looked at 29 of these gaseous blobs in one distant area of the universe, dating back to more than 11 billion years ago.
One theory was that they were young galaxies cooling off. But the new research says they are hot and chaotic with gas halos, growing supermassive black holes and about to stabilize. The blobs are the adolescent galaxies and the hydrogen gas, leftover from their creation.
Study lead author James Geach of Durham University in England said in an e-mail that the reason chaos is occurring in the blobs “is due to the violent processes occurring in the galaxies, black hole growth, starbursts, mergers. They’re having a final ‘tantrum’ before they’re done growing and then ‘passively’ evolve to the present day.
“These could be the signal of galaxies coming of age,” Geach said later in a telephone news conference.
The research published this month in the Astrophysical Journal “is very exciting” and emphasizes the importance of black holes in the evolutions of galaxies, said Baron Martin Rees, England’s royal astronomer who was not involved in the research.
The growth of the interior black holes are related to the growth of the galaxies.
But these “blobs” are special cases. It is unlikely that our Milky Way galaxy went through this process billions of years ago, Rees said. The Milky Way is too small. The black holes in the middle of the galaxies that are part of these blobs are at least 300 times more massive than the black hole inside our galaxy, he said.
On the Net
Chandra X-Ray Observatory: http://chandra.nasa.gov
Lottery results: Are you a winner?
The winning numbers in Wednesday’s Lotto main draw were 10, 17, 20, 21, 23 and 31, and the bonus number was 32.The estimated jackpot is 2.4m. The Thunderball numbers were 3, 9, 12, 15 and 29, and the Thunderball was 11. The winning numbers in the Lotto Dream Number game were 8, 5, 1, 9, 0, 6 and 2.
CHICAGO – When it comes to health care spending, an ounce of prevention is seldom worth a pound of cure. Take Mrs. Jones, a hypothetical 55-year-old obese woman at risk for diabetes. It costs 900 a year to hire a personal lifestyle coach to help her lose weight and prevent diabetes. Suppose that the coaching works for Mrs. Jones, and she is spared diabetes and all the resulting health bills.
But research shows that for every person like Mrs. Jones, six other people just like her get nothing out of such a program. They either don’t lose weight or get diabetes anyway or wouldn’t have developed it in the first place. The yearly cost of the prevention program for those six people: 5,400.
That’s probably more than Mrs. Jones’ health bills from diabetes would have amounted to.
There goes your pound of cure.
The truth is, shockingly few prevention efforts actually save the health care system money overall, despite claims by the president and some in Congress.
Discussing daily aspirin use with people at risk of heart disease does save money. So do vaccinations for children. When doctors talk to smokers and offer medication to help them quit, that, too, saves money.
But those are the exceptions.
Prevention is a good deal, some experts say, if you can buy one year of perfect health for less than 50,000. The most-recommended prevention efforts — like flu shots for adults, Pap smears for women and colon cancer screening for people over 50 — meet that cutoff. But they certainly don’t save money.
Some say cost is beside the point, since those things save lives at what’s deemed a reasonable expense.
Back to Mrs. Jones. Helping 100 people like her would cost 270,000 over three years, but also would prevent 15 new cases of diabetes, avoid the need for blood pressure or cholesterol-lowering pills in 11 people, avoid 65,500 in medical spending for all 100 people and prevent 162 missed days of work due to sickness.
Dr. Ronald Ackermann at Indiana University School of Medicine in Indianapolis said recent studies suggest that offering the diabetes prevention program to groups of 10 people — instead of one-on-one coaching — can lead to similar benefits and cost as little as 15 per month.
The YMCA is offering just such a group program. Retired accountant Paul Mullen, 66, of Indianapolis, has lost 18 pounds since May and brought his blood sugar down because of lifestyle changes he learned. He pays 115 for the yearlong program, on top of his Y membership fee.
He feels better, his knees don’t hurt as much and he can’t wait to see his doctor’s reaction when he gets his next checkup.
“I should have done it years ago,” he said. “My daughter-in-law got after me. The wife did, too. So far, it’s worked.”
Michael Maciosek of HealthPartners Research Foundation in Minneapolis found that of 25 highly recommended prevention strategies, 15 cost less than 35,000 for every year of perfect health gained.
Those are definitely bargains if you’re using the arbitrary cutoff of 50,000 per healthy year to decide what’s a good investment in health spending. And some economists say Americans would be willing to spend even more than that, say 100,000 per perfect health year.
No one really knows how much of the U.S. health care dollar goes toward prevention. The most commonly cited number — 3 cents of every health care dollar — is based on 20-year-old data.
An updated number — nearly 9 cents of every health care dollar — represents about 194 billion, said George Miller, who led the research for the Altarum Institute, a nonprofit consulting group.
Legislation pushed by Senate Democrats mentions “prevention” repeatedly. The Senate panel heading up health reform also calls for more research on prevention, creates a new interagency council to coordinate a national health promotion strategy and permits insurers to give incentives for health promotion and disease prevention.
President Barack Obama as recently as April said investing in prevention “will save huge amounts of money in the long term.” And it has become almost an article of faith among Republicans, Democrats and business leaders that prevention reduces health care costs.
But the Congressional Budget Office last week issued a statement on health care overhaul that dismissed the notion that prevention saves money. Prevention “would have clearer positive effects on health than on the federal budget,” the CBO said.
The Partnership to Fight Chronic Disease wants the budget office to be more generous with its review of prevention, to take a longer time frame and to calculate savings to the private sector in lower absenteeism and higher productivity.
But researcher Peter Neumann of Tufts Medical Center said counting on disease prevention to save money “promises painless solutions to our health cost problems. I don’t think they’re going to be painless and they have to be done.”
Supporters say each prevention effort should be held to the same standards as surgical techniques, drugs and medical devices, and not be expected to save dollars: Does it work and at a reasonable cost?
Prevention efforts with high value, although not cost-saving, include flu and pneumococcal shots for adults, Pap smears to screen for cervical cancer, colon cancer screening for people 50 and older, and screenings for vision problems, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and problem drinking.
Each of those things costs less than 35,000 per year of perfect health.
Those strategies are a good place to start when money is limited, experts say.
“Some preventive services save money and some don’t. Many of the services that don’t save money improve people’s lives at relatively low cost,” said Robert Gould, president of the nonprofit Partnership for Prevention. “I think that’s what the American public wants from health reform.”
Of sharks and sinkholesWe didn’t think it was possible, but sharks just got even scarier. A study published in the Journal of Zoology found that sharks don’t attack prey randomly — they stalk them, like serial killers. (Shudder.) Neil Hammerschlag, who co-wrote the study, told AP about infamous sharks that attacked near South Africa’s famous Seal Island:
They were focused. They stalked from a usual base of operations, 100 yards from their victims. It was close enough to see their prey, but not close enough to be seen and scare off their victims. They attacked when the lights were low. They liked their victims young and alone. They tried to attack when no other sharks were around to compete. They learned from previous kills.
In case you missed BBC’s extraordinary documentary “Planet Earth,” here’s a video of a great white shark chomping on a seal… in midair.
Now that you fear going in the water, how about a reason to worry about the banks surrounding it? There may be up to 3,000 sinkholes surrounding Israel’s famed Dead Sea, and they’re spreading. Fiver years ago, geologist Eli Raz was swallowed up by a 30-foot pit (it took a search party 14 hours to find him), and now he’s trying to map all of the known holes. Just to get a mental picture of what we’re talking about, AP explains:
These underground craters can open up in an instant, sucking in whatever lies above and leaving the surrounding area looking like an earthquake zone….
Large sections of the coast are fenced off and signposted in Hebrew and English: “danger, open pits” and “sinkhole area ahead.” But it’s too expensive to inspect every place for danger. Just two months ago an Israeli hiker wandered into an area that had no warning signs and was critically injured when he fell into a sinkhole.
We should add that Dead Sea sinkholes don’t swallow up humans very often, so there are plenty of reasons to visit the lowest point on Earth and indulge in the coveted mineral mud. Just be careful where you step.
Listening to your bodyIf you’re one of those people who think that the pain in your leg is a terminal illness instead of a charlie horse, The Wall Street Journal has some helpful clues about what your body may be telling you… and what you should ignore. Some of the more surprising warning signs:
Other signs seem to make no logical biological sense: Eyebrows that no longer extend over the corners of the eyes can indicate an underactive thyroid, and a diagonal crease in the earlobe seems to herald a heightened risk of heart attack.
Think hypnosis can make people cluck like chickens? Scientists say they have the brain scans showing how hypnosis works, at least when it comes to paralyzing someone’s hand. The bottom line, according the small study: One part of the brain interrupts the other part of your brain that would tell the hand to move. Dr. Yann Cojan, who wrote the study, explained to AP:
The precuneus is involved in mental imagery and memory about oneself. Cojan suggests it was brimming with the metaphors the participants had heard from the hypnotist: Your hand is very heavy, it is stuck on the table, etc. So, he said, it might have been telling the motor cortex, “Oh, but your hand is too heavy, you can’t move your hand.”
A loss for scienceDr. Jerri Nielson FitzGerald, who once performed a biopsy on herself after discovering a lump in her breast, has died at 57. In 1999, FitzGerald diagnosed her own cancer when she was the only doctor at the National Science Foundation’s Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station in winter. As if more drama were needed, the Air National Guard staged a daring rescue at 58 degrees below zero. FitzGerald’s cancer eventually went into remission, but returned in 2005. FitzGerald sent an email to her parents soon after discovering her cancer:
“More and more as I am here and see what life really is, I understand that it is not when or how you die but how and if you truly were ever alive.”
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PARIS (AFP) –
Stone Age humans may have ripped raw meat from the bone with their teeth but they also played music, according to a study reporting the discovery of a 35,000-year-old flute, the oldest instrument known.
Found in the Ach Valley of southern Germany, the nearly intact five-hole flute was meticulously carved with stone tools from the hollow wing-bone of a giant vulture, says the study, published Thursday in the British journal Nature.
Fragments from three ivory flutes unearthed at the same site, along with nearby instruments not quite as old, suggest that humans who had then only recently migrated to the Upper Danube enjoyed a rich musical culture.
And a stunning female figurine from the same period found only a couple paces from the bone flute, reported last month, points to a broader artistic flowering.
Indeed, the area within the cave that yielded the flutes reveals a veritable artist's atelier.
There is debris from the flint tools used to chip the instruments; traces of worked bone and ivory from mammoth, horse, reindeer and bear; and burnt bone, one of the ingredients — along with minerals, charcoal, blood and animal fats — used by Stone Age humans for cave painting.
“We can now conclude that music played an important role in Aurignacian life in the Ach and Lone valleys,” commented Nicholas Conard, a professor at the University of Tubingen and lead author of the study.
Aurignacian culture flourished in western Europe during what is known as the Upper Palaeolithic period, from about 40,000 to 10,000 years ago.
The bone flute, part of a treasure trove of artifacts uncovered at the Hohle Fels Cave, was found in 12 pieces scattered over an oval area the size of a large plate. It is in superb condition and reveals many details about its manufacture.
Nearly 22 centimetres (8.7 inches) long and 2.2 centimetres (one inch) in diameter, the instrument has precisely carved markings next to four of the finger holes, probably to indicate where they should be cut.
There are two deep, V-shaped notches carved into the end into which the musician blew.
Conard reports that a playable replica of the flute has not yet been made, but says it is likely to produce a range of notes comparable to many modern types of flute.
The technique for making the ivory flutes — of which only a few fragments remain — is far more complicated, according to the study.
First the craftsman would have hewn the rough shape of the instrument from a solid, naturally curved piece of tusk. Then the piece of ivory was split lengthwise, the halves hollowed out, and the holes carved.
Finally the two halves of the flute were rejoined with some kind of glue to form an air-tight seal.
Using radiocarbon dating techniques, Conard calculated that the newly discovered bone and ivory flutes were made at least 35,000 years ago, pushing back the age of the oldest known instrument by some 5,000 years.
Conard speculates that late Stone Age music did not contribute directly to the evolutionary success of the first modern humans.
But it may have given them a slight edge over neighbouring Neanderthals, who died out even as Homo sapiens sapiens flourished.
“Upper Palaeolithic music could have contributed to the maintenance of large social networks, and thereby have helped facilitate the demographic and territorial expansion of modern humans” compared to the more “culturally conservative” and isolated Neanderthals, he said.
Scientists have long speculated that Neanderthals played music too, but no evidence of their musicality has been found so far.
BERLIN – A bird-bone flute unearthed in a German cave was carved some 35,000 years ago and is the oldest handcrafted musical instrument yet discovered, archaeologists say, offering the latest evidence that early modern humans in Europe had established a complex and creative culture.
A team led by University of Tuebingen archaeologist Nicholas Conard assembled the flute from 12 pieces of griffon vulture bone scattered in a small plot of the Hohle Fels cave in southern Germany.
Together, the pieces comprise a 8.6-inch (22-centimeter) instrument with five holes and a notched end. Conard said the flute was 35,000 years old.
“It’s unambiguously the oldest instrument in the world,” Conard told The Associated Press this week. His findings were published online Wednesday by the journal Nature.
Other archaeologists agreed with Conard’s assessment.
April Nowell, a Paleolithic archaeologist at the University of Victoria in Canada, said the flute predates previously discovered instruments “but the dates are not so much older that it’s surprising or controversial.” Nowell was not involved in Conard’s research.
The Hohle Fels flute is more complete and appears slightly older than bone and ivory fragments from seven other flutes recovered in southern German caves and documented by Conard and his colleagues in recent years.
Another flute excavated in Austria is believed to be 19,000 years old, and a group of 22 flutes found in the French Pyrenees mountains has been dated at up to 30,000 years ago.
Conard’s team excavated the flute in September 2008, the same month they recovered six ivory fragments from the Hohle Fels cave that form a female figurine they believe is the oldest known sculpture of the human form.
Together, the flute and the figure — found in the same layer of sediment — suggest that modern humans had established an advanced culture in Europe 35,000 years ago, said Wil Roebroeks, an archaeologist at Leiden University in the Netherlands who didn’t participate in Conard’s study.
Roebroeks said it’s difficult to say how cognitively and socially advanced these people were. But the physical trappings of their lives — including musical instruments, personal decorations and figurative art — match the objects we associate with modern human behavior, Roebroeks said.
“It shows that from the moment that modern humans enter Europe … it is as modern in terms of material culture as it can get,” Roebroeks told The AP. He agreed with Conard’s assertion that the flute appears to be the earliest known musical instrument in the world.
Neanderthals also lived in Europe around the time the flute and sculpture were made, and frequented the Hohle Fels cave. Both Conard and Roebroeks believe, however, that layered deposits left by both species over thousands of years suggest the artifacts were crafted by early modern humans.
“The material record is so completely different from what happened in these hundreds of thousands of years before with the Neanderthals,” Roebroeks said. “I would put my money on modern humans having created and played these flutes.”
In 1995, archaeologist Ivan Turk excavated a bear bone artifact from a cave in Slovenia, known as the Divje Babe flute, that he has dated at around 43,000 years ago and suggested was made by Neanderthals.
But other archaeologists, including Nowell, have challenged that theory, suggesting instead that the twin holes on the 4.3-inch-long (11-centimeter-long) bone were made by a carnivore’s bite.
Turk did not respond to an e-mail seeking comment.
Nowell said other researchers have hypothesized that early humans may have used spear points as wind chimes and that markings on some cave stalactites suggest they were used as percussive instruments. But there is no proof, she said, and the Hohle Fels flute is much more credible because it’s the oldest specimen from an established style of bone and ivory flutes in Europe.
“There’s a distinction between sporadic appearances and the true development of, in this case, a musical culture,” Nowell said. “The importance of something like this flute is it shows a well-established technique and tradition.”
Conard said it’s likely that early modern humans — and perhaps Neanderthals, too — were making music longer than 35,000 years ago. But he added the Hohle Fels flute and the others found across Europe strengthen evidence that modern humans in Europe were establishing cultural behavior similar to our own.
On the Net:
BLOEMFONTEIN, South Africa – The United States stunned top-ranked Spain 2-0 Wednesday night on goals by Jozy Altidore and Clint Dempsey, advancing to the Confederations Cup final with one of the Americans’ biggest soccer victories.
Altidore scored in the 27th minute and Dempsey added a goal in the 74th as the Americans became the first team to defeat Spain since Romania in November 2006.
The chances of such a U.S. victory seemed slim just a few days ago. The 14th-ranked Americans lost their first two games in the Confederations Cup, an eight-nation World Cup warmup, and were on the verge of elimination.
“I can’t explain it any more than you can,” U.S. goalkeeper Tim Howard said. “Sports is funny sometimes, but when you put your mind to something, you can achieve it.”
Now they will play defending champion Brazil or host South Africa on Sunday in their first-ever men’s final at a FIFA competition.
“It’s exciting, a great team effort. To beat an amazing team like Spain and make the final, it’s big,” U.S. coach Bob Bradley said. “We played as hard as we could and that’s what it took. Every guy contributed, so it’s a very good feeling.”
The U.S. has three full days to prepare for the final. It was thoroughly outplayed by Brazil in a 3-0 first-round meeting.
“We take a few hours to regroup, but we’ll be ready,” Bradley said. “We’re so excited about this.”
Spain, the European champion, had set an international record with 15 straight victories and had tied Brazil’s record unbeaten streak of 35 games from December 1993 to January 1996.
“We’re not used to losing,” Spain coach Vicente Del Bosque said. “We lacked a little of our usual touch. We played a very difficult rival who took us head on.”
Spain outshot the U.S. 29-9 but Howard came up with several big saves.
“We knew we had to pick and choose our moments to go forward,” Dempsey said. “We’re happy with the result and we know we’re going to have our work cut out to get anything out of the final.”
Altidore got the first goal when he outmuscled Joan Capdevila, his teammate on Spain’s Villarreal, to beat goalkeeper Iker Casillas. Dempsey scored when he pounced on Landon Donovan’s cross, which had bounced off Gerard Pique and the foot of Sergio Ramos.
Midfielder Michael Bradley, son of the coach, will miss the final. He received a red card for a late sliding tackle in the 87th minute, the third U.S. ejection of the tournament.
The United States had been 1-7-1 against top-ranked teams, beating Brazil in the 1998 CONCACAF Gold Cup and tying Argentina last summer in an exhibition at Giants Stadium. When the U.S. upset Brazil, goalkeeper Kasey Keller had an outstanding game, just as Howard did.
For the Americans, a longtime soccer outsider, this ranked alongside the upset of Brazil as one of their top wins, below victories over England in the 1950 World Cup, Portugal and Mexico in the 2002 World Cup and Colombia in the 1994 World Cup.
The Americans were boosted by the return of captain Carlos Bocanegra, who had been sidelined since injuring a hamstring during a World Cup qualifier on June 6. He played left back instead of central defense.
The United States had lost its three previous matches against Spain, including a 1-0 in an exhibition on June 4 last year at Santander.
Altidore scored after Dempsey lifted the ball over Pique as Xabi Alonso tried to come in. The ball deflected to the 19-year-old forward, who shot from 18 yards as Carles Puyol attempted to close in vain. The shot went off Casillas’ right arm and into the net.
Altidore was so excited he took off his jersey as he ran toward the stands in celebration, drawing a yellow card.
It was the first goal against Spain in 451 minutes, since Turkey’s Semih Senturk scored on April 1, and just the third goal the Spaniards allowed in 17 games dating to last summer’s European Championship.
Scoring against Spain had special meaning for Altidore, acquired by Villarreal of Spain’s La Liga from Major League Soccer and the New York Red Bulls for 10 million last summer. He made only two starts and four substitute appearances during the first half of the season for Villarreal, scoring one goal. Loaned to second division leader Xerez on Jan. 30, he didn’t get into a single match.
On Sunday, Altidore had sent a warning to Capdevila.
“He sent me a message and told me that we had to be careful,” Capdevila said. “But his Spanish is not so great, so I think he made a mistake.”