Sunday, September 30, 2007



Got slaves? Violet Blue wants to spank the SF Weekly at Folsom Street Fair

Friday, September 28, 2007

Like any venerated holiday, the Folsom Street Fair (, the world's largest daytime celebration of kinkiness, happens but once a year. This weekend, it's leather Christmas in the city — and if the weather holds up, we'll likely see the estimated 400,000 BDSM-lovin' attendees sweating it out in rubber and leather (or nothing at all) to get a taste of our very own internationally attended Disneyland for kinksters.

I don't attend every year, and I'm not as kinky as you might think — like many attendees, I just like to watch. One year, a freak thunderstorm rained on the fair, sending leathermen (of all genders) running for cover, while waterproof, rubber-clad bystanders casually moved to drier confines (and in some cases, accent on the confined part). While it rained, the Gary Floyd Band (remember Floyd from that old punk band the Dicks?) played and sang until the water shorted them out, at which point the Buddhist bear frontman Floyd (a friend) finally stopped singing to thank the sky for its blessing.

Another year, I was squeezing my way through the crowd, ogling and trying not to touch anyone's exposed bits by accident, when I ran into a pair of old friends. It was my recently married pals, Ron and Elisa (not their real names) — and I wasn't so much surprised to see the house-in-the-suburbs (of Oakland) couple there, as I was to see Ron. He had just returned from his second tour in Iraq; I was elated and relieved to see him home safe and, well, so happy he was grinning from ear to ear. I asked the excitedly affectionate pair, "So, what are you two kids up to?" Elisa exclaimed, "We're going to go get whipped! Ron was so excited to be home in time for Folsom."

Like a couple at an amusement park, they were seeing the sights, and were on their way to stand in line for a light taste of the Folsom Street Fair's fare. Ron concluded, "It's so good to be home. See you later!" We hugged and I mused on the amazing patchwork quilt that makes up our definition of the "all-American" couple. As the afternoon passed, I caught a glimpse of them still wandering through the crowd, with matching striped backs and more big smiles. (Ron returned to Iraq for a third tour, and is now home, safe and for good.)

Folsom, for the uninitiated, is a taste of our so-called San Francisco values and much more. For locals, it's just another weekend of impossible-to-get taxis, leather-studded bulges on parade in the Castro (even in Walgreens — is nothing sacred?), and strategizing errands around the SOMA shutdown. We might forget that going to Folsom can be the funnest, craziest, most claustrophobic, most shocking (and for some, arousing, or a sort of homecoming) experience a grown up can have in a daytime, carnivalesque atmosphere. You can buy as many overpriced beers, corsets, whips, BDSM books, DVDs, and "Got Slaves?" T-shirts as you can carry. Or have your slave carry for you, as the case may be.

Folsom is a lot of fun — and it can even be a bit trite, ridiculous, hilarious or boring, as the mystery, fright, and hype about BDSM and kink are (in some cases explicitly) exposed into the light of day for attendees to view from all angles, ask questions about, and see for what they really are about: consensual adult playfulness, in all its colors and extremes. It's for experienced players and tourists alike, though I think the tourists are the most important part. Not just for the money they spend in our city, but for the chance they get to compare the reality of kink to the media hype — hype seen everywhere from Fox News to Hollywood (where seemingly every serial killer is dressed in a BSDM or transgender wrapper) to last week's SF Weekly cover for its story about the death of local anti-drug activist Joe Konopka, who was found sans pulse, in BDSM gear.

The Weekly's cover shouted "Sex & Murder," in bold black with "S" and "& M" in bright red. Inside, the article attempted to explore Konopka's death — there is still no official conclusion as to whether it was foul play, or an opportunistic scene-gone-wrong with a shady character tying the proverbial knots. The article begins as an unbiased bio about Konopka, but is undercut by the message that kink and BDSM are dark and highly dangerous habits that can kill you. The article's conclusion states that Konopka's (allegedly) BDSM-scene-related death isn't "the first time a bondage session has gone awry." In one of the final paragraphs, we're cautioned that "Any time anybody plays, they are literally trusting the other person with their life." We're also referred to the article's (in print only) sidebar, misleadingly titled "Safe Words", which does not explain in any way what a "safeword" is, but cites four reported deaths from 1985-present where BDSM was somehow involved — or not. The first instance is simply a reported discovery of a naked body in handcuffs.

"Sex & Murder" serves up yet another disservice to the community it attempts to report on, by dramatizing fear, stereotypes and misperceptions about kinky sexual practices and practitioners — a very large worldwide community that will be sending some ambassadors to have a big party in SOMA this Sunday, thank you very much. It's not just that media outlets (predictably) don't understand the sex acts they're hyping, or who practices them; they're not explaining how these self-defined "safe, sane and consensual" sex acts are conducted. Which, in addition to helping understand what might have happened to Konopka, would go a long way in telling a much more interesting story, providing a more valuable (and controversial) piece of reporting, and not continuing to portray all the (too often frighteningly boring) people who enjoy BDSM fantasy and sensation sex play as fringy, possibly murderous freaks. And, just in time for Folsom.

The truth is, kinky people — like the masses about to descend on San Francisco — engage in a flavor of sexuality (fetish, kink and fantasy play) that requires them to be more honest about what they want sexually than the rest of the herd. Being honest about fantasies, expectations, concerns, and boundaries is the kinky person's insurance against miscommunication; it prevents mishaps, trust issues, and can keep you from getting involved with someone incompatible. Consent is a necessary tool when playing with strangers or someone new. There might be a lot to discuss, such as fantasy details, rules and limits, safewords, what type of sex is OK, safer sex (who's got condoms, etc.), spending the night (or hour, or weekend) together, who pays for the rubber panties or hotel room, and more. Kinky people know what they want to have happen to them, and what they don't.

We may never know what happened to Joe Konopka. We may also never know what the SF Weekly's safeword is — but I'll at least tell you what the term actually means. A safeword is a word you both agree means "stop now." It's often suggested to select an unusual word you seldom use, and to avoid using "no" or "stop" in case you'd like to feign resistance to your predicament. Everyone should have a safeword (including SF Weekly readers), and some people have a word for "stop" and a separate word for "a little less, thank you." Stoplight colors — red, yellow and green — are very popular.

There are dozens of books and videos available that explain in savory detail all of the intricacies of BDSM, rope tying, spanking, in addition (if you want) to how to choose a whip and wield it with menace on cowering submissives (or how to become the squirmy bottom of your dreams). You'll be able to find a lot of them at the Folsom Street Fair, where there will be oodles of booths offering education and titillation alike. You don't need to be a bondage whiz, a whip expert, a traditional S/M scenester, or know a famous dominatrix to check out (or have) a hot S/M scene — or to write news items that include these practices. Like BDSM itself, all you need is a motivation that turns you on, and a little common sense about the practicalities.

The fantasy BDSM murder drama might make for a fun but mindless "CSI" episode, but it looks a little like dated saggy chaps-and-harness on a local weekly. Plus, can't we save the sex drama for Sunday?

Not that we're expecting a shortage.

The Folsom Street Fair will take place on Sunday, September 30, 2007 from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. It will be located in San Francisco's South of Market district on Folsom Street between Seventh and 12th streets. There is a complete entertainment lineup at

'I had the world's first breast job - and endured years of misery,' says Texan great-grandmother

by SHARON CHURCHER - More by this author » Last updated at 20:00pm on 29th September 2007

In 1962, young Texan housewife Timmie Jean Lindsey was persuaded to become a guinea pig for a new operation. Millions of women have since done the same, believing a new bust will bring them happiness. But the chilling story of Timmie Jean's life with implants is one every woman must read...

In America's flashy oil capital, Timmie Jean Lindsey is, by her own admission, a lifelong member of the underclass; the kind of unassuming woman who doesn't get a second glance in a city boasting one of the world's highest concentrations of millionaires.

At 75, she still works the night shift at a care home on the Houston outskirts, the latest in a succession of lowly paid jobs she has held down to help support a family that has expanded from ten children to 16 great-grandchildren.

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Timmie Jean Lindsey

Timmie Jean Lindsey in 1962 before undergoing an operation for silicone breast implants, paving the way for more than two million women to undergo surgical enhancements

For 45 years, however, Timmie Jean has been the guinea pig in one of the most contentious - and, many would say, dangerous - experiments in medical history. As the first woman to receive silicone breast implants, she has paved the way for more than two million women to undergo surgical enhancements.

A small minority, of course, are cancer survivors. But eight out of ten, like Timmie Jean, were healthy when they underwent a procedure that implanted rubber-encased, gel-filled orbs beneath their skin.

For these women, ranging from film stars to rich housewives and highly paid executives, breast enlargement is now the most popular cosmetic surgery operation in Britain.

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Timmie Jean Lindsey

Timmie Jean two months after the operation and two years later

It easily beats nose jobs and liposuction, according to statistics released last week by the first international conference on breast enlargement.

Attended by more than 200 plastic surgeons, the London gathering mulled over such topics as the 'perfect' shape, said to be exemplified by the model Caprice Bourret, as well as the least popular, Victoria Beckham's 'unnaturally round' breasts.

More than 6,000 breast enlargement procedures were performed in Britain last year, a rise of nine per cent, with an astonishing 330,000 carried out in America.

The conference took place, however, amid a growing controversy over the safety of the implants.


Model Caprice, whose bust size was deemed to be 'perfect' by the world's best breast enlargement surgeons

Enlarge the image

Tens of thousands of recipients in Britain and North America have demanded that the procedure be banned, blaming the sacs for everything from disfigurement to serious illnesses, including chronic fatigue and diseases of the auto-immune system.

The hazards have been covered up, they claim, because the operation, which on average costs £4,000, has earned doctors and manufacturers in excess of £250 million in profits since Timmie Jean went under the scalpel in 1962.

At the time she was struggling to bring up her children from an abusive first marriage and was talked into a procedure she neither wanted nor understood.

During appearances on behalf of the doctors and chemical company that pioneered the implants, she has had nothing but praise for them.

However, in her first interview with a British newspaper, Timmie Jean has told The Mail on Sunday she has suffered hardening of the breasts and acute pain as well as other ailments that opponents of the surgery claim are caused by the silicone.

"When I had the implants put in, I would get wolf whistles when I walked down the street," she said.

"I truly believe women should be free to choose. But, to be honest, there are times when I think I would like to have mine taken out.

"I started to get pain in the Eighties and sometimes it lasts for five to six weeks. It feels like I've broken a rib."

One of six children of an oil refinery worker, Timmie Jean was 14 when her mother died. One year later the pretty teenager dropped out of school to marry a carpenter. After having three boys and three girls in nine years, she says her husband began to squander his meagre pay cheques in bars.

She left him when she was 26 and fell into a new relationship with Fred Reyes, a Mexican immigrant who took her on holiday and, in what would become a life- changing moment, persuaded her to have red roses tattooed on each of her breasts. Timmie Jean said she was ashamed of her impulsiveness.

Earning £19 a week from her job at an electronics factory, she qualified for free treatment at a charity clinic, the Jefferson Davis Hospital, where a friendly young plastic surgeon, Canadian-born Frank Gerow, offered to remove the roses with dermabrasion - a procedure in which the upper layers of the skin are removed.

A plastic surgery professor at Houston's esteemed Baylor University medical school, Gerow worked at the clinic pro bono, using it as a training facility for his students and, as Timmie Jean soon would learn, a recruiting ground.

When she returned for a check-up in the autumn of 1961, male medical students joined him as he explained he had been working with a colleague, Dr Thomas Cronin, to develop an implant for women who had sagging breasts following multiple childbirths. He suggested Timmie Jean should be the test case, the first woman in the world to undergo this delicate procedure.

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Timmie Jean Lindsey

A great-grandmother: Timmie Jean today

The overture surprised her.

"Maybe I had started sagging, but I had not thought it was anything to fret about," she said. "When I was growing up we were poor, and we didn't have many mirrors to look in."

Ironically, if she was asked to find fault with her body, she insists she would have chosen another part entirely.

"It wasn't my breasts that bothered me, it was my ears," she said.

"I was newly divorced; I hadn't had a lot of offers. So I told Dr Gerow I'd do the new breasts if he would fix my ears."

Gerow agreed to pin them back and set about increasing her bust size from a B to a C cup.

But even then, one colleague at Gerow's medical school harboured doubts about whether he was playing on the vulnerability of Timmie Jean and the other 11 women, including her sister-in-law Barbara, who agreed to take part in the study.

"Frank was a very qualified physician, but he liked big breasts," said Dr Bernard Patten, a retired Baylor neurologist and former friend of the late Dr Gerow.

"He said he and Cronin wanted to do something with plastic surgery that would match the artificial heart that Dr Michael DeBakey (a contemporary pioneering cardiovascular surgeon at Baylor) was working on.

"First they tried direct injections of silicone into women who were, by and large, the wives of medical students. They had massive inflammatory reactions and it gave them hard,painful, disgusting-looking breasts. Because of the awful results, he and Cronin decided to enclose the silicone in a bag."

Timmie Jean's surgery was performed in the spring of 1962.

"If Dr Gerow told me there were any risks, I didn't listen," she said. "When I came round from the anaesthetic, it felt like an elephant was sitting on my chest.

"But when they took off the bandages after ten days, my breasts looked beautiful. All the young doctors were standing around to look at 'the masterpiece'."

Suddenly, Timmie Jean wasn't short of male attention. She tried to convince herself she enjoyed their interest, but when a longtime acquaintance, Bill Lindsey, proposed to her, she accepted.

By New Year's Eve, she was married to the aircraft mechanic, who had four children from his first marriage.

The new chapter in her life also marked a boom in popularity for plastic surgery, with women on both sides of the Atlantic clamouring for the implants. Cronin and Gerow sold rights to their invention to Dow Corning, a joint venture between the giant Dow Chemical and Corning Glass companies, in return for royalties.

The two men argued that implants were crucial to the self-esteem of women with "limited development of the breasts...probably all of them would be happier," they elaborated in one paper, if "they could have a pleasing enlargement".

Periodically, Timmie Jean would visit Dr Gerow's office, where he would photograph her breasts for analysis. Though he did not discuss safety with her, he assured other patients that the implants were "as harmless as water".

Timmie Jean said her breasts first began to harden about ten years after the operation.

One in five women suffer similar hardening, according to studies, caused by scar tissue that forms around the implant in what has become known as "capsular contracture".

Timmie Jean also began to experience shooting pains during an aerobics class in the Eighties.

A local doctor told her he suspected a link to the implants and though Dr Gerow denied this, Dow Corning admits pain can be a side-effect of capsular contracture.

"It is the most common complication with breast implants," said the company's associate general counsel Doug Schoettinger.

"Typically it is benign, but in some women the scar tissue contractsfor reasons that are not entirely understood."

Timmie Jean also suffered from rashes, a dry mouth, dry eyes and chronic fatigue.

"I was hurting everywhere," she said.

She was referred to various doctors, all of whom assured her the new problems mostly were psychosomatic, caused by depression.

"I started seeing a psychiatrist. I was also told I had rheumatic fever." she said.

"When I told Dr Gerow he agreed. 'Silicone does not make you sick,' he said." Opponents of the implants insist Timmie Jean was suffering from classic symptoms of silicone damage.

Dr Patten, who examined 2,000 women suffering from health complications following implants, said: "From documents supplied to me by the FDA (the American Food And Drug Administration, which regulates implants), Dow Corning clearly knew as far back as 1976 that silicone caused inflammation, that in some animal studies resulted in auto-immune diseases."

The company denied being aware of such studies and insists that subsequent investigations, including one requested by the British Government, has shown no scientific link between the implants and any disease.

It does concede that the implants, which over the years have been made by several different firms, can rupture. They say this happens to one in every 100 patients.

"Every plastic surgeon knew about this going back to the Seventies," said Mr Shoettinger.

In Britain, one disturbing case involved Dawn Beaven. A model who was just beginning an acting career, with parts in The Saint and a television thriller The Echo, she was 24 when she underwent breast enhancement.

After one of her implants burst, she suffered from paralysis, arthritis, ME, migraines and chest pains, which she blames on the silicone. She founded a support group, Silicone Survivors. Timmie Jean's sister-in-law, who died in the Nineties, also claimed to have had an unhappy experience.

"She had to go back several times for the implants to be changed," Timmie Jean said.

"She had liver problems she blamed on the silicone. My daughter, Elizabeth had implants in the Eighties. One of her implants ruptured. I'd thought implants lasted for ever."

Timmie Jean's sister-in-law and daughter and Dawn Beaven were among nearly 300,000 women who registered for a £1.6billion settlement fund set up by Dow Corning in 1998 after the company was hit by tens of thousands of lawsuits by aggrieved patients.

Timmie Jean's relatives urged her to join the action but, remarkably, despite her side-effects, she clung to her faith in Gerow. As the furore intensified, he even asked her to testify before an FDA inquiry panel. She said she had no complaints about the implants. Her testimony might seem at odds with the experience she relates today. Was she paid by Dow Corning?

"A minimal amount," she said.

There is no question, however, that until Gerow's death in 1993, she felt in the debt of the charismatic surgeon who got rid of her "ugly" ears.

Now widowed, she no longer has anyone to mentor her in the complicated debate that continues to rage, pitting the exponentially growing cosmetic surgery industry against the swelling tide of protesters.

Dow Corning no longer makes the implants, but the manufacturers, who still are in business, claim improved techniques have minimised the risk of ruptures.

Due to the influence of celebrities, bigger breasts have become almost a fashion accessory. According to industry experts, a woman's 'ideal' size has grown from the C cup bestowed on Timmie Jean to a D.

Timmie Jean stumbled into the surgery because, like so many women who would follow in her footsteps, she was vulnerable, insecure and did not know what questions to ask.

She clings to a belief that her implants are safe, even though one of them now has a small tear in the shell.

"I am proud of what I have done. I pioneered implants that have benefited thousands of women," she said.

However, despite her frequent pain, the thought of having the implants removed fills her with dread.

And 45 years after going unhesitatingly under the knife, Timmie Jean is no longer so trusting of medical science.

"I'm a cissy now," she said. "I'm afraid of what might happen if I go under."

Weighing the risks of death from anaesthesia - not inconsiderable in her eighth decade - against the agony, she has decided to endure the pain to the end.


11:40 - 29 September 2007

Exeter's Underground Passages will be officially re-launched by actor and television presenter Tony Robinson and his Time Team.

Mr Robinson, perhaps best known for his role as Baldrick in the Blackadder series, will perform the official reopening of the unique historic passages next Friday.

The passages reopened to the public earlier this month after being closed since 2005 during the development of Princesshay.

Mr Robinson, who has a keen interest in history and archaeology and has presented Channel 4's popular Time Team series for 12 years, said that he was delighted to be invited to the city.

"Exeter has a rich history and these passages provide a fascinating insight into medieval life in the city," he said.

"The new interpretation centre makes the experience even more enjoyable for visitors of all ages and helps to bring history to life."

City councillor for economy and tourism Greg Sheldon said: "We are delighted to welcome Tony to our unique Underground Passages.

"We want to ensure that residents and visitors to Exeter are aware of the passages and it is vital that those working in tourism know how much the passages and our new interpretation centre have to offer.

"This is a fantastic opportunity for those in the industry to see the passages and explore the exciting new entrance and interpretation centre."

The centre, located in Paris Street, offers hands- on activities and displays, telling the story of the passages and medieval life in the city.

Visitors can also look at a timeline of the city, see artefacts found in the passages and during the Princesshay redevelopment and see a replica cross section of Exeter.

People in wheelchairs, scooters or those who prefer not to take a guided tour will be able to journey through a life-sized mock up of the passages or take a "magic carpet" virtual tour.

Exeter is the only city in the UK to have underground passages of this type.

The mysterious conduits were first built in the 14th century to bring a supply of fresh drinking water into the city, and guided tours have taken place since 1933.

By the early 20th century the vaults were almost forgotten, but in 1935 they achieved Ancient Scheduled Monument status and are now protected by law.

During the Second World War, the vaults became an air raid shelter that could house up to 300 people, protecting them from fire bombs which destroyed much of the city centre.

Yes, it's a Hobbit. The debate that has divided science is solved at last (sort of)

Scientists shed new light on disputed skeleton find
· Bone analysis supports distinct species theory
  • The Guardian
  • Friday September 21 2007
The painting is of a male Homo floresiensis, the

The painting is of a male Homo floresiensis, the "hobbit", discovered on Flores, indonesia. returning from a hunt.

It was the most astonishing anthropological find of a generation - a diminutive new species of human that apparently shared the planet with us until 13,000 years ago.

But the discovery of the fossilised "Hobbit", as she quickly became known, has provoked a long-running and sometimes acrimonious debate among scientists: was she really one of a race of mini-humans or was she merely one of us, but with a brain-shrinking disease?

Now scientists have analysed fossilised wrist bones that were part of the original discovery in 2003 but had not been looked at in detail. They say they prove the Hobbit really was a distinct and previously unknown type of human, and not just an abnormally small member of our own species.

That analysis has revealed significant differences between the bones and human or Neanderthal equivalents. At the same time there are crucial similarities with older species of human and living apes such as chimps and gorillas. The researchers say this puts paid to the idea that Homo floresiensis could be a "normal" human being with a brain-shrinking disease called microcephaly or some form of dwarfism.

The Hobbit was remarkable because of where it was found and when it was supposed to have lived. Its existence alongside modern humans 13,000 years ago is more than 15,000 years after the Neanderthals died out and more than 140,000 years after modern humans evolved in Africa.

"What we are beginning to realise is that our recent evolutionary history is much more diverse than we realised," said Matthew Tocheri of the Smithsonian Institution, lead author on the paper in Science that describes the wrist bone analysis. "It's a little shot to our over-inflated modern human egos."

For some though that interpretation is just too incredible. Robert Martin at the Field Museum of Chicago argued in a paper last year that the Hobbit's grapefruit-sized brain was simply too small compared with its body to be a scaled-down human species. He also said that tools found with the fossils were too advanced to have come from a creature with such a small brain. Meanwhile, Robert Eckhardt at Pennsylvania State University argued last year that Flores, the Indonesian island on which the Hobbit was found, was too small to support a population of hunter gatherers without immigration from other islands. That would mean it was not genetically isolated and so could not have evolved into a separate species. He criticised other researchers' willingness to get caught up in the hype and sniped that, "critical faculties were suspended on the part of many people".

Even the bones themselves have not escaped the intellectual tug of war. Almost as soon as H floresiensis hit the public consciousness in 2004, they were taken - some say borrowed, some say "hijacked" - by a researcher who was not involved in the original find.

But proponents of the separate species hypothesis say that evidence is stacking up in their favour. "I think slowly but surely the facts are coming out," said Dr Tocheri. His own analysis shows that the wrist bones of H floresiensis are not like ours or Neanderthals'. "Even if you are not trained as an anatomist, I think it is clear that the bones look very similar to what we see in living chimps and gorillas today, as well as earlier hominin fossils like Australopithecus - or Lucy," he said, "The wrist evidence is definitely a smoking gun ... I would say that it is proof that it is not a modern human - microcephalic, normal or otherwise."

Crucially, the shape of the wrist forms very early in a baby's development in the womb, in the first three months. Genetic problems leading to small brains or dwarfism tend to hit later or after birth. "It would be extraordinary if a pathology could revert three wrist bones to this morphology," said Chris Stringer, an expert on human evolution at the Natural History Museum. "To have three bones which show this complex of features really does add to the case that this is a distinct and very peculiar human-like creature."

He is open to the possibility that it might yet turn out to be a small-brained human, but he thinks the tide is turning in favour of it representing a much more primitive and distinct species.

"There is a lot at stake. One group of people are going to be 100% wrong in what they have said, which is a situation that is rare in science," he said. "It will be a fascinating test case for science. Will the people who turn out to be wrong hold their position to the bitter end regardless of the evidence that accumulates?"

"As good scientists, we should all be pleased to have new data, even when it proves us wrong, but also being human beings it doesn't always work that way. We have human flaws like everyone else," added Prof Stringer.

Critics of the separate species explanation, however, show no sign of conceding. "If the evidence provided by the wrist bones is so important, why was it not part of the original description and diagnosis of the new species?" said Dr Eckhardt. "The answer is that the wrist bone evidence is not important in and of itself, but rather as a last ditch effort to save the supposed new species by finding some new "unique" feature."

"This is an exercise in the presentation of misleading ideas in an obfuscatory manner. In that sense, then, their paper is far from a model of how science should be done."

Body of evidence

September 2003 'Hobbit' discovered by Indonesian and Australian team on the island of Flores, in Indonesia. It is also called Ebu, after a local legend about a small waddling creature with a big appetite.

October 2004 The findings of a skull and partial skeleton are published in Nature. The team classify the metre high creature as a new species, Homo floresiensis

February 2005 A computer generated model of the skull suggests it did not have an abnormal brain.

October 2005 Australian scientists announce the discovery of more bones including another jaw bone. These confirm the creature's diminutive size, but the haul does not include a skull.

May 2006 Researchers claim the Hobbit's brain is far too small to be microcephalic.

August 2006 Another study claims that Flores is too small to have supported a population without immigration from other islands - so they could not have evolved in isolation.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Nicky Sura Theerakol



In a nutshell, the vestibular apparatus is the neurological equipment responsible for perceiving one's body's orientation relative to the earth (determining if you are upside-down, standing up straight, falling etc.) and informing ones eyes and extremities how they should move accordingly.

The vestibular apparatus allows us to walk, even run, on very uneven ground without falling, helps us know when we need to right ourselves, and allows our eyes to follow moving objects without becoming dizzy.

There are two sets of receptors involved: one to detect rotational acceleration (tumbling or turning) and one to detect linear acceleration and gravity (falling and letting us know which direction is up and which is down). Both receptors are located in the middle ear. Tiny neurological hair cells project into special canals of fluid so that when one's head moves, the fluid moves, and the hair cells wave within the fluid. The hair cells are part of sensory nerve cells which carry the appropriate message to the cerebellum (part of the brain that coordinates locomotion) and to 4 vestibular nuclei in the brain stem.

From these centers, instructions are carried by nerve cells to the legs and neck muscles, and eye muscles so that we may orient ourselves immediately. The information about being upside down (or in some other abnormal orientation) is also sent to the hypothalamus (an area of the brain) so that we can become consciously aware of our position. The information is also sent to the "reticular formation" (another area of the brain - a sort of a volume control on our state of wakefulness. In this way, if we are asleep and start to fall, the vestibular stimulations would wake us up. This is also why rolling an anesthetized animal from side to side is used to hasten anesthetic recovery).


If there is trouble in the vestibular apparatus, then one may not properly perceive one's orientation. To put it more simply, one won't know which way is up, whether or not one is standing up straight or slanted, and one will feel very dizzy.

The following are signs of vestibular disease:

  • ataxia (lack of coordination without weakness or involuntary spasms - in other words, stumbling and staggering around)
  • motion sickness
  • nystagmus (back and forth or rotational eye movements. The movements will be slower in one direction. This is the side where the neurologic lesion is likely to be; however, nystagmus is named according to the direction of the fast component i.e. there may be left nystagmus but the lesion is probably on the right side of the vestibular apparatus.)
  • Circling
  • Head tilt (usually toward the side of the lesion)
  • Falling to one side (usually toward the side of the lesion)
  • Trouble with other nerves controlling the head and face

Picture of Milou, tilting head

“Milou,” a dog with vestibular disease, demonstrates a head tilt. At the time of this picture, Milou was not able to walk, but was nearly normal within 4 days.


In order to determine prognosis and choose treatment, one needs to figure out what has happened to the vestibular system. The first step is to determine whether the lesion is central (in the brain) or peripheral ( in the inner ear).

There will be some hints in the clinical presentation. For example, if other cranial nerves are involved and they are on the side opposite from the head tilt, then the lesion is likely to be in the cerebellum (central). If the nystagmus is vertical (the eyes are moving up and down rather than back and forth) or only exists when the animal is placed in certain positions, then the lesion is more likely to be central.

Canine idiopathic vestibular disease (also called "Old dog vestibular disease") and, its feline counterpart, feline idiopathic vestibular disease begin acutely and resolve acutely. Usually improvement is evident in 72 hours and the animal is normal in 7-14 days, possibly with an occasional head tilt persisting. When a case of vestibular disease presents, it may be a good idea to wait a few days to see if improvement occurs before doing diagnostics beyond a routine blood/urine database. These two conditions are idiopathic, meaning we do not know why the occur. We do know that they represent problems in the periphery (nerves of the middle ear rather than in the actual brain.)


Middle ear infection is a likely possibility for vestibular disease especially if the patient has a history of ear infections. When an otoscope is used to visualize the external ear of an animal with vestibular disease and debris is seen, this would be a good hint that there is infection in the middle ear as well. However, just because debris is not seen in the external ear does not mean that a middle ear infection is unlikely. Special imaging of the middle ear bones may be in order.

The most accessible way to evaluate the middle ear is with a special set of radiographs called a "bulla series" (so named because it focuses on an ear bone called the "tympanic bulla"). If the bulla appears abnormal, the ear may require surgical drainage. The problem is that radiography is often not sensitive enough to pick up damage in the middle ear and a normal set of films does not rule out disease. In these cases, special imaging such as CAT Scan or MRI is better (though rather expensive). These imaging techniques, however, allow imaging of the brain tissue itself (which radiology does not) thus allowing brain abnormalities to be evaluated as well.

If a middle ear infection is present but is not known to be present, a routine cleaning of the external ear can lead to a flare up of vestibular symptoms. This is often unavoidable in long standing ear infections.

Brain tumors can be a cause of vestibular disease if the signs fit with a central lesion. In these cases, special imaging as mentioned above is needed to make the diagnosis. Such tumors may be treatable depending on their location.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

It's time to redial Do Not Call registry

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Consumers who fail to reregister for the national Do Not Call list may start getting interrupted again by telemarketers next year.

Millions of phone numbers will be dropped from the popular program starting in June, when the registry reaches its five-year anniversary.

As part of the rules behind the Do Not Call program, enrollments are valid for five years. However, people can avoid being jettisoned by re-enrolling, ensuring quiet dinners without pitches for credit cards, mortgages and carpet cleaning.

"Consumers love Do Not Call and it's extremely effective," said Mitch Katz, a spokesman for the Federal Trade Commission, which manages the Do Not Call registry. "This idea that millions of people are going to start getting calls after the five years isn't quite accurate. It's like a driver's license - you just renew it, and it only takes a few seconds."

Still, Rep. Mike Doyle, D-Pa., considers reregistering too much trouble. This week, he proposed legislation that would make enrollment in the registry permanent.

Do Not Call went into effect in 2003 after years of consumers complaining about telemarketers disturbing their privacy by interrupting their dinners and television time.

As part of the rules, telemarketers are now barred from calling phone numbers that have been on the list for more than 31 days, or face up to $11,000 in fines for each violation. Participants can register up to three telephone numbers at one time, including cell phone numbers.

Exceptions allow for charitable solicitations, political campaigning and surveys. Companies that have a business relationship with the consumer can call for up to 18 months after the last purchase or delivery, unless the consumer asks the company not to call again.

The Federal Trade Commission implemented a five-year expiration policy as a way to keep the registry up-to-date.

But critics scoff at the idea because phone numbers are automatically removed from the list when people disconnect their lines or when a number is assigned to a new customer.

Tim Searcy, chief executive of the American Teleservices Association, a telemarketing industry trade group, said he opposes any effort by Congress to eliminate the five-year registration period.

He expressed concern for consumers who change their minds and want to receive marketing pitches but who would have a tougher time making that known if the system changes.

"It doesn't make a lot of sense for Congress to get involved in this," Searcy said.

Purging of the Do Not Call registry will be done on a rolling basis, starting in June. People who signed up just after it opened - 18 million numbers were added during its first week - will be the first to be removed if they don't re-enroll between now and then.

In all, the list has 149 million phone numbers.

Registering for the list and filing complaints can be done at or by calling (888) 382-1222.

The Federal Trade Commission has brought 27 enforcement actions against companies that it alleged violated the Do Not Call rules. Those companies paid out $8.8 million in civil penalties, plus $8.6 million in consumer redress.

Consumers sound off on telemarketers in Two Cents. C2

How to keeping the telemarketers at bay

The federal Do Not Call registry in June will begin purging phone numbers that are 5 years old. To place your phone number on the Do Not Call list, verify when you registered a number or file a complaint against a telemarketer who violates the rules:

-- Go to or

-- Call (888) 382-1222

Source: FTC

E-mail Verne Kopytoff at

This article appeared on page C - 1 of the San Francisco Chronicle

Midnight Eye review: Sukiyaki Western Django

 (2007, director: Takashi Miike)

Tom Mes

In the introduction to his groundbreaking book Spaghetti Westerns, the great English film historian Christopher Frayling recounts how he once faced an audience of angry Italians who didn't take too kindly to the title of his tome. Why the hell would the first serious study of the Italian western carry the same derogatory term that critics everywhere had used to write off these films, they wondered. Professor Frayling, no doubt accustomed to obstinate crowds, calmly explained that spaghetti was a dish brought over from Asia which the Italians had transformed into something truly their own, a national food. Similarly, they had taken the western from America and turned it into a uniquely Italian genre. The analogy, therefore, was anything but an insult.

The same logic can be applied to the title of Takashi Miike's latest genre-bending extravaganza Sukiyaki Western Django. Sukiyaki is a beef dish, and beef wasn't eaten in Japan until the foreign influence of the early Meiji era made it first acceptable and subsequently fashionable. Since then it has become so thoroughly assimilated that no one in the world would ever think of sukiyaki as being anything but an intrinsically Japanese dish. Just as no one watching Sukiyaki Western Django would ever mistake it for being anything other than a Takashi Miike film.

Let's get something out of the way: Sukiyaki Western Django is not the first Japanese western. In the early 1960s, the Nikkatsu studio specialised in peculiar bastardizations of the genre that had Japanese cowboys riding the hills and plains of Hokkaido and coming to the aid of the downtrodden. It's not even the first film to re-apply the aesthetics of the spaghetti western to the chambara genre, as demonstrated by the very perceptive inclusion of Eiichi Kudo's raucously entertaining The Fort of Death (Gonin no Shokin Kasegi, 1969) in the spaghetti western retro that ran concurrent with Miike's film at the 2007 Venice film festival. Kudo's film features an opening scene lifted wholesale from The Good, The Bad and The Ugly and gives a prominent role to the iconic Gatling gun that also pops up in Sukiyaki Western Django.

The mix-and-match quality evoked by the titular delicacy is echoed in Miike's film, which carries its influences on its sleeve: there is a lot of Kurosawa and a lot of Leone, a generous sprinkling of Corbucci, a touch of Okamoto, and a whiff of Gosha. More than just a reminder of the debt the Italians owe the Japanese through the Yojimbo-Fistful of Dollars connection, the film adheres to the far wiser stance that cross-cultural pollination is the essence of cinemaand that there is no such thing as a one-way street of influence. As university professors everywhere like to phrase it, cinema is inherently transnational, and Sukiyaki Western Django is that statement made flesh.

Borderlessness is what best characterizes this film: Samurai mix with cowboys, Shakespeare with the Heike-Genji wars, outdoor locations alternate with theatrical backdrops based on ukiyo-e designs, and action melds with modern dance. Quentin Tarantino's brand of ultra-postmodernism and cinematographic in-jokes mark the film as a whole, and he also shows up in it as a gunslinger named Piringo (a contraction of Pierrot and Ringo, very fitting in this context). In fact, with its freeform mixture of popular genres from the 60s and 70s, Sukiyaki Western Django could easily have served as the third - and best - entry in Tarantino's Grindhouse project. There's even a fake trailer for a spin-off movie included in the later stages of the film.

Genre, nationality, chronology, even gender - in this film, all are blurred. The Japanese cast speaks English. Events are replayed after they've already happened. Benkei the warrior monk's emasculation releases repressed homosexual urges for his fair protégé Yoshitsune, who promptly shoots him with his Colt .45. Sukiyaki Western Django has a thousand roots, but no borders.

It all starts out familiar enough: a lone, nameless gunslinger (Ito) rides into town and finds himself in the demilitarized zone between two powerful rival factions. Aided by the handful of marginals on the periphery of the conflict, his presence breaks the stalemate and accelerates the long-delayed confrontation between the opposing clans. Just another Red Harvest/Yojimbo variation then? Of course not. Perhaps the most radical intervention - even if less conspicuous than Michiko Kitamura's wild costume designs, Takashi Sasaki's gorgeously mudcaked sets, and the autumnal splendor of the Yamagata locations - is the passive role of the protagonist. Ito, star of the Umizaru films and cast for his resemblance to spaghetti western luminary Giuliano Gemma, is overshadowed as an actor and as a screen presence by Yusuke Iseya, who is a stand-out as Yoshitsune the leader of the white Genji clan, Teruyuki Kagawa as the town's corrupt sheriff whose swerving alliances have turned him into a schizophrenic, and Koichi Sato as Kiyomori, head of the red Heike gang. But not all the blame (if blame is even the proper word) for this can be laid on Ito's shoulders. The villains are far more active and far less cowardly than they tend to be in this type of scenario, just as the hero is less superhuman than is the custom. The result is a big boost of freshness and vitality that makes archetypes, codes and clichés feel like they were invented yesterday.

But what of the English dialogue? This has already proven a moot point, seen as a kind of key as to whether this film will "work" or not. Just as the movie can't be reduced to a rehashing of genre or an imitation of earlier films, narrowing the focus to mere dialogue delivery would also be a mistake. Firstly, having Japanese actors speak English is not such a bizarre choice for a director who grew up watching Japanese-dubbed spaghetti westerns on TV (and while we're on the subject of the transnational, remember that these were Italian films shot in Spain starring American actors to begin with). Yes, the film was shown with English subtitles in Venice - where it marked Miike's first time in competition at one of the three main film festivals, after having been featured in sidebars at Cannes, Berlin and the Mostra in previous years - and they proved to be most helpful. Iseya, Kagawa and Kimura are noticeably the ones with the best grasp of the language, while the rest of the cast try hard but mostly fail to deliver more than phonetic mumbling. Is this a hindrance to the audience? For some native English speakers maybe, but it's a big world and most of it will watch this film subtitled or dubbed into their own language anyway. What's more, even awkward natural delivery is preferable to the disembodied voices of a professional dub cast. You came to see a Japanese tribute to an Italian variation on an American genre; don't complain that it's not the Royal Shakespeare Company.

As noted, narrowing the film or the acting down to mere dialogue delivery would be a mistake. Watch it once to read the subtitles. Then watch it again to notice how important body movement and motion are in this film. Look at the facial expressions, sense the rhythm and the role of music and dance (further refined from the experiments in Izo and Big Bang Love, Juvenile A). Miike, if nothing else, is a master of movement, of motion, rhythm and grace (even if it's of a crude variety at times), and Sukiyaki Western Django is one of the most accomplished and purest expressions of this quality. It's in cinematographer Toyomichi Kurita's use of the camera, but also very strongly in the acting: in Iseya's feline grace in handling the katana, Kimura's sensuality and agility, Sato's rough physicality, Kagawa's jittery pantomime, Yutaka Matsushige's monkey-esque skulking, and in Momoi's entirely believable transformation from pigtailed ingénue to squeaky-jointed old bag to double-barreled action heroine.

Sukiyaki Western Django is not the Miike movie with the bad English. Sukiyaki Western Django is the movie that best embodies the freedom, the joy, the vitality, and the lucidity that form the basis of Takashi Miike's filmmaking.

Testicle stem cell harvest plan

Stem cell
Stem cells have great potential to treat disease
A man's testicles might be a source of stem cells to help him fight serious diseases, US scientists have shown.

They extracted early-stage sperm cells from mice, then turned them into cells capable of becoming different tissues.

Writing in Nature, the Weill Cornell Medical College team said their work might lead to treatments for illnesses such as Alzheimer's and diabetes.

However, some doubt has been expressed on the willingness of men to undergo the procedure to extract the cells.

For male patients, it could someday mean a readily available source of stem cells
Dr Shahin Rafii, Weill Cornell Medical College

Stem cells are the body's "master cells" that, in theory, can become any type of cell in the body.

Embryo opposition

An obvious source of these is from the human embryo, as unlike adult cells, these have the potential to grow into any tissue type.

However, ethical concerns over the use of embryos in medicine mean that scientists are hunting for a source of easily-harvested adult cells which could be coaxed into any variety of cell.

Stem cells have already been extracted from mouse testicles - however, the New York team is claiming a more reliable way to isolate and develop them, increasing the potential for larger numbers to be produced successfully.

The testicular cells do not need to be genetically "tweaked" to behave more like embryonic stem cells, unlike other "adult stem cells" found elsewhere in the body, say the scientists.

Dr Shahin Rafii, who led the research, said: "It appears that these unique specialized spermatogonial cells could be an easily obtained and manipulated source of stem cells with exactly the same capability to form new tissues that we see in embryonic stem cells.

"For male patients, it could someday mean a readily available source of stem cells that gets around ethical issues linked to embryonic stem cells.

"It also avoids issues linked to tissue transplant rejection, since these 'autologous stem cells' are derived from the patient's own body."

Painful process

He listed several illnesses which he hoped could be tackled using stem cell technology, including Parkinson's Disease, Alzheimer's, stroke, diabetes and even certain cancers.

It is hoped that one day, implanting large quantities of stem cells into tissue damaged by disease could prompt the body to replace it.

Professor Colin McGuckin, a researcher in stem cell biology at the University of Newcastle, said that several research teams around the world were looking into the potential of the testicle as a stem cell source.

He said: "At present, there is an awful lot of interest in this from veterinary circles as a source of stem cells for animal use.

"I can see more problems getting humans to agree to have this done, as it would be a very painful procedure to have them extracted."

Blood Brothers' at Toronto Film Festival

Thanks to great tips from Tyler Yao, Asianpopcorn is presenting you ‘Blood Brothers’ red carpet pictures at the 32nd annual Toronto International Film Festival. The red carpet ceremony for ‘Blood Brothers’ starring Daniel Wu, Chang Chen and Li Xiaolu was held in Toronto earlier. Cast members Shu Qi and Liu Ye were not present.

Blood Brothers
Daniel Wu, Chang Chen and Li Xiaolu at 2007 Toronto Film Festival
Blood Brothers

Daniel Wu (R), Chang Chen (L) and Li Xiaolu at Toronto Film Festival

Blood Brothers

Daniel Wu (R), Chang Chen (L) and Li Xiaolu on red carpet

Blood Brothers
cast of movie 'Blood Brothers' at Toronto Film Festival
Blood Brothers
cast of movie 'Blood Brothers' pose at Toronto Film Festival
Blood Brothers

'Blood Brothers' actress Li Xiaolu poses on red carpet

Li Xiaolu

'Blood Brothers' star Li Xiaolu poses for fans

Chang Chen
'Blood Brothers' star Chang Chen signs autographs for fans
Daniel Wu
'Blood Brothers' star Daniel Wu shakes hands with fans

Hong Kong Movie Close Up: Blood Brothers

Cool movie info on ‘Blood Brothers’, including pictures, movie reviews, videos, news, wallpapers, trailers, posters, and pics.

Chinese Title: 天堂口, Tian Tang Kou
Director: Alexi Tan (Chen Yili)
Executive Producers: John Woo, Terence Chang
Release Date: 16 August 2007
Cast: Daniel Wu, Shu Qi, Liu Ye, Tony Yang, Lulu Li (Li Xiaolu), Sun Honglei, Chang Chen

Holocaust survivor next to Nazi

The gates at Sachsenhausen concentration camp
Tens of thousands of people died at Sachsenhausen concentration camp
A man who survived the horrors of the Auschwitz concentration camp ended up living next door to a former Nazi camp guard in Arizona, US, it has emerged.

Nathan Gasch said when Martin Hartmann moved into the retirement complex four years ago he noticed a picture of his neighbour in an SS uniform on the wall.

Mr Gasch says he was shocked but that he never reported the incident.

However, investigators from the justice department were on Mr Hartmann's trail and this week the US expelled him.

Romanian-born Mr Hartmann, 88, was forced to move back to Germany last month and stripped of his US citizenship.

The truth about his past was uncovered in a two-year investigation by the Department of Justice's Office of Special Investigations (OSI), a department created in 1979 to pursue war criminals.

'Must have known'

During World War II Mr Hartmann worked as a member of the SS Death's Head Guard Battalion at Germany's Sachsenhausen concentration camp.

Tens of thousands of prisoners died at the camp where inmates were used for forced labour and subjected to medical experiments and torture.

Mr Hartmann concealed his past when he moved to the US in 1955 and later applied for US citizenship in 1961. Even now his wife Ellen claims that he could not have known the true nature of the camp at Sachsenhausen.

However, OSI officials say it is impossible that he did not know.

"Martin Hartmann and other members of the SS Death's Head Guard Battalion were indispensable accomplices in the brutal crimes committed in the Nazi concentration camp system," Eli Rosenbaum, head of the OSI, was quoted by Israeli daily newspaper Haaretz as saying.

OSI officials told the Arizona Republic newspaper that Mr Hartmann volunteered for the role in 1943, rather than being sent into combat, and that at no time did he apply for a transfer as camp guards were allowed to do.


Last month, Mr Hartmann admitted to having served as an armed SS guard and having personally assisted in Nazi persecution, and agreed to leave the US and never return.

His sudden departure has stunned fellow residents at the Leisure World retirement complex in Mesa, Arizona, none more so than Mr Gasch who even spent time as a prisoner in the Sachsenhausen camp - though not at the same time Mr Hartmann was there.

Speaking of the incident with the picture Mr Gasch, who comes from Poland, told the Associated Press news agency that at the time he simply "walked out of the room".

"Maybe I was too childish," he said. "I figured we were living in a community here. I just let it go."

Mr Gasch still bears the tattooed number on his left arm which marked him out as a concentration camp prisoner six decades before.

"They must have seen I had my number," Mr Gasch said, adding that though he was shocked about Mr Hartmann being forced to leave he is not sorry.

"He was one of them," he said.

'Hobbit' wrists 'were primitive'

The team says the bones show key differences

Careful study of the "Hobbit" fossil's wrist bones supports the idea that the creature was a distinct species and not a diseased modern human, it is claimed.

Matthew Tocheri and colleagues tell Science magazine that the bones look nothing like those of Homo sapiens; they look ape-like.

The announcement in 2004 detailing the discovery of Homo floresiensis caused a sensation.

Some researchers, though, have doubted the interpretation of the find.

These individuals - including the Indonesian palaeoanthropologist Teuku Jacob - have argued that the remains are probably those of a pygmy with the brain defect known as microcephaly.

Cast of Homo floresiensis skull  Image: PA
The Flores discovery was a scientific sensation

But the new analysis by Tocheri, from the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, DC, US, and co-authors will add further weight to the original assessment.

Their study shows that the wrist bones of the Hobbit are primitive and shaped differently from the bones of both modern humans and even their near-evolutionary cousins, the now extinct Neanderthals (Homo neanderthalensis).

The creature's wrist lacks a modern innovation seen in both these other human species - a wrist that distributes forces away from the base of the thumb and across the wrist for better shock-absorbing abilities.

"What was very clear from my perspective looking at the Hobbit's wrist bones is that it does not belong in the group that includes modern humans and Neanderthals. It basically has the same type of wrist that we see in [the ancient hominid] Homo habilis, that we see in Australopithecus (the famous 'Lucy' fossil) and that we see in living chimps and gorillas today," Matthew Tocheri told BBC News.

The 18,000-year-old bones of the Hobbit were unearthed on the Indonesian island of Flores, in a limestone cave at a site called Liang Bua.

Map, BBC
Researchers found one near-complete skeleton of a female, which they designated LB1, along with the remains of at least eight other individuals.

The scientists believe these 1m-tall (3ft), small-brained people evolved a short stature to cope with the limited supply of food on the island.

The specimens were nicknamed Hobbits after the tiny creatures in JRR Tolkien's Lord of the Rings trilogy.

Subsequent detailed study of LB1's brain case and the tools found with the bones also support the position that H. floresiensis was a species distinct from modern humans.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Peter Fonda on how gays influenced Easy Rider

The star of 3:10 To Yuma discusses his new film and his famous feud with Dennis Hopper over black leather
By Paul E. Pratt
An exclusive posted September 13, 2007
 Peter Fonda on how gays influenced Easy Rider

Peter Fonda loves Westerns. By telling universal truths through stories of the American frontier, the two-time Academy Award nominee says, the genre gives moviegoers insights into modern society without forcing audiences to take political sides.

In 3:10 to Yuma, a remake of a 1957 Western of the same name helmed by Walk the Line director James Mangold, Fonda plays bounty hunter Byron McElroy. With the assistance of a local rancher (Christian Bale), Fonda is commissioned to get outlaw Ben Wade (Russell Crowe) on a train—the 3:10 to Yuma -- bound for a nearby prison. Of course, Wade's gang has other ideas.

Fonda sits down with us to discuss the film as well as his involvement in the 2002 television movie The Laramie Project and to reveal the surprising influence gays had on Easy Rider, the 1969 film that made him a cultural icon.

Paul and Peter Fonda x395 from the author |

Russell Crowe and Christian Bale have a real chemistry in 3:10 to Yuma.

There's a growth that happens between those characters. At the beginning you can see Ben Wade, the Russell Crowe character, has run out of places to go. He's got his [gang], but he's tired of it. [Eventually],you buy that Wade kills all these people in defense of Evans [Bale], who he puts down at the top of the film then becomes almost a guardian for at the end.

Wade points out your character is not much different than his—except your actions are under the guise of the right side of the law.

It's not just the black hats and the white hats. Of course, we mean it in a different way than the actual color of the hat. We mean good and evil. It's so difficult to actually pinpoint good and evil—both in today's world and the past—because there's good and evil in all of us. Hopefully, we triumph more good over evil, but the conflict is in our hearts. Not everyone has a truly good heart. Down the road they're going to make some bigoted or racist remark, feel some hatred, feel like they'd lash out, or actually lash out or be hurtful, even though they're not really hurtful people. They might not even know they have that inside them. When you watch something like the Western, it exposes those facets. You might think Byron is a lawman, but I'm not. I'm lawless. I'm as lawless as Ben Wade, but I don't see it.

Speaking of people lashing out in hatred, tell me about playing Dr. Cantway in The Laramie Project, the Matthew Shepard story.

I like getting to be that character who delivers the story, the facts, without judgment. Did the kid deserve it? No, nobody deserves that. It was terrible. My nephew, Troy Garity, did [2003 independent film] Soldier's Girl, where he falls in love with a transgender person. We watched it at Sundance together. He did an incredible job, because he took the audience into an area they probably didn't want to go. [His character] gets beaten up too, because of intolerance, but he's not gay. The perception is that he's gay, and we have no tolerance for things we don't feel are right. What the fuck does that mean? What's not right? I have a T-shirt—I like T-shirt activism—that says "So Many Christians, So Few Lions." We have intolerance in the weirdest way. There are Christian rights who say [homosexuality is] a sickness and can be cured. It's not a sickness, it's just the way people are—gay women, gay men. It's just the way they are. To say they are bad? To say they're outside the norm? What the fuck is the norm? And who are we to decide? We are who we are. If you can accept that with people, you're making forward progress.

As Captain America in Easy Rider, you became a sexual icon—including among gay men of the era.

[Easy Rider costar and cowriter Dennis] Hopper wanted me to wear white leather. I designed the bikes. I built them. I designed the costumes. When he wanted me to wear white leather, I said no. I wanted to appeal to the gay community. The black leather is going to carry it—and this great phallic symbol. [Fonda motions toward his crotch, a smile on his face.] Not just the gas tank, but the whole goddamn motorcycle and front end extending out. He thought I was nuts for saying that, but I knew exactly what I was talking about. In white leather it just wouldn't have been the same. With black leather I can cross over borders!

Number of Lefties Bounces Back

Andrea Thompson
LiveScience Staff Writer
Mon Sep 17, 2:45 PM ET

Lefties have been bouncing back in recent decades, following a decline in the beginning of the 20th century, a new study shows.

While lefties currently make up about 11 percent of the population, earlier studies found only 3 percent of those born in 1900 were left-handed. These claims led Ian Christopher McManus of the University College London and his colleagues to learn more about this change.

"Left-handedness is important because more than 10 percent of people have their brains organized in a qualitatively different way to other people," McManus said. "That has to be interesting. When the rate of a [variable trait] changes, then there have to be causes, and they are interesting as well."

To tease out the cause of the lefties' decline in Victorian times, the researchers looked at a series of films made between 1897 and 1913 by early filmmakers Sagar Mitchell and James Kenyon, whose body of work forms the largest collection of early non-fiction films in the world.

McManus and his team identified 391 arm-wavers in the films and compared the number of lefties and righties in the old movie to a more modern "control group" formed by searching for "waving" with Google Images.

About 15 percent of the people in the old films waved with their left hand, compared to 24 percent of lefty wavers in the Google search, the study, published in the Sept. 18 issue of the journal Current Biology, found.

The researchers compared these results to previous studies of handedness in writing and found that left-handed waving is more common than left-handed writing.

After correcting for this bias, the researchers found that "the earlier Victorian rates of left-handedness are broadly equivalent to modern rates, whereas rates then decline, with the lowest values for those born between about 1890 and 1910," McManus said.

The lefties in the Victorian films were typically older, which rules out the possibility of higher rates of mortality among lefties.

The most likely reason that lefties dropped in numbers at the turn of the 20th century was possible social influence brought about by universal education and the industrial revolution. These two factors would have forced lefties into the spotlight as they learned to write in the classroom or clumsily used machines built for right-handers.

"That would have exacerbated the stigma that any visible minority can experience, and the result could have been that left-handers found it more difficult to find marriage partners, marrying later, and hence having fewer children so that fewer of the relevant genes went into the gene pool," McManus told LiveScience. "And we do have evidence that around the turn of the 20th century left-handers had fewer children than right-handers."

The Biggest Popular Myths What Makes a Lefty: Myths and Mysteries Persist Why are Races Run Counterclockwise? Original Story: Number of Lefties Bounces Back

Iraqi Oil Agreement Reveals the True Winners in Iraq

The new oil revenue-sharing agreement is a giveaway to Big Oil and could end up tearing apart the country.

James Ridgeway
March 01 , 2007

The Iraqi oil deal set to go before the country's parliament next month could spell the end of the country as a nation state, and signals a major Bush victory in the war. The proposed law not only opens the door to the big international oil companies, but offers them lucrative contract deals, and even a place on the national oil board that will run the industry.

The Byzantine scheme for dividing up oil revenues on the basis of population is little more than a facade for the biggest rip off of resources since the British barged into Mesopotamia more than a century ago.

This law sanctions contracts between Iraq's individual regions and foreign oil companies. It effectively puts an end to a nationalized petroleum industry that has provided most of the country's revenue. Over time, the oil revenues might sustain an independent Kurdistan, along with a Shia state, and a Sunni state (though the Sunnis don't have much oil, at least among the known Iraqi reserves). The law sets up a system that opens the door for foreign companies to make the country's oil policy. A new federal Oil and Gas Council is to assist the Council of Ministers, "in coordination with the producing provinces and regions." This council is to include the prime minister and other cabinet members, directors of the central bank, representatives from the various regions, and "executive managers from important related petroleum companies, including the national Iraqi oil company and the oil marketing company."

Thanks to Raed Jarrar, you can read an English translation of the new law at Al-Ghad, the "voice of the democratic left in Iraq."

The main opposition to the proposal comes from the federation of Iraq oil unions, whose president, Hasan Jum`ah `Awwad al-Asadi, Head of the Federation of Oil Unions, said in a February 6 speech that "We strongly warn all the foreign companies and foreign capital in the form of American companies against coming into our lands under the guise of production-sharing agreements."

Al-Asadi called the law "unbalanced," arguing that "it has been drafted in a great rush in harsh circumstances" and would set "region against region." Other opponents of the deal have formed a coalition led by the London-based group Platform.

While the deal, on its face, splits up control of Iraq's oil among Kurds, Shia and Sunnis, the real power remains in the hands of international companies that will craft contracts with Iraq's regional entities and put up most or all of the money for exploration, development of infrastructure, and actual production, primarily through financial devices known as production sharing agreements. These agreements, which are not widely used in the industry, typically involve a public and a private partner, and stipulate that oil revenue will first go to the private partner to cover expenses and exploration costs. In Iraq, those costs are likely to be considerable since the industrial infrastructure will have to be rebuilt in many areas and much of the country's oil has not yet been mapped. Arguments between the parties will be settled by tribunals outside Iraq.

The new law would give the international companies the right to set the rates of production of each oil field. These fields are immense; a single one can account for 10 percent of the nation's budget.

"Sovereignty is surrendered with this law," Ewa Jasiecz of Platform, the London-based group that has followed the evolution of the new law, tells Mother Jones from London. "Their dealings are secretive, in English. Disputes will be settled by international tribunals in Paris or Geneva. They operate outside Iraqi law." (Platform has published an extensive critique of Iraqi oil politics here.)

Iraq currently has the second or third largest known oil reserves in the world; once completely mapped, it may turn out to have the largest reserves, period. These reserves will become more important over time because Saudi Arabia's reserves are now widely believed to have been overstated, and are in any case beginning to decline. In that context, private control of oil in Iraq — not a member of OPEC — also presents a serious challenge to whatever control OPEC still has over prices and production. People who say the United States lost the war are missing an important point. The oil companies may well be winning.

James Ridgeway is the Washington Correspondent for Mother Jones.

Sprawling Angkor Brought Down by Overpopulation, Study Suggests

Susan Brown
for National Geographic News
August 13, 2007
Cambodia's long-lost temple complex of Angkor is the world's largest known preindustrial settlement, reveals a new radar study that found 74 new temples and more than a thousand manmade ponds at the site. (See a photo gallery of Angkor's newly uncovered sprawl).

But urban sprawl and its associated environmental devastation may have led to the collapse of the kingdom, which includes the renowned temple of Angkor Wat, the study suggests.

Ever since the late 16th century, when Portuguese traders spied the towers of the monument poking through a dense canopy of trees, people have puzzled over the demise of the Angkor civilization.

Now a new archaeological map created using jungle-penetrating radar has revealed traces of vast suburban sprawl surrounding the many temples and the walled central city of Angkor Thom.

Extensive waterworks threaded through the low-density development, channeling the flow of three rivers through agricultural fields, homes, and local temples.

In the end, residents of greater Angkor likely struggled with the ecological consequences of transforming the landscape.

The new survey found breached spillways and canals clogged with silt, suggesting that environmental degradation made the infrastructure increasingly difficult to maintain.

Mystery Civilization

The Khmer kingdom of Angkor rose in the ninth century A.D. and thrived for 600 years before its leaders left to resettle near the modern Cambodian capital of Phnom Penh.

The civilization is renowned to this day for building the massive temple of Angkor Wat—often called the world's largest single religious monument—in the early 12th century.

Although the kings of Angkor etched into stone such significant moments in their history, they left no message during the settlement's decline. That mysterious departure has fueled a smoldering controversy among archaeologists.

Until recently, warfare and changing religion were the prime suspects, according to anthropologist Charles Higham of the University of Otago in Dunedin, New Zealand. Higham's own work has unearthed evidence into the origins of Angkor.

Invaders from Thailand sacked central Angkor Tom in 1453, Higham noted. And religious affiliations shifted from a form of Buddhism that recognized earthly deities to one that did not.

"The great lumpen proletariat ceased to believe in the divinity of the king, another reason the social fabric of Angkor began to change," Higham said.

Another possibility is that overexploitation, overpopulation, and deforestation overwhelmed a fragile monsoon habitat, Higham added.

Archaeologist Bernard-Phillipe Groslier of the French Research School of the Far East (EFEO) first proposed the environmental-downfall theory nearly 30 years ago.

But his institution's efforts concentrated on preserving the fallen monuments, and Cambodia's then civil war—and the grim reign of the Khmer Rouge—shuttered the school.

For decades conflict and strife precluded work in the area. Even now, land mines litter the northern reaches of Angkor.

Sprawling City

But in 1992 archaeologist Christophe Pottier reopened EFEO and began surveying the surrounding region by motorbike, using aerial photographs and earlier radar images to guide his exploration.

Most recently the Greater Angkor Project commissioned a series of radar images from NASA with much finer resolution, which archaeologist Damian Evans of the University of Sydney combined with maps Pottier had compiled.

The new archaeological map reveals medieval suburbs spreading from the shores of Cambodia's Tonle Sap to the Kulen highlands to the north (see a map of Cambodia).

At more than 3,000 square kilometers (1,160 square miles) it is the largest settlement ever found from the preindustrial world, the authors say.

"The scale is really unlike anything else," said archaeologist William Saturno of Boston University, noting that it dwarfs the large Mesoamerican cities that are the subject of his own work. (Related: "Oldest Intact Maya Mural Found in Guatemala" [March 22, 2002].)

The people who built greater Angkor were accomplished civil engineers, he added.

"It's amazing the amount of earth they moved."

Rectangular embankments enclosed artificial ponds and probable rice paddies, while earthen mounds lifted houses to avoid seasonal floods.

The waterworks also diverted water from the Puok, Roluos, and Siem Reap rivers to reservoirs that could be drained to irrigate crops or filled to dampen extreme flooding, Evans's team reports in the Proceedings of the National Academy this week.

Unsustainable Development

The scientists also found evidence that the system had become overwhelmed by the time Angkor met its downfall.

A breached spillway, for example, was filled with blocks from walls that had tumbled down or were possibly pushed into the channel and buried in sand. And thick layers of sediment dropped by churning floodwaters fill some of the canals.

"Something went terribly wrong," Evans said.

As Angkor's growing population expanded, they must have cleared forests for agricultural fields, which may have led to erosion and flooding, the study authors speculate.

But no one can say for sure whether the collapse of the waterworks helped precipitate the Khmers' departure or followed the site's abandonment and neglect.

As land mines are cleared from the region, archaeologists are moving in to excavate the structures and date pollen grains found within the sediments in an attempt to solve the puzzle.

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