Scalia's Greed Foiled by Constitutional Genie

Genie Grants Scalia Strict Constructionist Interpretation of Wish

from The Onion

WASHINGTON, DC — A genie freed from a battered oil lamp by Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia granted the conservative jurist a strict constructionist interpretation of his wish for "a hundred billion bucks" Monday. "Sim sim salabim! Your wish is my command!" the genie proclaimed amid flashes of light and purple smoke, immediately filling the Supreme Court building with a massive herd of wild male antelopes. When Justice Scalia complained that the "bucks" had razed the U.S. Supreme Court building, trampling and killing several of his clerks and bringing traffic in the nation's capital to a standstill for hours, the genie said, "Your honor, your wish is a sacred and unalterable document whose interpretation is not subject to the whims of society and changing social context."


Creationism's Blindspot: Other Intelligent Designers

But Is There Intelligent Spaghetti Out There?

from The New York Times

Is the super-intelligent, super-popular god known as the Flying Spaghetti Monster any match for the prophets of intelligent design?

This month, the Kansas State Board of Education gave preliminary approval to allow teaching alternatives to evolution like intelligent design (the theory that a smart being designed the universe). And President Bush and Senator Bill Frist of Tennessee both gave the thumbs up to teaching intelligent design.

Long before that, Bobby Henderson, a 25-year-old with a physics degree from Oregon State University, had a divine vision. An intelligent god, a Flying Spaghetti Monster, he said, "revealed himself to me in a dream."

He posted a sketch on his Web site, venganza.org, showing an airborne tangle of spaghetti and meatballs with two eyes looming over a mountain, trees, and a stick man labeled "midgit." Prayers to the Flying Spaghetti Monster, his site says, end with "ramen," not "amen."

Then, Mr. Henderson, who says on his site that he is desperately trying to avoid taking a job programming slot machines in Las Vegas, posted an open letter to the Kansas board.

In perfect deadpan he wrote that although he agreed that science students should "hear multiple viewpoints" of how the universe came to be, he was worried that they would be hearing only one theory of intelligent design. After all, he noted, there are many such theories, including his own fervent belief that "the universe was created by a Flying Spaghetti Monster." He demanded equal time in the classroom and threatened a lawsuit.

Soon he was flooded with e-mail messages. Ninety-five percent of those who wrote to him, he said on his Web site, were "in favor of teaching Flying Spaghetti Monsterism in schools." Five percent suggested that he would be going to hell. Lawyers contacted him inquiring how serious he was about a lawsuit against the Kansas board. His answer: "Very."

This month, the news media, both mainstream and digital, jumped in. The New Scientist magazine wrote an article. So did Die Welt. Two online encyclopedias, Uncyclopedia and Wikipedia, wrote entries on the Flying Spaghetti Monster. The Web site Boingboing.net mounted a challenge: "We are willing to pay any individual $250,000 if they can produce empirical evidence which proves that Jesus is not the son of the Flying Spaghetti Monster."

Now, Mr. Henderson says on his Web site, "over 10 million people have been touched by His Noodly Appendage." But what does that mean? When push comes to shove, will the religion that has come to be known as Pastafarianism do what it was intended to do - prove that it is ridiculous to teach intelligent design as science?

Mr. Henderson, who said in an e-mail message that his divine vision was induced by "a lack of sleep and a mounting disgust over the whole I.D. issue," has wit on his side. His god not only resembles human brains (proof, a fan writes, that "we were created in His image") but also looks like the kind of bacteria that proponents of intelligent design hold up as too complex to be the work of evolution alone.

Two dozen academics have endorsed the pasta god. Three members of the Kansas board who already opposed teaching intelligent design wrote kind letters to Mr. Henderson. Dozens of people have posted their sightings of the deity (along with some hilarious pictures). One woman even wrote in to say that she had "conceived the spirit of our Divine Lord," the Flying Spaghetti Monster, while eating alone at the Olive Garden.

"I heard singing, and tomato sauce rained from the sky, and I saw angel hair pasta flying about with little farfalle wings and playing harps," she wrote. "It was beautiful." The Spaghetti Monster, she went on, impregnated her and told her, "You shall name Him...Prego... and He shall bring in a new era of love."

Parody is a lot of fun. And parody begets more parody, especially on the Internet. It's contagious. But has anyone ever converted to a parody religion?

The history books show that parody isn't always the smartest strategy when it comes to persuasion. Remember Galileo? Some recent scholars say that it may not have been his science so much as his satire, "Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems," that got everyone steamed up. Under threat of death, Galileo ended up recanting his view that the earth revolves around the sun, and had to wait 350 years for vindication.

And yet the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster flourishes. It even has schisms. A rival faction, based on SPAM (Spaghetti & Pulsar Activating Meatballs), has formed. And there's bickering, Mr. Henderson said in an e-mail message, about whether the god is made of spaghetti or linguini. Those people, he noted, "give me a headache."

Braiinnnnns! Giivve Usss Paullla Abduuul'ssss Braiinnnnn!

Zombies Descend Upon Erwin Center

from The Daily Texan

Thursday outside the Frank Erwin Center, a horde of zombies attacked the American Idol auditions. No one was hurt.

The zombies, 15 fake-bloodied actors in all, lurched out from under the IH-35 overpass and shuffled toward the Erwin Center, where they encountered the pop-star hopefuls.

Most of the 100 or so young people gathered outside had just been rejected by the American Idol review board, and they were talking, singing, and waiting for rides home when the zombies arrived. "Braaaaaaains!" the zombies said. Nick Muntean, a UT radio-television-film graduate student who organized and participated in the zombie horde, added, "Television rots your braaaaaaains!"

The pop-star wannabes were largely unimpressed. "I don't get it," said Jacob Gandia, a singer.

Muntean organized the zombie horde using the online forum Craigslist. He posted an ad soliciting people who would like to "raise awareness about the brain-melting nature of television by pretending...to be a zombie, and terrorizing throngs of vapid pop-star hopefuls at the American Idol auditions."

Muntean says that the event, although meant to be subversive, was mostly for fun.

Little did the zombies know that the American Idol organizers had seen the Craigslist ad.

"We've been on 24-hour zombie watch," said coordinating producer Patrick Lynn. "We thought it would be fun to have them on the show."

And that is how the zombies ended up squatting down on the concrete of the Erwin Center's second level, signing release forms to allow their images to be broadcast by Fox TV.

"Zombies, I need you back here!" Lynn shouted. "All you zombies, I need to get a group shot!" The undead complied, waving their bloodied limbs about for the TV cameras.

Even flesh-eating ghouls, it seems, want to be on TV.

Other recent occurrences of zombie horde street-theatre have raised attention. On July 3 in Montreal, Canada, a horde of people in zombie makeup took to the streets for fun and lurching. They also did mock battle with some live-action role-players in a park.

Later that month, a man named David, who would like to keep his last name confidential, organized a zombie mob in San Francisco. The actors shuffled across the city on July 24, ending up in front of an Apple store, where they smeared fluids on the windows and looked for brains.

They didn't find any.

David says he supports all groups of zombies.

"We stand beside them in their quest for more brains," he said of the Austin event. "If they find any brains there, they should let us know."

Harry Potter & the Wand of Neverending Secretions

'...as their eyes locked from across the room, their wands grew stiff in their sweaty hands...

Harry Potter and the Gay Fantasy

from AFP

NEW YORK - As Harry Potter fans speculate what still lies in store for the world's favourite boy wizard, few envisage him leaving Hogwarts and settling into a committed gay relationship with arch foe Draco Malfoy.

But some do.

"Draco's breath is warm against his neck, his body gradually relaxing as Harry holds him, refusing to let go, and Harry discovers this is the most comfortable he's ever been in his entire life."

Welcome to fan fiction, or "fanfic" - stories, millions of them, that people write about their favourite characters from literature, television, and film, and then post online. Fanfic has been around for three decades in one form or another, but it is only in recent years with the rise of the Internet that it has emerged as a literary sub-genre with global appeal.

The largest repository on the web is at fanfiction.net which boasts an archive of well over one million stories about every imaginable fictional character, from Hamlet to Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Most popular are the Harry Potter fanfics, which number more than 200,000 and range in ambition from a snippet of imagined conversation between two minor characters to complex, novel-length adventures divided into cliff-hanging chapters.

Some websites, like sugarquill.net, are exclusively for Potter fanfics, and draw contributions from amateur writers as far afield as Australia, Iceland, the Philippines, and India. Sugarquill accepts submissions that are respectful of the Harry Potter canon, and none that portray overt sexual acts. "We don't have them doing it on the sofa," said sugarquill co-founder Jennie Levine, 33.

Other sites have them doing it everywhere, in every way and in every possible combination.

"I don't feel its my job or anybody else's to say what their kick should be. As long as it's well-written, I'll post it," said Vikki Dolenga who set up the adult-themed Potter fanfic site, Restrictedsection.org, in 2002. A large number of submissions to the site fall into the category of "slash" fanfic - so called because it explores homosexual pairings of traditionally straight characters, such as Harry/Draco.

Slash has it origins in fanfics written in the mid-1970s that imagined breathless couplings between Captain Kirk and Mr. Spock from the iconic Star Trek series.

With content ranging from unfulfilled homoerotic yearnings to the sexually explicit, slash writing is, perhaps surprisingly, dominated by straight women writers. "I find it extremely liberating," said Lauren, 28, an advertising copywriter in New York. "I'm not sure why I prefer slash to het (heterosexual)...maybe I just find it easier to write smut from a distance."

The growing, Internet-generated popularity of fanfic has attracted mixed reactions from the original authors of the works being co-opted.

"I do not allow fan fiction," Vampire Chronicles novelist Anne Rice wrote in a statement on her official website in 2000. "The characters are copyrighted. It upsets me terribly to even think about fan fiction with my characters," Rice said.

Potter creator JK Rowling and her publishers have adopted a more conciliatory approach, objecting only to fanfic that is sexually explicit, violent, or profane.

Websites like Restrictdsection.org have received cease-and-desist orders, but can usually remain up and running by simply adding registration and password procedures that deter people under 18 years of age.

"It's 2005 and we're still here," Dolenga said. "Though I don't think we'll be winning one of (Rowling's) best website awards."


Another Trek Prequel?!? Have They Learned Nothing?

If at first you don't succeed, make the same mistakes again: Um...no ship, no established characters, and an Archer-era (yawn - excuse me) prequel, again. Three strikes, I'm out.

New Trek Prequel Coming?

from Sci-Fi Wire

Writer Erik Jendresen (Band of Brothers) told Dreamwatch magazine that he's turned in a draft for a proposed new Star Trek prequel movie to Paramount, according to a report on the TrekWeb site.

"I'm excited about this project, and I think the chances of it getting made are good," Jendresen told the magazine. "It all depends on what the studio thinks, and Paramount has been through significant changes lately. But the people who are making the decisions are pretty responsible folk with a fine body of work behind them. So we'll see. Right now, I'm optimistic."

Jendresen said the film is tentatively titled Star Trek: The Beginning, produced by Rick Berman, Kerry McCluggage, and Jordan Kerner. Berman has said the film won't use any existing Trek characters and will be a prequel to the original series

Jendresen elaborates: "This would take place just a couple of years after the end of the events in Enterprise, but well before the original series, and it would look at the inciting incident that started everything. The story is big and epic, and it isn't as antiseptic as the television stories had to be."

Jendresen added that the movie won't be centered on a ship. "We're looking at a very small group of men and women, particularly focusing on one character," he said. "There are a couple of ships, including a principal ship, but this is not a traditional captain-and-crew-of-a-starship story in the least."

Now the Jackalope Found? Mermaids & Bigfeet Flee Minnesota

Vet: Dead Rabbit Looks Like a Jackalope

from The Associated Press

SAUK RAPIDS, Minn. - Veterinarian Dennis Bechtold looked at the dead rabbit in disbelief. The rabbit's wart-like growths made it look like a mythical jackalope — an animal that is half-rabbit, half-antelope.

"It was amazing, really," Bechtold said. "Two of (the growths) were in the exact spot that made them look like a jackalope."

The dead rabbit was found in a woman's garden. It had Shope papilloma virus, a highly contagious disease that causes rabbits to grow things on their head and face that look like horns.

"I've never seen anything like it before," Police Chief Curt Gullickson said after the woman had called police about the rabbit.

Bechtold said the disease does not infect humans or domestic rabbits. He and Gullickson said there may be other rabbits in the area with the same problem.

"(People) may see them, and should not be scared of them," Gullickson said.

Rabbits with the disease can live with it, but usually die when the growths prevent them from eating.

Monday's Motto


The Mythical Chupacabra...Captured?! Jackalopes & Unicorns Flee Texas

Farmer May Have Caught Legendary 'Chupacabra'

from Local 2 Houston

COLEMAN, Texas - A Texas farmer may have found what some would call a "chupacabra," a legendary animal known for sucking the blood out of goats.

Reggie Lagow set a trap last week after a number of his chickens and turkeys were killed.

What he found in his trap was a mix between a hairless dog, a rat and a kangaroo [slideshow].

The mystery animal has been sent to Texas Parks and Wildlife in hopes of determining what it is.


Dark Bureaucromancy Afoot in Rochester

City Councilman Unearths Magical Zoning Amulet

from The Onion

ROCHESTER, NY — After years spent poring over mysterious and arcane plat sheets and deciphering long-forgotten building codes, city councilmember Mike LaMere unearthed the mysterious City Zoning Amulet Friday.

"Behold!" LaMere said, holding aloft the solid-gold amulet, which is emblazoned with the Ever-Evaluating Eye of Surr-Vey, Lord Of Demarcation, He Who Measures And Assesses. "With this sigil, the power of zoning comes. Through me, the power of zoning flows! All will behold my power, and I shall bow to no man when designating matter-of-right developments for major retail and office spaces to a maximum lot occupancy of 75 percent for residential use!"

LaMere held the glowing amulet aloft and transmuted a neighborhood of low-income apartments into a semi-wooded, single-family, residential district with an adjoining riverside park.

Though the amulet had long been dismissed as urban legend, a mythical ideal of zoning perfection handed down from city planner to city planner, LaMere became convinced that not only was it real, but that it had been used to lay out the cities of Ur, Atlantis, and Inver Grove Heights, MN.

LaMere credited the amulet with the overnight renovation of the Monroe County Public Library, and the recent redesignation of a Southern Rochester area from "commercial" to "single-family residential use for detached and semi-detached structures." Many Rochester citizens believe the amulet is responsible for the fully stocked ocean aquarium that materialized in the city center Sunday, and the gleaming new Friendly's restaurant that rose serenely over the banks of the Genesee River late Monday afternoon.

Although the Rochester City Zoning Board controls all decisions related to city planning, sources at City Hall say that, as long as LaMere's powerful zoning wizardry is performed for the good of the city, they "see no reason to deny him what seems to be his destiny."

"Two weeks ago, the biggest news in Rochester was our huge public garage sale," said William A. Johnson, Rochester's mayor. "Our city center was still a moribund tax burden with small businesses in big buildings and families moving to the suburbs in droves. Now, with a wave of his mighty amulet, Councilman LaMere can designate matter-of-right medium-density development, with limited offices for non-profit organizations, trade associations, and professionals permitted as a special exception requiring approval of the RCZA."

Despite the potential improvements to Rochester's civic landscape, some residents remain wary of LaMere's apparent bureaucratic invincibility.

"It's wonderful that someone's finally doing something to revitalize this town, even if it is someone who can commune with church gargoyles," said local baker Wendy Kittner, whose business was mystically placed on the National Register Of Historic Places last week despite being housed in a building erected in 1981. "He frightens me, and my concern is that if I defy him, I may be turned to stone."

City planning commissioner Errol Criclow, who was dismissed by LaMere at a Planning And Zoning Commission hearing last Thursday as "subhuman," said that he feared that LaMere's power would eventually corrupt him and his city. According to Criclow, during a private consultation with local community leaders, LaMere became infuriated with timid suggestions that his amulet be used to create more green spaces. In a blinding torrent of thunder and light, LaMere violently rezoned Rochester's west side with a maze of warehouses and parking garages. The act left LaMere himself dazed and shaken.

"For a minute there, he seemed his old self," said Criclow. "When he saw what he'd done, he looked remorseful. But then his hand found the amulet, and he threw back his head and laughed long and loud, like a man who has forgotten the difference between industrial and recreational—between right and wrong."

Added Criclow: "I don't think what he's doing is mere magic. I think it's darkest bureaucromancy."


Scientists Plan 'Pleistocene Park' in US


New plan for the Great Plains: Bring back the Pleistocene

from The Christian Science Monitor

Elephants roaming North Dakota? Free-range camels and lions a couple hours' drive from Denver or Oklahoma City?

That's the vision behind a new call to "re-wild" parts of North America's Great Plains. Since people are leaving the region's rural areas, the logic goes, why not create large ecological reserves with animals that are kin to the mammoths, mastodons, and cheetahs that roamed the region 13,000 years ago?

The approach echoes other proposals and projects to restore habitat in the Great Plains - with a twist. It would use the Pleistocene fossil record as a rough guide for restoration, rather than the historical record from Europeans' first contact. It might also provide a haven for large animals that are struggling to survive in their home habitats in Africa and Asia.

Researchers summarized their proposal in the August 18 edition of Nature. Some call it "Pleistocene Park."

While many researchers consider the proposal "pie in the sky," other scientists see it as a bold vision. But behind it lies an important dynamic. Some specialists believe they're losing the battle to save many large animals from eventual extinction.

"I've been involved in conservation for 40 years, and in that time, we've learned a lot about how to do it better," says David Burney, director of conservation at the National Tropical Botanical Garden in Kalaheo, Hawaii, and one of the plan's authors. Despite individual successes, overall "we're still losing the battle. Some of us are trying to look at bigger patterns" in crafting conservation strategies.

The idea of giving regions of the Plains a more Pleistocene-like look could achieve several objectives, Dr. Burney says.

Using reserves to build the populations of large animals such as Bactrian camels, Bolson tortoises, and rare species of horses, elephants, cheetahs, and lions would provide a pool of range-adapted animals available for return if their home habitats eventually are saved. It also could relieve pressure where animals are becoming too abundant in reserves overseas.

In addition, these animals could fill long-vacant ecological niches here, Burney and his colleagues argue. This could help prevent the Plains from degenerating into a "pest and weed" ecosystem. Instead, over time the grasslands involved could reach a level of ecological and evolutionary health not seen in the region since the end of the last ice age.


'Kill the Intruder!' 'Destroy the Humanoid!'

Japanese House-Sitter Robot Hits Stores

from The Associated Press

TOKYO - Worried about leaving your house empty while you go on vacation? Japan has the answer: a house-sitter robot armed with a digital camera, infrared sensors and a videophone.

Stores across Japan started taking orders on Thursday for the Roborior — a watermelon-sized eyeball on wheels that glows purple, blue and orange — continuing the country's love affair with gadgets.

Roborior can function as interior decor, but also as a virtual guard dog that can sense break-ins using infrared sensors, notify homeowners by calling their cellular phones, and send the owner's cell phone videos from its digital camera.

It debuted in department stores this week, but supplies are limited. The robot is on display in a half-dozen shops, though many more are taking orders.

Such technology doesn't come cheaply. Takashimaya will sell the machines, developed by Japanese robot maker Tmsuk Co. Ltd. and electronics company Sanyo Electric Co. Ltd., for $2,600 each.

Tmsuk has already produced a four-legged security robot called Banryu, which is about the size of a large dog and sells for $18,000.

Bark Worse Than Byte: Nanobots for fleas, acid for urine, and when it humps your leg, you lose the leg?



Eek! A ghoul! No, wait, it's just a pope. Clear my mind. Concentrate... reach...

Feel the silk... Feel the thick gold embroidery that could feed a family... become the silk... focus... focus...

Rise as silk... rise... smell the bratwurst of his breath... rise... almost... got... it...


[This episode of "Fun with Telekinesis" has been brought to you by mutated DNA and a generous donation from the Chubb Group.]

The Week in Geek Pix

Little Green Men in Shades of Maybe

Researcher Feels Certain UFOs Exist

from The Associated Press

HOPKINSVILLE, Ky. - Peter Davenport has received more phone calls than he cares to count that have an unusual opening: "Please believe me, I'm not crazy."

For Davenport, director of the National UFO Reporting Center in Seattle, it's part of the job.

Davenport spoke Sunday at the Little Green Men Festival in Hopkinsville with tales of what he believes are some of the more fascinating, provable cases reported. The festival, at the Hopkinsville-Christian County Conference and Convention Center, commemorates the 50th anniversary of the Aug. 21, 1955, report of an alien invasion at Kelly.

After a lifetime of studying what many brush off as science fiction, Davenport is feels certain that UFOs exist and have been witnessed on Earth, and second, that the government has known about them for decades.

"I have not just a mountain of data, perhaps a mountain range of data. And I assure you, it's strictly by accident," Davenport told the Kentucky New Era in an interview.

Davenport has spent the last 11 years filing accounts and eyewitness reports of UFO sightings from a reporting center that consists of one phone, one fax, and one Web master, and is almost completely privately funded by Davenport and donations.

Davenport graduated Stanford with degrees in Russian and biology and received his MBA in finance and international business. But, years before receiving a master's degree in genetics and biochemistry of fish, Davenport heard of the Kelly Green Men incident on the radio.

The story from Kelly was one of several that piqued his interest in UFOs, which eventually led to his involvement in the National UFO Reporting Center.

Davenport said his perspective of UFO sightings took on a whole new dimension when he was 6-years-old on a July night in 1954. Davenport said that's when he, his mom, and brother saw a strange object in the sky while at a drive-in theater on the edge of the St. Louis Airport.

"We didn't know it at the time, but my father, and people in the tower on the north side of the airport, were looking at the same object with their binoculars," he said.

Davenport said the object was about the size of the moon, bright red like a traffic signal and slightly oval in shape.

"And (it) stopped, almost stock-still, in the sky to the east of our location. People were getting out of their cars," Davenport said. "It was casting a red light...all over the theater, all over the airport, as far as we could see."

Since then, Davenport has logged literally thousands of calls about colored lights, flying triangles and hovering disks on his web site, but he's hesistant to say any two are the same sighting.


Witches Can Raise Their Little Warlock After All

Appeals Court Tosses Judge's Wiccan Order

from The Associated Press

Indianapolis - A judge who ordered two Wicca believers to shield their son from their "non-mainstream" faith overstepped his authority, an appeals court said Wednesday in dismissing the order.

The Indiana Court of Appeals said state law gave a custodial parent the authority to determine a child's upbringing, including religious training. A judge could find that certain limitations were needed to protect a child from physical or emotional harm.

The parents' appeal, brought by the Indiana Civil Liberties Union, claimed among other issues that the decree was unconstitutionally vague because it did not define mainstream religion. But the appeals court based its ruling on state law.

Marion Superior Court Judge Cale Bradford added the religion language to a divorce decree granted in 2004 to Thomas E. Jones and Tammy Bristol of Indianapolis. Jones is a Wiccan activist who has coordinated Pagan Pride Day in the city.

The judge's order followed a routine court report that said both parents are pagans who send their son, who is now 10 years old, to a Catholic school. In May, Jones said neither he nor his ex-wife had taken the boy to any Wiccan rituals since the order was issued.

Wiccans consider themselves witches, pagans, or neo-pagans, and say their religion is based on respect for the earth, nature, and the cycle of the seasons. The parents' appeal said there were about 1 million pagans worldwide in 2002, more than the numbers who practice Sikhism, Taoism, and other established religions in the United States.

'Oh, Batman!' 'Oh, Robin!' Oh, No You Don't - DC

Ban Pop Art!

from Reason Online

The law team at DC Comics is hassling art dealer Kathleen Cullen because she showed a series of "gay Batman" watercolors by the New York painter Mark Chamberlain. DC wants to take away the unsold pictures, and it wants invoices for the pieces that were already sold, presumably so it can track those down and collect them as well. I can't improve on Carrie McLaren's comment: "I hope she told them to make their own gay Batman watercolors."

Serious question: If the culture industry had been as obsessed with purported copyright and trademark violations four decades ago as it is today, what would have become of pop art? I have a hard time imagining Roy Lichtenstein producing his oeuvre in today's legal environment.

Oh Phuket! Bangkok Imports Deity To Out-Boo Ghosts

Goddess Called in To Scare Off Tsunami Ghosts

from Reuters

BANGKOK - With Asian tourists still shunning its southern beaches, Thailand is calling in a revered Chinese sea goddess to ward off the restive spirits of the thousands who died in last December's tsunami.

A statue of Godmother Ruby, known as Mazu in Chinese, will be brought to the Thai island of Phuket from the Chinese coastal province of Fujian next month for ghost-clearing rites, said Suwalai Pinpradab of the Tourism Authority of Thailand.

"After the tsunami, Taiwanese, Hong Kong, Chinese, and other East Asians dare not come because they don't want to visit places where mass deaths took place," Suwalai told Reuters on Friday. "It is inauspicious."

Mazu, a Taoist goddess of the sea, has a huge following among fishermen and shipworkers in coastal provinces of southern China and Taiwan.

Thailand's official death toll from the December 26 disaster stands at 5,395, of which 2,436 are believed to be foreigners. Of these, fewer than 50 were East Asians.


Seats Are Still Available: Please Contact Your Virgin Galactic Travel Agent

U.S. Okays Virgin Galactic Spaceship Plans

from Space.com

A go-ahead was given last week by the U.S. that clears the way for exchanges of technical information between Scaled Composites of California and Virgin Galactic of the United Kingdom to build passenger-carrying suborbital spaceliners.

"It allows us to activate all the parts of the project," said Will Whitehorn, President of Virgin Galactic, the space tourism subsidiary of Richard Branson's Virgin Group, such as use of technology - SpaceShipOne's reentry concept and hybrid rocket motor design, for example.

The piloted SpaceShipOne, designed by Scaled Composites, repeatedly flew to the edge of space last year, snagging the $10 million Ansari X Prize in the process.

Last month, Branson, announced that he had teamed up with aerospace designer Burt Rutan of Scaled Composites to form a new aerospace production firm: The Spaceship Company, which will build a fleet of commercial suborbital spaceships and launch aircraft. Scaled Composites is to be under contract for research and development testing, as well as certification of a 9-person SpaceShipTwo (SS2) design, and a White Knight Two (WK2) mothership to be called Eve.

Whitehorn said that next steps can now be taken to construct SpaceShipTwo, hopefully, in the next 8 months, and all of the things that lead up to building the vehicle.

"The thing that I find really heartening is the willingness on the part of the U.S. government to make sure that this fledgling industry does prosper in the private sector," Whitehorn said, and not to "stifle the baby before it's born."

Launching the space tourism business is projected around 2008, Whitehorn explained, although that date is not carved in stone. The "going rate" for seats onboard Virgin Galactic suborbital spaceships are price tagged at $200,000 each.

"I'm sure we would have sold out at least the first couple of years by the time we start flying," Whitehorn speculated.

How the hell am I going to raise $200k by 2008? And so begins my life of crime...


Something Strange Lurks in L.A. Lake...And It Likes Tortillas!

Mysterious Reptile Eludes Capture in Park

from Reuters

LOS ANGELES - A mysterious, alligator-like creature that surfaced in a Los Angeles suburb has eluded capture for nearly a week, shrewdly passing up raw chicken bait and dodging reptile wranglers in pontoon boats.

The 5-foot-long (1.5 meter) reptile was first spotted last Wednesday swimming in a lake at an urban park in the gritty Los Angeles suburb of Harbor City.

Park officials concluded that it was probably a Caiman, a relative of the alligator indigenous to South America, and speculate that it may have been an exotic pet that was abandoned when it grew too large.

As word of the odd sighting spread, hundreds of spectators have turned up to watch crews of police, firefighters, park rangers, state fish and wildlife workers and even local herpetologists comb the 53-acre (21 hectare) lake in pontoon boats, carrying nets and dangling raw chicken over the side.

Park officials are planning to take the reptile to the LA zoo when they capture it but all efforts so far to nab the creature have failed, despite claims by a local fisherman that he briefly ensnared it in a net by using flour tortillas as bait.

Something Strange Lurks in Loch Ness...And Her Name Is Lucy!

Loch Ness Monster TV Stunt Fools Nessie-Hunters

from AFP

LONDON - Loch out! Hundreds of stunned tourists were duped into thinking they had seen Scotland's famous Loch Ness Monster, the television pranksters behind the stunt revealed.

The legendary creature, said to live in the Highland lake's murky depths, has attracted Nessie-hunters to the shoreline for decades, eager for a glimpse of the mystery being.

Around 600 people got just what they were looking for when they saw a 16-foot (five-metre) beast rise through the water.

However, Britain's Channel Five television admitted Tuesday that the startling vision was actually a 440-pound animatronic model named Lucy which had roamed the loch for a fortnight.

The results were filmed for a forthcoming programme on Nessie.

The television channel said the public reaction ranged from those utterly convinced they had seen the legendary beast and those who know a fibre-glass and polyurethane rubber hoax when they see one.

'YAAARRRRRRRRRR! Heh! But seriously, folks. How's everyone doing? Anyone from out of town?'

'Prices So Good I Pissed My Pants!'

Va. Laptop Sale Turns Into a Stampede

from The Associated Press

RICHMOND, Va. - A rush to purchase $50 used laptops turned into a violent stampede Tuesday, with people getting thrown to the pavement, beaten with a folding chair and nearly driven over. One woman went so far as to wet herself rather than surrender her place in line.

"This is total, total chaos," said Latoya Jones, 19, who lost one of her flip-flops in the ordeal and later limped around on the sizzling blacktop with one foot bare.

An estimated 5,500 people turned out at the Richmond International Raceway in hopes of getting their hands on one of the 4-year-old Apple iBooks. The Henrico County school system was selling 1,000 of the computers to county residents. New iBooks cost between $999 and $1,299.

Officials opened the gates at 7 a.m., but some already had been waiting since 1:30 a.m. When the gates opened, it became a terrifying mob scene.

People threw themselves forward, screaming and pushing each other. A little girl's stroller was crushed in the stampede. Witnesses said an elderly man was thrown to the pavement, and someone in a car tried to drive his way through the crowd.

Seventeen people suffered minor injuries, with four requiring hospital treatment, Henrico County Battalion Chief Steve Wood said. There were no arrests and the iBooks sold out by 1 p.m.

"It's rather strange that we would have such a tremendous response for the purchase of a laptop computer — and laptop computers that probably have less-than-desirable attributes," said Paul Proto, director of general services for Henrico County. "But I think that people tend to get caught up in the excitement of the event — it almost has an entertainment value."

Blandine Alexander, 33, said one woman standing in front of her was so desperate to retain her place in line that she urinated on herself.

"I've never been in something like that before, and I never again will," said Alexander, who brought her 14-year-old twin boys to the complex at 4:30 a.m. to wait in line. "No matter what the kids want, I already told them I'm not doing that again."

Jesse Sandler said he was one of the people pushing forward, using a folding chair he had brought with him to beat back people who tried to cut in front of him.

"I took my chair here and I threw it over my shoulder and I went, 'Bam,'" the 20-year-old said nonchalantly, his eyes glued to the screen of his new iBook, as he tapped away on the keyboard.