Friday, March 29, 2013

Pope's foot-wash a final straw for traditionalists

VATICAN CITY (AP) — Pope Francis has won over many hearts and minds with his simple style and focus on serving the world's poorest, but he has devastated traditionalist Catholics who adored his predecessor, Benedict XVI, for restoring much of the traditional pomp to the papacy.

Francis' decision to disregard church law and wash the feet of two girls — a Serbian Muslim and an Italian Catholic — during a Holy Thursday ritual has become something of the final straw, evidence that Francis has little or no interest in one of the key priorities of Benedict's papacy: reviving the pre-Vatican II traditions of the Catholic Church.

One of the most-read traditionalist blogs, "Rorate Caeli," reacted to the foot-washing ceremony by declaring the death of Benedict's eight-year project to correct what he considered the botched interpretations of the Second Vatican Council's modernizing reforms.

"The official end of the reform of the reform — by example," ''Rorate Caeli" lamented in its report on Francis' Holy Thursday ritual.

A like-minded commentator in Francis' native Argentina, Marcelo Gonzalez at International Catholic Panorama, reacted to Francis' election with this phrase: "The Horror." Gonzalez's beef? While serving as the archbishop of Buenos Aires, the then-Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio's efforts to revive the old Latin Mass so dear to Benedict and traditionalists were "non-existent."

Virtually everything he has done since being elected pope, every gesture, every decision, has rankled traditionalists in one way or another.

The night he was chosen pope, March 13, Francis emerged from the loggia of St. Peter's Basilica without the ermine-rimmed red velvet cape, or mozzetta, used by popes past for official duties, wearing instead the simple white cassock of the papacy. The cape has since come to symbolize his rejection of the trappings of the papacy and to some degree the pontificate of Benedict XVI, since the German pontiff relished in resurrecting many of the liturgical vestments of his predecessors.

Francis also received the cardinals' pledges of obedience after his election not from a chair on a pedestal as popes normally do but rather standing, on their same level. For traditionalists who fondly recall the days when popes were carried on a sedan chair, that may have stung. In the days since, he has called for "intensified" dialogue with Islam — a gesture that rubs traditionalists the wrong way because they view such a heavy focus on interfaith dialogue as a sign of religious relativism.

Francis may have rubbed salt into the wounds with his comments at the Good Friday procession at Rome's Colosseum, which re-enacts Jesus Christ's crucifixion, praising "the friendship of our Muslim brothers and sisters" during a prayer ceremony that recalled the suffering of Christians in the Middle East.

Francis also raised traditional eyebrows when he refused the golden pectoral cross offered to him right after his election by Monsignor Guido Marini, the Vatican's liturgy guru who under Benedict became the symbol of Benedict's effort to restore the Gregorian chant and heavy silk brocaded vestments of the pre-Vatican II liturgy to papal Masses.

Marini has gamely stayed by Francis' side as the new pope puts his own stamp on Vatican Masses with no-nonsense vestments and easy off-the-cuff homilies. But there is widespread expectation that Francis will soon name a new master of liturgical ceremonies more in line with his priorities of bringing the church and its message of love and service to ordinary people without the "high church" trappings of his predecessor.

There were certainly none of those trappings on display Thursday at the Casal del Marmo juvenile detention facility in Rome, where the 76-year-old Francis got down on his knees to wash and kiss the feet of 12 inmates, two of them women. The rite re-enacts Jesus' washing of the feet of his 12 apostles during the Last Supper before his crucifixion, a sign of his love and service to them.

The church's liturgical law holds that only men can participate in the rite, given that Jesus' apostles were all male. Priests and bishops have routinely petitioned for exemptions to include women, but the law is clear.

Francis, however, is the church's chief lawmaker, so in theory he can do whatever he wants.

"The pope does not need anybody's permission to make exceptions to how ecclesiastical law relates to him," noted conservative columnist Jimmy Akin in the National Catholic Register. But Akin echoed concerns raised by canon lawyer Edward Peters, an adviser to the Vatican's high court, that Francis was setting a "questionable example" by simply ignoring the church's own rules.

"People naturally imitate their leader. That's the whole point behind Jesus washing the disciples' feet. He was explicitly and intentionally setting an example for them," he said. "Pope Francis knows that he is setting an example."

The inclusion of women in the rite is problematic for some because it could be seen as an opening of sorts to women's ordination. The Catholic Church restricts the priesthood to men, arguing that Jesus and his 12 apostles were male.

Francis is clearly opposed to women's ordination. But by washing the feet of women, he jolted traditionalists who for years have been unbending in insisting that the ritual is for men only and proudly holding up as evidence documentation from the Vatican's liturgy office saying so.

"If someone is washing the feet of any females ... he is in violation of the Holy Thursday rubrics," Peters wrote in a 2006 article that he reposted earlier this month on his blog.

In the face of the pope doing that very thing, Peters and many conservative and traditionalist commentators have found themselves trying to put the best face on a situation they clearly don't like yet can't do much about lest they be openly voicing dissent with the pope.

By Thursday evening, Peters was saying that Francis had merely "disregarded" the law — not violated it.

The Rev. John Zuhlsdorf, a traditionalist blogger who has never shied from picking fights with priests, bishops or cardinals when liturgical abuses are concerned, had to measure his comments when the purported abuser was the pope himself.

"Before liberals and traditionalists both have a spittle-flecked nutty, each for their own reasons, try to figure out what he is trying to do," Zuhlsdorf wrote in a conciliatory piece.

But, in characteristic form, he added: "What liberals forget in their present crowing is that even as Francis makes himself — and the church — more popular by projecting (a) compassionate image, he will simultaneously make it harder for them to criticize him when he reaffirms the doctrinal points they want him to overturn."

One of the key barometers of how traditionalists view Francis concerns his take on the pre-Vatican II Latin Massachusetts. The Second Vatican Council, the 1962-65 meetings that brought the church into the modern world, allowed the celebration of the Mass in the vernacular rather than Latin. In the decades that followed, the so-called Tridentine Rite fell out of use almost entirely.

Traditionalist Catholics who were attached to the old rite blame many of the ills afflicting the Catholic Church today — a drop in priestly vocations, empty pews in Europe and beyond — on the liturgical abuses that they say have proliferated with the celebration of the new form of Massachusetts..

In a bid to reach out to them, Benedict in 2007 relaxed restrictions on celebrating the old Latin Massachusetts... The move was aimed also at reconciling with a group of schismatic traditionalists, the Society of St. Pius X, who split from Rome precisely over the Vatican II reforms, in particular its call for Mass in the vernacular and outreach to other religions, especially Judaism and Islam.

Benedict took extraordinary measures to bring the society back under Rome's wing during his pontificate, but negotiations stalled.

The society has understandably reacted coolly to Francis' election, reminding the pope that his namesake, St. Francis of Assisi, was told by Christ to go and "rebuild my church." For the society, that means rebuilding it in its own, pre-Vatican II vision.

The head of the society for South America, the Rev. Christian Bouchacourt, was less than generous in his assessment of Francis.

"He cultivates a militant humility, but can prove humiliating for the church," Bouchacourt said in a recent article, criticizing the "dilapidated" state of the clergy in Buenos Aires and the "disaster" of its seminary. "With him, we risk to see once again the Masses of Paul VI's pontificate, a far cry from Benedict XVI's efforts to restore to their honor the worthy liturgical ceremonies."


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Singer India.Arie laughs off skin-lightening talk

NEW YORK (AP) — India.Arie is laughing off talk that she may have lightened her skin.

The R&B songstress is known for singing about being authentic and celebrating one's true self. But some accused India.Arie of lightening her skin when a publicity photo for her song "Cocoa Butter" released this week made it look as though she were several shades lighter than her dark brown complexion.

But India.Arie took to Twitter on Friday to deny the accusations, saying she has no desire to bleach her skin because she loves herself and her brown skin "more than ever." She also said that "magnificent lighting" is the cause for her "glow."

She added that she'd like to keep the conversation going, though, on the issue of racism and colorism in the black community.


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Thursday, March 28, 2013

Nokia’s map app boss quits following worldwide collapse in the charts

Last November, Nokia's (NOK) HERE map app had a big debut by becoming a top 5 iPhone application in America on its launch day. The last three months have been cruel, however. Following mixed reviews from major tech sites, the HERE app plunged in the app charts across the world. Google (GOOG) Maps became a smash hit on iOS devices across the world. Today, Nokia's biggest map app success is found in Mozambique, where it reigns at No. 526 in the iPhone download chart. Finns may still carry a torch for Nokia, but they aren't dumb — HERE is just at No. 663 on the Finnish iPhone app market. The app is moving up the charts in Laos and Cape Verde, though it can't quite break into top 600 in either market. It is in danger of dropping out of the top 1000 chart in Yemen and Albania.

In a move that is probably not unrelated to all this chart action, GigaOm is reporting that the head of the Here mapping platform, Sylvain Grande, is leaving Nokia three months after the HERE iPhone app debuted. He is headed for SoundCloud. Mapping and location-based services are still Nokia's best bet if it wants the Lumia and Asha handset ranges to have long-term success in emerging markets. Lord knows that music and games are not going to be Nokia's ticket to glory. The next head of mapping services has thus a heavy crown to wear.


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GM to produce next-generation electric car in South Korea: executive

General Motors Co (GM) will produce its next-generation electric cars in South Korea, the head of its South Korean unit told Reuters on Thursday, as the U.S. carmaker tries to revive momentum for the stalling vehicle technology.

Sergio Rocha, CEO of GM Korea, gave no time frame for the launch of the new vehicles, but said they would be slightly bigger than the Spark small car and use a thoroughly new design, unlike the Spark EV which was based on an existing gasoline engine model.

GM will continue working with South Korea's LG Chem Ltd to supply batteries for its second generation of electric vehicles, which will be produced at GM's plant in Bupyeong, near Seoul, he added.

"This (next-generation electric) car has a lot of similarities with the products we produce today in Bupyeong," Rocha said in the interview, on the sidelines of the Seoul auto show.

GM Korea, which makes more than 40 percent of GM's Chevrolet-branded vehicles and specializes in developing small cars for the U.S. company, produces the Aveo, Trax, Captiva and Malibu at its Bupyeong plant.

Electric vehicles such as GM's Volt and Nissan Motor Co's Leaf are struggling to gain traction, hobbled by limited driving range, a lack of charging infrastructure and high prices.

GM Chief Executive Dan Akerson said early this month that the U.S. automaker was developing new EVs, including one with a 100-mile range and another with a 200-mile range.

GM Korea started production of its current generation of Spark EVs in Korea this month for export to the U.S. market and plans to begin selling it in South Korea and Europe in the second half of the year.

LG Chem makes the lithium-ion batteries for GM's electric vehicles, which are produced in Korea and the United States.


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Nations close to deal on U.N. arms trade treaty: envoys

United Nations members on Wednesday were close to a deal on the first international treaty to regulate the $70 billion global conventional arms trade, though delegates and rights groups said India, Iran or others could still block agreement.

Arms control campaigners and human rights groups say one person dies every minute worldwide as a result of armed violence and a treaty is needed to halt the uncontrolled flow of arms and ammunition they say fuels wars, atrocities and rights abuses.

United Nations member states began meeting last week in a final push to end years of discussions and hammer out a binding international treaty to end the lack of regulation over cross-border conventional arms sales.

The world body's 193 member states received the last revision of the draft treaty ahead of the final day of the drafting conference on Thursday. Reuters questioned delegates from over a dozen countries who said they were cautiously optimistic that the treaty would be adopted unanimously.

"India, Syria and Iran are countries that could still cause trouble," a European diplomat told Reuters on condition of anonymity. "But I'll wager the treaty will pass by consensus."

Iran, which is under a U.N. arms embargo over its nuclear program, is eager to ensure its arms imports and exports are not curtailed, diplomats say. Syria is in a two-year-old civil war and hopes Russian and Iranian arms keep flowing in, they added.

But they are under pressure to back the draft, envoys said.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, a U.S. official declined to say whether Washington would support the draft treaty.

"We are continuing to review the text with an eye toward ensuring that it accomplishes all of our goals, including that it protect the sovereign right of states to conduct legitimate arms trade and, of course, that it not infringe upon the constitutional right of our citizens to bear arms," he said.

Several U.N. diplomats predicted Washington would vote yes.

The National Rifle Association, a powerful U.S. pro-gun lobbying group, opposes the treaty and has vowed to fight to prevent its ratification if it reaches Washington. The NRA says the treaty would undermine domestic gun-ownership rights.

The American Bar Association, an attorneys' lobby group, has said that the treaty would not impact the right to bear arms.


Other major arms producers like Russia and China, which had initially resisted the treaty, along with Germany, France and Britain were also expected to support the draft, diplomats said.

The chief British delegate, Ambassador Joanne Adamson, said the new draft treaty has many improvements over earlier drafts.

"These (improvements) include inclusion of ammunition in the scope of the treaty, a new article on preventing diversion of arms, and strengthened section on exports which are prohibited," she said. "Human rights are at the heart of this text."

The main reason the arms trade talks are taking place at all is that the United States - the world's biggest arms exporter - reversed U.S. policy on the issue after President Barack Obama was first elected and decided in 2009 to support an arms treaty.

The point of an arms trade treaty is to set standards for all cross-border transfers of conventional weapons. It would also create binding requirements for states to review all cross-border arms contracts to ensure arms will not be used in human rights abuses, terrorism or violations of humanitarian law.

Several human rights groups and arms control advocates, including Amnesty International, Oxfam and Control Arms, praised the new draft. They said it had shortcomings, but was a major improvement over an earlier draft that had too many loopholes.

"While there are still deficiencies in this final draft, this treaty has the potential to provide significant human rights protection and curb armed conflict and violence if all governments demonstrate the political will to implement it," Brian Wood of Amnesty International said.

But he made clear that there were problems with the text, including an overly narrow scope of types of arms covered. It covers tanks, armored combat vehicles, large-caliber artillery systems, combat aircraft, attack helicopters, warships, missiles and missile launchers and small arms and light arms.

Predator drones and grenades are among the weapon categories that are not covered explicitly in the draft treaty.

Anna Macdonald of Oxfam said there were "some improvements" in the draft, though some problems remained that she wanted fixed in the final hours before a decision is made by U.N. member states.

"We need a treaty that will make a difference to the lives of the people living in Congo, Mali, Syria and elsewhere who suffer each day from the impacts of armed violence," she said.

Daryl Kimball, head of the Arms Control Association, predicted that "over time, the treaty will help tip the scales in favor of human rights and human security when states consider arms sales in the future."

Rights groups complained about one possible loophole in the current draft involving defense cooperation agreements. Several diplomats who also oppose this loophole said it could exempt certain weapons transfers from the treaty.

Three delegates dubbed that provision the "India clause," because it was something India pushed hard for, they said.


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Wednesday, March 27, 2013

'Journey' sweeps Game Developers Choice Awards

"Journey" arrived on top at the Game Developers Choice Awards.

The artsy video game developed by thatgamecompany topped the 13th annual ceremony Wednesday with six wins, including game of the year and the innovation award. The downloadable PlayStation 3 title was also honored for best audio, game design and visual arts, and as best downloadable game.

Selected by a jury of game creators, the Game Developers Choice Awards honor the best games of the past year.

Other winners at the Moscone Convention Center ceremony included Ubisoft's "Far Cry 3" for best technology, Telltale Games' "The Walking Dead" for best narrative, and Fireproof Studios' "The Room" for best hand-held/mobile game.

Arkane Studios' stealthy revenge tale "Dishonored" won the inaugural audience award, which was chosen by online votes.


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Friday, March 15, 2013

House-warming improvements linked to better health

In a review of existing evidence on the health value of fixes to housing, researchers say that improving buildings to enhance "thermal comfort" - with central heating or insulation, for instance - pays off in both physical and mental wellbeing.

"I think the main message is that housing improvement can improve health, especially if it's warmth and energy improvements targeting people with respiratory illnesses," said Hilary Thomson, the study's lead author from the Medical Research Council in Glasgow, UK.

Several studies have tied poor housing conditions to poor health, but there are some questions about the quality of evidence for that link, according to Thomson and her colleagues.

They write in the journal The Cochrane Library that doubts arise because researchers have trouble teasing apart the effects of poor housing and other factors that may play a role, such as age and poverty.

The most common housing conditions tied to poor health, they write, are air quality, heat and humidity conditions, radon, noise, dust, tobacco smoke, falls and fires.

To see whether improving the physical conditions in homes could translate into tangible improvement in residents' health, the researchers pooled information from 39 previously published studies on the topic.

The past research examined a number of possible housing improvements, including refurbishing existing homes, relocating people to new homes and providing bathrooms.

Most of the data from these disparate studies could not be combined into a single pool for analysis because the research designs were too different. So instead, Thomson's team concentrated on the results that stood out across studies.

Overall, they found, programs that improve temperature control in the homes of people who are in poor health and in the worst quality housing lead to the greatest benefit, compared to improvements that are applied to whole areas of housing regardless of need.

For example, two studies from New Zealand targeted people who lived in homes with inadequate heating. They added insulation to better regulate the homes' temperature and found that the number of children and adults listed in "poor or fair health" fell by about 50 percent, relative to a comparison group with no housing changes.

"I would say it's modest improvements, but they were seen (within) about six months of the improvements. It doesn't take a while to see these improvements, they happen quite quickly," Thomson said.

A UK study found more mixed results when it looked at heating improvements throughout an entire community, without a focus on particularly needy homes.

Thomson's group cautions in their report that the results from the New Zealand studies could have been more robust because they targeted a specific population while the UK study did not.

Furthermore, they write, improving temperature control throughout homes may benefit both physical and mental health by increasing the amount of usable space. Ultimately, that may lead to better relationships between the people living in the home, and better work and school attendance.

Rebecca Morley, executive director of the National Center for Healthy Housing in Columbia, Maryland, told Reuters Health that she felt the new review was incomplete, because it did not look at studies on lead, radon and other household hazards like asbestos.

"We certainly want people to be comfortable and warm in their homes, but it's not the only concern in the U.S.," said Morley, who was not involved in the new research.

Thomson said they excluded those hazards from the review because they are already known to be toxins (so "improving" them would be expected to benefit health), but she added that it would be useful to look at them too in another study.

"Although the evidence has increased, it's still good to evaluate ongoing housing improvements and see more specifically what type of housing improvement is going to benefit who," Thomson said.


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Christo fills former natural gas tank in Germany

Artist Christo has unveiled his latest spectacular creation: a balloonlike installation that fills the inside of a former natural gas storage tank in Germany's industrial Ruhr region.

Christo's "Big Air Package," an inflatable envelope made of translucent white polyester, rises 295 feet (90 meters) from the floor of the Gasometer in Oberhausen. It will be open to the public from Saturday through Dec. 30.

Christo's structure is kept upright by air fans. Visitors enter through airlocks. Christo says the effect is to leave visitors "virtually swimming in light."

The tank was converted into an exhibition hall after being taken out of service in 1988.

Christo and his late wife, Jeanne-Claude, in 1999 exhibited a wall made of 13,000 colored oil barrels at the Gasometer.


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Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Seeing failed CPR of loved one may help coping

When family members were allowed to watch emergency personnel try but fail to resuscitate a loved one, the relatives were less likely to have post traumatic stress symptoms, anxiety or depression months later, in a new French study.

The researchers, who published their findings in the New England Journal of Medicine, also found that allowing the family to witness the rescue attempts did not increase stress on the health care workers, influence whether the victim survived or result in more lawsuits.

"Family presence during CPR was associated with positive results on psychological variables and did not interfere with medical efforts," wrote the team, led by Dr. Patricia Jabre of Avicenne Hospital in Bobigny.

CPR is unsuccessful in the vast majority of cases.

Supporters of the idea of allowing family members to observe say it can help them understand that medical workers did everything they could, come to grips with the reality of death and give the family the chance to say goodbye.

Although the question of whether it's a good idea has received little study, international guidelines encourage letting the family watch.

"Our results show that it is very important to systematically propose to the relative (it's not mandatory) that the relative attend CPR and offer the choice to be present or not," study author Dr. Frederic Adnet, also of Avicenne Hospital, told Reuters Health in an email.

"What this study says is, 'It's not a serious problem if a close relative wants to be around for the process,'" said Dr. Gordon Tomaselli, past president of the American Heart Association and a cardiologist at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.

The French group's conclusions were based on 570 cases treated by 15 emergency medical teams equipped with mobile intensive care units and staffed with at least one doctor and nurse. In each case when watching was permitted, family members were directly asked if they wanted to observe. If not, they were taken to another portion of the home.

When people chose to watch, a member of the team briefed the relatives throughout the process.

Ninety days later, relatives were interviewed using a 15-item questionnaire.

Among the 266 cases in which family were asked if they wanted to watch, someone did choose to do so 79 percent of the time. In the 304 cases where no special effort was made to ask and the usual practice was in place, 43 percent of the time someone chose to witness the resuscitation attempts.

Of the 570 people who underwent CPR, only 20 were still alive 28 days later, a survival rate of 4 percent. Whether family members were allowed to watch made no difference in that rate.

Among the participating families who did not witness the CPR, the rate of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms was 60 percent higher than among the relatives who did watch the CPR.

And while 12 percent of the people who did not witness the CPR said they wished they had, only 3 percent of the relatives who were present for it said they wished they hadn't been.

Less than 1 percent fought with the medical team, and team members reported comparable stress levels whether or not family members were present.

No lawsuit threats were received. The culture may be different in France, the researchers said, but "our findings should help allay physicians' medicolegal concerns."

"Although our study involved only out-of-hospital cardiac arrest, we think that it is applicable for in-hospital cardiac arrest in the U.S.," said Adnet. "Two American studies involving pediatric patients... found results similar to ours."

"It's nice to finally see documentation for what many of us, as physicians, have known for a long time - that often family members will come to you afterwards and say 'Thank you so much. You did as much as you could possibly do,'" after a revival attempt, said Comilla Sasson, a CPR researcher at the University of Colorado School of Medicine, who was not involved in the new research.

There can be a reluctance to let family watch because "we know most people will not survive, and as members of the medical community we don't want them to think it was our fault," Sasson said in a telephone interview. "So there's a huge amount of fear associated with it."

In a Journal editorial, Drs. Daniel Kramer and Susan Mitchell of Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston noted that "the intervention involved well-trained medical teams that followed a scripted protocol, a designated support assistant charged with carefully explaining the resuscitative efforts, and a comprehensive postresuscitation debriefing from a qualified physician.

"Thus, it would be imprudent to adopt this strategy into clinical practice without a similar commitment to training and staffing emergency response teams and without an understanding of the cost-effectiveness of such an approach," they wrote.

Tomaselli told Reuters Health that most U.S. rescue units don't have someone designated to explain the CPR process to the family as it's happening. "As care teams get smaller because of cost, fewer people are available to do this type of thing."

In addition, the emphasis is often on quickly stabilizing the patient enough to get to the hospital, which may hamper the ability for the type of interaction with the family seen in the French study, Tomaselli said.

The French researchers said their test should be replicated in a hospital setting to see if the results are different.

Survival after CPR tends to be higher in France than in the U.S., and an unrelated study published in the same issue of the journal found that for U.S. patients over 65, the odds of surviving a cardiac arrest that takes place in the hospital to be discharged are just 22 percent.

Among those survivors, 28 percent ended up with some sort of neurologic disability and in 10 percent of those cases that disability was severe.

Yet when someone age 65 and older does survive, the long-term outlook is good.

Younger patients fared better than older patients, women did better than men and whites did better than blacks, said the team, led by Dr. Paul Chan of the Mid America Heart Institute in Kansas City, Missouri.

But, overall, the one-year survival rate was 73 percent among the people who had survived their hospital stay with a mild neurologic disability or no disability at all, 61 percent for people with a moderate disability and 42 percent with a severe disability. Just 10 percent of those who left the hospital in a coma or were in a vegetative state survived for a year.


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Trade panel delays decision on Apple, Samsung patent fight

 The U.S. International Trade Commission said on Wednesday that it would delay a decision on allegations that Apple infringed upon patents owned by Samsung Electronics in making the iPod touch, iPhone and iPad.

An administrative law judge at the ITC had said in a preliminary ruling in September that Apple did not infringe the patents. The full ITC said it would review the matter. If the full ITC reversed its internal judge and found Apple guilty of infringement, the ITC could order its products banned from the U.S. market.

The ITC said it would now issue a decision on May 31. It requested filings on questions related to the effect of banning the Apple products on the public interest and whether there were acceptable substitutes for the Apple products if they were to be banned.

Apple has a parallel complaint filed against Samsung at the ITC, accusing Samsung, a major Apple chip provider as well as a global rival, of copying its iPhones and iPads. An ITC judge said in that case that Samsung infringed on four Apple patents.

Apple and Samsung have taken their bruising patent disputes to some 10 countries and four continents as they vie for market share in the booming mobile industry.

Samsung is the world's largest smartphone maker, while Apple is in second place, according to Gartner Inc, a technology research company.

The case at the International Trade Commission is No. 337-794.


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Sean Penn's Haiti charity receives $8.75 million

An aid group run by Hollywood actor Sean Penn announced Tuesday it is getting $8.75 million from the World Bank to help move Haitians off a golf course where many have been living since the January 2010 earthquake.

A statement from a public relations firm for Penn said the money will go for rent subsidies or for new housing units.

Some 14,000 people still live at the Petionville Club in plywood shacks. Sixty thousand sheltered there at one point.

The people are to be moved out by early 2014.

Penn is an ambassador-at-large for Haiti. He uses the post to raise awareness about the nation still struggling to recover from the disaster.

Penn's J/P Haitian Relief Organization took responsibility for the impromptu settlement a couple of months after the quake, which destroyed thousands of buildings.

The number of people displaced by the quake has dropped from a high of 1.5 million people to more than 347,000 now, according to the International Organization for Migration, an aid group that seeks to help people displaced by disaster and conflict.


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Monday, March 11, 2013

Accused Colorado gunman could be medicated for psychiatric exams

Accused Colorado theater gunman James Holmes could be given "medically appropriate" drugs during psychiatric interviews and possibly face a polygraph test if he chooses to raise an insanity defense, the judge in the case said on Monday.

The ruling by Arapahoe County District Judge William Sylvester came a day before Holmes is scheduled to enter a plea in the case and over the objections of defense lawyers who have argued that Holmes should not be drugged while undergoing examinations by court-appointed psychiatrists.

Holmes, 25, is accused of multiple counts of first-degree murder and attempted murder in the July shooting rampage that killed 12 moviegoers and wounded 58 others during the screening of a Batman movie in the Denver suburb of Aurora.

The Colorado tragedy stands as one of the deadliest mass shootings in U.S. history and one that ranked briefly as the most lethal in 2012 - until 20 children and six adults were killed in December at a Connecticut elementary school.

It is widely assumed that Holmes, a former neuroscience graduate student at the University of Colorado, will raise an insanity defense, as his public defenders have referenced their client's unspecified mental illness at earlier hearings.

Prosecutors have 60 days after Holmes enters a plea to decide whether to seek the death penalty. But in a sign that they might be considering such a move, Arapahoe County District Attorney George Brauchler said last month he was adding a death-penalty lawyer to the case.

Prosecutors have depicted Holmes as a young man whose once promising academic career was in tatters as he failed graduate school oral board exams in June and one of his professors suggested he may not have been a good fit for his doctorate program.

They have said that in the lead-up to the shooting, Holmes lost his access to the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus after making unspecified threats to a professor on June 12, and then began a voluntary withdrawal from his program.

Sylvester, in court documents released on Monday, told Holmes that if he mounts an insanity defense, it would be "permissible to conduct a narcoanalytic interview of you with such drugs as are medically appropriate, and to subject you to polygraph examination."

Holmes' public defenders have objected, saying the use of statements compelled involuntarily from an interview while Holmes is medicated would violate due process.

They also argued that the use of a polygraph would be unconstitutional because such exams are not considered reliable in other contexts.


The exchange was the latest back and forth over the implications of a possible insanity defense, after Holmes' lawyers unsuccessfully sought last week to have the state's insanity-defense law declared unconstitutional on the self-incrimination grounds.

Defense attorneys also revealed in pleadings released last week that Holmes had spent several days in a psychiatric unit last November, "frequently in restraints" after jail officials believed he was a danger to himself.

That incident was separate from another event where Holmes was treated at a hospital for injuries "that resulted from potential self-inflicted head injuries in his cell," his attorneys said.

Colorado law says that a defendant who pleads not guilty by reason of insanity must cooperate with court-appointed psychiatrists, which defense lawyers have said could violate Holmes' right not to incriminate himself.

Former Colorado district attorney Bob Grant said case law was fairly settled that Colorado law allows a defendant who claims insanity to be medicated while undergoing court-ordered psychiatric examinations.

"What they (defense lawyers) are setting up is an appeal in federal court and possibly by the U.S. Supreme Court," said Grant, who said the issue was raised in two death penalty convictions he secured as a prosecutor.

Results of a polygraph exam, if one is conducted, can be used by evaluators to form an opinion on a defendant's sanity, he said.

Grant said it was possible that defense lawyers could ask on Tuesday for more time before entering a plea to analyze the judge's recent rulings. In that scenario, Sylvester could postpone the arraignment or he could enter a not guilty plea on Holmes' behalf if Holmes declines to make a plea.


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Florida researchers develop medically safer hybrid grapefruit

Grapefruit fans who gave up the fruit to avoid potentially dangerous interactions with their prescription medications may soon be able to indulge in the tangy fruit without risk.

Tests on a new hybrid grapefruit developed in Florida found very low levels of the organic chemical compounds implicated in what is known as the "grapefruit juice effect," said Fred Gmitter, a University of Florida citrus researcher and breeder.

More than 85 drugs may interact with standard grapefruit, 43 with serious side effects, and the number is growing, according to a recent report in the Canadian Medical Association Journal.

Among the drugs which may interact with grapefruit are certain cholesterol-lowering statins, some cancer and heart drugs and antibiotics.

The problem with grapefruit, according to Gmitter, is a family of organic chemical furanocoumarins believed to inhibit enzymes from breaking down certain medication, leading to drugs entering the blood stream in higher concentrations than intended, causing an overdose.

Potential adverse effects include sudden death and kidney or respiratory failure, according to the medical journal.

Gmitter said chemical analysis of the hybrid grapefruit, known for now as UF914, found levels of furanocoumarins at a small fraction of the level in standard grapefruit.

Subsequent tests of the juice in human cell cultures indicated the fruit would not produce harmful side effects, he said. Human clinical trials would be needed to stake an absolute claim that the hybrid has solved the problem of fruit and drug interactions, he added.

As word began to spread about the hybrid to people on medications who had been warned away from grapefruit, Gmitter said, "I've gotten phone calls from all around the country ... saying, oh my gosh, I miss my Florida grapefruit, when can I have this grapefruit, I miss grapefruit so much."

The University of Florida is in the process of commercializing the hybrid, a cross between pomelos and red grapefruit, with large-scale production likely five to seven years from now. Discovery of the lower levels of furanocoumarins was a serendipitous bonus in a breeding project Gmitter said was intended to create a sweeter and less bitter variety.

In focus groups the hybrid, which is seedless, and larger, juicier, sweeter and less bitter than a standard grapefruit, won approval from people who liked and didn't like grapefruit, he said.


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Iran blocks use of tool to get around Internet filter

Iranian authorities have blocked the use of most "virtual private networks", a tool that many Iranians use to get around an extensive government Internet filter, Iranian media quoted an official as saying on Sunday.

A widespread government Internet filter prevents Iranians from accessing many sites on the official grounds they are offensive or criminal.

Many Iranians evade the filter through use of VPN software, which provides encrypted links directly to private networks based abroad, and can allow a computer to behave as if it is based in another country.

But authorities have now blocked "illegal" VPN access, an Iranian legislator told the Mehr news agency on Sunday. Iranian web users confirmed that VPNs were blocked.

"Within the last few days illegal VPN ports in the country have been blocked," said Ramezanali Sobhani-Fard, the head of parliament's information and communications technology committee, according to Mehr. "Only legal and registered VPNs can from now on be used."

Iran is holding a presidential election in June, its first since 2009, when a disputed result led to the worst unrest since the 1979 Islamic revolution.

Protesters used services like Facebook to communicate during those "Green Movement" demonstrations, and the government has taken steps to curb access to the Internet in the last few months, apparently determined to prevent a repeat this time.

An internet user named Mohamad from the Iranian city of Isfahan confirmed that VPNs had been blocked.

"VPNs are cut off. They've shut all the ports," he said in a Facebook message, adding that he was using another form of software to access the service without a VPN. He said Skype and Viber, internet services used to make telephone calls, had also been blocked.

In January, Mehdi Akhavan Behabadi, secretary of Iran's Supreme Cyberspace Council, told Mehr that Internet users would soon be able to purchase registered VPN connections and that other VPNs were illegal. Financial institutions and other organizations might need to use VPNs for security reasons, which would be a legal use, Behabadi said.

The government's move to block VPN access may also have inadvertently cut off access to widely used sites such as Yahoo and Google, Sobhani-Fard told Mehr on Sunday, adding that parliament would study the issue more this week.

Amin Sabeti, a UK-based researcher on Iranian media and the web, said foreign companies such as airlines and banks had had problems using VPNs in Iran.

Through government-registered VPNs, Sabeti said, authorities could be able to monitor traffic more easily.


Millions of Iranians experienced disruption to email and Internet access ahead of parliamentary elections last year.

"As the June election approaches ... Iran's Internet connectivity, and the accessibility of uncensored information, continues to deteriorate," said a report on Iran's Internet infrastructure published in March by the UK-based group Small Media, which researches Internet use in Iran.

"Prominent Persian-language websites and other online services have been filtered one by one, and communications with external platforms is becoming progressively more difficult."

Iranian authorities banned Google's email service for a week last year but reopened access after complaints from officials. They have also announced plans to switch citizens onto a domestic Internet network which would be largely isolated from the World Wide Web.


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Sunday, March 10, 2013

Elizabeth Olsen to play Juliet off-Broadway

 Elizabeth Olsen will soon be a star-crossed lover — she'll star in an off-Broadway version of Shakespeare's "Romeo & Juliet."

Classic Stage Company said Thursday that the younger sister of Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen will help will kick off its 2013/2014 season. There's no word yet on who will play Romeo.

The actress, who has gotten good notices for the films "Silent House" and "Martha Marcy May Marlene," has just finished the Spike Lee-directed film "Old Boy" opposite Samuel L. Jackson and Josh Brolin.

Her other films include "Liberal Arts" opposite Josh Radnor and Zac Efron, and "Red Lights," with Robert De Niro and Sigourney Weaver. She and Dakota Fanning also play best friends in "Very Good Girls," which premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in January.


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Even for sperm, there is a season

time of year most associated with bumper crops of new babies, and according to an Israeli study there may be a scientific reason for it: human sperm are generally at their healthiest in winter and early spring.

Based on samples from more than 6,000 men treated for infertility, researchers writing in American Journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology found sperm in greater numbers, with faster swimming speeds and fewer abnormalities in semen made during the winter, with a steady decline in quality from spring onward.

"The winter and spring semen patterns are compatible with increased fecundability and may be a plausible explanation of the peak number of deliveries during the fall," wrote lead researcher Eliahu Levitas from Ben-Gurion University of the Negev in Beer-Sheva.

If there is a seasonal pattern, they said, that knowledge may "be of paramount importance, especially in couples with male-related infertility struggling with unsuccessful and prolonged fertility treatments."

For the new study, Levitas and his colleagues collected and analyzed 6.455 semen samples from men at their fertility clinic between January 2006 and July 2009. Of those, 4,960 were found to have normal sperm production, and 1,495 had abnormal production, such as low sperm counts.

The World Health Organization defines anything over 16 million sperm per milliliter of semen as a normal sperm count.

Taking into account the approximately 70 days it takes for the body to produce a sperm cell, the researchers found that men with normal sperm production had the healthiest sperm in the winter.

For example, those men produced about 70 million sperm per milliliter of semen during the winter. About 5 percent of those sperm had "fast" motility, or swimming speed, which improves a couple's chance of getting pregnant.

That compared to the approximately 68 million sperm per milliliter the men produced in the spring, of which only about 3 percent were "fast."

For men with abnormal sperm production, however, the pattern didn't hold. Those men showed a slight trend toward better motility during the fall and made the largest percentage of normal shaped sperm - about 7 percent - during the spring.

"Based on our results the (normal) semen will perform better in winter, whereas infertility cases related to low sperm counts should be encouraged to choose spring and fall," the researchers wrote.

Previous studies, mostly in animals, have found similar results in line with those species' breeding seasons, said Edmund Sabanegh, a urologist who was not involved with the new research.

"The hard part of this is really sorting out what factor is accounting for this," said Sabanegh, the chairman of the urology department at Ohio's Cleveland Clinic.

In animal studies, seasonal changes in sperm production and fertility have been linked to factors ranging from temperature, to length of daylight exposure and hormone variations.

Among people, previous research has found that sperm counts around the world are falling. While no one knows why, theories range from a more sedentary lifestyle to chemicals in the environment that affect sperm health.

Sabanegh said he doesn't think doctors will start telling men with low sperm counts to wait until the winter or spring to try to conceive a child.

"We would continue to encourage them to try regardless of the season, and they may benefit from interventions or treatments."


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Saturday, March 9, 2013

Why Rats Sniff Each Other

Without being able to talk to each other, rats use sniffing as one way to answer key questions about strangers. Is that a female? Can I mate with her? Is this one sick? What did he eat? — All of this information can be learned through odor cues.

But new research shows that the act of sniffing itself might serve its own social function, allowing rats to reaffirm their hierarchical status and maintain order.

Daniel Wesson, a neuroscientist at Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine, studied how pairs of rats sniffed each other when they were placed in the same enclosure. In initial observations, Wesson saw that when one rat started sniffing another's body or behind, both rats ramped up their level of sniffing. But when one rat started sniffing the other's face, the other rat typically backed off and turned down its level of sniffing.

Further investigations showed that dominant rats (larger, more aggressive ones) didn't tamp down their sniffing, and sometimes increased it, when a subordinate rat sniffed them in the face. But when dominant rats started smelling their subordinates head on, and the subordinates failed to cut back on their sniffing, the top rats were quick to engage in aggressive behavior (kicking, biting or jumping on the other rat). The results suggest that sniffing can help high-ranking rats assert dominance and allow subordinate rats to appease their superiors and prevent aggression.

Wesson saw the same results when he inhibited the rats' sense of smell, which bolsters his claim that there's more to sniffing than odor-detection. And when he gave some of the rats oxytocin, a brain chemical that's been shown to enhance bonding and ease the pressure of hierarchies, these sniffing displays and aggression vanished. [That's Odd! The 10 Weirdest Animal Discoveries]

It's still not clear why only face-sniffing seems to serve a social function for rats, while body-sniffing and butt-sniffing don't. Wesson said one possibility could have to do with the fact that face-to-face interactions are very dangerous for a rat, as an injury to the throat or neck could be deadly.

"When animals come face-to-face with each other, they more or less have to be on their best behavior, otherwise they risk getting hurt," Wesson told LiveScience. "Another possibility is that there are cues given off during sniffing that can only be communicated when animals are in proximity with each other."

Wesson said he hopes to explore the circuits in the brain that are activated when animals are engaged in this behavior, and to learn more about why animals decide to become aggressive, as well as which brain problems might cause animals to inappropriately deal with social cues.

The research was detailed in the journal Current Biology.

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Copyright 2013 LiveScience, a TechMediaNetwork company. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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Sunday, March 3, 2013

Coaster Cushion Back Dining Chairs, Cappuccino, Set of 2

Coaster Cushion Back Dining Chairs, Cappuccino, Set of 2

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Contemporary Style Cappuccino Finish Solid Wood Dining Chairs. Finish: Cappuccino. Material: Solid Hardwood Wood Veneer. Contemporary style dining chairs. Clean Lines and Contemporary. This entire featured collection is finished in rich cappuccino. Constructed of solid hardwoods and wood veneer table tops.


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Splashy A-B ads tackle lawsuit over watery beer

The maker of Budweiser is using splashy newspaper ads to poke fun at a lawsuit that alleges its beer is watered down.

In full-page ads in 10 U.S. newspapers on Sunday, including The New York Times and Los Angeles Times, Anheuser-Busch InBev shows one of the 71 million cans of drinking water it has sent to the American Red Cross and other relief organizations responding to disasters.

"They must have tested one of these," the ad says.

The class action lawsuit, filed in several states, accuses the brewer of cheating consumers out of the stated alcohol percentage by adding water just before bottling its beers.

The water cuts the alcohol content by 3 percent to 8 percent, according to the lawsuit's lead lawyer, Josh Boxer. The lawsuits are based on information from former employees at the company's 13 U.S. breweries, some in high-level plant positions, he has said.

Anheuser-Busch InBev says the claims are groundless. In the ads, the company calls its beer "the best beer we know how to brew."

"We take no shortcuts and make no exceptions. Ever."

Neither the ads nor a statement by an Anheuser-Busch spokesman on Sunday directly address the complaint. "We never waver on quality," a spokesman said in the statement.

Boxer said in a statement Sunday that the ads amount to "classic non-denial denials." He said that the company will be asked to produce internal alcohol testing data in court that will prove his case.

"These alcohol readings, taken six times a second as the finished product is bottled, will confirm the allegations made by the growing number of former employees who keep coming forward to tell us the truth," he said.

The suit involves 10 Anheuser-Busch products: Budweiser, Bud Ice, Bud Light Platinum, Michelob, Michelob Ultra, Hurricane High Gravity Lager, King Cobra, Busch Ice, Natural Ice and Bud Light Lime.

Anheuser-Busch, based in St. Louis, Mo., merged with InBev in 2008 to form the world's largest alcohol producer, headquartered in Belgium. In 2011, the company produced 10 billion gallons of malt beverages, 3 billion of them in the U.S., and reported $22 billion profit from that category, the lawsuit said.

Lawsuits have been filed in California, Colorado, Ohio, Missouri, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Texas so far. Each seeks at least $5 million in damages.


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