Zoo babies

baby1Dema, a Sumatran tiger, licks Nia, a baby orangutan, in a nursery room at the Taman Safari Zoo in Bogor, Indonesia. The tiger and orangutan baby, which would never be together in the wild, have become inseparable playmates after they were abandoned by their mothers.


Kangaroo joeys peek out from their mothers pouch at the Zoo in Hanover, Germany. Mother Naddel gave birth to her twins about six months ago.
A French bulldog plays with a 2-week-old baby Bengal tiger, which was rejected by its mother, at Shirotori zoo in Higashikagawa, southwestern Japan. The dog is nursing the baby tiger as if it were its true mother, according to the zoo.
Emit, a 4-week-old southern three-banded armadillo eats banana from the hand of keeper Dawn Strasser at the Cincinnati Zoo. This is the first time in 11 years the zoo has successfully bred this rare species of armadillo, which lives in the open grassy areas, forests, and marshes of Bolivia, Brazil, Paraguay, and Argentina.
Thirteen-year-old lioness Stella watches over her 6-week-old cub at the al Maglio zoo in Magliaso in southern Switzerland.
Anak, a 31-year-old orangutan, holds her 5-day-old baby, Apie, in her arms. The baby was born in captivity at Ouwehands Zoo in Rhenen, Netherlands.

The Great Solvent North

Has the world turned upside down? America, the capital of capitalism, is pondering nationalizing a handful of banks. Meanwhile, Canada, whose banking system had long been notorious for its stodgy practices and government coddling, is now being celebrated for those very qualities.

The Canadian banking system, which proved resilient in the global economic crisis, is finally getting its day in the sun. A recent World Economic Forum report ranked it the soundest in the world, mostly as the result of its conservative practices. (The United States ranked 40th).

President Obama has joined the adoring throng. He recently said that Canada has “shown itself to be a pretty good manager of the financial system in the economy in ways that we haven’t always been here in the United States.” Paul Volcker, former chief of the United States Federal Reserve, commented that what he’s arguing for “looks more like the Canadian system than the American system.”

Most people don’t know that the vision behind Canada’s banking system, made up of a few large, national banks with branches from coast to coast, actually had its beginnings in the United States. Canada’s system is the product of a banking framework inspired by Alexander Hamilton, the first American secretary of the Treasury. Hamilton envisioned the First Bank of the United States, chartered in 1791, as a central bank modeled on the Bank of England.

Canadians found inspiration in Hamilton’s model, but not all Americans did. In the 1830s, President Andrew Jackson opposed extending the charter of the Second Bank of the United States, perceiving it as monopolistic. Money-lending functions were then assumed by local and state-chartered banks, eventually giving rise to the free-market, decentralized system that America has today.

Today, Canada’s system remains truer to Hamilton’s ideal. The five major chartered banks, the few regional banks and handful of large insurance companies are all regulated by the federal government. Canadian banks are relatively constrained in the amounts they can lend. Canadian banks are required to have a bigger cushion to absorb losses than American banks. In addition, Canadian government regulations protect the domestic banks by limiting foreign competition. They also keep banks broadly owned by public shareholders.

Since Canada’s financial services sector was deregulated in 1987, permitting the banks to buy brokerage houses, they have enjoyed vast earnings power because of their diverse businesses and operations. And in contrast to the recent shotgun marriages at bargain prices between ailing Wall Street brokerages and American banks, Canadian banks paid top dollar decades ago for profitable, blue-chip investment firms.

Canadian banks are known to be risk-averse, and this has served them well. While their American counterparts were loading up their books with risky mortgages, Canadian banks maintained their lending requirements, largely avoiding subprime mortgages. The buttoned-down banks in Canada also tended to keep these types of securities on their books, rather than packaging them and selling them to investors. This meant that the exposures they did have to weak mortgages were more visible to the marketplace.

The big five Canadian banks — Royal Bank of Canada, Toronto-Dominion Bank, Bank of Nova Scotia, Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce and Bank of Montreal — survived the recent turmoil relatively unscathed. Their balance sheets remain intact and their capital ratios are comfortably above requirements. Yes, Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s government may buy as much as 125 billion Canadian dollars (about $100 billion) worth of mortgages, increasing banks’ capacity to lend. But this is small change compared with the scale of Washington’s bailout.

Few would have predicted that Canadian banks, long derided as among the least autonomous because of stringent government oversight, would emerge from the global mayhem as some of the more independent international players.

Since Mr. Obama seems to admire the Canadian banking system, his administration might want to take a page out of its playbook.

This would entail building a national banking system based on a small number of large, broadly held, centrally and rigorously regulated firms. Imitating the Canadian model would require sweeping consolidation of American banks. This would be a very good thing. Washington had difficulty figuring out the magnitude of the financial crisis because there are so many thousands of banks that it was impossible for regulators to get into all of them.

Washington is already on the path to achieving consolidation. Eventually, some of the larger banks into which the government is injecting taxpayer money will probably be deemed beyond help, and will either be allowed to die or be partnered with other banks. The market will take its cues from this stress-testing, and make its own bets on which banks will survive. It’s hard to predict how many will have survived when the dust settles, but the new landscape might consist of only 50 or 60 banking institutions. More radically, Washington could take over the licensing of banks from the states, or, at the very least, consider more stringent regulation of global and super-regional banks. After all, the Canadian system is considered successful not only because it has fewer banks to regulate, but because regulation is based on the tenets of safety and soundness.

There is no time to waste. Reconfiguring the American banking structure to look more like the Canadian model would help restore much-needed confidence in a beleaguered financial system. Why not emulate the best in the world, which happens to be right next door? At the very least, Hamilton would have approved.

Theresa Tedesco is the chief business correspondent for The National Post.


Full article and photo: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/02/28/opinion/28tedesco.html?em


See also: John Gibbens’s tour of second-hand bookshops turns up a neglected humorist


My Financial Career (Stephen Leacock)

He started writing pieces for periodicals in the 1890s, and in 1910 he brought them out as a book, Literary Lapses. It was a smash. A wag commented in 1911 that more people had heard of Stephen Leacock than had heard of Canada. His most lucrative book, however, was his first, Elements of Political Science (1906), which became a standard university text.

Like Literary Lapses, Laugh with Leacock opens with ‘My Financial Career’. If this was actually his first piece, few writers can have made a debut so near their peak. Describing his attempt to open a bank account, Leacock captures minutely the psychopathology of the ‘customer’ – bullied, belittled and bewildered. The detail may be historical, but the theme has only grown more universal, now that we spend so much of our lives being treated as ‘customers’ by someone or other.

A lot of his satire still stands up like this. The clothes and settings have changed, but the pretensions, follies and fads are all recognisable. Take, for instance, his assault on the magazine short story, ‘The Snoopopaths or Fifty Stories in One’: ‘ “Back,” she iced. And then, “Why have you come here?” she hoarsed. “What business have you here?” “None,” he glooped, “none. I have no business.” They stood sensing one another.

“I thought you were in Philadelphia,” she said – her gown clinging to every fibre of her as she spoke.’

Leacock’s durability may result from a rule he made himself. Apparently, when he was in teacher-training he carried off a wicked impersonation of the principal of his college that deeply wounded the man, and from then on the precocious humorist vowed to keep personal mockery out of his comedy. Someone who’s funny without either malice or obscenity – it’s increasingly hard to imagine, nowadays.

The sleepy lanes, by the way, turned out to be vergeless and patrolled by ferocious 4x4s. And though we scanned every single headstone, we never found Andrew Young. Was that precise description of his own funeral the canon’s little joke?


Full article: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/books/3665799/Shelf-life.html

Photo: http://nfb.tv/explore-by/director/Gerald-Potterton/


NFB Movie: http://nfb.tv/film/My_Financial_Career/

My Financial career: http://web.iiit.ac.in/~nirnimesh/Literature/MyFinancialCareer.htm

‘Newbos,’ self-made multi-millionaires, have built wealth, influence


Basketball star LeBron James — a quintessential Newbo — has established notoriety in one field with the goal of leveraging that success into other businesses. Newbos take their brand very seriously. 

Americans have a deep penchant for classifying people, including by race and socio-economic categories. Blacks historically have not fared well in either of those schemes and young black males have been especially stigmatized.

The media portray them as uneducated dropouts, irresponsible absentee fathers, sellers or users of drugs and criminals destined for prison. And it isn’t an accident that many blacks, both male and female, fall into the lower end of the traditional low-class, middle-class and upper-class distinctions of socio-economic standing.

The lines differentiating those classes tend to blur, influenced not only by income or assets — difficult enough standards for many blacks — but also by occupation, geography and heritage, a sorting and sifting process that is, overall, unfavorable to blacks. So strong is the appeal of classifying one another that we can lose sight of tectonic shifts taking place among us. Such is the case with the rise of what I call the New Black Overclass, or Newbos.

Newbos are young African-Americans who rely on working-class values, a capitalistic philosophy and entrepreneurial instincts to create wealth and fame that would be unimaginable to their forebears. Largely male, they are using entertainment, professional sports, and media as foundations upon which to build diversified enterprises, some already worth hundreds of millions of dollars.

Droves of other young blacks are building businesses and careers in industries that have sprung up around these sports, entertainment and media figures, including sports and entertainment agents and lawyers, producers, financial advisors, publicists, composers, choreographers, stylists, personal trainers and security professionals, among others.

Unlike previous generations of blacks striving to succeed in a white-dominated world, these young moguls and their retinues have found their economic power in refusing to assimilate. Recognizing that institutional racism and other social and cultural barriers often block their way forward in a traditional white-dominated economy, they embrace and commercialize their interpretations and versions of black style and culture, a trend that reflects the emergence of non-traditional, creative leadership — think Bill Gates and Steve Jobs — in every aspect of the American economy. Their rapid rise from almost nothing represents a shining new aspect of the American dream, but also creates unprecedented challenges in their lives.

The statistics are astounding. Black athletes and hip-hop CEOs like 50 Cent and Sean “P. Diddy” Combs are outperforming and out-earning most Fortune 500 CEOs, usually without the benefit of Ivy League educations, exclusive pedigrees, or generations of familial wealth. Today there are only three African-American CEOs running Fortune 500 companies.

In 2004, the highest-paid black CEO, American Express chairman and CEO Kenneth Chenault, earned a total compensation package of $21.4 million. That same year Bad Boy Records CEO Sean Combs, earned $36 million, Tiger Woods pulled down $87 million and Atlanta Falcons quarterback Michael Vick was paid $37.5 million as part of a 10-year, $130-million contract. The top three highest paid African-American athletes earned a combined $141.9 million in 2004, while the three African-American CEOs working in the Fortune 500 that year earned a combined total compensation of $56.5 million.

By 2007, the disparity in the earnings of the two groups had widened. In fact, two of the three black Fortune 500 CEOs, Time Warner’s Dick Parsons and Merrill Lynch’s E. Stanley O’Neal, were no longer in their CEO posts. Today’s three African-American CEOs in the Fortune 500 earned combined total compensation of $97 million, while the three highest-paid athletes earned a total of $192 million.

Collectively, young black athletes bring in billions of dollars a year in salary alone, not counting the money they earn from endorsements. According to Forbes, 31 of the 50 highest-paid professional athletes in America were African-American.

Researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison compiled for this book statistics that show black players in the NFL, the NBA and Major League Baseball earned about $3.98 billion in their 2007-2008 seasons alone. Beyond that, the 19 highest-paid black rappers in America earned about $503 million in 2007. The combined $4.5 billion brought in by professional athletes and top rappers last year easily justifies the appellation of “overclass.”

As with most socio-economic categories, there is no hard-and-fast rule for what constitutes a Newbo. Newbos are, it goes without saying, black and wealthy. But wealth is an ephemeral concept. While the most famous and successful Newbos are millionaires many times over, their lesser-known compatriots may have far less, although their incomes are in the top 10 percent of all Americans.

Many of the most successful Newbos reach celebrity status at a young age and often hail from backgrounds that do not always value education. They seldom have more than a high-school diploma, in contrast to their lesser-known Newbo colleagues, many of whom pursue education to become lawyers, agents, financial advisors or producers.

The lack of education among the most popular Newbos also fuels widespread scorn from society at large, which considers them a major reason that thousands of black children over-invest in dreams to become professional athletes or rap stars and under-invest in the educations that would backstop those often-unsuccessful dreams.

No single individual ever personifies perfectly the characteristics and life of a class of people. Combs comes close. But the person who comes closest to being the quintessential Newbo is the basketball star Lebron James. Anyone who knows the sport stands in awe of James’ phenomenal skill.

Basketball has, of course, provided James with immense wealth, not only in the form of his multi-million-dollar contract with the Cavaliers, but also through extremely lucrative endorsement deals, most notably with Nike, which signed him to $90-million shoe contract even before his NBA debut. But for all the fame and money that basketball brought to James, the game has been not an end in itself, but the path to a life that embodies many of the much lesser known aspects of being a Newbo.

James is acutely aware of the brand value of his name and persona and goes to extraordinary lengths to protect and promote that brand. The most successful Newbos understand personification of a brand — their public conduct, image and identity — and how it is directly connected to their commercial value.

The Newbo phenomenon embraces the concept that people who establish notoriety doing one thing well can then leverage that success into other businesses. The brand becomes more valuable than the talent, whether for sports or entertainment. Newbos take their brand very seriously.

James had the foresight to realize that he had to build his brand while still in the NBA so that he could build a strong business to carry him past the eventual end of his basketball career. Today, he considers himself 80 percent basketball player and 20 percent businessman. Over time, that balance will gradually shift to 70 percent and 30 percent and eventually to almost entirely businessman.

“I realized early that this is the shortest career that you can have. I don’t know what the average career is for a player, but you can get maybe 15 years or less years out of this. And then, what are you going to fall back on? When I thought about it that way, it was easy. I didn’t want to be 16 years into the NBA and when it’s time to retire then I try to get into business.”


Full article: http://rss.msnbc.msn.com/id/29413966/

Photo: MSNBC

’Scuse me, while I sue this guy


In this 1970 file photo, rock and roll guitarist Jimi Hendrix is shown performing on the Isle of Wight in England.

The estate of rock guitarist Jimi Hendrix says it has won a trademark infringement lawsuit against a company that promoted Hendrix Electric vodka.

The Experience Hendrix and Authentic Hendrix companies in Seattle say they won a $3.2 million federal court judgment that orders the vodka to be pulled from the market.

The family owned companies filed the lawsuit in 2007 against Seattle businessman Craig Dieffenbach, who packaged the vodka in purple-tinted bottles with Hendrix’s face and signature above the label.

Hendrix died in 1970 at age 27.


Full article: http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/29259898/

Photo: MSNBC

Vatican Sponsoring Conferences on Works of Darwin and Galileo


Darwin – Galileo

Over the next several months, the Vatican will sponsor academic conferences dedicated to the work of biologist Charles Darwin and astronomer Galileo Galilei, two thinkers whose ideas have posed revolutionary challenges to religious belief.

Featuring distinguished international panels of scientists and theologians, these events are the latest efforts by the Catholic Church under Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI to affirm that Christian faith and modern science are not at odds, but entirely compatible.

Yet some critics inside and outside the Church insist that such gestures do not satisfy the Vatican’s duty to admit its historical role as an obstacle to scientific progress.

Unlike some conservative Protestant churches, which have rejected Darwin’s theory of evolution through natural selection as contradicting the biblical account of creation, the Catholic Church has a record of guarded tolerance of Darwin’s ideas.

Pope Pius XII permitted “research and discussions . . . with regard to the doctrine of evolution” in 1950, nearly a century after Darwin’s theory was published; and John Paul II recognized evolution as “more than a hypothesis” nearly half a century later.

The church has won praise from scientists and religious believers in various traditions.

“The ongoing and vigorous engagement of the Catholic Church with evolutionary theory reflects, in my opinion, a fluid and dynamic pathway that combines a profound sense of continuity with its historical past and a living and open, experiential response to . . . the discoveries of science,” said Robert J. Russell, founder of the Center for Theology and Natural Sciences in Berkeley, Calif.

Russell, a physicist and minister in the United Church of Christ, will be one of the speakers next month at a Vatican-sponsored conference marking the 150th anniversary of Darwin’s book, “The Origin of Species.”

In recent years, however, with the growing prominence of “creationism” and “intelligent design” as alternative explanations for the existence of humanity and the universe, Catholics have increasingly voiced doubts about Darwin’s acceptability.

Cardinal Christoph Schoenborn, a friend and former student of Pope Benedict’s, provoked controversy with a 2005 article arguing that “neo-Darwinian dogma” is not “compatible with Christian faith” and insisting that the “human intellect can readily discern purpose and design in the natural world.”

That the cardinal published his article with the encouragement and assistance of proponents of intelligent design gave the impression that a high church official was endorsing ideas that most scholars reject as unscientific.

Schoenborn has since attempted to clarify his position, insisting that he rejects not the theory of evolution, but arguments that use Darwin’s ideas to disprove the existence of a creator-God.

The Rev. Marc Leclerc made the same distinction recently in L’Osservatore Romano, the Vatican’s newspaper. “Evolution and creation do not present the least opposition between them,” he wrote, “on the contrary, they reveal themselves as entirely complementary.”

Leclerc, lead organizer of the upcoming Darwin conference, said last year that no proponents of creationism or intelligent design had been invited to the event.

Yet the Vatican’s embrace of Darwin remains a qualified one. The conference is “not, even minimally, a ‘celebration’ in honor of the English scientist,” Leclerc said. “It is simply a matter of taking stock of the event that has forever marked the history of science and has influenced how we understand our own humanity.”

By contrast, an official Vatican statement recently declared that the “Church desires to honor the figure of Galileo, innovator of genius and son of the church.”

Those words introduced a series of Vatican-sponsored or -supported events to take place this year, which the United Nations has designated as the International Year of Astronomy, marking the 400th anniversary of the first use of an astronomical telescope by Galileo.

One of the most prominent of these events will be a May conference in Florence, Italy, devoted to the astronomer’s conflicts with the Vatican, which silenced and imprisoned him for teaching that the Earth revolves around the sun.

The Church has been trying for centuries to put this embarrassing episode behind it. In 1981, John Paul II established a commission to reevaluate the case, and in 1992 he concluded that Galileo had fallen victim to a “tragic mutual incomprehension.” That misunderstanding, the pope said, had given rise to a “myth” that the Church opposed free scientific inquiry.

John Paul’s statement failed to satisfy prominent critics, including the Rev. George V. Coyne, former head of the Vatican Observatory, who has called for a fuller recognition that church authorities unfairly prevented Galileo from pursuing his research.

In January 2008, Pope Benedict canceled an appearance at a Rome university after faculty members and students protested his presence as an offense to the “secularity of science and of culture,” citing words from a 1990 lecture in which he seemed to justify Galileo’s condemnation.

Vatican officials are clearly hoping that this year’s observances will clarify once and for all that the church now regards Galileo as not only a great scientist but an exemplary Catholic. Archbishop Gianfranco Ravasi, president of the Pontifical Council for Culture, has even spoken in terms that evoke sainthood, suggesting that Galileo “could become for some the ideal patron for a dialogue between science and faith.”

Yet there is at least one honor for which Galileo will have to wait a little longer. Plans to put up a statue of the astronomer in the Vatican gardens this year have been “suspended,” Ravasi said, voicing hopes that the money would be spent instead for educational projects on the “relationship between science and religion.”



Full article: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/02/27/AR2009022702730.html

Photo: http://www.catholicregister.org/content/view/2701/849/

Schwarzenegger declares California drought emergency

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger declared a state of emergency Friday because of three years of below-average rain and snowfall in California, a step that urges urban water agencies to reduce water use by 20 percent.

“This drought is having a devastating impact on our people, our communities, our economy and our environment, making today’s action absolutely necessary,” the Republican governor said in his statement.

Mandatory rationing is an option if the declaration and other measures are insufficient.

The drought has forced farmers to fallow their fields, put thousands of agricultural workers out of work and led to conservation measures in cities throughout the state, which is the nation’s top agricultural producer.

Agriculture losses could reach $2.8 billion this year and cost 95,000 jobs, said Lester Snow, the state water director.

State agencies must now provide assistance for affected communities and businesses and the Department of Water Resources must protect supplies, all accompanied by a statewide conservation campaign.

Three dry winters have left California’s state- and federally operated reservoirs at their lowest levels since 1992.

Federal water managers announced last week that they would not deliver any water this year to thousands of California farms, although that could change if conditions improve. The state has said it probably would deliver just 15 percent of the water contractors have requested this year.

Schwarzenegger declared a statewide drought in June but stopped short of calling a state of emergency. His 2008 executive order directed the state Department of Water Resources to speed water transfers to areas with the worst shortages and help local water districts with conservation efforts.

Over the last few weeks, storms have helped bring the seasons’ rain totals to 87 percent of average, but the Sierra snowpack remains at 78 percent of normal for this time of year. State hydrologists say the snowpack must reach between 120 to 130 percent of normal to make up for the two previous dry winters and replenish California’s key reservoirs.

Court decisions intended to protect threatened fish species also have forced a significant cutback in pumping from the Sacramento-San Joaquin delta, the heart of the state’s delivery system.

The governor, farmers and lawmakers have argued for years that California must upgrade its decades-old water supply and delivery system and build new reservoirs.

“The situation is extremely dire,” said Tim Quinn, executive director of the Association of California Water Agencies, adding that the governor’s action Friday “underscores the urgency of serving the long-term structural problems.”

The state delivers water to more than 25 million Californians and more than 750,000 acres of farmland.

Schwarzenegger’s order leaves the door open for more severe restrictions later. Additional measures can include mandatory water rationing and water reductions if there is no improvement in water reserves and residents fail to conserve on their own.

At least 25 water agencies throughout the state already have imposed mandatory restrictions, while 66 others have voluntary measures in place.

The state prefers such local efforts so it does not have to call for statewide rationing, Snow said.

The federal government on Thursday created a drought task force to provide farmers technical assistance in managing existing water supplies. Farmers also could be eligible for federally-backed emergency loans.

Almond farmer Shawn Coburn of Mendota said the emergency declaration comes too late for many growers who already are halfway through the season. Some farmers didn’t bring in bees to pollinate, while others sprayed their orchards with chemicals that keep nuts from forming.

“It’s too late,” he said. “It’s going to sound horrible coming from a farmer because you never turn down help, but come on, this thing is over with.”


Full article: http://www.usatoday.com/weather/drought/2009-02-27-california-drought_N.htm

Decision Signed, Sealed: Fairfax Man Owns Rare 1776 Copy of Declaration


Richard L. Adams Jr. of Oakton bought this 1776 copy of the Declaration of Independence for $475,000 in 2002.


A Fairfax County collector who paid nearly half a million dollars for a 1776 copy of the Declaration of Independence received a welcome declaration of ownership yesterday when Virginia’s Supreme Court dismissed the State of Maine’s claims to the antique document.

The court ruled in favor of Internet tycoon Richard L. Adams Jr. of Oakton, who had purchased the printed copy from a rare-book dealer in London for $475,000 in 2002. The document, known as a broadside, was one of many circulated in New England towns to alert colonists to the break with England in 1776.

Maine officials, who brought the claim on behalf of the Town of Wiscasset, claimed that the broadside was an official document that had been improperly removed from the town’s possession and should be returned.

“There was no indication that the town ever knowingly, willingly or purposefully divested themselves of that document,” said David Cheever, Maine’s state archivist. But Cheever, who was disappointed by the ruling, said the state’s attorney general saw no grounds to appeal further.

Adams’s attorney, Robert K. Richardson, said: “We’re very pleased with the ruling. It’s what we hoped.”

The case began in Maine in the 1990s and rummaged through early American history to reach its result.

After the Founding Fathers inked the Declaration of Independence in the summer of 1776, the Second Continental Congress directed congressional delegations to inform their fellow citizens back home. The Massachusetts Executive Council, which helped oversee the Massachusetts colony, including parts of what is now Maine, commissioned a private printer in Salem to produce between 200 and 300 of the broadsides. They were to be read aloud by ministers in the various towns and delivered to each town’s clerk. The clerks were then to copy the broadside’s text into their respective town record books “to remain as a perpetual Memorial thereof.” But the council never explained what to do with the broadside after its text was copied.

The broadside in this case had been given to the Rev. Thomas Moore in the town of Pownalborough. Moore read the broadside aloud to his congregation and ultimately handed it over to Pownalborough’s town clerk.

From there, the broadside’s trail grows murky. Notations on the back of the document offer meager hints: “from 1776 to 1784 Warrants . . . ,” “Town Warrants . . . ,” “Loose Papers no Taxes.”

As the document gathered dust, the town of Pownalborough changed its name to Wiscasset in 1802 and became part of Maine with statehood in 1820.

In 1995, the daughter of Solomon Holbrook, a watchmaker who had served as Wiscasset’s clerk, hired an auctioneer to handle the family’s estate. Tucked among receipts in the attic was the neatly folded broadside. After being auctioned for $77,000, it was passed between collectors until Adams bought it.

In 2005, Maine moved to get it back.

The Virginia Supreme Court held that the broadside could not be considered a public record under a 1973 Maine law on public records because the law was not retroactive. And it held that it also could not be considered a public record under common law. The court also rejected Maine’s assertion that the broadside had been improperly sold by Holbrook’s family, saying there was no evidence that it had been wrongly converted to private ownership.

“We were certainly surprised by the verdict,” said Cheever, Maine’s state archivist. He said the case only inflames a sense in Maine that too much of its history has been raided by out-of-state collectors.

“Here’s somebody from ‘away’ who comes in and finds something of value,” Cheever said.

“Because it’s the Declaration of Independence, the hair on the back of the neck stands up. This shouldn’t be leaving.”


For the court opinion: http://www.courts.state.va.us/opinions/opnscvwp/1080987.pdf


Full article and photo: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/02/27/AR2009022702956.html

Faking it

A dentist in Italy whose unorthodox methods raised suspicion is exposed as an imposter

In 1969, a legal report said a key feature of any profession is its restriction of admission to only those with the required training. Certainly, you’d expect that your dentist met that professional standard. But you’d be disappointed if you were a patient at the surgery of Alvaro Perez in Sampierdarena in northern Italy.

Perez, from Ecuador, was recently arrested after his patients complained that he’d been knocking out their old fillings with screwdrivers and pulling teeth with household pliers. His main apparatus was — skip this next bit if you’re of a sensitive disposition — a power drill. Perez was arrested after one patient suffered unendurable pain and summoned the police.

Perez, who has no dental qualifications, has now been charged with deception. There have been several comparable imposter offenders in Britain. In the world of medicine there have been 40 cases in the last 70 years. In 1992, for example, Mohammed Saeed, a layman, was found to have been fraudulently practicing as a family doctor in Bradford for 30 years. His partners had grown progressively suspicious of his absence of medical knowledge. He was given a five-year jail sentence.

From the 1980s, Paul Bint, a former hairdresser, posed as a doctor in many hospitals for 12 years. He did all sorts of medical procedures including trying to assist in a heart by-pass operation. In 1994, Roy Grimshaw, another fake doctor, was jailed for fraud after gaining a job as a clinical services manager at Guy’s hospital in London. He had previously posed as a surgeon at a private clinic in Lancashire where he’d carried out nine surgical operations, many gynaecological procedures and three vasectomies. He was only exposed when Bolton magistrates’ court, where he was facing a driving ban, had his medical qualifications checked.

People have also been discovered faking it as lawyers. Say hello again to Paul Bint, the former hairdresser and would-be doctor. He has also been convicted of fraud for posing as a barrister, having stolen a wig and gown and worked on his eloquence. His smooth speech, though, wasn’t delivered in a court room but on a Virgin train in 2000. Proclaiming he was a distinguished advocate, he tricked the chief executive of Virgin, who happened to be travelling on the same train, into compensating him for expensive goods and tickets he claimed to have been stolen while on board.

But the prize for faking it goes to Dr Kenneth D. Yates, an associate professor of physics at the University of New Hampshire in America. In 1954, “Dr Yates” was revealed to be Marvin Hewitt, a high school dropout. When caught, he was in his fifth academic job in seven years, though he was not prosecuted because despite his fraud he was an admirable and respected physicist.

Professor Slapper is Director of the Centre for Law at The Open University.


Full article: http://business.timesonline.co.uk/tol/business/law/columnists/gary_slapper/article3990945.ece

World Book Day


Fond as we are of World Book Day, we have to admit it’s a bit of a funny old business. It happens, in Britain and Ireland, next Thursday, and is marked by all sorts of wonderfulness, most particularly by children being given £1 book tokens that they can spend on some specially produced £1 books.

The tradition comes from Catalonia, where books and roses have been given as gifts on St George’s Day for more than 80 years.

St George’s Day is in April – on the 23rd, to be precise – and is believed to coincide with Shakespeare’s birthday, so you’d have thought that adding World Book Day into the mix would be just perfect, wouldn’t you? But no – our little island nation, eccentric to the last, clearly thinks that it’s best not to interfere with the huge annual celebrations (parades, costume balls, feasting, bonfires) that ordinarily mark the Bard’s birth, and so set apart World Book Day with its very own dedicated festival. Fair enough.

But then there’s the “World” bit, too. English-speaking nations are peculiarly bad at reading what might be called world literature. The translator Daniel Hahn, writing on Booktrust’s website devoted to translated fiction (www.translatedfiction. org.uk) makes a valiant defence of our reading habits.

Only 3 per cent of books in this country are in translation; in Europe the figure is closer to ten times that. Hahn, acclaimed for his translations of the novels of José Eduardo Agualusa, argues that “reading should open readers’ minds, broaden their horizons. But we’d be more open-minded, our horizons broader, if we all started reading English-language writers from cultures in Africa and Asia, more than we would, I think, if we read more close-to-home fiction translated from Dutch or Welsh.” It’s a fair point – and there’s little to be gained in giving ourselves a scolding. Encouragement is always a better bet, and that’s just what this website provides, with a fine, broad and appealing list to choose from if you don’t know where to start.

Why think of them as translated books, anyway? Why not think of them as simply books? After all, when it comes to crime writing (for instance) British readers are happy to branch out. They love P. D. James and Ruth Rendell, it’s true; but they are also mightily taken with Henning Mankell and Fred Vargas.

And translation itself – if you have even a passing acquaintance with another language – offers rich opportunities for entertainment. If you are a Tintin fan, as I am, it’s tough to decide which expression is more appealing: “Mille milliards de mille sabords!” or “Billions of blue blistering barnacles!” They’re both fabulous; it depends what you are in the mood for. (And note: Captain Haddock’s name apparently came from a remark made by the wife of Tintin’s creator, George Remi, when she noted that haddock was “a sad English fish”. Would the English think the haddock sad? I reckon not.)

The trick is to keep expanding your horizons. That said – since we’re speaking of French – why not broaden them across the Channel? I spent a few days the other week teaching a writing course thanks to the new Faber Academy: the next course – taught by Jill Dawson and Louise Doughty – is in Paris, at the Shakespeare & Co bookshop, March 12-15. I had a fine time; I bet you would, too.


Full article: http://entertainment.timesonline.co.uk/tol/arts_and_entertainment/books/article5814280.ece

Photo: Unesco



1- Shakespeare died on April 23, 1616, on the same day as Cervantes and Lope de Vega did.

Cultural diversity highlighted in UN World Book and Copyright Day

UNESCO chose 23 April to celebrate World Book and Copyright Day as it also marks the day on 1616 that Britain’s William Shakespeare, Spain’s Miguel de Cervantes and the Peruvian writer “El Inca” Garcilaso de la Vega all died. The prominent writers Vladimir Nabokov, Halldór Laxness, Josep Pla, Maurice Druon and Manuel Mejía Vallejo were also either born or died on this day.


2- Shakespeare was christened on April 26, 1564

William Shakespeare was born in 1564, in Stratford-upon-Avon. Located in the centre of England, the town was (and still is) an important river-crossing settlement and market centre. The register of Stratford’s Holy Trinity Church records Shakespeare’s baptism on 26 April. He is traditionally said to have been born on 23 April.


3. The Gregorian calendar was in effect in Spain, but not in England in 1616, so Shakespeare did not die on the same day as Cervantes and Lope de Vega, assuming of course that the dates are established according to the calendar in force in England and in Spain at the relevant time.

Spain, Portugal, the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, and most of Italy implemented the new calendar on Friday, 15 October 1582, following Julian Thursday, 4 October 1582.

Britain and the British Empire (including the eastern part of what is now the United States) adopted the Gregorian calendar in 1752 by which time it was necessary to correct by 11 days.


13 Unsolved scientific puzzles


Watching a solar eclipse

Author Michael Brooks has investigated some of the most puzzling anomalies of modern science, those intractable problems that refuse to conform to the theories. Here he counts down the 13 strangest.


We can only account for 4 per cent of the cosmos

If you’re wondering what the LHC might do for you, how’s this: it might just find a whole quarter of the universe. The collider is hoping to create some particles of what physicists call “dark matter”, an enigma that is thought to make up roughly 25 per cent of the universe. Then there is the “dark energy”, a mysterious force that seems to be ripping space and time apart. In total, a whopping 96 per cent of the universe has gone AWOL. Unless, that is, we’ve got our maths all wrong. Watch this space.


Two spacecraft are flouting the laws of physics

In the 1970s NASA launched two space probes that have caused no end of headaches. About 10 years into the missions of Pioneer 10 and 11, the mission head admitted that they had drifted off course. In every year of travel, the probes veer 8000 miles further away from their intended trajectory. It is not much when you consider that they cover 219 million miles a year; the drift is around 10 billion times weaker than the Earth’s pull on your feet. Nonetheless, it is there, and decades of analysis have failed to find a straightforward reason for it.


Destabilising our view of the universe

A decade ago, we discovered that the fundamental constants of physics might not be so constant after all. These are the numbers that describe just how strong the forces of nature are, and make the laws of physics work when we use them to describe the processes of nature. Light that has travelled across the universe from distant stars tells us those laws might have been different in the past. Though the physical laws and constants have helped us define and tame the natural world, they might be an illusion.


Nuclear energy without the drama

In 1989, the world was rocked by claims that you could release nuclear energy without a catastrophic explosion. Various failures to replicate or explain these results soon ended the careers of the scientists involved. But, despite what you might have heard, “cold fusion” never really went away. Over a 10-year period from 1989, US navy labs ran more than 200 experiments to investigate whether nuclear reactions generating more energy than they consume – supposedly only possible inside stars – can occur at room temperature. Numerous researchers have since pronounced themselves believers. With controllable cold fusion, many of the world’s energy problems would melt away: no wonder the US Department of Energy is interested again.


Are you more than just a bag of chemicals?

Are you more than the sum of the inanimate chemicals that make up your body? What turns a living tree into a lifeless piece of wood? No one knows. Researchers have even given up trying to define what life is. But they are still trying to understand it – by making it from scratch. In labs across the world, people are taking the raw materials of living things and trying to put them together in a way that makes them come alive. In an effort to resolve the anomalous nature of life, the idea of scientists playing God has taken a whole new turn.


NASA scientists found evidence for life on Mars. Then they changed their minds

On July 20, 1976, the Viking landers scooped up some Martian soil and mixed it with radioactive nutrients. The mission’s scientists all agreed that if radioactive methane was released from the soil, something must be eating the nutrients – and there must be life on Mars. The experiment gave a positive result, but NASA denied an official detection of Martian life. Today, there is even more evidence that something is creating methane on Mars. Is it life? The Viking experiment suggests it was. Martin Rees, England’s astronomer royal, calls the search for extraterrestrial life the most important scientific endeavour of our time. But have we already found it?


Has ET already been in touch?

It was an electromagnetic pulse that came from the direction of the Sagittarius constellation. It lasted 37 seconds and had exactly the characteristics predicted for an alien signal. Maybe that’s why, on 15 August 1977 it caused astronomer Jerry Ehman to scrawl “Wow!” on the printout from Big Ear, Ohio State University’s radio telescope in Delaware. The nearest star in that direction is 220 light years away. If that really is where is came from, it would have had to be a pretty powerful astronomical event – or an advanced alien civilisation using an astonishingly large and powerful transmitter. More than 30 years later, its origin remains a mystery.


It’s a freak that could rewrite the story of life

Mimivirus is sitting in a freezer in Marseille. Around thirty times bigger than the rhinovirus that gives you a common cold, it is by far the biggest virus known to science. But this virus’s biggest impact won’t be on the healthcare systems of the globe. It will be, most likely, on the history of life on Earth. Mimivirus doesn’t fit with the established story of how life on Earth got going. Mimi has a genome that, in parts, looks like yours. Mimivirus seems to be part of the story of life on Earth. It may even make us rewrite it.


Evolution’s problem with self-destruction

Why must we die? It is a question that splits biologists, and over the years, theories have been batted back and forth as new evidence comes to light. One answer is that death is simply necessary – to avoid overcrowding, for instance. But evolution doesn’t – can’t – select for a “death switch” because evolution is supposed to be all about the individual. And yet there does seem to be a death switch: researchers have managed to locate genetic switches that massively extend the lifespan of some nematode worms. Can we solve the riddle of death?

10. SEX

There are better ways to reproduce

Sex is everywhere, but no one knows why. It is a question that “better scientists than I have spent book after book failing to answer,” says Richard Dawkins. To Charles Darwin, the reason for the prevalence of sexual reproduction was “hidden in darkness”. All the arguments in favour of sexual reproduction are countered by stronger arguments in favour of self-cloning: asexual reproduction, where an organism produces a copy of itself, is a much more efficient way to pass your genes down to the next generation. There’s no proof that sex makes a species more resilient, or better placed to cope with change. Why is it still around?


Your decisions are not your own

Our gut instinct, our experience, is that we make the decisions to move, to think, to eat, to steal, to lie, to punch and kick. We have constructed the entire edifice of our civilisation on this idea. But science says this free will is a delusion. According to the world’s best neuroscientists, we are brain-machines. Our brains create the sense that somewhere within them is the “you” that makes decisions. But it is an illusion; there is no ghost in the machine. What does this mean for our sense of self? And for our morality – can we prosecute people for acts over which they had no conscious control?


Who’s being deceived?

The placebo effect used to be thought of as just a manipulation, a mind-trick. Doctors wore white coats, spoke in soothing tones, exuding confidence and medical know-how, and if they told you a pill would make you better, it would. By the time you found out it was just a sugar pill, you were feeling great, so who cares? Well, lots of people, actually, because our new understanding of placebo is messing up medicine. Some prescription drugs that were judged to perform “better than placebo” in clinical trials don’t work unless you know you’re taking them. All in all, the gold standard of medicine, the placebo-controlled clinical trial, is looking a little peaky.


It’s patently absurd, so why won’t it go away?

Homeopathy’s claim is that you can take a substance of dubious properties, dilute it to the point where there are no molecules of the original substance left in the sample you have, and still use it to heal sickness. Sir John Forbes, the physician to Queen Victoria’s household, called it “an outrage to human reason.” There is no justification in all of science for this idea — and yet there remains some slim evidence that homeopathy works. How can this be?

13 Things That Don’t Make Sense – The Most Intriguing Scientific Mysteries of Our Time by Michael Brooks is published by Profile Books.


Full article: http://entertainment.timesonline.co.uk/tol/arts_and_entertainment/books/article5797028.ece

Photo: London Times