Qantas plane had glitch before altitude plunge

October 8, 2008

SYDNEY, Australia (AP) — Instruments aboard a Qantas airliner warned of a glitch in its stabilization system when it suddenly rose and plunged, tossing unbelted passengers to the ceiling and injuring more than 70 people, Australian investigators said Wednesday.

File image of a Qantas airliner

The Australian carrier has been plagued by a series of other safety issues recently.

The A330-300 was carrying 303 passengers and 10 crew from Singapore to the Western Australian city of Perth, and was nearing its destination Tuesday when it experienced the sudden altitude changes while flying at 37,000 feet.

The plane made an emergency landing in Learmonth, Western Australia.

Passenger Jim Ford, of Perth, said he thought he was about to die as he watched people being flung around the cabin.

“It was horrendous, absolutely gruesome, terrible, the worst experience of my life,” he said after being transferred to Perth airport following the incident.

Air Transport Safety Bureau investigators quarantined the flight data recorder and cockpit voice recorder and planned to interview crew and passengers. Video Watch more about the incident »

Julian Walsh, director of the bureau’s aviation safety investigation, told reporters that the pilots received electronic messages “relating to some irregularity with the aircraft’s elevator control system.”

That system helps keep the plane stable and level in flight.

The aircraft then “departed level flight,” and climbed approximately 300 feet, he said.

“The crew had initiated the non-normal checklist response actions. The aircraft is then reported to have abruptly pitched nose down,” Walsh said.

It was unclear how far in altitude the aircraft dropped during the incident.

Passengers who were not wearing seatbelts flew into the air, some hitting the ceiling of the plane.

Walsh said 14 people had serious, but not life-threatening, injuries such as concussions and broken bones. Thirty other passengers were treated in hospitals for concussions, minor lacerations and fractures. Another 30 people with minor bruises and stiff necks did not require hospital treatment.

Walsh said it was too soon to draw any conclusions about the specific cause of the accident, but that a preliminary report would be released within 30 days.

The ATSB investigation will examine the flight data recorders, on-board computer systems, air traffic control and radar warnings and weather conditions, he said.

A Qantas spokesman said the airline had no immediate response and no update on the incident.

It was the latest in a string of issues to plague the Australian airline since one of its flights was forced to make an emergency landing in the Philippines in July after an oxygen tank exploded on board, ripping a gaping hole in the fuselage


Missing beauty queen was mending broken heart

October 8, 2008

NEW YORK (CNN) — Tara Grinstead, a 30-year-old schoolteacher and former beauty queen, attended a Saturday night beauty pageant and then left a dinner party, telling friends she was going straight home. She has not been seen since that night — October 22, 2005.

Tara Grinstead, a former beauty queen who taught at a Georgia high school, was last seen on October 22, 2005.

Tara Grinstead, a former beauty queen who taught at a Georgia high school, was last seen on October 22, 2005.

 Friends and family called Grinstead the next day, but couldn’t reach her.

The following Monday, when she did not show up for work at Irwin County High School, co-workers called police and reported her missing.

When police arrived at her home in Ocilla, Georgia, they found the clothes she wore Saturday night piled on her bedroom floor. Her cell phone was charging in the wall outlet, and her car was parked in the driveway. Video Watch how Grinstead’s home looked »

Her purse and keys were missing.

A latex glove found in Grinstead’s front lawn was sent to a laboratory for DNA testing. The results were inconclusive.

Grinstead’s family says she was a very tidy person and would never leave her clothes on the floor. They said she never went anywhere without her cell phone.

They found it strange that her car doors were unlocked and that her car seat was pushed back way too far for someone her size. She was petite — 5 feet, 3 inches tall — and typically kept the seat much closer to the steering wheel.

Also strange: An envelope full of cash was found on her dashboard, and her dog and cat were abandoned. Neither police nor family could say where the money came from or whether it belonged to Grinstead, and her sister and friends say Grinstead was an animal lover who wouldn’t leave her pets without making arrangements for them.

The house showed no signs of a break-in or struggle, but Grinstead’s bedside clock was found under her bed, and the time it displayed was six hours off. A lamp that was broken into two pieces was propped against the wall on her nightstand.

Co-workers and students at Irwin County High say the 11th-grade teacher was well-liked. She always seemed to be happy and appeared to lead a charmed life. She was beautiful, popular, dedicated and determined.

She was applying for a doctoral program in history and making plans for a very bright future, said her sister Anita Gattis.

But there were hints of trouble in her personal life. Grinstead’s boyfriend of six years left her broken-hearted a year before, but had returned to town just a few weeks before she disappeared.

He was dating a much younger woman but continued to call Grinstead. The former couple had argued a week before her disappearance, Grinstead’s sister said.

Then there was Grinstead’s young former student, who claimed to have had an affair with her. Police records show that she had him arrested for coming to her house and harassing her. Later, those charges were dropped.

And Grinstead had lodged a complaint with the police department against one of its officers. The officer was friendly with her former boyfriend, and on the night Grinstead disappeared, the two men were seen together in his patrol car, on what is known in police circles as a “ride-along.”

Police characterize their investigation as a missing-person case. Investigators are not ruling out the possibility of foul play, but without more evidence, they say it is also quite possible that Grinstead may have just walked away from all the drama in her personal life.


Grinstead’s family and friends insist she is not the kind of person to go off on her own without being in touch with her family. They emphasize that the circumstances surrounding her disappearance are highly of out of character for her. They are certain she was abducted.

Police have not named any suspects but continue to hope for tips that could help their investigation. The total reward offered is $200,000 — $100,000 for Grinstead’s safe return and $100,000 for tips leading to the arrest and conviction of anyone responsible for abducting her. To report a tip, call 229-468-TIPS.

Battleground states

October 8, 2008

Do you live in a hotly contested state? Are you getting tons of phone calls from presidential campaigns? Show us candidates’ efforts in your community.

What issues could sway your state one way or the other? Tell us which states are burning hot for Election 2008 and let us in on the talk of the town.

Send photos and video of campaigning in your area, and share your views on the election from your battleground state.


Viacom targets venture capitalists behind YouTube

October 8, 2008
SAN FRANCISCO (MarketWatch) — As part of its effort to prove that the business model behind Google Inc.’s YouTube unit depends on copyright infringement, Viacom Inc. has targeted early investors who seeded the video-sharing service and cashed in when they sold it roughly two years ago.

4:00pm 10/07/2008
 18.84, -1.62, -7.9%)
in their early days, first invested in YouTube in 2005. As a result of the start-up’s sale to Google in late 2006 for $1.65 billion, Sequoia received Google shares valued at $504 million, according to court filings.

Artis Capital Management received shares worth $83 million as a result of the sale, and TriplePoint received shares worth $6.4 million, according to court filings.
Viacom is seeking documents related to ‘proposed indemnification for copyright infringement’ relating to the Google-YouTube merger.
In court filings, Viacom said that it’s specifically seeking documents related to the firms’ “actual and potential” investment in YouTube, Google’s acquisition of the start-up and a “proposed indemnification for copyright infringement relating to this merger.”
Viacom’s effort to obtain the documents is part of an ongoing legal fight with Google that began last year.
The media conglomerate alleges that YouTube’s financial viability depends on making copyrighted works available without proper permission. Google has countered that it respects copyright, and it is developing technology to help copyright owners manage how and when their property appears on services such as YouTube.
Catherine Lacavera, Google’s senior litigation counsel, said that Viacom’s effort to obtain documents from YouTube’s early investors is “not out of the ordinary” for such litigation.
Viacom spokesman Jeremy Zweig declined to comment. Sequoia Capital spokesman Mark Dempster did not respond to a request for comment.
Viacom’s lawsuit, filed in March 2007 in New York, has proven to be a nagging headache for Google. In July of this year, Viacom won a ruling that ordered the search giant to hand over data reflecting the video-watching habits of YouTube users, igniting privacy concerns. See related story.
Now the traditionally secretive venture-capital firms that seed startups like YouTube are being pressed into divulging internal information. Viacom said in court filings that it cannot rely on YouTube to produce the documents, which date from an early, “transient” period when it was housed in a garage and at its investors’ offices. End of Story

Obama and McCain Clash Over Economy

October 8, 2008

The gravity of the moment and the somber setting — a town-hall-style meeting in front of 80 selected voters who, when not asking questions, watched in silence, not applauding or laughing — produced an often stifled encounter, largely absent of dramatic confrontations or the personal exchanges that dominated the campaign over the past 24 hours.

Mr. McCain chose not to use the evening — the second of three scheduled debates — to attack Mr. Obama’s background or character. But in a moment that caught the attention of people in both parties, he appeared agitated at one point as he dismissively criticized Mr. Obama’s record in the Senate and referred to his opponent only as “that one.”

Mr. Obama placed the blame for the financial crisis on deregulation and the lack of fiscal discipline under President Bush, whom he repeatedly linked to Mr. McCain. Mr. McCain, at every opportunity, presented his opponent as an advocate of spending and higher taxes, while presenting himself as pragmatic, willing to reach across the aisle and sometimes at odds with Mr. Bush.

Mr. McCain sought to break through by highlighting a proposal under which the Treasury Department would buy up homeowners’ mortgages that had gone bad, and in effect refinance them at prices they could afford. Still, arriving in Nashville for the debate, it was Mr. McCain who was feeling the pressure to do something to break out, with polls suggesting that Mr. Obama was gaining ground and with just one more debate left. There were no obvious dramatic breakthrough moments by Mr. McCain; indeed, although the two men pummeled back and forth, it was Mr. Obama who more consistently sought to draw sharp contrasts between the voting records and campaign promises of the two.

Mr. McCain kept his distance from the types of attacks on Mr. Obama’s background and character launched in recent days by his running mate, Gov. Sarah Palin. Not only did he not mention Bill Ayers, the 1960s radical that the McCain campaign — and Ms. Palin in particular– has sought to link to Mr. Obama, he did not mention Ms. Palin once.

Instead, standing in what he has long described as his favorite campaign setting – a town hall meeting, albeit one set up under extraordinary strict restrictions that limited any interaction between candidates and voter – he seemed more the McCain of an earlier campaign, repeatedly presenting himself as the agent who could end partisan division in Washington. Again and again, he criticized Mr. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney, invoking the names of such Democratic senators as Ted Kennedy and Russ Feingold, as well as his friend, Senator Joseph I. Lieberman of Connecticut, who ran for vice president as a Democrat in 200 but has endorsed Mr. McCain,.

“I have a clear record of bipartisanship,” he said “The situation today cries out

for bipartisanship. Senator Obama has never taken on his leaders of his party on a single issue. And we need to reform.”

In a moment that suggested Mr. McCain’s impatience with his opponent, he described the differences between the two candidates on energy policy.

“By the way, my friends, I know you grow a little weary of this back and forth: there was an energy bill on the floor of the Senate, loaded down with goodies, billions for the oil companies, and it was sponsored by Bush and Cheney he said. “You who voted for it? You might never know.”

He cast his arm at Mr. Obama. “That one,” he said. “You know who voted against it? Me.”

By contrast, it was Mr. Obama who at every opportunity draw aggressive contrasts between the candidates views on domestic and foreign policy.

“Senator McCain and I actually agree on something,” Mr. Obama said “He said a while back that the big problem with energy is that for the last 30 years politicians in Washington haven’t done anything. What McCain mention is he’s been there 26 of them and during that time he voted 23 times against alternative fuels.”

At another point, Mr. McCain criticized Mr. Obama for saying he would speak, without preconditions, to the leaders of countries like Pakistan, quoting Teddy Roosevelt – at first incorrectly — explaining the way he would deal with leaders of foes.

“You know, my hero is a guy named Teddy Roosevelt,” he said. “Teddy Roosevelt used

to say walk softly — talk softly, but carry a big stick. Senator Obama likes to talk loudly.”

Mr. Obama raised his hand to respond as the moderator, Tom Brokaw – in one of many times he struggled to keep the two men to comport to highly restrictive rules that they had agreed to – sought to move on to the next question

“Senator McCain suggests that somehow, you know, I’m green behind the ears and, you know, I’m just spouting off, and he’s somber and responsible,” he said. “Senator McCain, this is the guy who sang, “Bomb, bomb, bomb Iran,” who called for the annihilation of North Korea. That I don’t think is an example of “speaking softly.”

With Outlook Dim, Bernanke Says Fed May Act on Rates

October 8, 2008

WASHINGTON — The Federal Reserve chairman, Ben S. Bernanke, said on Tuesday that the turmoil in the financial markets had increased the risk to overall growth and that federal regulators would have to be vigilant to halt the slide.


 “Over all, the combination of the incoming data and recent financial developments suggests that the outlook for economic growth has worsened and that the downside risks to growth have increased,” Mr. Bernanke told members of the National Association for Business Economics.

In an address that was at once sobering but hopeful, at least for the long term, Mr. Bernanke hinted strongly that the Fed’s Board of Governors would probably lower interest rates at its next meeting, on Oct. 28 and Oct. 29.

And he said that, however reluctantly, the Fed would continue to aggressively use all the tools it had to help ease the financial turmoil. “These are momentous steps,” he said, “but they are being taken to address a problem of historic dimensions.”

Only a few weeks ago, the Fed’s official posture was that inflation was a serious concern. But now, even though the outlook remains uncertain, inflation has eased somewhat. “In light of these developments, the Federal Reserve will need to consider whether the current stance of policy remains appropriate,” Mr. Bernanke said.

In effect, he was preparing the markets, and perhaps the country and even the world, to expect a lowering of the benchmark interest rate that applies to bank-to-bank lending, now at 2 percent.

Moreover, Mr. Bernanke, while expressing faith in the just-enacted recovery program under which the government will buy troubled mortgage-backed securities and then resell them, seemed to counsel against counting on an overnight recovery.

“With time,” Mr. Bernanke said, “strengthening our financial institutions and markets will allow credit to begin flowing again, supporting economic growth.”

The chairman emphasized that freeing the credit markets might be the most immediate need, not just for businesses that need the money to finance day-to-day operations but for ordinary households. “By potentially restricting future flows of credit,” he said, “the developments in financial markets post a significant threat to economic growth.”

President Bush also warned Tuesday against expecting a quick fix.

“It’s going to take time for these actions that I’ve described to you in the bill to have full effect,” he told a business gathering in Chantilly, Va. “You want to make sure that when we move, we move effectively. You want to make sure that the plan is well thought-out and well-delivered. Thawing the freeze in the financial system is not going to overnight, but it will be a process that unfolds over several stages.”

Mr. Bernanke spoke hours after the Fed announced a new program to buy up companies’ unsecured debt, a plan that pushes the agency closer than ever to the role of direct lender to business.

Mr. Bernanke said at the outset that the deep involvement of the Fed and other Washington agencies in trying to right the economy was not a development that he gladly embraced — but that dire circumstances required it.

“Government assistance should be provided with the greatest reluctance and only when the stability of the financial system, and thus the health of the broader economy, is at risk,” he said.

Mr. Bernanke virtually predicted an economy that would be sluggish, at best, in the near term. “All told, economic activity is likely to be subdued during the remainder of this year and into next year,” he said.

His comments were not entirely pessimistic. He predicted, for instance, that the recovery program’s cost to taxpayers “will certainly be far less than $700 billion,” the amount called for to purchase the troubled mortgage-backed securities. By extension, he was predicting that the securities might be worth something to investors, and perhaps much more than their opaque nature would indicate right now.

Finally, Mr. Bernanke, who is an authority on the Great Depression, said that the country and its federal officials had learned from history that inaction or delayed reaction to financial calamity could be disastrous.

“This is not the situation we face today,” he said, predicting that official Washington’s fast response “together with the natural recuperative powers of the financial markets” will pave the way toward recovery.

Hundreds Injured in Thai Protests

October 8, 2008

BANGKOK — Thailand’s political crisis worsened Tuesday when antigovernment protesters trapped lawmakers inside the Parliament building and fought running battles with the police that left one person dead and nearly 400 injured.

Chumsak Kanoknan/Getty Images

Riot police officers beat an antigovernment protester outside Parliament in Bangkok on Tuesday. At least one person was killed during a series of street battles.

The violence on Tuesday included attacks on the Thai police by protesters armed with sticks. Lawmakers were trapped inside Parliament for several hours before they were able to escape.

The army was deployed on the streets of Bangkok after the worst political violence since 1992 as protesters continued a six-week sit-in outside the prime minister’s office, forcing the government to conduct its business from a former international airport.

Prime Minister Somchai Wongsawat asserted that he would not step down, and the military repeated a promise not to stage a coup, while the protesters said they would continue their actions until they brought down the government.

They accuse the ruling party of being an extension of the rule of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who was elected on a populist program in 2001 and ousted in a coup in September 2006. He now lives in London but continues to exert influence among his allies here.

The protesters surrounded Parliament throughout the day Tuesday, and Mr. Somchai left by escaping over a back fence in the morning after delivering a policy address. But other members of Parliament were unable to leave for more than five hours, until the police dispersed the protesters with volleys of tear gas.

The Thai military announced that it would deploy unarmed troops to help the police keep peace in the days to come.

“We ran, ran, ran,” said one Parliament member, Niyom Vejkarma, who had stripped off his jacket and tie and fled from the building in his patent leather shoes.

“My eyes are sore,” he said, referring to the tear gas that lingered in the air as he and fellow lawmakers stood at a street corner with their cellphones and called their drivers.

The assault on Parliament was the culmination of an escalating feud between an urban elite trying to reclaim traditional hierarchical authority and a democratically elected government backed by a rising rural underclass.

The protesters were led by the People’s Alliance for Democracy, a patchwork coalition of businessmen, academics and activists who have held street demonstrations against the government since May, and occupied the grounds on Aug. 26.

Their protests have remained mostly peaceful, but they have set the country on edge with memories of a military crackdown in 1992 when the army killed dozens of pro-democracy protesters demanding the ouster of a military-backed government.

Speaking to reporters after the violence subsided late Tuesday, Cmdr. Gen. Anupong Paochinda of the army asserted: “We will not stage a coup. A coup would not do any good to the country. It won’t accomplish anything. It is not hard to stage a coup. But making a country function after staging one is.”

The civilian government installed by the military after its coup in 2006 was widely seen as incompetent and ineffective. When Mr. Thaksin’s allies regained power in a parliamentary election last December, the country returned to the political standoff that had led to the coup.

Mr. Somchai is a brother-in-law of Mr. Thaksin. He has sought to find a compromise with the protesters since taking office last month, but the protest at the Parliament building appears to have derailed the early stages of talks.

The alliance says it wants to modify the country’s democratic system to weaken the electoral power of the rural poor, who formed the base of support for Mr. Thaksin and now for the governing People Power Party.

The protesters’ assault on the Parliament building and the street battles appeared to have been well planned and well supplied — demonstrators distributed food, water and masks to protect against tear gas.

The protesters made barricades of tires and razor wire and secured the entrance to the Parliament building. Reinforcements arrived during the afternoon, some carrying banners.

The police attacked repeatedly, firing tear gas canisters and chasing protesters down alleys.

The protesters, some wearing motorcycle helmets and masks, some armed with metal rods, machetes and slingshots, threw back the tear gas canisters and used rocks and firecrackers as missiles.

Genzyme CEO Interview

October 8, 2008

Cramer spoke with Henry Termeer, chairman and CEO of Genzyme (GENZ). Termeer explained to Cramer that Genzyme focuses primarily on “orphan” drugs, or drugs for rare diseases (five out of every 10,000 people) that don’t have many available treatments. He said the market for orphan drugs is small but once a patient is on the treatments they often or on them for life and it creates a stable stream of income for GENZ. The company can make as much as $300,000 per pear per patient with some orphan drugs. He pointed out that insurance companies don’t complain about paying for these treatments because they work and are some of the only options available for the rare diseases. Cramer mentioned he likes GENZ for its drugs developments in bigger markets like cholesterol, MS and renal failure. The company also has three drugs up for FDA approval by the end of the year. “If you want to speculate like a pro, you speculate with fabulous companies that have been around that have really exciting drugs in the pipeline,” Cramer said. “Genzyme fits that bill.”

Redskins quickly shake early setback

October 8, 2008

Even as their first-year coach attacked the exhibition schedule as though it were a five-game referendum on his personal worth, the Redskins had a miserable end to their preseason. After three consecutive faux victories, Washington got blown out by the Panthers (47-3) and Jaguars (24-3), making a very unhappy rookie mentor out of Jim Zorn.

“He’s not viewing these games as learning tools, or as a chance to evaluate young players,” Redskins executive vice president Vinny Cerrato said at the time. “Jim is competitive. He’s trying to win.”

It turns out the summer of Zorn’s discontent incongruously paved the way for what could be an amazing autumn in the nation’s capitol, though it took an extra week to get going. Looking back on the team’s dead-fish performance during a 16-7 defeat to the Giants in the Thursday-night season opener, Washington tight end Chris Cooley says it was as if the Redskins were still locked in their disjointed late-preseason mindset.


Photo Clinton Portis, left, and Antwaan Randle El celebrate a TD vs. the Eagles Sunday.

(US Presswire/Howard Smith)



“It felt like a preseason game,” Cooley recalls. “It was a Thursday, it was at night, and we never got in anything close to an offense rhythm. It’s like our season started after Week 1.”

Since then the Redskins have won four consecutive games, including a home victory over NFC West-leading Arizona and back-to-back road triumphs over NFC East rivals Dallas and Philadelphia. They have yet to turn the ball over on offense, and there’s no sense that an October Surprise is lurking to derail them.

It sounds strange, but this is a team that has a very legitimate chance to earn home-field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs.

Washington’s next three opponents – the Rams, Browns and Lions – have a combined 1-11 record. If the Redskins don’t falter, they’ll be 7-1 at the midpoint of the season. After that comes a tough Monday-night test against the Steelers at home, followed by a bye week.

It’s true that the Redskins play in football’s toughest division, but they’ll host all three NFC East foes at FedEx Field in the second half. Could their Nov. 30 rematch against the Giants turn out to be the conference’s pivotal regular-season game?

Qantas flyers injured in sudden altitude plunge

October 8, 2008

SYDNEY, Australia – Australia’s air safety bureau is investigating the sudden altitude plunge of a Qantas airplane that left as many as 40 people injured, 20 of them seriously, during a flight from Singapore to the Western Australian city of Perth.

The A330-300, carrying 303 passengers and 10 crew, was forced to make an emergency landing Tuesday in Learmonth, Western Australia.

Two Air Transport Safety Bureau investigators were in Learmonth and five more were expected to arrive later Wednesday, the ATSB said. The investigators have quarantined the flight data recorder and cockpit voice recorder and will interview crew and passengers.

The bureau was expected to give more details in a news conference later Wednesday.

Western Australia police said at least 20 passengers and crew were seriously injured _ some with spinal trauma and others with broken bones and lacerations. Up to 20 others were treated for minor injuries.

Passenger Ben Cave, of Perth, said he had not been wearing a seat belt and had slammed into the cabin roof when the plane plummeted.

“We had a major fall and another fall shortly after,” Cave said. “I hit the ceiling but I was OK, I only got a few bruises and strains.”

Jim Ford, also of Perth, said he thought he was about to die as he watched people being flung around the cabin.

“It was horrendous, absolutely gruesome, terrible, the worst experience of my life,” he said.

Qantas said in a statement Tuesday that it had no details as to what caused the altitude change. Calls to Qantas on Wednesday morning were unanswered.

The incident is the latest in a string of issues to plague the Australian airline since one of its flights was forced to make an emergency landing in the Philippines in July after an oxygen tank exploded on board, ripping a gaping hole in the fuselage.

Formula One: Massa refuses to blame crew for pit disaster

September 29, 2008

SINGAPORE, Sept 29, 2008 (AFP) – Ferrari world title contender Felipe Massa had a disastrous Singapore Grand Prix Sunday but refused to blame the mechanic who ruined his race.

The Brazilian, ahead of rival Lewis Hamilton at the time after 15 laps, was given the green light to leave the pits but the fuel hose was still attached as he accelerated away, spraying petrol and knocking over one of the pit crew.

Massa ended up sitting in his Ferrari at the end of the pit lane as the crew frantically ran after him and managed to pull the hose free.

But he was given a drive-through penalty for almost hitting another car as he drove away and rejoined in 18th place, ending any hope he had of making the points.

Despite the disaster, he was philosophical.

“We could have finished first and second and it could have been different,” he said as he slipped seven points behind Hamilton in the drivers’ standings with three races left after the Briton finished third.

“It is hard to deal with losing in this fashion a race that was within our grasp with a car that was just the way I wanted it.

“But things can change in a moment and that’s what happened today.

“We are all human beings, everyone makes mistakes. I am not the sort of person who goes to a guy and fights with him.

“So I went to the guy and gave him even more motivation because we need him and we need everybody together for the last three races of the season.”

It was a race to forget for Ferrari with defending world champion Kimi Raikkonen failing to finish after ramming his car into the barriers with just four laps left when he was fifth.

“A black day, there’s little else to day. We are very disappointed but that doesn’t mean we are downtrodden,” Ferrari team principal Stefano Domenicali told reporters, brushing aside suggestions the mechanic would be reprimanded.

“You try to be quick, try to find the right slot for the car to be released,” he said.

“It is a difficult moment. We have to have a lot of respect for these guys, who are not top drivers but are part of us.”

David Coulthard in a Red Bull had a similar pit-stop blunder with his fuel hose also left on and a mechanic hurt, although his crew resolved the issue quickly.

Motor racing-Singapore the big winner in first night grand prix

September 29, 2008

SINGAPORE, Sept 29 – Fernando Alonso was crowned Formula One’s prince of darkness on Sunday, after streaking to the chequered flag at the sport’s first night-time grand prix in Singapore.

The Spaniard’s triumph at Formula One’s 800th race was heralded by customary champagne-fuelled celebrations, the podium jubilation adhering to time-honoured motor racing etiquette.

But while Renault’s twice former world champion will be forever noted as the Singapore GP’s first winner, the F1 honour roll will not so easily record the biggest winner of the weekend — the South-East Asian city-state whose staging of a spectacular and innovative race has left the motor racing world agog with admiration.

A jewel in the Formula One crown is how the sport’s supremo Bernie Ecclestone described the Singapore race, adding that floodlit events were the future for the sport.

It helped that Sunday night’s race was an action-packed roller-coaster of thrills, drama and daredevil driving.

“In this part of the world, for sure, night races will take off,” the billionaire who owns the sport’s commercial rights said on Sunday. Ecclestone plans to turn the Japanese GP into a night race next.


McLaren boss Ron Dennis raved about the Singaporean extravaganza.

“It is not just a new experience,” he said, “It is a real big step in the history of grand prix racing because it has been done so well.

“Everything has been proven now and we can take this model and apply it to anywhere in the world – either to bring to Europe the race at a time when people watch it, or even within Europe to make it more spectacular.”

Williams team boss, the eponymous Frank Williams, echoed Ecclestone’s thoughts.

“It has a good chance of challenging Monaco for being the jewel in the crown of Formula One,” he told Autosport magazine’s website.

From the floodlit 5.067 kilometre track, strewn across Singapore’s downtown like a luminous ribbon, to the state-of-the-art facilities and clockwork organisation, the entire staging of the grand prix has been an exercise in how to get it right.

Organisers had faced a headache of eye-watering proportions in their ambitions to step into the unknown and host the extravaganza under the stars.

For the lighting alone, 1,600 lantern-like projectors were rigged up, requiring more than 100,000 metres of cabling and 240 steel pylons to illuminate the track.


The result was some of the most spectacular images of any sporting event. Pictures of gleaming Ferraris speeding through a hi-tech cityscape vied with images of cars streaking past the world’s largest observation wheel, the Singapore Flyer — pictures which filled the media and fuelled the appetite for motor sport.

More than 300,000 people poured through the gates over three days, a sell-out, and created a festival atmosphere.

Organisers set up “hawker stalls” offering visitors a taste of authentic Singaporean food while magicians, singers and jugglers entertained the masses.

“It costs a lot of money, the lights, the circuit and the organisation. But it is a great investment for the city. And, of course, it is fantastic for F1. It is, in the best sense of the word, a highlight,” Mercedes motorsport vice-president Norbert Haug said.

Even the drivers, a breed of detail-obsessed, nit-picking perfectionists, gave it the thumbs up.

“The track and the facilities here have been phenomenal,” championship leader Lewis Hamilton said after finishing third.

“The organisers should be very proud of the job they have done.”

Coca-Cola celebrates Ramadan

September 1, 2008

Coca-Cola plans to celebrate Ramadan this year by decorating cans with a crescent moon and star – a widely recognized Islamic symbol.

The moon and star can be found on at least 11 flags of Muslim countries, and now it will be featured on packaging in Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Indonesia, Morocco, Tunisia and other Islamic countries during the Sept. 1-30 Muslim holiday, blogger Bob McCarty reported.

Coca-Cola has hired a company named ATTIK to handle packaging, Brand Republic reports. Its Christmas cans are usually decorated with secular-themed images of Santa Claus, but McCarty asked the company whether it planned to introduce Christian symbols as well.

“When I learned the symbol of the Islamic faith will appear on Coca-Cola packaging during Ramadan 2008, I found myself wondering whether or not the Atlanta-based soft drink maker will soon include the Christian cross and Jewish star of David in future holiday packaging designs targeting people of those faiths,” he wrote on his blog, Bob McCarty Writes.

In 2006, Coca-Cola released a statement about its recognition of Ramadan.

“In a globalizing world, Ramadan presents an opportunity to showcase the true values of Islam and what it stands for,” it said. “Because no other brand is as inclusive as and no other company is as diverse as Coca-Cola, we have a unique opportunity to play a valued role as an international bridge-builder and facilitator of dialogue during Ramadan.”

September 1, 2008

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September 1, 2008

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Frustration grows on the tracks

August 30, 2008
  • Looking up at a list of delayed trains at Boston‘s crowded South Station on a summer afternoon, Peter Pesis asks why passenger trains in the United States are so slow, so crowded and so prone to delays.“This is not like Europe,” sighed the 38-year-old Greek native who has lived in New York 15 years and often rides the nation’s only high-speed train, Amtrak’s Acela Express, between midtown Manhattan and Boston.

    Rising costs of traveling by air and car, brought on by record oil prices, drew a record 2.8 million people onto America‘s cash-strapped passenger railway network in July, the largest of any single month in Amtrak’s 37-year history and up nearly 14 percent from a year earlier.

    But as passenger numbers grow, so too are complaints of overcrowding and delays.

    Like many Acela travelers, Pesis grumbles at why the train is limited to reaching its top speed of 150 miles per hour (240 kmh) for just 20 miles on two sections of track in Rhode Island and Massachusetts.

    Compare that to France, which has the world’s fastest high-speed train, the TGV, that runs for long stretches at speeds as high as 200 miles an hour (322 kmh). And Japan, which boasts its 186 mph (299 kmh) “Shinkansen” trains.

    The Acela barely beats a car, averaging just 82 mph (129 kmh) on its 456 mile Northeast Corridor, which connects Washington, Philadelphia, New York and Boston, slowed by 19th-century tunnels and other aging infrastructure. High-speed rail is usually defined as faster than 120 mph (200 kmh).

    “They need to improve the speed,” said Pesis, echoing a popular gripe. “It’s very slow.”

    The bigger crowds are also a challenge for Amtrak. Maurice Levene, a 67-year-old health-care consultant who lives in New York and runs a business in Boston, says securing a seat is harder.

    “I’m looking for the track so I can get a seat because I like to sit on the outside,” he said as he made his way through Boston‘s South Station. “When I travel with my wife, it’s really a pain getting two seats together.”

    Further south in Hartford, Connecticut, Linda Sarangoulis waited for her 3:20 p.m. train to Philadelphia.

    The bigger crowds are also a challenge for Amtrak. Maurice Levene, a 67-year-old health-care consultant who lives in New York and runs a business in Boston, says securing a seat is harder.

    “I’m looking for the track so I can get a seat because I like to sit on the outside,” he said as he made his way through Boston‘s South Station. “When I travel with my wife, it’s really a pain getting two seats together.”

    Further south in HartfordConnecticut, Linda Sarangoulis waited for her 3:20 p.m. train to Philadelphia.

    “The ticket counter said it was going to be 20 minutes late,” said Sarangoulis of Reading, Pennsylvania. “InEurope, you can hop the train so much easier and it’s cheaper. I don’t know why we can’t do that here. If they had more trains, maybe I would ride more,” she said.


Passenger rail systems in BritainFrance and Germany account for about 6 to 8 percent of total annual passenger travel miles. Amtrak carries less than 1 percent. Japan, with the world’s busiest high-speed rail network, carries 18 percent.

But that’s changing. Rising gas prices are straining America‘s love of the open road. An estimated 1.1 percent fewer people will travel by car over the Labor Day holiday, which begins on August 29, the American Automobile Association estimates.

And many are thinking twice about flying. Labor Day ticket demand is projected to fall for the first time in six years, dropping 5.7 percent, the Air Transport Association of America says, as higher fees and declining service take a toll.

Vanesa Lopez, a 31-year-old New Yorker, prefers the bus because she worries trains will be delayed. “I’m skeptical — is it going to be on time?” she said. “When I was in Europe, I took the train a lot.”

Recent data back that up. The Acela’s on-time performance is down 4.4 percent in the year to July, and the slower Northeast Regional trains are off 2.7 percent — alarming trends for Amtrak’s busiest routes, experts say.

Nationally, Amtrak does better. The number of on-time trains across its entire 21,000-mile (33,796-km) network rose 2.7 percent this year, thanks to long-distance services like the “Crescent” between New Yorkand New Orleans, and the “Coast Starlight” between Seattle and Los Angeles.

“They have a fair number of passenger cars that are out of service that could be put back into service with modest amounts of expenditure. But their budget doesn’t permit that,” said John Spychalski, a professor atPennsylvania State University who studies the U.S. rail network.

Amtrak chief executive officer Alex Kummant has said that about 60 out-of-service cars could be refurbished for $700,000 each but they can only afford to overhaul 12 of them.

Senate Democrats introduced legislation this year that would authorize Amtrak to borrow nearly $3 billion to spend on replacing railcars. The bill would also direct $400 million in gas taxes each year to expand capacity. The Bush administration has sought to scrap direct federal funding for Amtrak.

November’s presidential election could be pivotal. Democratic Sen. Barack Obama says he would fight for Amtrak funding while seeking reforms. His Republican rival, Sen. John McCain, has in the past sought to block subsidies for Amtrak.

Travelers just hope costs for traveling don’t go higher.

“For me it costs the same to fly, to drive or to take the train, so you just have to pick your poison,” said Linda Falconiero, a 61-year-old retiree from Baltimore, as she waited for a train in Boston. “I want to stay out of the airports, so it’s easier to do this.”  “They need to improve the speed,” said Pesis, echoing a popular gripe. “It’s very slow.” 

After Glow of Games, What Next for China?

August 25, 2008


BEIJING — The elaborate closing ceremony that ended the Olympic Games on Sunday also ended nearly a decade in which the ruling Communist Party had made the Games an organizing principle in national life. Almost nothing has superseded the Olympics as a political priority in China.

For Chinese leaders, all that effort paid off. The Games were seen as an unparalleled success by most Chinese — a record medal count inspired nationwide excitement, and Beijing impressed foreign visitors with its hospitality and efficiency. And while the government’s uncompromising suppression of dissent drew criticism, China also demonstrated to a global audience that it is a rising economic and political power.

But a new, post-Olympic era has begun. The question now is whether a deepening self-confidence arising from the Olympic experience will lead China to further its engagement with the world and pursue deeper political reform, or whether the success of the Games and the muted Western response to repression will convince leaders that their current model is working.

“China was eager to present something that shows it is a new power that has its own might,” said Shen Dingli, a professor at Fudan University in Shanghai. “It has problems, but it is able to manage them. It has weaknesses in its institutions, but also strengths in those same institutions.”

Jacques Rogge, the president of the International Olympic Committee, declared Sunday afternoon that selecting Beijing as a host had been the “right choice” and that the event had been a bridge between China and the rest of the world. “The world has learned about China, and China has learned about the world,” Mr. Rogge said. “I believe this is something that will have positive effects for the long term.”

To a large degree, the Beijing Games reflected the might of the centralized power of China’s authoritarian system: The stunning sports stadiums contributed to a $43 billion price tag for the Games that was almost completely absorbed by the state. China’s 51 gold medals, the most of any nation, were the product of a state-controlled sports machine. Those successes are one reason that some analysts doubt Chinese leaders will rush to change the status quo.

“They have earned a tremendous amount of face because of the Olympics,” said Hung Huang, a media executive in Beijing. “They are going to ride on that for a while. We don’t have a culture that is pro-change. China, by nature, has got to be provoked to make changes. The economic reforms came about because we were desperately poor.”

Indeed, for all the attention to the Olympics, 2008 also marks the 30th anniversary of China’s initial embrace of the market reforms that have powered the country’s rapid economic rise. As the population becomes more urban and wealthy, the leadership will probably have to contend with rising expectations and demands for better services. Liberals in China have hoped this anniversary would inspire new reforms, especially to a political system still marred by corruption and a lack of transparency.

But critics say that the Olympics have underscored the deep resistance within the Communist Party to becoming more tolerant of dissent. The party had faced a procession of crises during the prelude to the Olympics: the violent Tibetan protests that began in March, the protests during the international Olympic torch relay, and the devastating May earthquake in Sichuan Province.

Protests seemed inevitable during the Games, and the authorities initially seemed to signal more openness toward legal dissent when they announced three designated protest zones in city parks.

But those zones remained empty. Chinese citizens made formal applications to protest, but none were approved during the Games. Two elderly women who applied to protest about a land dispute were sentenced to a labor and re-education prison camp. Meanwhile, eight Americans were among a group of foreigners jailed after they tried to demonstrate about China’s Tibet policies. The authorities released the Americans on Sunday and placed them on a flight to Los Angeles as the closing ceremony began.

“For the Chinese authorities to sentence them at all shows the government’s insecurity and intolerance of even the most peaceful challenges to its authoritarian control,” Students for a Free Tibet, a New York-based advocacy group, said in a statement.

Anxious Party Hopes to Show Strong Obama

August 25, 2008

 DENVER — Democrats gathering here for their nominating convention are significantly more nervous about Senator Barack Obama’s prospects this fall than they were a month ago, and are urging him to use the next four days to address weaknesses in his candidacy and lingering party divisions from the primary fight.

Mr. Obama’s aides said they had learned from what they described as the mistake of the 2004 Democratic convention — when aides to Senator John Kerry’s campaign sought to forbid convention speakers from going after President Bush — and would use their time to draw contrasts with Senator John McCain, particularly on the economy and his opposition to abortion rights.

“The stakes of this election will be made very clear,” said David Axelrod, Mr. Obama’s chief strategist. “We are going to define the choice.”

At the same time, acknowledging persistent unease with Mr. Obama among a significant segment of voters, his aides said they would use speeches and presentations during the next four days, including having Al Gore introduce Mr. Obama for his acceptance speech Thursday night, to offer a fuller biography and a more detailed plan of what he would do as president.

They said they were looking to 1992 as a model, when Bill Clinton successfully used his convention to address persistent questions about his personal life and what he would do as president.

Democrats arriving here said they remained confident that Mr. Obama would leave Denver at the end of the week in a strong position to defeat Mr. McCain. But many Democrats made it clear that a convention they had once anticipated would be a breezy celebration of Mr. Obama had turned into a more sober and consequential event.

This reflected a summer that they said demonstrated Mr. Obama’s vulnerabilities and Mr. McCain’s resilience, and the signs of lingering divisions between some supporters of Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton and Mr. Obama.

“Back in June and July, I truly thought he was going to blow McCain out of the water and carry 30 or 40 states,” said Donald Fowler, a former national Democratic chairman who supported Mrs. Clinton in the primary. “What has happened is that Republicans — McCain specifically — have really twisted his great charisma, this electric personality, to discredit his ability, his experience, his capacity, his judgment. I fear they are about to do to him what they did to Gore.”

Discussing the days ahead, Mr. Fowler continued: “Obama has got to do some things that will shore up his ability to lead — not just to charm, but to lead. They’ve got to give credibility to his understanding of foreign policy, his ability to deal with tough people and tough questions, and his ability to be more explicit and convincing on his health care policies and energy policies.”

Dennis McDonald, the Democratic chairman of Montana, a state that Mr. Obama is trying to win from Republicans, said this was a critical opening for Mr. Obama after a month in which polls suggested the race was tightening and events in Russia and Georgia put a new spotlight on foreign affairs, creating an opening that Mr. McCain seized.

“Normally I might say these conventions are not so important, but I don’t think that’s the case this year,” Mr. McDonald said. “There seems to be a sense of urgency. We have had a couple of weeks that were not so good.”

For the most part, this is a confident if slightly anxious party. And many Democrats were cheered by the choice of Senator Joseph R. Biden Jr. of Delaware as Mr. Obama’s running mate, saying he had the potential to help address some of Mr. Obama’s political shortcomings.

At the same time, Democratic officials said Senator Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts was to fly here to attend a tribute in his honor Monday night, though it was unclear whether Mr. Kennedy, who is suffering from brain cancer, would speak.

Still, Democrats said Mr. Obama should offer a concrete idea of what he would do as president, to counter the effort by Republicans to present him as a showman. They said he had to offer a tougher contrast with Mr. McCain.

“I think in the case of McCain, they need to frame him,” said Mr. Kerry, an early Obama supporter who four years ago was nominated by this party as its 2004 presidential nominee. “Viscerally, my feeling is they’ve got to come back at him hard. And they’ve got to do more to complete the task of definition — both definition of him as well as definition of John McCain.”

Joe Trippi, who ran the presidential campaign of one of Mr. Obama’s rivals, John Edwards of North Carolina, said: “He has still got to get to the meat-and-potato, blue-collar workers. This is a big opportunity for him.”

There are some things that may be beyond the control of the Obama campaign. Most pressingly, Democrats said they were worried that the tensions between supporters of Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Obama from the contest that just ended two months ago would spill into public view after her name is entered into nomination, particularly after Mr. Obama bypassed Mrs. Clinton in choosing Mr. Biden.

“I have a lot of doubts that this convention is going to be as persuasive as it should be because they’ve got this damn thing with Hillary,” Mr. Fowler said. “I love Hillary. I was for her. But this is the worst political decision I could imagine. This is supposed to be an Obama celebration. You’re going to get the nomination of someone who came very close to winning and you’re going to get a lot of people in there cheering and hollering and some people booing.”

Mrs. Clinton’s advisers said Sunday that she would move to avoid this by meeting with her delegates on Wednesday and formally urging them to support Mr. Obama in the roll-call vote that night. (Under Democratic Party rules, delegates are permitted to vote for whomever they want.)

Republicans sought to stoke the issue by releasing an advertisement highlighting Mr. Obama’s failure to choose Mrs. Clinton as his running mate, using her words against him from the primary season and implying he passed her over because of them. Gov. Bill Richardson of New Mexico, a former Clinton ally who came under attack by the campaign after he endorsed Mr. Obama, said: “There has got to be a full reconciliation between the Clinton people and the Obama people. I think the convention will put to rest any past divisions among supporters.”

The Obama campaign is leaving little to chance. It has created a rapid response team — led by Craig Smith, a former top operative in the Clinton world — to head out to the convention floor at the first sign of any trouble from Clinton supporters.

Mr. Obama’s campaign began sending out a one-page sheet of daily talking points to delegates, instructing them what to say and what to avoid in talking to reporters. (In one last week, according to a recipient, the central thrust was how to parry questions about Clinton-Obama strife and Mrs. Clinton’s speech by saying, “I can’t wait to hear Hillary Clinton talk about the future and am excited that her candidacy is unifying our party!”)

Giant centipede found in Tekong

August 21, 2008

Photos of a giant centipede his brother-in-law found yesterday (Aug 10). He also sent in a video to prove it’s not a fake.

Said the STOMPer:”My brother-in-law found this giant centipede in the kitchen of an army camp in Pulau Tekong on Aug 10.

“He said he found it underneath a cooking utensil and believed it must have made it way to the kitchen from the nearby forested area.

“He brought it home to show me and just to show STOMPers out there just how big the centipede is, I placed it beside my cable TV remote control.
“In fact, the centipede is easily longer than the remote control, if its body were stretched out straight.


Giant centipede found in Tekong



Singaporeans connect well with Tao Li

August 21, 2008

 SHE surprised the nation by becoming the first Singaporean swimmer to reach an Olympic final.

Now Tao Li could be set for even bigger things after her Beijing exploits.

The 18-year-old is seen as the new poster girl of the Foreign Sports Talent scheme.

The butterfly specialist, who moved to Singapore from Wuhan in 2003, was singled out by Senior Parliamentary Secretary (Community Development, Youth and Sports) Teo Ser Luck as a foreign talent who has settled in very well.

He told the media yesterday: ‘She’s one athlete who has assimilated very well into the Singapore society.

‘She attends the Sports School, counts Singaporeans as some of her closest friends and is not afraid to speak English.

‘In fact, when I speak to her in Chinese, she insists on speaking in English.

‘She’s also fortunate to have a mother who wants the best environment for her kid.

‘So, her mother also encourages her to embrace the Singapore way of life. She doesn’t want Tao Li to be different, but just like any other Singapore teenager.’

Mr Teo revealed that he has been flooded with e-mails and messages from Singaporeans who wrote that they drew inspiration from the performances of Tao Li and the women’s table tennis team in Beijing.

But more Singaporeans seem to identify with Tao Li.

Said Mr Teo: ‘I received one e-mail from a young swimmer who said he was motivated by Tao Li and now wants to represent Singapore at the Youth Olympic Games.

‘He’s only seventh in his school, but is not afraid to dream big because of what Tao Li has done.

‘I think people can connect with Tao Li. They’ve seen her grow up in Singapore, breaking national records and now the Asian record. That’s why I think she can be a good role model for Singapore youths and foreign athletes.’

Five Dead as Typhoon Nuri Slams into Philippines

August 20, 2008


Five Dead as Typhoon Nuri Slams into Philippines



MANILA – Five people were killed as Typhoon Nuri slammed into the northern Philippines Wednesday, triggering heavy rain and warnings of possible storm surges, officials said.

Packing maximum sustained winds of 140 kilometres an hour at the centre and gusts of up to 170 kilometres per hour, at 4:00 pm (0800 GMT) Nuri was 90 kilometres northwest of the northern province of Cagayan, moving northwest at 15 kilometres per hour.

“It has made landfall. She is lashing northern Luzon,” said Nathaniel Cruz, chief forecaster at the state weather bureau.

“Almost all of northern Luzon is experiencing the fury of Karen,” Cruz said, referring to the local name of Typhoon Nuri.

Five people including a 72-year-old woman and three children were killed when landslides crushed their houses in the northern regions while a farmer was missing after being washed away by an overflowing river in Ilocos province, the civil defence office reported.

Large parts of Luzon island were drenched by heavy rain, including Manila and nearby suburbs, and schools called off classes in some affected provinces,
disaster relief officials said.

“We are prepared. We are not just looking at rain and strong winds, we are also looking at storm surges and strong waves in coastal areas,” said Anthony Golez, deputy administrator of the National Disaster Coordinating Council.

Golez said provincial capitals in Luzon had been forewarned about Nuri and that contingency plans were in place.

The general manager of the Metro Manila Development Authority, Roberto
Nacianceno, said there was some minor flooding in the capital.

Rivers were also close to overflowing in provinces north of Manila, prompting the government to warn residents to take precautions. There were no reports of evacuations.

Nuri was expected to keep moving northwards closer to Hong Kong where there were fears the storm could affect the Olympic showjumping final scheduled for Thursday evening.

The Hong Kong Observatory said Typhoon Nuri would move towards southern China, bringing wind and thunderstorms over the next couple of days, although it was not forecast to hit the city if it remained on its current course.

Chinese authorities issued a level-two disaster control emergency response for Nuri, which was expected to make landfall on southeastern coastal areas on Friday or Saturday.

The Philippines is battered by an average of 20 typhoons a year, some of them devastating.

Nuri is the 12th to hit the archipelago this year.

In June, a ferry carrying more than 800 people sailed into the path of Typhoon Fengshen and sank in the central Philippines. There were only 57 survivors and the bodies of many of those who perished remain trapped inside the hull of the ferry.

Corporal punishment rife in U.S. schools, report shows

August 20, 2008

More than 200,000 children were hit as punishment in U.S. schools last year and in the South more blacks than whites are struck, two human rights groups said in a report released on Wednesday.

Texas accounted for a quarter of the instances of corporal punishment in the 2006-2007 school year, according to the study compiled by Human Rights Watch and the American Civil Liberties Union.


The report, titled “A Violent Education: Corporal Punishment of Children in U.S. Public Schools,” plays into a debate in America about the effectiveness of corporal punishment and its role in the classroom and home.


Twenty-one U.S. states still permit the use of corporal punishment in schools. In Texas and Mississippi children as young as 3 are struck for transgressions as minor as gum chewing, the report says.


The punishment often involves hitting a child on the buttocks with a long wooden board, or paddle.


In 13 states in the U.S. South where corporal punishment is the most prevalent, African-American girls are twice as likely to be hit as their white counterparts, according to the 125-page report.


“African-American students are punished at 1.4 times the rate that would be expected given their numbers in the student population,” the groups said in a statement.


Citing U.S. Department of Education data, the report said 223,190 students nationwide received corporal punishment at least once in the 2006-2007 school year. This included 49,197 students in Texas, the largest number of any state. Continued…

Cabby acts like hooligan when told to stop after accident

August 20, 2008

This taxi driver became rowdy and acted like a hooligan when he told the driver to stop his taxi after they were involved in an accident.

When the taxi driver found out that he had made a police report about the incident, he (the taxi driver) became even more hostile.

“What is the recruitment criteria for taxi drivers, and do taxi companies do any profiling of their potential drivers?”, a man said.

Lineage II – South-East Asia – CNA feature

August 20, 2008

Amputee swimmer completes 10K marathon

August 20, 2008

Natalie du Toit prepares for the Women´s 10km Marathon at the Shunyi Rowing and Canoeing Park on August 19.Du Toit didn’t finish where she wanted. Not even close.

But just making it to Beijing was a huge victory for anyone who’s ever faced a disability.

Hoping to contend for a medal, the 24-year-old South African amputee fell off the pace toward the end of the grueling 10 kilometer (6.2 mile) race and finished 16th, more than a minute behind gold medalist Larisa Ilchenko of Russia.

“I tried my best,” du Toit said. “I’m not too happy with it, but I’ll be back for 2012.”

Don’t bet against her.

When she walked out with 24 other swimmers to be introduced for the historic event, it was quickly apparent this wasn’t just another competitor.

Du Toit hobbled along stiffly on her artificial leg, No. 23 written on her back and both arms. While others bounced up and down to loosen up, she settled for shaking her arms. A couple of times, she walked over to the edge to splash water on her face and goggles, leaning over tenuously with her metal prosthetic sticking out to the side, serving as balance.

When it was time to race, she walked onto the dock and removed her replacement leg. Someone moved it away, and du Toit sat at the edge of the water, her right leg dangling in. When the starter called for everyone to get ready, she pulled herself up, wobbled just a bit and dove in.

She was an Olympian.

Du Toit hung with the lead pack most of the race, but couldn’t keep up when the pace quickened toward the end of the two-hour ordeal. She finished 1 minute, 22.2 seconds behind Ilchenko, who out-sprinted two British swimmers who led most of the way.

But du Toit’s time of 2 hours, 49 minutes, 9 seconds put her ahead of nine others, including 16-year-old American Chloe Sutton, who broke down in tears after finishing, every part of her body cramping and aching.

“I’ve got to get faster,” said du Toit, who looked like she could swim another 10 kilometers. “The race will obviously improve. This is the first time they’ve swum it at the Olympics. It’s going to get faster and faster.”

An up-and-coming swimmer who just missed qualifying for the Sydney Games, du Toit’s life took a tragic turn in 2001. Returning to school on a motorbike after a training session, she collided with a car and sustained massive injuries to her left leg. Doctors tried for a week to save it but finally had to amputate at the knee.

Instead of giving up on her athletic career, du Toit was back in the water six months later. Swimming made her feel whole again, but she wasn’t competitive with able-bodied athletes in the pool, where the legs are vital for starts and turns.

Along came open water, which was added to the program for Beijing. There are no flip turns to negotiate in marathon swimming, which is usually held in lakes and oceans, and the upper body is more important than the legs.

Du Toit had found her new calling. She qualified for the Olympics with a fourth-place finish at the world championships in Spain this year.

“I find it hard, and I’m a completely able-bodied person,” said Cassandra Patten, who won bronze in the race held at the Olympic rowing and canoeing course. “She’s an amazing role model.”


Ilchenko praised du Toit for not letting her disability hold her back. She was right in there battling with everyone else in a race that’s often called wrestling in the water for its rough tactics.

“I’d even go so far as to award her a separate medal,” the winner said through a translator. “I have enormous respect for her. It is exceedingly hard. Just looking at these people inspires you.”

Today in history [20 August 1974]

August 20, 2008


20 August 1974

Live mortar shell in Raffles’ school compound

Five Secondary Two students of Raffles Institution’s Gardening Society found a live mortar shell in their school compound. The shell was at the foot of a tree, surrounded by some empty sardine cans. The area was quickly cordoned off for the Bomb Disposal Unit to take action. A one-foot deep hole was dug and lined with seven bags of sand to contain the shell, and the deliberate explosion sent earth and stones flying some 300 metres. There were no casualties as all students were kept in their class until the operation was over.