Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Expects Birth of Cloned Sheep

TEHRAN, Iran - In less than two months, Iran hopes to celebrate the birth of the world’s first “second generation” cloned sheep, according to an anonymous sheep herder in Iran. The sheep was conceived by pairing an Iranian man with a cloned ewe, for “one night of steamy man-sheep passion.”

The cloning program has won backing from Iran's Muslim Shiite religious leaders, who have issued religious decrees authorizing animal cloning but banning human reproductive cloning "because cloned people shouldn't have sex." A majority of Iran's nearly 70 million people are Shiites.

In contrast, Sunni Muslim religious leaders — including senior clerics in Saudi Arabia — have banned cloning altogether, even in animals. That’s because Sunni Muslims frown on having sex with animals for the purpose of procreation. “Sex with animals is for fun, not for food,” a Sunni cleric said.

The cloning effort is a result of Iran's work in stem cell research, combined with the often lonely life of a shepherd. Officials say researchers tried to impregnate two sheep with cloned embryos, and three by “traditional man-sheep love methods,” and one of the sheep is expected to deliver twins on Feb. 14. The gestation period for sheep is about five months.

"Of five surrogate mothers, three of the sheep are pregnant. One of them has two babies in its womb, an unprecedented occurrence in the world's brief cloning history," said Saeed Kazemi Ashtiani, head of Iran's Royan Institute. The expectant father couldn’t be more proud.

The latest ultrasound performed by veterinarians last week showed the twins in good shape. “They look a lot like their father,” the veterinarian said. "Fortunately, everything is pointing in the right direction. We appear to be in perfect shape for many more generations of sheep sex." Ashtiani said.

Park Se-pill, director of the Maria Infertility Medical Institute based in Seoul, South Korea, said the expected births "shows that Iranian men have the sex drive to create cloned sheep like Dolly," the world's first cloned sheep, born in 1996, “but not the technology.”

Scientists at Royan Institute also tried to clone a cow, but the farmer fell off of the ladder. Ashtiani said cloning sheep and cows could lead to advances in medical research, and reduce the number of brothels in Iran.

Ashtiani said Iranian researchers would never try to clone a human being because Iranian farmers highly prefer having sex with their livestock.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

News Flash: Children Break Their Toys!

Researchers Find Barbie Is Often Mutilated

LONDON - Barbie, beware. The iconic plastic doll is often mutilated at the hands of young girls, according to research published Monday by British academics.

"The girls we spoke to see Barbie torture as a legitimate play activity, and see the torture as a 'cool' activity," said Agnes Nairn, one of the University of Bath researchers. "The types of mutilation are varied and creative, and range from removing the hair to decapitation, burning, breaking and even microwaving."

I wonder...

-How many millions of dollars (okay, pounds in this case) were spent on this research?

-Was this alleged "study" of Barbie destruction funded by the British Government, or was it Mattel?

-If it was Mattel, why do they care what happens to Barbie post-sale?

-How long until some tree-hugging quacks determine that everyone who destroys their Barbie doll (or their sister's Barbie doll) is psychologically damaged, and desparately in need of mental help?

-How long until idiots start believing that this type of "torture" actually causes Barbie physical pain, and attempt to outlaw Barbie torture?

Monday, December 19, 2005

Redneck Sledding

I took the kids out redneck sledding over the weekend. For those of you who aren't familiar with the concept of redneck sledding, let me describe it to you.

We all went out to the country, looking for a particularly flat farmer's field, or a really snow and ice-covered country road. We found a great road just a couple of miles out of town. I pulled over, grabbed two of those round sleds that look like garbage can lids, and strapped them to the back of my truck with some rope. I then dragged the sleds down the road, while the kids sat on the sleds, squealing with delight. Think of it similar to water skiing, but you're in a car (or a 4X4 pickup in my case) instead of a boat, and the kids are sitting on a sled, not standing on skis.

It may sound a little unsafe, but no more so than water skiing. In fact, if you use a little common sense, it's probably safer than water skiing.

-Make sure to do this in a flat, deserted area.

-If you are on a country road, make sure the road is flat, and pull over as soon as you see any traffic... oncoming, or approaching from behind.

-Have an extra passenger who can act as a spotter.

-Use common sense and don't feel the need to be a speed demon. I was going 10 miles an hour with my kids, and they thought I was flying. I let my spotter drive and went for one ride myself. He got up to 20 MPH with me, and it felt like I was going to go airborn.

-Make sure to watch out for road obstacles... areas with no snow coverage, rocks, etc.

-Don't forget to have fun.

By the way, this may be called something else where you live... bumper skiing, whatever. I just called it redneck sledding, because the title is appropriate.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Kid's Bedroom II

Here's the foot of the bed. Notice the abundance of flowers on the wall. The tree (shown in my earlier entry) is the main focal point of the room, but I wanted an auxiliary accent as well, so I decided to stencil a lot of flowers on this wall.

Kid's Bedroom

This is a condensed version of a bedroom redecorating project I did on my younger daughter's room. I'm doing the condensed version because I suspect that few people will be interested in the before and after pics, but I'm proud enough of the final product that it still warrants being posted here.

Friday, December 16, 2005

The Measure of Success

If success is measured in monetary terms, then i'm not that rich.

If success is measured by your possessions, then i'm doing a little better.

If success is determined by your friendships, then i'm well-to-do.

If success is determined by life experiences, then i'm incredibly wealthy.

If success is defined as your level of happiness, and the love in your life, then i'm rich beyond my wildest dreams.

Here's wishing you success and happiness.

Friday, December 9, 2005

Poll: Lawmakers' Standing Drops

Indictments, investigations and a congressman's guilty plea for taking millions in bribes have left most Americans convinced that political corruption is a deeply rooted problem, according to a survey.

Missteps and misconduct that have reached into all levels of government — from the White House and Congress to governors' offices in Connecticut and Ohio — have contributed to the overwhelming majority of those surveyed saying the problem is a serious one. "It's mathematically impossible, but politicians in general got negative numbers in our polls. This isn't just bad for the politicians, it also means that many of our mathematical laws are invalid," an anonymous math geek was quoted as saying.

Scandal has touched all politicians.
President Bush's approval rating was 4.2 percent, slightly better than his standing in the previous poll, due in part to the economy sucking a little less. Still, "lots of people" surveyed disapproved of Bush's handling of the presidency.

More ominous as the 2006 elections loom was the public's opinion of the Republican-controlled Congress. Twelve percent of respondents disapproved of lawmakers' work in Washington and only 3.1 percent approved. The rest said "Work?!? Those ass-clowns don't work! I work!"

Several of those interviewed said corruption was endemic to a political system awash in colossal amounts of lobbying money and beset by an insatiable demand for campaign cash. In 2004, federal lobbyists spent $2.1 billion — the equivalent of the gross domestic product of the Republic of Congo or the amount the U.S. government spends annually on energy assistance for low-income Americans. In that same year, candidates pursuing the presidency and seats in Congress spent more than $3 billion. To put this in perspective, politicians think it's twice as important to get themselves elected to office as it is to help poor people keep their homes heated.

Some of the experts who make their careers focused on government ethics and reform were struck by the strong public perception of politicians. "We know that politicians are corrupt, because it's our job to know. We didn't expect that the average idiot would know this too," said an anonymous source at the Center for Responsive Politics campaign watchdog group. (Try saying that really fast five times.) "If the cretins in Kansas realize that politicians are corrupt, then it's got to be pretty blatant," he continued.

Added Jan Baran, a Washington lawyer who specializes in ethics rules and campaign finance: "The message to politicians is to get their house in order, whatever house it is... White House, House of Representatives... whatever. Get your shit together."

People questioned in the survey had no trouble reciting the names associated with offenses and inquiries:

-Former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, R-Texas, faces money laundering charges.

-Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., is under a federal investigation for a well-timed stock sale.

-I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, former chief of staff to Vice President Dick Cheney, has been indicted on five counts of perjury, obstruction of justice and lying to the FBI in the outing of a CIA officer -- and she wasn't even gay!

-Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham, R-Calif., resigned after pleading guilty to taking $2.4 million in bribes in exchange for steering government work to defense contractors. His list of excess included money for a Rolls-Royce, antique furniture, two Laser Shot shooting simulators, and "Hookers. Lots and lots of hookers."

DeLay, Frist and Libby have said they have done nothing wrong. But what else would you expect from Washington's finest?

"They're so power hungry they'd do anything to stay in power," said Renee Becher, a 51-year-old homemaker from Dahlonega, Ga. "They've made our country become like Rome, except for the feeding slaves to the lions part."

The survey found that 91 percent of women consider corruption a serious problem, compared with 84 percent of men. This probably means that either women are slightly smarter than men, or they're slightly less corrupt than men.

Democrats were considered more ethical by 36 percent, while 33 percent cited Republicans. That difference is within the poll's 30 percent margin of error. 100 percent said "They're all crooks."

Some 40 percent of women said Democrats were more ethical than Republicans, while 32 percent of men offered a similar view. This indicates that more women than men are Democrats.

The scandals could cost incumbents in next year's election. The low regard for Congress nearly mirrors the numbers recorded in polls conducted in December 1993, several months before the Republican tidal wave that ended 40 years of Democratic control of the House. This time it looks like the Republicans are going to get tossed out.

Tuesday, December 6, 2005

Most Say Torture OK in Rare Cases

WASHINGTON - Most Americans and a majority of people in Britain, France and South Korea say torturing terrorism suspects is justified at least in rare instances, according to AP-Ipsos polling. Nobody is really sure why people in South Korea were asked.

The United States has drawn criticism from human rights groups and many governments, especially in Europe, for its treatment of terror suspects. President Bush and other top officials have said the U.S. does not torture, but some suspects in American custody have alleged they were victims of severe mistreatment.

"They wouldn't let me have my special pink blanket," complained one suspected terrorist. Other criticisms included no MTV, new shoes that weren't sufficiently broken in, that the air conditioning was too cold, and that prisoners were allowed to go for days without having splinters and hangnails properly removed.

The polling, in the United States and eight of its closest allies, found that in Canada, Mexico and Germany people are divided on whether torture is ever justified. Most people in Spain and Italy opposed torture under any circumstances.

"I don't think we should go out and string everybody up by their thumbs until somebody talks. But if there is definitely a good reason to get an answer, we should do whatever it takes," said Billy Adams, a retiree from Tomball, Texas. "Good reasons," he stated, "include garnering information that may prevent future terrorist attacks, revenge, and to alleviate boredom among our troops stationed overseas."

In America, 61 percent of those surveyed agreed torture is justified at least on rare occasions. Just over half in France and Britain, and Almost nine in 10 in South Korea felt that way. But then again, Koreans are more likely to be tortured themselves, so that makes sense.

Accusations of torture, reports of secret CIA prisons in Eastern Europe and claims of shadowy flights carrying terror suspects have further strained U.S. relations with some European countries. Even the Russians, known for their subversive "security" tactics, are giving America a hard time.

Mariella Salvi, who works for a humanitarian organization in Rome, said: "Human beings, as well as their rights, have to be defended, no matter what individuals are suspected of, or charged for... unless they're not Italian. Then, feel free to do what you want, but don't fly through Italy on the way to that super-secret torture chamber."

The disagreements make cooperation on law enforcement and counterterrorism more difficult, said Lee Feinstein of the Council on Foreign Relations, a group of scholars and other specialists in foreign policy. Officials with the European Union and in at least a half-dozen European countries are investigating reports of secret U.S. interrogations in Eastern Europe.

Rice aggressively defended U.S. tactics against terrorism as tough but legal. She has refused to comment publicly on the reports of secret CIA prisons. "Duh," he said, rolling her eyes. "They're SECRET! I can't TELL you about them!"

In the poll, about two-thirds of the people living in Canada, Mexico, South Korea and Spain said they would oppose allowing U.S. officials to secretly interrogate terror suspects in their countries. Almost that many in Britain, France, Germany and Italy said they felt the same way. Almost two-thirds in the United States support such interrogations in the U.S. by their own government. People universally agreed though, that it was okay to interrogate and torture people in other countries.

The Bush administration has taken the position that some terrorism suspects are "enemy combatants" not protected by the Geneva Conventions, international treaties on the rights of prisoners of war. "The Bush administration policy is against torture of any kind; it's prohibited by federal criminal law," said John Yoo, a University of California-Berkeley, law professor. As a Justice Department lawyer, he helped write internal memos in 2002 designed to give the government more leeway in aggressive questioning of terror suspects.

"The debate is whether you can use interrogation methods that are short of torture," he said. "Some who have been critical of the Bush administration have confused torture with cruel, inhumane treatment." He then furrowed his brow and said, "Wait, aren't those the same thing? Who wrote this speech, anyway?!"

The polls of about 1,000 adults in each of the nine countries were conducted between Nov. 15 and Nov. 28. Each poll had a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 30 percentage points.

Friday, December 2, 2005

1,000th Person Executed in U.S. Since 1977

RALEIGH, N.C. - A double murderer who said he didn't want to be known as a number became the 1,000th person executed in the United States since capital punishment resumed 28 years ago.

Kenneth Lee Boyd, who brazenly gunned down his estranged wife and father-in-law 17 years earlier, died at 2:15 a.m. Friday after receiving a lethal injection.

Upon hearing that the execution had been completed, President George W. Bush called South Carolina Governor Mike Easley and congratulated him on achieving this important milestone. Both politicians said they were “looking forward to the next 1000,” an anonymous source quoted them as saying.

In related news, Singapore executed convicted Australian drug smuggler Tuong Van Nguyen by hanging. Vietnamese-born Nguyen, 25, was hanged shortly before dawn. The state of South Carolina and Singaporean officials had tried to coordinate the timings of these momentous occasions, but scheduling conflicts prevented this from occurring.

Instead, officials from the City-Country of Singapore and the state of South Carolina held a joint video press conference to commemorate the executions.

“This is a proud day for the death penalty,” officials from both places were quoted as saying. “America celebrated its 1000th death penalty since re-legalizing it, and Singapore executed a foreigner.”

Death penalty opponents vow to appeal both executions. “We will fight to the death for the resurrection of these two innocent convicted felons,” an Amnesty International representative was quoted as saying.

Thursday, December 1, 2005

French Doctors Perform First Face Transplant

LYON, France - Doctors in France said they had performed the world's first partial face transplant, forging into a risky medical frontier with their operation on a really ugly woman.

The 38-year-old woman, who wants to remain anonymous, had a nose, lips and chin grafted onto her face from a beautiful, but brain-dead donor. The operation, performed Sunday, included a surgeon already famous for transplant breakthroughs, Dr. Jean-Michel Dubernard.

"The patient's general condition is excellent and she’s a lot less ugly now. Just a few major scars," said a statement issued Wednesday from the hospital. Dubernard would not discuss the surgery, but confirmed that it involved the nose, lips and chin.

"We still don't know if the patient will get laid," he said. A blind date is planned for Friday.

Scientists in China have performed scalp and ear transplants, but experts say the mouth and nose are the most difficult parts of the face to transplant. In 2000,Dubernard did the world's first double forearm transplant, allowing the man to masturbate for the first time since his accident.

The surgery drew both praise and sobering warnings over its potential risks and ethical and psychological ramifications. If successful — something that may not be known for months or even years — the procedure offers hope to ugly people everywhere.

The woman was "so ugly" that it was difficult for others to speak and chew in her presence, according to a joint statement from the hospital in Amiens and another in the southern city of Lyon where Dubernard works.

Such ugliness is "extremely difficult, if not impossible" to repair using normal surgical techniques, the statement said. Critics say the surgery is too risky for something that is not a matter of life or death, as regular organ transplants are, unless the patient is super-duper ugly.

The main worry for both a full face transplant and a partial effort is organ rejection, causing the skin to slough off. “But this chick was so ugly, even that would be an improvement,” the hospital was quoted as saying.

Complications include infections that require a second transplant or reconstruction with skin grafts, perhaps even one or two years later. Drugs to prevent rejection are needed for life and raise the risk of kidney damage and cancer. Complications also include infections that turn the new face black. In order to mitigate this specific risk, doctors generally prefer black patients.

In the United States, the Cleveland Clinic is among those planning to attempt a face transplant. The French surgery "doesn't change our plans," said Cleveland surgeon Dr. Maria Siemionow. "We are really looking for the right candidate," which she described as "severely ugly patients" for whom a transplant is the last chance.

The double-forearm recipient, Denis Chatelier from France, said in 2003 that he had regained "normal usage" of his hands and was even able to shave himself, "you know, down there.” His forearms were severed in a model rocket accident.

Doctors from Jinling Hospital in Nanjing, China, reported that in September 2003, they transplanted two ears, part of the scalp and other facial skin from a brain-dead young man to a 72-year-old woman with advanced skin cancer. She now looks like Mr. Spock from Star Trek.

Four months later, there were no signs of rejection or tumor recurrence, but it is not known how the patient fared after that.