Waterfall-like rain eases in Japan, but 28 dead

Waterfall-like rain eases in Japan, but 28 dead — Most of the quarter-million people who fled massive flooding in southwest Japan were able to return home by Monday, but the danger had not fully passed from record rains that have killed at least 28 people.

Thousands of homes and hundreds of roads were damaged, and hundreds of landslides were reported. The military airlifted food by helicopter to stranded districts.

The rain "was like a waterfall," Yoko Yoshika said in Yamaguchi prefecture (state). "It was horrible."

Yoshika, wife of an award-winning Hagi-yaki style potter, said workers used a bucket relay with plastic pails to get rid of the water flowing into their shop.

In Yame, a city of 69,000 in Fukuoka prefecture, dozens of people were stranded by the flooding.

"Our region gets hit with heavy rain every year, but I have never experienced anything like this," city employee Kumi Takesue said.

Waterfall-like rain eases in Japan, but 28 dead 

"Rice paddies and roads all became water so you couldn't tell what was what," she said, adding that she had to wade in knee-high water, even near her home, which was not as hard hit as other areas.

Kyodo News service said 28 people have died and police were searching for four missing people in the three prefectures of Kumamoto, Oita and Fukuoka, from the heavy rainfall that began Thursday. Nationwide tallies of the dead and missing were not immediately available.

Weather officials warned people to be careful even in areas where rain had subsided because the land was still mushy and prone to landslides. More rain was possible later Monday.

Even as some of the water subsided, homes and farms on the southern island of Kyushu, hardest hit by the flooding, were still getting food shipments, although mostly by land, local officials said.

The intense rain occurred as far north as the ancient capital of Kyoto, where rainfall exceeded 90 millimeters (3.5 inches) per hour — a condition in which rain cascades in such torrents that seeing ahead becomes impossible.

Evacuation orders were gradually being lifted, allowing most residents to return home by late Sunday.

Fukuoka prefecture said that as of Monday, damage there extended to more than 4,300 homes, 800 roads and 20 bridges. At least 518 landslides were recorded, and more than 2,700 people had evacuated their homes, it said in a statement. ( Associated Press )

READ MORE - Waterfall-like rain eases in Japan, but 28 dead

Emerson Sheik gets away with biting opponent during Copa Libertadores final

DTotD: Emerson Sheik gets away with biting opponent during Copa Libertadores final - Scoring twice in the second leg of the Copa Libertadores final apparently made Corinthians' Emerson Sheik hungry for the taste of human flesh because near the end of the match, he bit down on an opponent's hand. And he didn't even get booked for it.

After scoring his brace to ensure Corinthians' first-ever Copa Libertadores title, Emerson was fouled by Boca Juniors defender Matias Caruzzo just before injury time and Emerson's response was to bite Caruzzo on the hand. The ref apparently didn't see Emerson's chomp because Corinthians was able to substitute him shortly after this without so much as a booking.

Copa Libertadores final

Emerson, who was accused of "acts of indiscipline" by former club Fluminense before he joined Corinthians, could now face a suspension for the bite since it was caught by TV cameras. In 2010, Luis Suarez was given a seven-match ban by the Dutch football federation for biting an opponent on the shoulder during a match between Ajax and PSV.

This has been the Dirty Tackle of the Day: a chronicling of unfortunate events. ( Dirty Tackle )

Blog : Playing Small

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Discovery will collapse Christianity

Iran : Discovery will collapse Christianity - Says Turkish 'Bible' has Barnabas forecasting Muhammad's coming - Reza Kahlili, author of the award-winning book "A Time to Betray," served in CIA Directorate of Operations, as a spy in the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, counterterrorism expert; currently serves on the Task Force on National and Homeland Security, an advisory board to Congress and the advisory board of the Foundation for Democracy in Iran (FDI). He regularly appears in national and international media as an expert on Iran and counterterrorism in the Middle East.

Iran’s Basij Press is claiming a purported Gospel of Barnabas, discovered in 2000, will prove that Islam is the final and righteous religion, causing the collapse worldwide of Christianity.

Turkey confiscated the text, written on animal hide, in an anti-smuggling operation. Turkish authorities believe it could be an authentic version of the Gospel of Barnabas by the apostle known for his travels with the apostle Paul.

Basij Press contends the text was written in the 5th or 6th century and predicts the coming of Muhammad and the religion of Islam.

The Christian world, it says, denies the existence of such a gospel.

Another known “Barnabas Gospel” dates to the late 16th century, which would post-date Muhammad.

Says Turkish 'Bible' has Barnabas forecasting Muhammad's coming

In the Barnabas text held by Turkey, chapter 41 states: “God has hidden himself as Archangel Michael ran them (Adam and Eve) out of heaven, (and) when Adam turned, he noticed that at top of the gateway to heaven, it was written ‘La elah ela Allah, Mohamad rasool Allah,’” meaning Allah is the only God and Muhammad his prophet.

The Turkish army has taken possession of the text because the “Zionists” and the governments of the West are trying to suppress its contents, Basij Press claims.

According to the Barnabas Gospel in Turkey’s hands, Basij Press says, Jesus was never crucified, He’s not the Son of God and He, Himself, predicts the coming of Muhammad. The book even predicts the coming of the last Islamic messiah, the report says.

“The discovery of the original Barnabas Bible will now undermine the Christian Church and its authority and will revolutionize the religion in the world,” the Basij report says. “The most significant fact, though, is that this Bible has predicted the coming of Prophet Mohammad and in itself has verified the religion of Islam, and this alone will unbalance the powers of the world and create instability in the Christian world.”

The Basij report concludes that the discovery is so immense, it will affect world politics, and that the world powers have become aware of its impact.

Turkey plans to put the Bible on public display. Though Turkish authorities believe it could be an authentic version of the Gospel of Barnabas, others believe it only goes back to the 16th century and is a fake because it would have been written centuries after Muhammad’s life.

Erick Stakelbeck, host of the Christian Broadcasting Network’s “Stakelbeck on Terror” show and a close observer of Iranian affairs, said Iran is highlighting the book because it sees Christianity as a threat.

“The Iranian regime is committed to stamping out Christianity by any means necessary, whether that means executing Christian converts, burning Bibles or raiding underground churches,” he explained.

“In promoting the so-called Barnabas Bible – which was likely written sometime in the 16th century and is not accepted by any mainstream Christian denomination – the regime is once again attempting to discredit the Christian faith. Record numbers of young Iranians are leaving Islam and embracing Christ, and the mullahs see Christianity as a growing threat to their authority.”

The Vatican has requested to see the text, but it is unknown if Turkey has provided access.

Iranian ayatollahs regularly declared that Islam is the last and only righteous religion sent by God.

Grand Ayatollah Jafar Sobhani, in a recent statement, proclaimed that since the Quran was the last holy book and provides the most complete religion to the world, and Muhammad the last prophet, there is no authority to abide by other books. The Quran clearly indicates that only those who have accepted the true religion of Islam are the guided ones, he said.

As reported recently, a former intelligence officer in the Revolutionary Guards revealed that tens of thousands of Bibles were confiscated and burned in Iran under the order of Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. The mullah said the Bible is not a holy book and its burning is morally acceptable.

Khamenei said: “In light of the realization of the divine promise by almighty Allah, the Zionists and the Great Satan (America) will soon be defeated. Allah’s promise will be delivered and Islam will be victorious.” ( wnd.com )

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S*x stamina advice for men

S*x stamina advice for men - S*x isn’t just about self-satisfaction. In fact, if you really want to score high in the sack, it’s essential you build up your s*xual stamina to last the distance and keep your other-half happy. Here are some simple tips for a more fulfilling s*x life.

Staying fit and healthy for better s*x

S*ex may appear simple enough to master (unless you’re an inexperienced teenager or 40-year-old virgin fumbling around in the dark, that is). However, if you really want to boost the potency of your passion, it might be time you tried some of the following techniques...

Working out groin muscles 

— If you often find yourself hobbling around with muscle pain the morning after a steamy night of passion, it might be useful to regularly stretch your groin, keeping it primed and ready for even the most outrageous s*xual position. Basic groin stretches will better-prepare your body for a forthcoming s*xual epic, so make sure you regularly try out a few when you get chance!

Building arm muscles

— S*xual stamina can require great upper-body strength, depending on which coital position you’re planning to adopt! It may therefore be an idea to enjoy the occasional free-weights session, gradually toning up your arm muscles. We’re not saying you should build yourself up into a beefcake Adonis overnight. However, the odd bout of upper-body exercise could really keep you energised for longer-lasting s*x.

Staying mentally focused

— An obvious one this, but if you really want to make the most of your s*xual encounters, it’s vital you don’t let the possible repercussions play on your mind. Avoid worrying and allow yourself to stay focused in the bedroom by taking adequate precautions before you hop into the sack. Protect yourself against the perils of pregnancy scares with decent contraception and you’ll feel all the better for it.

Reducing alcohol consumption

— If your nightly routine consists of downing the odd beer (or seven) at the local bar, before stumbling home for a swift night of passionate fumbling with your other half, you may need to reassess your thirst for booze. Alcohol can seriously damage your s*xual virility when consumed in heavy doses, with its depressive nature dampening testosterone levels. A few drinks with the lads may help keep up social appearances, but they certainly won’t keep up things in the bedroom. So, unless you want to suffer the wrath of a moody spouse, unfulfilled by your semi-cocked sabre, try and take it easy, else the only hot date you’ll be making will be with that lonely single-bed in the spare room.

Improving blood-flow

— Before you sprint to the doctor’s at the first sign of erectile problems, try and adopt a more natural way of increasing the blood flow to your groin, without the aid of Viagra. By regularly flexing and massaging your body’s central groin muscles, blood will start to flow more readily in that area, allowing you to stand to attention for longer in the bedroom.

Flexing the abdominal muscles

— Whilst your torso may currently appear more of a flabby twelve-pack than a toned six-pack, a little abdominal exercise could go a long way in boosting your s*xual stamina. The abs are key to providing bursts of s*xual energy, driving the groin by thrusting it forwards and then releasing it. As a result, a few daily crunches or sit-ups could really develop your s*x life, preventing you from flopping down onto your partner with sheer exhaustion in the middle of a bedtime romp. So build up those belly muscles and you’ll be feeling abs-olutely fabulous in no time!

Loving thyself ... but not too much 

— It won’t make you go blind, but ‘self-love’ could certainly damage your chances of making a potent first impression. What could be worse on a hot date than whipping off your boxer shorts to reveal ... well, not much at all really? Self-pleasure may while away the lonely nights between dates but it certainly won’t do much to strengthen your credibility in the presence of a female. No matter how desperate you get, try and save your energy for the real thing ... after all, s*x is a marathon, not a sprint.

Stretching the quads and calves

— Cramp is a big turn-off in the bedroom, with the quads and calves notably susceptible to sudden bouts of tightening pain. As a result, regularly stretching your leg muscles could seriously heighten your s*xual experience, easing them into the demands of flexible s*x-ercise. Don’t let muscular pain cramp your style ... work-out those quads and calves and you’ll soon feel the benefits.

S*x shouldn’t just be about making a quick entry and an even quicker exit. Instead, if you really want to enjoy a night of steamy passion and appease your partner in the process, it might be worth undertaking a few extra-curricular exercises and lifestyle tweaks to truly reach your optimum performance. ( realbuzz.com )

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Simple tips to enhance your natural beauty

Simple tips to enhance your natural beauty - How to boost your beauty in ten simple steps: from getting down and dirty in the bedroom to grooming your eyebrows, being more beautiful is easy when you make a few small changes to your routine. Here are our top 10 ways to make you look and feel irresistible.

Beauty tip 1: Exfoliate

It’s often hard to keep up with our skin. One minute we’re smothering it in moisturiser, the next it’s back to being dull and flakey. To compliment your moisturiser and ensure that your skin stays lovelier for longer, make sure you leave extra time to exfoliate daily. Skin continually produces new cells and, as the new cells appear, the dead ones tend to sit on top of the skin making it appear dry and dull. When this happens, there’s not much point in moisturising. Why waste your expensive body butter on dead skin cells? Try buttering up after you’ve buffed the old cells off, and you’ll notice a drastic change.

Beauty tip 2: Have s*x

Getting down and dirty is the ultimate beauty booster. Just 15 minutes a day spent doing the deed leaves your cheeks flushed; your lips lusciously red; and your skin glowing and beautiful. Studies have shown that regular romps increase blood flow and bring essential nutrients and oxygen to the skin, which flush out harmful toxins and make us appear younger. Plus, having someone run their fingers through your tresses can give it that gorgeous mussed-up bed head look, and we all like a bit of va-va-voom from time to time.

Beauty tip 3: Ditch the alcohol and cigarettes

Drinking alcohol and smoking cigarettes doesn’t do our skin any favours. Smoking allows a staggering 4000 toxic substances into the body during every puff, and too much alcohol causes skin to dry out and eyes to become puffy – not the best start for boosting your natural beauty. Quit smoking, and only drink in moderation to improve your skin’s elasticity and reduce puffy eyes. This is a sure-fire way to make you look younger and more beautiful.

Beauty tip 4: Rest

The phrase “beauty sleep” is famous for a reason; sleep really does make you beautiful. During periods of deep sleep our cells renew themselves, and lack of sleep – or poor quality of sleep – leaves us looking and feeling a bit worse for wear. If you have trouble getting your beauty sleep, try and relax. Add a few drops of aromatherapy oils to your bath, try deep-breathing exercises, and avoid caffeinated drinks before you head to bed.

Beauty tip 5: Strengthen your hair with protein

Keratin – a type of protein – is the key structural component of our hair and nails. By eating protein-rich foods we can reinforce the keratin in our hair to make it healthier and stronger. It’s not all about what you put on your hair, but what you put in your body too. Dietician Dawn Jackson explains that “the foundation of all our new hair, skin, and nail growth is in the nutrients we eat”, so it’s a good idea to boost the natural protein in your hair by eating protein-rich foods such as eggs, nuts, seeds, shellfish and meat for stronger, healthier locks.

Beauty tip 6: Groom your eyebrows

Few things can change your look as quickly and drastically as nicely plucked brows. The right brow shape can really frame your face and compliment your favourite features, whilst bushy brows distract attention away from your best features. There are many different ways of removing your brow hair too: plucking, threading, tweezing and waxing – just find the way that suits you best and you’re well on your way to being more beautiful in an instant.

Beauty tip 7: Be healthy with fruit, veg, and water

It’s a beauty tip that we’ve heard time and time again, but it’s true: we are what we eat, and being healthy on the inside makes us even more beautiful on the outside. This tip is pretty straight-forward; drink plenty of water to flush out harmful toxins in your skin and increase skin’s elasticity; get plenty of exercise to sweat out the toxins; and eat all of your fruit and vegetables for vital nutrients that will make your skin glow – simple, easy ways to boost your beauty.

Beauty tip 8: Wear mineral makeup

Don’t clog your pores up with a thick, heavy foundation that won’t allow your skin to breathe. Instead, opt for kinder ways to cover up imperfections such as mineral makeup or BB creams. Most mineral powders even help to prevent spots whilst BB creams moisturise your skin and even out skin tone without clogging your pores.

Beauty tip 9: Go for a brisk walk

A brisk walk is an excellent way to boost your circulation and get beautiful glowing skin. Walking improve your sleep, enhance mental function, and help to counteract depression. This will all reflect in your complexion as you appear happier and healthier. You might be able to get rosy cheeks from a pot of blusher, but you won’t get the beautifully natural glow of flushed, healthy skin by using a makeup palette.

Beauty tip 10: Protect your skin

It’s important to protect your skin whatever the weather, particularly if yours is sensitive. As temperatures dip throughout the winter, we are more likely to crank the heating up, which can have a detrimental impact upon our skin by drying it out and making it appear aged. Summer skin can be dried out too, causing it to look dry, dull and flakey. To help prevent dry skin, make moisturising a regular part of your routine. Flare-free skin makes us look and feel beautiful. ( realbuzz.com )

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Rare 'Ring of Fire' Solar Eclipse Visible from China to Texas

Rare 'Ring of Fire' Solar Eclipse Visible from China to Texas - Skywatchers from China to Texas are in for a rare celestial treat today when the moon blots out most of the sun to create dazzling "ring of fire" solar eclipse.

The eclipse today (May 20) is known as an annular solar eclipse and is the first of its kind to be widely visible from much of the United States since 1994. Annular eclipses only occur when the moon is at a point in its orbit that is too far from Earth to completely block the sun's disk. The result is a ring-like, or annulus, effect that will be visible to observers lucky enough to be in the path of the eclipse's shadow.

"This is going to be a great photo opportunity," said Robert Naeye, editor in chief of Sky & Telescope magazine, in a statement.

During today's solar eclipse, the moon will block up to 94 percent of the sun's disc and last about 4 1/2 minutes for skywatchers inside a 186-mile-wide (300-kilometer) track that begins at 6:36 p.m. EDT (2236 GMT) in southern China (where the local time will be May 21), crosses the northern Pacific Ocean, then makes landfall in northern California.

The eclipse's track will cross eight western U.S. states before it ends at sunset in northwestern Texas. While the "ring of fire" effect is only visible from the eclipse's primary track, wide regions around the eclipse path will get partial solar eclipse views, according to NASA eclipse expert Fred Espenak. The parts of the United States to miss the partial eclipse views are on the East Coast, he explained in NASA eclipse guide.

From start to finish, the annular solar eclipse — the first solar eclipse of 2012 — will last about 3 1/2 hours and cross about 8,450 miles (13,600 km) as it moves across the Earth.

"It certainly will not become as dark as night; instead you might call it a weird 'counterfeit twilight' as the quality of the light, may become unearthly," SPACE.com skywatching columnist Joe Rao explains in a viewing guide. "A clear sky should turn deep blue and the landscape oddly silvery. The temperature may take a perceptible drop; a cool breeze may begin to blow."

And the sun and moon aren't the only objects to see in the sky during the eclipse.

"Look for Venus — it's shining east of the sun by about two fist-widths at arm's length," advises Alan MacRobert, a senior editor with Sky & Telescope magazine. "Jupiter and Mercury will be tougher. They're on the other side of the sun by about a quarter and a third as far, respectively, and they're not as bright."

Eclipse chasers around the world

Today's solar eclipse has drawn out intense interest from veteran astronomers and amateur skywatchers around the world.

Supplies of solar eclipse glasses reportedly ran low in many locations directly in the path of the eclipse and one venue – the University of Colorado at Boulder — is expecting a crowd of at least 13,000 people to fill to Folsom Field (a football stadium) for a free day of eclipse observing in what university official have billed the world's largest solar eclipse viewing party.

Astronauts may even see the solar eclipse from space, NASA officials said. The six-crew of the International Space Station may get a chance to observe the moon's shadow on Earth cast by the eclipse, they added.

Many organizations plan to offer live broadcasts of the solar eclipse. In Japan, for example, the electronics company Panasonic is staging an expedition to webcast the solar eclipse from the top of Mt. Fuji.

In the United States, several groups have mounted expeditions to observe the solar eclipse from picturesque viewing spots.

Scientists at NASA's Lunar Science Institute at the Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, Calif., have ventured to Grand Canyon National Park in Arizona to witness the eclipse and offer free information sessions to park visitors. Well before today's event, the U.S. National Park Service issued a national invitation to the public to watch the solar eclipse from a national park.

Today, the National Park Service will gather astronomers and park rangers at Petroglyph National Monument in Albuquerque, N.M., from 5 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. MDT to discuss the solar eclipse.

For a list of solar eclipse viewing times for 52 cities in the United States, see this NASA chart Espenak.

For a list of solar eclipse viewing times in Canada, Mexico and Asia, Espenak has prepared this handy chart.

Solar eclipse safety

One important thing to keep in mind when planning to observe today's solar eclipse is eye safety. The sun can cause serious eye damage if observed by the unaided eye or through an unfiltered telescope.

NEVER observe the sun directly of with telescopes or binoculars without using proper solar filters. Regular sunglasses do NOT provide adequate protection for solar eclipse observing.

Seasoned skywatchers use solar filters for telescopes or binoculars to safely view the sun. Special eclipse glasses or welder's glass No. 14 can also serve as a proper filter.

A simple way to observe the sun is to create a pinhole projector, or a pinhole camera. The most simple version can be created by punching a tiny hole in a piece of paper holding it between the sun and another shaded piece of paper. Light from a telescope or binoculars can also be projected onto a separate paper viewing.

You can also build a pinhole project from a shoebox. Staff writer Natalie Wolchover of SPACE.com's sister site Life's Little Mysteries gives you complete, easy-to-follow pinhole camera instructions in this video.

SPACE.com will be providing team coverage of today's solar eclipse:
  • In San Francisco, SPACE.com senior writer Mike Wall will monitor the solar eclipse from the city's Exploratorium science center.
  • In Boulder, Colo., Livescience senior writer Stephanie Pappas will cover the University of Colorado's giant solar eclipse viewing party at Folsom Field.
  • In Arizona, SPACE.com contributors Imelda Joson and Edwin Aguirre — veteran eclipse chasers and space photographers— are seeking out a choice observing spot of the eclipse at Horseshoe Bend near Page, Ariz. ( space.com )

READ MORE - Rare 'Ring of Fire' Solar Eclipse Visible from China to Texas

Tropical Storm Alberto hovers off Carolina coast

Tropical Storm Alberto hovers off Carolina coast - Tropical Storm Alberto weakened slightly off the South Carolina coast on Sunday, canceling tourist cruises, producing showers along the coast and serving as a reminder that the 2012 Atlantic hurricane season is just around the corner.

The first storm of the season that officially begins June 1 was not expected to approach landfall on the Carolinas' coast, but it prompted a tropical storm watch and forecasters warned that it could produce high winds, heavy surf, rip currents and scattered rain across the region.

"It's making the closest approach to the coastline now, so the impacts shouldn't be much different than what we are already seeing," said Jonathan Lamb, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Charleston, S.C.

This NOAA satellite image taken Saturday, May 19, 2012, shows tropical storm Alberto 140 miles (225 km) east of Charleston, S.C. Alberto is the first tropical storm of the season and formed Saturday off the coast of South Carolina with top winds of 45 mph (75 kph). (AP Photo/Weather Underground)

At 2 p.m. Eastern, the National Hurricane Center said Alberto was about 110 miles (177 km) south of Charleston. It has maximum sustained winds of 45 mph (72 kph).

It's currently moving west-southwest at 6 mph (10 kph), but forecasters expect it to turn northeast sometime Monday.

A few rains bands from Alberto reached Hilton Head Island and Savannah, Ga., on Sunday but they moved through in less than an hour. Winds weren't expected to reach higher than 30 mph at the beaches, Lamb said. From Charleston to the north, even less of an impact was expected.

A tropical storm watch was in effect for the South Carolina coast from the Savannah River to the South Santee River. Forecasters don't expect tropical storm conditions to reach the coast, but issued the watch as a precaution because the forecast track of Alberto was still uncertain.

The hurricane center said the storm was expected to slow down through Sunday, then begin turning northeast and heading farther out to sea sometime Monday.

Alberto was named a tropical storm Saturday upon forming in the Atlantic. It was the third tropical storm to form before the official June 1 start of the hurricane season in the past 31 years.

Forecasters said there is no evidence that early-forming storms mean more tropical storms and hurricane for the rest of the season, especially with storms like Alberto that form from leftover weather fronts and low pressure systems moving off the mainland into the Atlantic.

"It's anomalous for sure, but there's really no indication this gives us any idea what the hurricane season is going to be like as a whole," Lamb said.

The brief bursts of wet weather and occasional gusty winds disrupted some vacation plans along the beaches of southern South Carolina and northern Georgia. Swimmers were warned of dangerous rip currents, although no rescues were reported. Boat operators canceled cruises both for the choppy seas and because concerned vacationers didn't want to go out with Alberto offshore.

"A lot of people are nervous about the weather, so we are getting cancelations," said Kate Myers, with Island Explorer Tours on Hilton Head.

The brief storms ended by Sunday morning and the sun was occasionally peeking through, so the captain that runs the afternoon cruise through the salt marshes hoped to take tourists on his scheduled run, Myers said.

"Having a storm out there this early is just strange," Myers said. "But it has been a weird year for weather." ( Associated Press )

READ MORE - Tropical Storm Alberto hovers off Carolina coast

How much can Obama (or could Gingrich) do?

High gas prices: How much can Obama (or could Gingrich) do? - Rising gas prices have put a damper on President Obama's political fortunes—54 percent of the respondents to a new CBS-New York Times poll said they believe the president can do a lot to control prices at the pump. And nearly two-thirds of the respondents to an ABC-Washington Post poll said they disapprove of how Obama is handling the issue. It's perhaps not surprising that Obama saw sharp drops in his overall approval rating in both polls.

The White House can't complain too much about taking the blame for high gas prices. While campaigning for president in 2008, Obama castigated President George W. Bush over the same issue. "You're paying nearly $3.70 a gallon for gas—2 1/ 2 times what it cost when President Bush took office," he told a crowd in Ohio at the time.

(Alex Brandon/AP)
Political rhetoric aside, how much can the president really do to control gas prices?

Not all that much. The major cause of the recent spike—gas rose to $3.80 a gallon this week—is the increasing tension with Iran, most analysts say. That's making traders nervous about a possible conflict in a crucial oil-producing region, which could have the effect of cutting off a significant source of the world's oil. In addition, Japan has been using much more oil since shutting down virtually all of its nuclear power plants in the wake of the Fukushima disaster last year. And various conflicts in Sudan, Yemen, Syria and Libya have choked off some production in those countries.
Republicans say opening up the United States to more domestic drilling would bring prices down. Newt Gingrich has been hammering on that theme lately in his quest for the Republican presidential nomination, saying he has a plan to reduce gas to $2.50 a gallon. But American consumers are part of a global market for oil, and crude oil accounts for about three-quarters of the cost of a gallon of gas, according to the Energy Information Administration. So increasing domestic production wouldn't do much to ease prices. Not to mention, it would take years to come to market and start bringing prices down even marginally.

What about the demand side? Couldn't the administration bring down the amount Americans spend on gas by encouraging a shift to more fuel-efficient vehicles—perhaps by mandating that automakers adopt higher fuel economy standards? Yes, eventually. But again, it would take around a decade, experts say, for the effect of that shift to start to be felt at the pump.

As Jay Hakes, a former top Energy Department official, told The Washington Post: "There is a substantial time lag between the adoption of energy policies and their impact on the market."

Some Democrats have argued that unscrupulous speculators on Wall Street are driving up prices in search of short-term profits, and that the administration could ease the pain at the pump by cracking down on this activity. But even if that is going on, most experts say that global oil markets are simply too large for regulators to police. "If you go and put a position limit on [contracts in the New York Mercantile Exchange], fine," energy analyst Stephen Schork told the Washington Post last week. "But a significant amount of trading is in the Brent Market, which isn't in New York. You'll do nothing to relieve volatility."

One last-ditch move would be for President Obama to tap the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, as was done during the first Iraq war in 1991, after Hurricane Katrina damaged refining facilities in 2005, and by President Obama during Libya's civil war last year. But this has generally been done as a temporary measure in response to one-off supply disruptions, not as a policy response to rising prices. Indeed, experts say the impact on prices has generally been only temporary.

All of this sounds like bad news for President Obama—but here's something that might give the White House more reason for optimism: Despite what voters say, there's not much evidence that oil or gas prices on their own are a significant factor in determining presidential elections, according to Nate Silver, the New York Times' statistical guru.

Still, prices at the pump don't exist in isolation. The fear is that they could put a crimp in the economic recovery, by leaving Americans with less money in their pockets and thereby slowing down consumer spending. If that happened, voters would almost certainly blame Obama. ( The Ticket )

READ MORE - How much can Obama (or could Gingrich) do?

Overnight Diet trend promises weight loss while you snooze

Overnight Diet trend promises weight loss while you snooze - Dieters are flocking to the latest trend on the scene: the Overnight Diet, a rapid weight-loss plan that claims you can actually slim down while you sleep.

American obesity doctor Caroline Apovian, of the Boston Medical Center, just penned a new book, "The Overnight Diet," advising that dieters eat a high-protein diet for six days, followed by one day of a liquid diet. That followed by lots of sleep (with no exercise necessary) equals a slimmer you, up to one kilo per night and four kilos in one week -- at least that's the promise. The book is published April 9 and available internationally.

While mounting research suggests that more sleep can help you lose weight, skeptics say the diet is all a little too good to be true. "In order to lose two pounds of body fat overnight you'd have to burn up about six or seven thousand calories and there's just no way to do that by sleeping," Keith Ayoob, director of the nutrition clinic at the college's Rose F. Kennedy Center, told ABC News.

"It goes without saying that anything being touted as an 'overnight diet' is complete and total bunk," writes fitness blog Blisstree. "But I'm gonna say it anyway because people still fall for the allure of quick, fast, and easy crash diets."

Apovian doesn't entirely disagree that the weight loss is water, at least intially, and the diet does make room for a variety of healthy foods, including some good carbs and plenty of fruit. The liquid diet day consists of all-you-can-drink smoothies that Apovian claims are specifically engineered to produce a reduction in the body's production of insulin. If you're bloated or store fat around your midsection, insulin is to blame, she says, and following the diet can help release that stored water and salt weight -- leaving you slimmer and feeling healthier. AFP Relax )

Blog : Playing Small

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Video shows soldier surrendering

Afghan official: Video shows soldier surrendering — The U.S. soldier suspected of killing 16 Afghan villagers on a rampage was caught on surveillance video that showed him walking up to his base, laying down his weapon and raising his arms in surrender, according to an Afghan official who viewed the footage.

The official said Wednesday there were also two to three hours of video footage covering the time of the attack that Afghan investigators are trying to get from the U.S. military. He spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue.

U.S. authorities showed their Afghan counterparts the video of the surrender to prove that only one perpetrator was involved in Sunday's shootings, the official said. The shootings, which claimed the lives of nine children among the 16 dead, has further strained already shaky relations between the U.S. and Afghanistan.

Some Afghan officials and residents in the villages that were attacked have insisted there was more than one shooter. If this disagreement persists, it could deepen the distrust even more.

U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta arrived in the country Wednesday, the first senior American official to visit since the killings. He and other American officials have said the tragedy should not derail the U.S. and NATO strategy of a gradual withdrawal of most troops by the end of 2014. But the shooting spree has fueled calls in both countries for foreign troops to leave more quickly.

It has also complicated already tense negotiations between the two nations over an agreement governing the presence American troops after 2014.

A member of an Afghan government delegation investigating the killings said Wednesday that the group has concluded they were carried out by more than one soldier. Parliament member Sayeed Ishaq Gilani said the delegation had heard from villagers who said they saw more than 15 troops at the scene.

But it is unclear whether the soldiers the villagers saw were part of a search party that left the base to look for the U.S. soldier who was missing. The delegation is slated to formally release the results of its investigation later Wednesday.

On Tuesday, the delegation visited the two villages in southern Kandahar province where the shootings took place. Two villagers who lost relatives insisted that at least two soldiers took part in the shootings.

U.S. military officials — and some villagers who have spoken to The Associated Press — have so far insisted that only one soldier was involved.

"We are still receiving, reviewing and investigating all leads in connection with this terrible incident, but at this time everything still points to one shooter," said Lt. Col. Jimmie Cummings, a spokesman for the U.S.-led coalition in Afghanistan.

The surveillance video, taken from an overhead blimp that films the area around the base, shows a soldier in a U.S. uniform approaching the south gate of the base with a traditional Afghan shawl hiding the weapon in his hand, the Afghan official said. He then removes the shawl as he lays his weapon on the ground and raises his arms in surrender.

Ahmad Shah Khan, a resident of a nearby village that was not involved in Sunday's shooting, said a soldier from the base had threatened their kids three days before the incident, after an armored vehicle hit a roadside bomb, causing damage but no casualties.

The soldiers arrived in Mokhoyan village — 500 yards (meters) east of the base — with their Afghan army counterparts and made many of the male villagers stand against a wall, said Khan.

"It looked like they were going to shoot us, and I was very afraid," said Khan. "Then a NATO soldier said through his translator that even our children will pay for this. Now they have done it and taken their revenge."

Several Afghan officials, including Kandahar lawmaker Abdul Rahim Ayubi, said people in the two villages that were attacked — Balandi and Alkozai — told them the same story. It's unclear if the soldier that threatened the villagers is the same one accused of carrying out the shooting spree.

The killings have stirred more anti-American sentiment in Afghanistan, but the reaction has not been as intense the wave of deadly riots that followed the burning of Qurans at a U.S. base last month. That set off nearly a week of violent demonstrations and attacks left more than 30 dead, including six U.S. soldiers killed apparent reprisal attacks.

Still the two events together have pushed the Afghan-U.S. relationship to crisis level.

The Taliban has vowed revenge for the shootings.

A bomb hidden in a motorcycle exploded Wednesday about 600 meters (yards) from where the Afghan government delegation investigating the shootings was meeting in the southern city of Kandahar, said a spokesman for the provincial governor, Zalmai Ayubi.

The attack killed one Afghan intelligence official and wounded two. A civilian was also wounded. The bomb went off about 300 meters from the Afghan intelligence headquarters in Kandahar, said Ayubi.

No group has claimed responsibility for the attack.

Taliban insurgents opened fire on the Afghan delegation Tuesday while they were visiting the villages that were attacked. One Afghan army soldier was killed and two other army personnel were wounded.

Afghan lawmakers have demanded that the alleged shooter, identified by U.S. officials as a staff sergeant, face a public trial inside Afghanistan. They have called on Karzai to suspend any negotiations with the U.S. on a long-term military pact until this happens.

"No final decision has been made yet" on the location of the trial, said Col. Gary Kolb, a U.S. military spokesman in Afghanistan.

Kolb said that the U.S. has held courts-martial in Afghanistan before, and could try the alleged shooter in the country.

"They'll take a look at all the circumstances and determine if they do it here or if it goes back to the States."

The U.S. military is holding the soldier in Kandahar. Military officials say slipped off a U.S. base before dawn Sunday, walked to the villages, barged into their homes and opened fire. Some of the corpses were burned. Eleven were from one family. Five people were wounded.

The military held a hearing for the detained soldier on Tuesday and found there was probable cause to continue holding him. He has not yet been named yet. Panetta, the U.S. defense secretary, has said he could face capital punishment.

The killings have further soured relations with war-weary Afghans, jeopardizing the U.S. strategy of working closely with Afghan forces so they can take over their country's security by the end of 2014.

Afghan Defense Minister Abdul Rahim Wardak called the killings "deplorable" but said the country must remember the bigger issues at stake, likely a reference to the fear that the Taliban could capitalize on a precipitous foreign withdrawal.

"I mean the stakes are much higher than this incident, which we have all have condemned, and I think we are assured that the U.S. authority will take appropriate action," said Wardak in a news conference with German Defense Minister Thomas de Maiziere in Kabul.

President Barack Obama has pledged a thorough investigation, saying the U.S. was taking the case "as seriously as if it was our own citizens, and our children, who were murdered."

Protesters in the east called for the death of the accused U.S. soldier Tuesday and burned an effigy of Obama as well as a cross, which they used as a symbol of people who — like many Americans — are Christians.

It was the first significant protest since the killings.

Military commanders have yet to release their final investigation on the Quran burnings, which U.S. officials say was a mistake. Five U.S. service members could face disciplinary action in connection with the incident.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on Wednesday expressed deep sadness at the "shocking incident" and said the U.N. expects that an investigation will rapidly establish the facts, that those responsible will be held accountable, and that the public will be kept informed.

Also Wednesday, eight civilians were killed in southern Helmand province's Marjah district when a roadside bomb struck their vehicle, the provincial governor's office said. ( Associated Press )

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More of US at risk to sea level rise

FILE - This Aug. 28, 2011 file photo shows a bicyclist making his way past a stranded taxi on a flooded New York City Street as Tropical Storm Irene passes through the city. Global warming-fueled sea level rise over the next century could at least flood 3.7 million people in the US, according to a new method of looking at flood risk published in two scientific papers. (AP Photo/Peter Morgan, File)

New figures: More of US at risk to sea level rise — Nearly 4 million people across the United States, from Los Angeles to much of the East Coast, live in homes more prone to flooding from rising seas fueled by global warming, according to a new method of looking at flood risk published in two scientific papers.

The cities that have the most people living within three feet (one meter) of high tide — the projected sea level rise by the year 2100 made by many scientists and computer models — are in Florida, Louisiana, and New York. New York City, often not thought of as a city prone to flooding, has 141,000 people at risk, which is second only to New Orleans' 284,000. The two big Southeast Florida counties, Miami-Dade and Broward, have 312,000 people at risk combined.

All told, 3.7 million people live in homes within three feet of high tide. More than 500 US cities have at least 10 percent of the population at increased risk, the studies said.

"Southeast Florida is definitely the highest density of population that's really on low coastal land that's really most at risk," said lead author Ben Strauss, a scientist at Climate Central. Climate Central is a New Jersey-based group of scientists and journalists who do research about climate change.

The studies look at people who live in homes within three feet of high tide, whereas old studies looked just at elevation above sea level, according to work published Thursday in the peer-reviewed journal Environmental Research and an accompanying report by Climate Central. That's an important distinction because using high tide is more accurate for flooding impacts, said study co-author Jonathan Overpeck, a scientist at the University of Arizona's Institute of the Environment. And when the new way of looking at risk is factored in, the outlook looks worse, Overpeck said.

"It's shocking to see how large the impacts could be, particularly in southern Florida and Louisiana, but much of the coastal U.S. will share in the serious pain," Overpeck said.

And it's not just residents of coastal areas who will be hurt by this, said Sharlene Leurig, a senior manager for the insurance program at Ceres, a Boston-based investment network. Most coastal areas get flood insurance from the federal program and with more flooding, the program will have to spend more and that will come out of all taxpayers' wallets, she said.

Sea level has already risen about 8 inches since 1880 because warmer waters expand, Strauss said. In addition to the basic physics of ever-warming water expanding, scientist say hotter climate will cause some melting of glaciers in Greenland and western Antarctica that would then cause seas to rise even more.

Flooding from Hurricane Irene last year illustrated how vulnerable coastal places such as Manhattan are with a combination of storms and sea level rise, Strauss said.

Using data from the latest census, Climate Central also has developed an interactive system that allows people to check their risk by entering a ZIP code.

Sea level rise experts at the U.S. Geological Survey and the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration who weren't part of the studies said the results make sense and were done by experts in the field.

"All low elevation places in the many urban areas along the coast will become more vulnerable," said S. Jeffress Williams, scientist emeritus for the USGS, who wasn't part of the studies. He pointed to Boston, New York City, Norfolk, Va., New Orleans, Charleston, S.C., Miami and Washington and its Virginia suburbs. "More people and infrastructure will be at increasing risk of flooding." ( Associated Press )

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The end of serendipity, as we know it

Encyclopaedia Britannica ends its print run - The end of serendipity, as we know it.

Leafing through the world's knowledge, alphabetically, will become am obsolete tradition. The oldest English-language general encyclopedia -- according to, of course, the Encyclopædia Britannica -- will abandon foolscap once and for all.

"For 244 years, the thick volumes of the Encyclopaedia Britannica have stood on the shelves of homes, libraries, and businesses everywhere, a source of enlightenment as well as comfort to their owners and users around the world," reports its blog. "Today we've announced that we will discontinue the 32-volume printed edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica when our current inventory is gone." That inventory includes 4,000 in its warehouse -- about 8,000 sets have been sold at $1,395 a pop. (Seven million sets have been published in its storied history.)

Digital afterlife

While the move is acknowledged as "momentous," the blog also points out that the Britannica already has a digital presence. Also, those weighty printed sets (the New York Times measures the 32-volume set at 129 pounds) only account for less than 1 percent of the company's sales.

Then again, a Britannica Online subscription costs $70 a year or $1.99 per month for its app. (In honor of its print dissolution, the online service is free for one week.) That hasn't been an easy sell in the days of search engines and Wikipedia. Still, the company plans to polish up its digital offerings and even add "social connections," according to CNN Money.

What distinguishes Britannica from its Wiki-counterparts has been its expertise: Contributors have included the likes of Sigmund Freud and Marie Curie to Bill Clinton and Tony Hawk. What Wiki might lack in quality, it atones for in quantity: The Guardian reports that Wikipedia English brims with 3.9 million articles, while Britannica has 120,000.

Encyclopedic mourning

Wordsmiths twit-mourned this shift in encyclopedic erudition.

"NCTCopyDesk is in mourning. Unbelievable! RT @cnnbrk Encyclopedia Britannica to stop printing. on.cnn.com/x3tZXw." Some reminisced about their childhood education through its tomes: "My family's used set got me through 12+ years of school :( >> Encyclopedia Britannica to stop printing books zite.to/x79v0w

Others lashed out, looking to cast blame for its demise. "Wikipedia and the Internet just killed 244-year-old Encyclopaedia Britannica tnw.to/1DeWE by @thatdrew." Another noted, "Blaming 'modern bloody wogs and mau-maus' Encyclopaedia Britannica ends print edition. FT:ft.com/intl/cms/s/0/7…"

The shift has also brought out the see-what-happens-when-standards-fail purists: "Encyclopedia Britannica, spelled wrong, is trending around the nation right now."

Perhaps one thing that Britannica lovers can find smug solace: Five hours after news hit about its print end, its Wikipedia entry had not updated. "The Britannica is the oldest English-language encyclopaedia still in print." The point under "Competition," however, still stands: "Although the Britannica is now available both in multimedia form and over the Internet, its preeminence is being challenged by other online encyclopaedias, such as Wikipedia.[citation needed]."

Britannica staff plan to acknowledge the moment with a cake -- shaped like encyclopedias, of course. Here's a glimpse into its hallowed halls, and their look into the future. ( The Upshot )

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Understanding Insomnia

Understanding Insomnia - Insomnia is a broad term used to describe difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep. The term also includes the situation of a person not feeling refreshed after 7 to 9 hours of being in bed. Temporary insomnia is normal and can be brought on by stress and anxiety. Chronic insomnia is defined as experiencing insomnia symptoms at least 3 times a week for at least one month. Between 30 and 40 percent of adults report some insomnia each year, with 10 to 15 percent saying they have chronic insomnia.

Effects of Insomnia

Chronic insomnia causes a person to feel tired during the day and can lead to moodiness, fatigue, difficulty concentrating and other effects related to lack of sleep. Insomnia can significantly lower a person’s quality of life.

Insomnia Causes

Most cases of insomnia are considered “secondary,” which means they are caused by something else. These causes include:
  • Medication Side Effects: These are especially common with decongestants, some pain relievers and steroids.
  • Diseases and Health Conditions: Alzheimer’s disease, arthritis, asthma, heart disease and many other health problems can cause trouble with sleep.
  • Poor Sleep Behaviors: These include drinking alcohol before bed, exercising before bed, drinking caffeine in the evening, poor exposure to sunlight and other behaviors that interfere with the body successfully achieving enough restful sleep.
  • Sleep Disorders: Restless legs syndrome or sleep apnea are just two common sleep disorders.
A few people have chronic primary insomnia, which is difficulty sleeping not caused by any other factor. These people may have an oversupply of certain hormones, faster heart rates or other physiological differences that make sleep difficult.

The Insomnia Cycle

One of the biggest dangers in insomnia is known as the “insomnia cycle.” This occurs when a person has difficulty falling asleep one night and then becomes anxious about falling asleep the next night, which makes it more difficult to fall asleep. The more they cannot sleep, the more anxious about sleep they become – which keeps them from sleeping. To break the ”insomnia cycle,” practice healthy sleep habits, such as only going to bed when you are tired, not lying in bed awake for more than 20 minutes and avoiding afternoon and evening caffeine.

Insomnia Treatment

Many of the most effective insomnia treatments involve changing your sleep behaviors and habits, while some require medications and supplements:
  • Improving Your Sleep Habits: By changing your habits around sleep you can greatly shorten the time it takes to fall asleep. More exercise, more sunlight exposure and less caffeine are just three examples of habits to change to improve sleep.
  • Relaxation Therapy: Some people with chronic insomnia may be directed to practice relaxation therapy, which can involve tensing and relaxing different muscle groups or focusing on deep breathing. Relaxation therapy can help people to fall asleep faster.
  • Sleep Restriction: Another effective insomnia treatment involves sleep restriction. This involves limiting sleep to 4 or 5 hours a night and then gradually adding time onto sleep. This can help retrain the body to fall asleep and stay asleep. People practicing sleep restriction should avoid driving and other dangerous activities until they are getting at least 7 hours of sleep each night.
  • Sleep Medications: There are many (widely advertised) sleep medications, which are available by prescription. Some of these medications may help you to fall asleep, but you may wake up unrefreshed. Some also lose their effectiveness over time. Sleep medications should be used under the careful direction of a doctor and as part of a comprehensive sleep plan that also addresses sleep behaviors.
  • Supplements: Many supplements claim to help with insomnia. The two most popular are melatonin and valerian.

    • Melatonin: This hormone is naturally produced by your body and stimulated by exposure to sunlight. Studies have not shown that melatonin is effective in treating insomnia. However, many people claim that taking melatonin helps them to fall asleep. Before taking melatonin, remember that the goal is for your body to produce enough melatonin on its own. Supplements may actually decrease your own production and should only be used in the short-term and under a doctor’s supervision.
    • Valerian: This is an herb that is reportedly effective in helping people fall asleep. Studies on valerian have been inconclusive. Valerian comes in many different forms (tea, pills extracts) and is unregulated. Dose and quality can vary widely from one product to another.
Sources: National Institutes of Health; National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute. Your Guide to Healthy Sleep. NIH Publication No. 06-5271.

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Two new rare lemur species join primate club

Two new rare lemur species join primate club - Scientists Tuesday made a rare live addition to the order of primates, unveiling two new species of mouse lemur -- tiny, big-eyed animals that inhabit the forests of Madagascar.

The find brings to 20 the known tally of mouse lemurs, nocturnal tree-dwellers that weigh less than a large apple.

Yet even as the two minute animals were recorded in the book of life, the scientists warned that one of them was teetering on the brink of extinction.

AFP/GERMAN PRIMATE CENTER/AFP/File - Image taken by the German Primate Center on March 20, 2013 shows a Microcebus marohita, one of two new species of mouse lemur that inhabits Madagascar. The find brings to 20 the known tally of mouse lemurs, nocturnal tree-dwellers that weigh less than a large apple

Primates are the well-studied family of mammals that includes humans, apes and monkeys, and the addition of new, living species to the list is rare.

Biologists from the United States, Germany and Madagascar compared DNA, body mass and length, skull and tooth size and coat colouring to declare Microcebus marohita and Microcebus tanosi to be separate species and to usher them into clan of mouse lemurs.

With a body length of about 13.5 centimetres (5.3 inches) M. marohita is now the largest of the known mouse lemurs. Adding its bushy tail, it is all of 28 cm (11.2 inches) long and tips the scales at 78 grams (2.8 ounces).

The brownish primate has relatively large hind feet but small ears, and was named after the Marohita forest in eastern Madagascar where it was discovered, the team wrote in the International Journal of Primatology.

Marohita means "many views" in Malagasy.

Its cousin, M. tanosi, also falls on the large side of the mouse lemur scale, with a nose-to-tail length of about 27 cm (11 inches) and a weight of 51.5 grams (1.8 inches).

Discovered in Madagascar's southeast Anosy region, M. tanosi has a reddish head, with brown fur, a lighter-coloured belly, and a stripe along the spine.

The animals were discovered in 2003 and 2007, but it has taken years to formally identify them as a separate species. They probably escaped notice as they are outwardly similar to other mouse lemurs.

The team warned in their study that the Marohita forest has been "seriously fragmented and destroyed" since its namesake lemur was discovered there 10 years ago.

"Thus despite its species name, this mouse lemur is threatened by ongoing habitat destruction and 'many views' of its members are unlikely."

The team wants the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) to add M. marohita to its Red List of threatened animals, and says M. tanosi was likely to follow the same route.

"Field studies and additional regional surveys are... urgently needed to determine at least the geographic range and population status of these newly described species so that appropriate conservation measures can be implemented."

The IUCN says Madagascar's lemurs are among the most endangered animals on Earth, with 91 percent of the 100-odd species and subspecies threatened with extinction.

Deforestation and poaching are the main threats to lemur survival in the Indian Ocean country plagued by political instability since a coup in 2009.

The island nation has lost some 11 million hectares (27 million acres) of its forest cover in the last 20 years, according to the IUCN.

In a report last year, the agency said the rarest lemur, the northern sportive lemur, was down to 19 known individuals.

Due to Madagascar's geographical isolation, all of the island's primates are endemic, as are 90 percent of its plants and 80 percent of its amphibians and reptiles.

New animals are still being discovered there, and the number of identified lemur species has more than tripled in the past decade. ( AFP )

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New Bible translation has screenplay format

New Bible translation has screenplay format — A new Bible translation tackles the challenge of turning ancient Greek and Hebrew texts into modern American English and then adds a twist: It's written like a screenplay.

Take the passage from Genesis in which God gets angry at Adam for eating the forbidden fruit from the tree of knowledge of good and evil:


"Adam (pointing at the woman): It was she! The woman You gave me as a companion put the fruit in my hands, and I ate it.

"God (to the woman): What have you done?

"Eve: It was the serpent! He tricked me, and I ate."

Later, Eve bears her first son, Cain.

"Eve (excited): Look, I have created a new human, a male child, with the help of the Eternal."

Even people who have never read the Bible could probably guess that other translations don't say Adam pointed his finger at Eve when he blamed her for his disobedience. Neither do other Bibles describe Eve as "excited" about her newborn son.

That's pure Hollywood, but the team behind "The Voice" says it isn't a gimmick. They hope this new version will help readers understand the meaning behind the sometimes archaic language of the Bible and enjoy the story enough to stick with it.

The idea was a longtime dream of Chris Seay, pastor of Houston's Ecclesia Church. Seay had had success in helping church members relate to the Bible by dividing out the parts of the various speakers and assigning roles to church members who read them aloud.

The idea struck a nerve with Frank Couch, the vice president of translation development for Nashville-based religious publisher Thomas Nelson, who had performed Bible-inspired sketches on the streets of Berkeley, Calif., in his youth.

The result of their efforts, as well as a team of translators who worked alongside poets, writers and musicians, is "The Voice," released in its full version earlier this year.

"The biggest thing, the unexpected plus, is that people will read an entire book of the Bible because it reads like a novel," Couch said.

"It engages your imagination in a different way," Seay said, expressing his hope that "The Voice" helps people to "fall in love with the story of the Bible."

"The Voice" not only reformats the Bible but also inserts words and phrases into the text to clarify the action or smooth transitions. These words are generally in italics so the reader can tell what the additions are. At other points, the order of verses is changed to make the story read better.

Some earlier attempts to make the Bible accessible to a modern audience met with heavy criticism from people who thought the translators were taking too many liberties with the word of God, Wake Forest University Religion Professor Bill Leonard said. But those translators were attempting to deal with a real problem — increasing Bible illiteracy, even among those who attended church regularly, he said.

Eugene Peterson, translator of the popular "The Message" Bible, published in 1993, said he was braced for the negative reaction faced by some of his predecessors, but they didn't materialize.

"I was surprised that the reception was so immediate and so positive," he said. "...I think the one thing I hear most often is, 'This is the first time in my life I understood the Bible.'"

Leonard said modern translations seem to have become less controversial as the total number of Bible translations has expanded, although the 2011 New International Version managed to cause a stir by employing some gender-neutral and gender-inclusive language, something "The Voice" doesn't do.

It does, however, take out the word "Christ," which many people have come to think of as Jesus' last name, rather than a title bestowed upon him by the Gospel writers to show that they believed he was God's "Anointed One" — the chosen translation in "The Voice."

All Bible translators have to confront the problem of words that don't convey the same meaning to a modern audience as they did to an ancient one, said linguist Joel M. Hoffman, author of "And God Said — How Translations Conceal the Bible's Original Meaning."

"For example, 'John the Baptist' was really like 'John the Dunker,'" Hoffman said.

John was doing something new by submerging people in water to cleanse them of their sins, but that is lost on people 2,000 years later, Hoffman said. Today, people hearing John's title might think it refers to a Baptist denomination rather than his then-strange behavior.

In the Old Testament, translators of "The Voice" have rendered YHWH (commonly written as Yahweh), the Hebrew name for God, as "the Eternal" or "the Eternal One." One of the Bible's most famous passages, Psalm 23, reads, "The Eternal is my shepherd ..."

Most other translations render YHWH as "Lord," a word that was rich with meaning in a time when people lived in subjection to absolute monarchs but not so much for contemporary Americans living in a democracy, Couch said.

Hoffman said he would buy the argument against using "Lord" if the translators didn't go on to sometimes to call Jesus "the Liberating King," another reference to royalty that has lost its grip on the modern American imagination.

"When I think of a king, I think of a powerless figurehead," Hoffman said.

But Hoffman said the goal of making the Bible accessible to a contemporary audience is laudable, even if he doesn't always agree with the translations in "The Voice."

And for the average reader, unaware of the sometimes contentious debates over translation, "The Voice" seems to have struck a chord.

Steve Taylor, who directed the recent Christian movie "Blue Like Jazz" and also was one of the screenwriters, said the screenplay format makes the Bible stories feel more immediate to him.

"It was like it was happening now, as opposed to reading something that happened 2,000 years ago," he said. "When Jesus turns the water into wine in John 2, I felt more like I was at the wedding. I felt the awkwardness of the situation."

Getting readers to feel engaged in the story is exactly what the creators of "The Voice" had in mind, Couch said.

"We had an 82-year-old woman who told us that she had never understood the Bible before." ( Associated Press )

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