November 2007


Guilty Verdict in Sudan for British Teacher – New York Times

A British teacher accused of insulting Muslims after her class called a teddy bear Mohammad was found guilty and jailed for 15 days, a defence lawyer said on Thursday.

Gillian Gibbons, 54, was ordered to be deported after she had completed her sentence.

“She was found guilty of insulting religion and the sentence is 15 days (in jail) and deportation,” defence lawyer Ali Ajib said after the trial in a Khartoum courtroom, which lasted less than a day.

The London Times have been covering this story all week but this is from the New York Times. I’m astounded at how quickly the events unraveled. She could have received of 40 lashes and a six-month jail sentence so I guess the 15 days in jail and deportation is equivalent to a slap on the wrist in Sudan.

Here is a link to the London Times version of this story. They’ve covered it very well (IMHO).

Who would have thought a person could go to jail for a teddy-bear (one that wasn’t stuffed with drugs)?

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Can baking soda curb global warming? | CNET News.com

Some scientists have proposed compressing carbon dioxide and sticking it in underground caves as a way to cut down on greenhouse gases. Joe David Jones wants to make baking soda out of it.

Jones, the founder and CEO of Skyonic, has come up with an industrial process called SkyMine that captures 90 percent of the carbon dioxide coming out of smoke stacks and mixes it with sodium hydroxide to make sodium bicarbonate, or baking soda. The energy required for the reaction to turn the chemicals into baking soda comes from the waste heat from the factory.

“It is cleaner than food-grade (baking soda),” he said.

The system also removes 97 percent of the heavy metals, as well as most of the sulfur and nitrogen compounds, Jones said.

I really hope there is something to this story – I’m all for more baked goods.

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Tightening the Beltway, the Elite Shop Costco – New York Times

It’s so strange to see this article from the New York Times about Washington’s elite shopping at Costco. I’ve been shopping there for years so it’s no surprise to me that there are deals to be had there, especially for party planners.

To its benefit, Costco has carefully fashioned an upscale-downscale image, and their stores do better in high-end locations, said the company’s chief financial officer, Richard Galanti. In the Washington area, the highest volume location is its store in the Pentagon City neighborhood of Arlington, Va.

“WE knew that we would attract government, we would attract ambassadors, we would attract military personal, we would attract the parties and embassies,” said Joe Potera, the chief operating officer, referring to the Pentagon City store. “We have thousands of sheet cakes during all the major holidays for Pentagon parties, for ambassador parties, for staff parties in the capital. It’s kind of a destination.” Costco also has a chocolate shop that produces molds of the Capitol as well as the Pentagon.

In case you are wondering, the woman in the picture is Sally Quinn, journalist and Washington hostess and wife of Ben Bradlee (former editor of the Washington Post).

I shop at the Pentagon City Costco, too. I’ve never noticed a famous Washingtonian there but I probably wouldn’t recognize them.

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Wipe Away a Tear For Mr. Whipple, And 2-Ply Times – washingtonpost.com

Dick Wilson, the actor who played Mr. Whipple in more than 500 Charmin commercials from 1964 to 1985, died Monday at age 91, at a hospital for ailing movie and television actors, way out in the San Fernando Valley. He’d done other parts, in sitcoms, but showbiz can only be counted on to give a guy one sure thing, if he’s lucky, and Wilson got to be Mr. Whipple, forever.

Wilson died on what just happened to be World Toilet Day, in which global health advocates and public bathroom accessibility proponents annually remind us that not even 20 percent of the planet’s population enjoys daily access to a clean, working toilet — to say nothing of “squeezably soft” rolls of tissue.

This just made me smile.

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Tavares' cocoa plantation. A cacao tree in a yard in eastern Brazil.

NPR : How Chocolate Can Save the Planet

Sounds so ideal – grow cacao and save the planet. Well, not quite but there is a group trying to save the Brazilian rain forest using selective tree removal and then planting cacao trees in their place. The product yield isn’t as high as traditional farming but the benefits (less disease, fewer insects, less invasive farming) can give the farmers a premium price for their crop since it’s more environmentally-friendly.

Check out the podcast or read the linked article. There are more pictures and links to other related sites.

Also, keep eating chocolate so we can make this happen.

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Seeing the Light at Last – washingtonpost.com

This weekend saw the opening of the courtyard at the Donald W. Reynolds Center for American Art and Portraiture (aka the Old Patent Office Building and home of the National Portrait Gallery). So far the reviews have been good. The link above is for the Washington Post article. I won’t post one for the Washington Times – they hated it.

Staff were given a coupon for a free “non-alcoholic” beverage from the new cafe so I went over and got a hot chocolate and sprang for a chocolate brownie, too. It was good hot chocolate but could have been a touch richer in flavor. The brownie was thickly iced and very fudgey – and expensive at $3.85.

The courtyard is quite stunning and I’m certain it will be the place that parents will bring their kids to run and burn off energy. I just hope they don’t wipe their grimy fingers on the cases in the galleries – just another thing to clean in the morning.

If you are in DC, I recommend dropping by to see the courtyard but please stay to see the collection, too.

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Live! – washingtonpost.com

This time a not-so-shameless plug. My brother’s group, Woods Tea Co., is playing tonight at the Alden Theatre at the McLean Community Center here in northern Virginia. The Washington Post called Howard (second from the left in the photo) for an interview and ran the linked piece in the Fairfax edition last Thursday. Soon I shall head out to see the show.

Check out the band’s website for sound clips and schedule.

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Nov. 14, 1889: Around the World in Only 72 Days

Bly, born Elizabeth Jane Cochran, was the prototype of the independent woman: “one tough broad” in newspaper parlance. She came to the business after the editor of the Pittsburgh Dispatch read her angry rebuttal to what would today be called a sexist editorial by one of the paper’s columnists. The editor was duly impressed and, after tracking her down, offered her a reporting job. It was there she acquired her pen name, Nellie Bly, which she carried with her for the rest of her life.

After traveling to Mexico and attacking the Mexican government for corruption in a series of stories, she returned to the United States and moved to New York, where she eventually found a job with Joseph Pulitzer‘s World. She covered women’s rights issues but also specialized in investigative stories. In fact, she’s often credited with inventing the practice of investigative reporting.

Inspired by Jules Verne’s wildly popular 1873 novel, Around the World in 80 Days, Bly proposed to her editors at the New York World that she undertake the same trip to try and break the fictional record. Traveling by steamer, train, rickshaw and any number of other conveyances, she did — by eight days.

What an amazing feat for a woman of her time when most women rarely traveled in public without an escort or chaperone! I picked this item to note in honor of my mom. She was born 80 years ago today. Unfortunately, she died 3 years ago. Love you, Mom!

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EA donates SimCity to OLPC | Tech news blog – CNET News.com

According to a weekend report on Ars Technica, leading game maker Electronic Arts has decided to give their pioneering game SimCity to the One Laptop per Child project for installation on every machine distributed to children in developing nations).

You probably played SimCity as a kid. Remember laying out your own city, making decisions about geography, building roads, residences, and commercial areas? You got to watch how your choices play out over months, years, and decades.

The game also reveals the importance of city planning and civic policy-making to ordinary citizens, making it likely that at least some children in developing countries could be inspired to begin a career in that field. Placement of homes, schools, hospitals, water supply, and shipping docks, for example, is a central part of the game and may shed light on children’s own civic situation, as it has for students and users in “developed” countries.




SimCity is the only computer I’ve played with regularity over the years. I played the first version on the 9″ B&W screen of a Mac SE and I have the last version on my current desktop. It’s a great game – you learn alot and for those of us who don’t need to shoot people or blow up stuff, it’s fun.

Kudos to EA for making it available for free for kids in developing countries. Now, why don’t they make the lastest game, SimCity Societies, available for Macs? SimCity started as a Mac only games and it’s slowly left the Mac platform behind supporting PCs and Nintendo more. That sucks.

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As Stagehands Strike, Broadway Shows Don’t Go On – New York Times

Is there something in the air? First the Writer’s Guild strike and now this one. This is probably a popular (and potent) time to strike since the holidays are beginning and we are nearing the end of the calendar year.

The dispute has largely been over the rules in the contract that govern how many stagehands must be called for work, how long they work, and what kind of tasks they can perform. League members say the current rules invariably result in groups of stagehands on the clock with nothing to do.

This year the league, an organization typically weakened by its natural divisions between producers and the theater owners to whom they pay rent, has been determined to gain more flexibility in those rules.

Union officials have said they are open to changes as long as the new rules come with benefits of equal value in return. The league has proposed a package of raises, but James J. Claffey Jr., the Local One president, has said there is no way to determine the amount of stagehand work that will be lost under the looser rules that the producers are proposing. About a quarter of the 2,200 active members of Local One, who build scenery, maintain props and install and operate lighting and sound equipment, work on Broadway.

Stagehands fall into four wage categories. The highest-paid, like head carpenters and electricians, currently earn a minimum of $1,600 a week on a running show; stagehands in the lowest-paid category make a minimum of around $1,225. With overtime, additional work assignments and certain premium payments, wages can end up being quite a bit higher.

$1,225 per week is over $63,000 yearly and that’s not bad – at least not in DC. Perhaps in NYC that’s poverty level considering rents and all.

OK – so I don’t know all the details but I feel bad for all the people who are visiting NYC and may not get another chance to see a show.

Oh yeah – Happy Veterans Day.

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