April 21-30, 2008
A corkscrew wants to hitch hike to Bangkok.
My friend, Paul, called this "Nearer, my god, to thee".
Priest missing on balloon flight
A Roman Catholic priest who used 1,000 helium balloons to try to break a flying record has gone missing off the southern coast of Brazil.
Father Adelir de Carli lifted off from the port city of Paranagua on Sunday, equipped with a parachute, thermal suit, satellite phone and a GPS device.
A sea and air rescue operation is under way after he lost contact with port authority officials late on Sunday.
He wanted to break a 19-hour record for the most hours flying with balloons.
Father Carli was hoping to raise money to fund a rest stop for lorry drivers in Paranagua, one of Brazil's major ports for agricultural products.
As well as his GPS and satellite phone, he was equipped with a buoyant chair. He is also an experienced skydiver.
In a phone interview with Brazilian TV channel Globo on Sunday, he said he was having difficulty operating his GPS device, and was "very cold, but fine".
He was said to have reached an altitude of 20,000ft (6,000m), then descended to about 8,200ft for his planned flight to the city of Dourados.
But he was blown off course by winds and when last contacted was floating several miles off the coast.
Before losing contact, he said he had to land in the sea as he was "losing height".
Planes and helicopters of the Brazilian air force as well as boats of the Brazilian navy are searching off the coast of Santa Catarina state, where pieces of balloons were found on a beach.
"We are absolutely confident he will be found alive and well, floating somewhere in the ocean," parish treasurer Denise Gallas told the Associated Press.
"He knew what he was doing and was fully prepared for any kind of mishap."
In January, the priest used the same mode of transport to fly over 110km (70 miles) in four hours between Parana and the nearby Argentine city of San Antonio.
A view from the top.
Readers, should I get one of these "I Believe" license plates for each of our Florida cars?
Florida lawmakers debate offering a Christian license plate
By JESSICA GRESKO
MIAMI (AP) — Florida drivers can order more than 100 specialty license plates celebrating everything from manatees to the Miami Heat, but one now under consideration would be the first in the nation to explicitly promote a specific religion.
The Florida Legislature is considering a specialty plate with a design that includes a Christian cross, a stained-glass window and the words "I Believe."
Rep. Edward Bullard, the plate's sponsor, said people who "believe in their college or university" or "believe in their football team" already have license plates they can buy. The new design is a chance for others to put a tag on their cars with "something they believe in," he said.
If the plate is approved, Florida would become the first state to have a license plate featuring a religious symbol that's not part of a college logo. Approval would almost certainly face a court challenge.
The problem with the state manufacturing the plate is that it "sends a message that Florida is essentially a Christian state" and, second, gives the "appearance that the state is endorsing a particular religious preference," said Howard Simon, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida.
The "I Believe" license plate still has a way to go before it reaches the roads. The proposal is part of a package of license plates being debated in the Senate and ready for a floor vote. In the House, the bill that would authorize the plate has passed one committee 8-2. The Legislature's annual session ends May 2.
Some lawmakers say the state should be careful. Rep. Kelly Skidmore said she is a Roman Catholic and goes to Mass on Sundays, but she believes the "I Believe" plate is inappropriate for the government to produce.
"It's not a road I want to go down. I don't want to see the Star of David next. I don't want to see a Torah next. None of that stuff is appropriate to me," said Skidmore, a Democrat who voted against the plate in committee. "I just believe that."
Florida's specialty license plates require the payment of additional fees, some of which go to causes the plates endorse.
One plate approved in 2004, displaying the motto "Family Values," funds Sheridan House, which provides family programs but also sees its purpose as "sharing the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the Bible" and "information about the Christian faith."
The bill creating the "I Believe" plate would also create an "In God We Trust" plate to benefit the children of soldiers and law enforcement officers whose parents have died. It also could face opposition as a violation of the separation of church and state.
An Indiana plate with the same "In God We Trust" phrase has been challenged by the ACLU, but the courts so far have deemed it legal, arguing that it is comparable with other specialty plates.
This isn't the first time a Florida license plate design has created religious controversy. In 1999, lawmakers approved a bright yellow "Choose Life" license plate with a picture of a boy and girl. It raises money for agencies that encourage women to not have abortions.
That generated a court battle, with abortion rights groups saying the plate had religious overtones. But it was ruled legal, and about a dozen states now have similar plates.
A "Trust God" license plate was proposed in Florida in 2003. It would have given money to Christian radio stations and charities, but was never produced.
Earlier this year, a legislative committee was shown an image of a "Trinity" plate that showed a Christlike figure with his arms outstretched. It and two other plates were voted down.
The group asking for the "I Believe" plate, the Orlando-based nonprofit Faith in Teaching Inc., supports faith-based schools activities. The plate would cost drivers an extra $25 annual fee.
Approving the plate could open the state to legal challenges, according to Josie Brown, who teaches constitutional law at the University of South Carolina. And it's not certain who would win.
"It would be an interesting close call," Brown said.
Simon, of the ACLU, said approval of the plate could prompt many other groups to seek their own designs, and they could claim discrimination if their plans were rejected. That could even allow the Ku Klux Klan to get a plate, Simon said.
Bullard, the plate's sponsor, isn't sure all groups should be able to express their preference. If atheists came up with an "I Don't Believe" plate, for example, he would probably oppose it.
A brief photo history of British in-flight cutlery ... plus one Concorde coaster.
While waiting for my car at the carwash I picked up this free local rag: "New Times". It was not the substantive articles that captured my attention; rather it was the Classifieds. It seems that this county has a real pain problem with plenty of MDs willing to dispense 'help'.
The "New Times" pushes past pain.
"Matchbooks, matchbooks, everywhere and not a match to light." These nine large bowls, vases and tall glass containers were filled with matchbooks over the last 25 years. Fortunately, the little phosphorous tips that burst into flame when struck have a very short shelf life.
My friend, Dan, from Shanghai and Taipei will recognize two of these matchbooks.
My favorite US newspaper, The New York Times, yesterday and today published advertisements from two religious cults. What is so curious is why religions, particularly cult ones, like to advertise in The New York Times. Because NYT is published nationally? But, so is USA Today and The Wall Street Journal and these two papers probably have fewer atheists and agnostics among their readers.
More than 20 years ago at the Astoria Hotel in St. Petersburg (then called Leningrad). (*)
(*) Just found the prints.
Lesbos ladies launch lesbian lawsuit
ATHENS, Greece (AP) – A Greek court has been asked to draw the line between gay women and the natives of the Aegean Sea island of Lesbos.
Three islanders from Lesbos – home of the ancient poet Sappho, who praised love between women – have taken a gay rights group to court for using the word lesbian in its name.
One of the plaintiffs said Wednesday that the name of the association, Homosexual and Lesbian Community of Greece, "insults the identity" of the people of Lesbos, who are also known as Lesbians.
"My sister can't say she is a Lesbian," said Dimitris Lambrou. "Our geographical designation has been usurped by certain ladies who have no connection whatsoever with Lesbos," he said.
The three plaintiffs are seeking to have the group barred from using "lesbian" in its name and filed a lawsuit on April 10. The other two plaintiffs are women.
A spokeswoman for the Homosexual and Lesbian Community of Greece said the action was "a joke in bad taste that borders on discrimination."
"I don't see how the word can be an insult," Evangelia Vlami said. "We don't think doubt can be cast on dictionaries ... even the United Nations refer to us as Lesbians."
Also called Mytilene, after its capital, Lesbos is famed as the birthplace of Sappho. The island, particularly the lyric poet's reputed home town of Eressos, is a favored holiday destination for gay women.
"This is not an aggressive act against gay women," Lambrou said. "Let them visit Lesbos and get married and whatever they like. We just want (the group) to remove the word lesbian from their title."
He said the plaintiffs targeted the group because it is the only officially registered gay group in Greece to use the word lesbian in its name. The case will be heard in an Athens court on June 10.
Sappho lived from the late 7th to the early 6th century B.C. and is considered one of the greatest poets of antiquity. Many of her poems, written in the first person and intended to be accompanied by music, contain passionate references to love for other women.
Lambrou said the word lesbian has only been linked with gay women in the past few decades. "But we have been Lesbians for thousands of years," said Lambrou, who publishes a small magazine on ancient Greek religion and technology that frequently criticizes the Christian Church.
Vlami, the gay group spokeswoman, said any misunderstanding can easily be resolved through linguistics.
"Most people from Lesbos prefer to use the word Mytilene, which is the more ancient version and because some people may be afraid of being misunderstood," she said. "I don't see what the problem is ... Can't a woman just say: I am from the island of Lesbos?"
Very little is known of Sappho's life. According to some ancient accounts, she was an aristocrat who married a rich merchant and had a daughter with him. One tradition says that she killed herself by jumping off a cliff over an unhappy love affair.
Lambrou says Sappho was not gay. "But even if we assume she was, how can 250,000 people of Lesbian descent – including women – be considered homosexual?"