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Bluegrass pioneer Earl Scruggs dies at age 88

photo by Ray Tharaldson all rights reserved 2012
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — It may be impossible to overstate the importance of bluegrass legend Earl Scruggs to American music. A pioneering banjo player who helped create modern country music, his sound is instantly recognizable and as intrinsically wrapped in the tapestry of the genre as Johnny Cash’s baritone or Hank Williams‘ heartbreak.
Mr. Scruggs died Wednesday morning at age 88 of natural causes. The legacy he helped build with bandleader Bill Monroe, guitarist Lester Flatt and the rest of the Blue Grass Boys was evident all around Nashville, where he died in an area hospital. His string-bending, mind-blowing way of picking helped transform a regional sound into a national passion.
“It’s not just bluegrass, it’s American music,” bluegrass fan turned country star Dierks Bentley said. “There’s 17- or 18-year-old kids turning on today’s country music and hearing that banjo and they have no idea where that came from. That sound has probably always been there for them, and they don’t realize someone invented that three-finger roll style of playing. You hear it everywhere.”
Country music has transcended its regional roots, become a billion-dollar music and tourist enterprise, and evolved far beyond the classic sound Monroe and the Blue Grass Boys blasted out over the radio on “The Grand Ole Opry” on Dec. 8, 1945. Though he would eventually influence American culture in wide-ranging ways, Mr. Scruggs had no way of knowing this as he nervously prepared for his first show with Monroe. The 21-year-old Mr. Scruggs wasn’t sure how his new picking style would go over.
“I’d heard 'The Grand Ole Opry,' and there was tremendous excitement for me just to be on 'The Grand Ole Opry,'Mr. Scruggs recalled during a 2010 interview at Ryman Auditorium, where that “big bang” moment occurred. “I just didn’t know if or how well I’d be accepted because there’d never been anybody to play banjo like me here. There was Stringbean and Grandpa Jones. Most of them were comedians.”
There was nothing jokey about the way Mr. Scruggs attacked his “fancy five-string banjo,” as Opry announcer George D. Hayes called it. In a performance broadcast to much of the country but unfortunately lost to history, he scorched the earth and instantly changed country music. With Monroe on mandolin and Flatt on guitar, the pace was a real jolt to attendees and radio listeners far away, and in some ways the speed and volume he laid down predicted the power of electric music.
Tut Taylor, a friend of the Scruggs family who heard that first performance on the radio in his Georgia home, called it an unbelievably raucous moment, “a lot like some of the rock ‘n’ roll things they had, you know. But this was a new sound. It was a pretty sound and a welcome sound.”
Mr. Scruggs‘ use of three fingers — in place of the limited clawhammer style once prevalent — elevated the banjo from a part of the rhythm section — or even a comedian’s prop — to a lead instrument that was as versatile as the guitar and far more flashy.
Country great Porter Wagoner probably summed up Mr. Scruggs‘ importance best of all: “I always felt like Earl was to the five-string banjo what Babe Ruth was to baseball. He is the best there ever was, and the best there ever will be.”
Mr. Scruggs‘ string-bending and lead runs became known worldwide as “the Scruggs picking style,” and the versatility it allowed helped popularize the banjo beyond the traditional bluegrass and country forms. Today the banjo can be found in almost any genre, largely because of the way Mr. Scruggs freed its players to experiment and find new space.
That was exactly what Ralph Stanley had in mind when he first heard Mr. Scruggs lay it down. A legendary banjo player in his own right, Mr. Stanley said in an interview last year that he was inspired by Mr. Scruggs when he first heard him over the radio after returning home from military service in Germany.
“I wasn’t doing any playing,” Mr. Stanley said. “When I got discharged, I began listening to Bill, and Earl was with him. I already had a banjo at that time, but of course I wanted to do the three-finger roll. I knew Earl was the best, but I didn’t want to sound like him. I wanted to do that style, but I wanted to sound the way I felt, and that’s what I tried to do.”
Dave Rawlings, a Nashville singer-songwriter and producer, said Mr. Scruggs remains every bit as influential and fresh seven decades later. He said it’s impossible to imagine nearly every guitar player mimicking Jimi Hendrix, but with Mr. Scruggs and the banjo, that’s the reality.
“The breadth and clarity of the instrument was increased so much,” he said. “He invented a style that now probably 75 percent of the people that play the banjo in the world play Scruggs-style banjo. And that’s a staggering thing to do, to play an instrument and change what everyone is doing.”
News of Mr. Scruggs‘ death quickly spread around the music world and over Twitter. Mr. Bentley and bluegrassers such as Sam Bush and Jon Randall Stewart celebrated him at the Tin Pan South gathering of songwriters in Nashville, and Eddie Stubbs dedicated the night to him on WSM, the home of “The Grand Ole Opry.” On the Internet, actor and accomplished banjo player Steve Martin called Mr. Scruggs, with whom he collaborated in 2001 on “Earl Scruggs and Friends,” ”the most important banjo player who ever lived.” Hank Williams Jr. sent prayers to the Scruggs family, and Charlie Daniels tweeted: “He meant a lot to me. Nobody will ever play a five string banjo like Earl.”
Neil Portnow, president and CEO of the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences said in a statement the four-time Grammy winner and lifetime achievement award recipient “leaves an indelible legacy that will be remembered for generations to come.”
Flowers were to be placed on his star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame on Thursday.
Mr. Scruggs earned that star when he and Flatt weaved themselves into the fabric of American culture in the 1950s and ‘60s.
Flatt and Scruggs teamed as a bluegrass act after leaving Monroe from the late 1940s until breaking up in 1969 in a dispute over whether their music should experiment or stick to tradition. Flatt died in 1979.
They were best known for their 1949 recording “Foggy Mountain Breakdown,” played in the 1967 movie “Bonnie and Clyde,” and “The Ballad of Jed Clampett” from “The Beverly Hillbillies,” the popular TV series that debuted in 1962. Jerry Scoggins did the singing. For many viewers, the endlessly hummable theme song was their first introduction to country music.
Flatt and Scruggs‘ popularity grew, and they even became a focal point of the folk music revival on college campuses. Mr. Scruggs‘ wife, Louise, was their manager and was credited with cannily guiding their career as well as boosting interest in country music.
Later, as rock ‘n’ roll threatened country music’s popularity, Flatt and Scruggs became symbols of traditional country music.
In the 1982 interview, Mr. Scruggs said “Bonnie and Clyde” and “The Beverly Hillbillies” broadened the scope of bluegrass and country music “more than anything I can put my finger on. Both were hits in so many countries.”
After the breakup with Flatt, Mr. Scruggs used three of his sons in the Earl Scruggs Revue. The group played on bills with rock acts such as Steppenwolf and James Taylor. Sometimes they played festivals before 40,000 people.
Mr. Scruggs always will be remembered for his willingness to innovate, but he wasn’t always accepted for it. In “The Big Book of Bluegrass,” Mr. Scruggs discussed the breakup with Flatt and how his need to experiment drove a rift between them. Later in 1985, he and Flatt were inducted together into the Country Music Hall of Fame.
“It wasn’t a bad feeling toward each other as much as it was that I felt I was depriving myself of something,” Mr. Scruggs said. “By that, I mean that I love bluegrass music, and I still like to play it, but I do like to mix in some other music for my own personal satisfaction, because if I don’t, I can get a little bogged down and a little depressed.”
In 2005, “Foggy Mountain Breakdown” was selected for the Library of Congress’ National Recording Registry of works of unusual merit. The following year, the 1972 Nitty Gritty Dirt Band’s “Will the Circle Be Unbroken,” on which Mr. Scruggs was one of many famous guest performers, joined the list, too.
Mr. Scruggs was fairly active in the 2000s, returning to a limited touring schedule after frail health in the 1990s. In 1996, hes suffered a heart attack in the recovery room of a hospital shortly after hip-replacement surgery. He also was hospitalized late last year but seemed in good health during a few appearances with his sons in 2010 and 2011, though he had given up the banjo for the guitar by then.
Mr. Scruggs is survived by two sons, Gary and Randy. Louise Scruggs, his wife of 57 years, died in 2006. He often talked of her, recounting how their eyes had met while she watched him perform at the Ryman, and friends noted a sense of melancholy in Mr. Scruggs over his final years.
Mr. Bentley attended Mr. Scruggs‘ birthday party in January and had a chance to pick one more song in a circle with the legend. He even snapped a picture with his 3-year-old daughter, something he says he’ll cherish forever.
“I think Earl was ready to go see Louise,” Mr. Bentley said. “I think he was ready to go. But we’re lucky. We’ve got a lifetime of his music that’s recorded to listen to and he’s in a better place.”
Mr. Scruggs funeral will be Sunday in Nashville. An obituary posted by the Spring Hill Funeral Home states the funeral will be conducted at Ryman Auditorium, from where “The Grand Ole Opry” was broadcast for many years, beginning at 2 p.m.
Visitation at the funeral home was scheduled for Friday and Saturday 3 to 7 p.m.
The family has asked that donations go to the Country Music Hall of Fame & Museum in Nashville or the Earl Scruggs Center in Shelby, N.C.
Associated Press writer Joe Edwards contributed to this report.

Justices poised to strike down entire healthcare law

By David G. Savage
March 28, 2012, 8:35 a.m.

Reporting from Washington—
The Supreme Court's conservative justices said Wednesday they are prepared to strike down President Obama’s healthcare law entirely.

Picking up where they left off Tuesday, the conservatives said they thought a decision striking down the law's controversial individual mandate to purchase health insurance means the whole statute should fall with it.

The court’s conservatives sounded as though they had determined for themselves that the 2,700-page measure must be declared unconstitutional.

"One way or another, Congress will have to revisit it in toto," said Justice Antonin Scalia.

Agreeing, Justice Anthony Kennedy said it would be an "extreme proposition" to allow the various insurance regulations to stand after the mandate was struck down.

Meanwhile, the court's liberal justices argued for restraint. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said the court should do a "salvage job," not undertake a “wrecking operation." But she looked to be out-voted.

Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. said they shared the view of Scalia and Kennedy that the law should stand or fall in total. Along with Justice Clarence Thomas, they would have a majority to strike down the entire statute as unconstitutional.

An Obama administration lawyer, urging caution, said it would be "extraordinary" for the court to throw out the entire law. About 2.5 million young people under age 26 are on their parents' insurance now because of the new law. If it were struck down entirely, "2.5 million of them would be thrown off the insurance rolls," said Edwin Kneedler.

The administration indicated it was prepared to accept a ruling that some of the insurance reforms should fall if the mandate were struck down. For example, insurers would not be required to sell coverage to people with preexisting conditions. But Kneedler, a deputy solicitor general, said the court should go no further.

But the court's conservatives said the law was passed as a package and must fall as a package.

The justices are scheduled to meet Wednesday afternoon to debate the law's Medicaid expansion.

U.S. space tourism set for takeoff by 2014

By Irene Klotz
CAPE CANAVERAL, Florida | Tue Mar 20, 2012 4:56pm EDT
(Reuters) - The Obama administration is preparing for a space tourism industry that is expected to be worth $1 billion in 10 years, the head of the Federal Aviation Administration's commercial space office said on Tuesday.
Rocket planes and spaceships to carry passengers beyond the atmosphere, similar to the suborbital hops taken by Mercury astronauts Alan Shepard and Virgil "Gus" Grissom in 1961, are being built and tested, with commercial flight services targeted to begin in 2013 or 2014.
"Based on market studies, we expect to see this type of activity result in a $1 billion industry within the next 10 years," George Nield, associate administrator for the FAA's Office of Commercial Space Transportation testified before the House Subcommittee on Space and Aeronautics.
"This is a new and growing industry. If you look at the last 25 years, almost all the launches were for the same basic purposes - to launch a satellite, such as a telecommunications satellite, to orbit - and that level of business for that part of the industry is continuing today. But there are several new segments that we see just on the horizon," Nield said.
The boom in launch business is expected to begin this year, he said in the hearing, which was carried via webcast.
NASA has hired two companies, privately owned Space Exploration Technologies and Orbital Sciences Corp., to fly cargo to the International Space Station, a $100 billion research complex orbiting 240 miles above Earth. The contracts are worth a combined $3.5 billion.
"We know that's going to start soon, probably this year," Nield said.
Space Exploration Technologies, which is known as SpaceX and owned and operated by entrepreneur Elon Musk, is preparing for a trial run to the station on April 30.
"We need to be careful not to assume that the success or failure of commercial spaceflight is going to hang in the balance of a single flight," NASA space station program manager Mike Suffredini told reporters during a separate news conference.
"If they have problems along the way, it's the kind of thing you experience in this difficult process of not only trying to launch into low-Earth orbit, but do the next-hardest thing which is to try to rendezvous safely with another spacecraft in orbit," Suffredini said.
Also on the horizon are commercial flights that reach at least 62 miles above the planet, an altitude that exposes passengers to a few minutes of weightlessness and a view of Earth juxtaposed against the black sky of space.
In addition to tourism, suborbital spaceflights are being marketed and sold to research organizations, educational institutes and businesses that want to conduct experiments and fly payloads in space.
One company, Virgin Galactic, an offshoot of London-based Richard Branson's Virgin Group, already has collected about $60 million in deposits for rides that cost $200,000 per person.
"Exactly when those launches will start is hard to predict, but it looks very very clear it's going to be in the next one or two years," Nield said.
(Reporting By Irene Klotz)

The Amelia Earhart mystery.

Amelia Earhart stands June 14, 1928 in front of her biplane "Friendship" in Newfoundland. Earhart (1898-1937) disappeared without a trace over the Pacific Ocean in her attempt to fly around the world in 1937. (Getty Images)

(AP) WASHINGTON - Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton had encouraging words Tuesday for a new investigation into one of the 20th century's most enduring mysteries: the fate of American aviator Amelia Earhart, who went missing without a trace over the South Pacific 75 years ago.

Clinton and Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood gave their support and encouragement on Tuesday to historians, scientists and salvagers from The International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery, which is launching a new search for the wreckage of Earhart's Lockheed Electra plane in the waters off the remote island of Nikumaroro, in what is now the Pacific nation of Kiribati.

Earhart was an inspiration to Americans in difficult times as the nation struggled to emerge from the Great Depression, Clinton said, adding that her legacy can serve as a model for the country now.

"Amelia Earhart may have been a unlikely heroine for a nation down on its luck, but she embodies the spirit of an America coming of age and increasingly confident, ready to lead in a quite uncertain and dangerous world," Clinton said at a State Department event to announce the new search. "She gave people hope and she inspired them to dream bigger and bolder."

"Today, we meet at a time when the challenges are not so dire despite what you might hear on cable television or talk radio. But these are still difficult days for many Americans," she said. "After a long decade of war, terrorism and recession, there are some who are asking whether we still have what it takes to lead, and like that earlier generation we too could use some of Amelia's spirit."

"We can be as optimistic and even audacious as Amelia Earhart," she said. "We can be defined not by the limits that hold us down but by the opportunities that are ahead."

Earhart and her navigator Fred Noonan disappeared July 2, 1937, while flying from New Guinea to Howland Island as part of her attempt to become the first female pilot to circumnavigate the globe.

A 1930s photo of American aviator Amelia Earhart at the controls of her plane. She was the first woman to fly the Atlantic as a passenger in 1928, and followed this by a solo flight in 1932. In 1935 she flew solo from Hawaii to California.

Extensive searches at the time uncovered nothing and many historians are convinced they crashed into the ocean. In addition, conspiracy theories, including claims that they were U.S. government agents captured by the Japanese before the Second World War, still abound despite having been largely debunked.

But the aircraft recovery group believes Earhart and Noonan may have managed to land on a reef abutting the atoll, then known as Gardner Island, and survived for a short time. They surmise that the plane was washed off the reef by high tides shortly after the landing and that the wreckage may be found in the deep waters nearby.

Their previous visits to the island have recovered artifacts that could have belonged to Earhart and Noonan and suggest they might have lived for days or weeks. Now, they are armed with new analysis of an October 1937 photo of the shoreline of the island. That analysis shows what government experts believe may be a strut and wheel of a Lockheed Electra landing gear protruding from the water.

Renowned oceanographer Robert Ballard, who discovered the wreckage of the Titanic and the Bismarck and is advising the Earhart expedition, said the new analysis of the photograph could be the equivalent of a "smoking gun" as it narrows the search area from tens of thousands of square miles to a manageable size.

Ballard confessed to having been previously intimidated by the challenge of finding clues to Earhart's whereabouts.

"If you ever want a case of finding a needle in a haystack, this is at the top of the list," he said.

Ric Gillespie, the executive director of the group, said the new search is scheduled to last for 10 days in July and will use state-of-the-art underwater robotic submarines and mapping equipment. The Discovery Channel will film the expedition for a television documentary, he said. He acknowledged that the evidence was circumstantial but "strong" but stopped well short of predicting success.

"The most important thing is not whether we find the ultimate answer or what we find, it is the way we look," he said. "We see this opportunity to explore ... the last great American mystery of the 20th century as a vehicle for demonstrating how to go about figuring out what is true."

The Obama administration takes no position on any of purported evidence and acknowledges there is fierce debate on the subject. But Clinton, who noted that the State Department and other federal agencies had actively supported Earhart's flight, cheered the searchers on.

"Even if you do not find what you seek, there is great honor and possibility in the search itself," she said. "So, like our lost heroine, you will all carry our hopes ... We are excited and looking forward to hear about your own great adventure."

Gary Sinise and the Lt. Dan Band performing at the Sunscreen Film Festival

(TAMPA BAY, Fla.,)  
Downtown St. Petersburg is set to be the location for 7th Annual Sunscreen Film Festival, including a live performance by CSI:NY’s Gary Sinise and the Lt. Dan Band on April 20th at 5pm. This is a free concert, co-produced by Backline Music at Williams Park to benefit active duty military and veterans in the bay area. With MacDill Air Force Base and BayPines VA Hospital local to the Tampa Bay area, it is expected to be a great turnout.
NY’s Gary Sinise and the Lt. Dan Band will perform live at the festival. The Lt. Dan Band covers everything from Stevie Wonder and Jimi Hendrix classics to contemporary songs by Kelly Clarkson, Evanescence, Beyonce, Lonestar, the Zac Brown Band and much more. There is something for everyone and each show highlights the musical diversity of the band, as well as the passion and energy each member brings to the stage.

In addition, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers Cheerleaders (www.buccaneers.com/cheerleaders/index.html) will appear in a special opening performance prior to the band, complete with a meet and greet for concert goers. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers Cheerleaders participate in performances regularly for troops on USO and Armed Forces Entertainment Tours.

Being able to have CSI:NY’s Gary Sinise and the Lt. Dan Band along with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers Cheerleaders perform at this year’s festival is something we are looking very forward to. The fact that the concert will benefit active duty military and veterans in the area is even better,” commented Tony Armer, Executive Director of the Sunscreen Film Festival.

The concert is free and open to the public; however, concert goers can purchase VIP tickets which include front-row access to the concert in Williams Park plus complimentary admission to the exclusive after-party at PUSH Ultra lounge in downtown St. Petersburg. 

For VIP concert tickets, which include two free drinks, visit http://sunscreen-filmfestival.ticketleap.com/vip-concert-gary-sinise/ 
For Festival VIP passes, and what other perks the passes include, visit http://sunscreen-filmfestival.ticketleap.com/2012-vip-pass/.

Christians have no right to wear cross at work, says Government


The Government has refused to say that Christians have a right to display the symbol of their faith at work Photo: PA

By David Barrett, Home Affairs Correspondent

In a highly significant move, ministers will fight a case at the European Court of Human Rights in which two British women will seek to establish their right to display the cross.

It is the first time that the Government has been forced to state whether it backs the right of Christians to wear the symbol at work.

A document seen by The Sunday Telegraph discloses that ministers will argue that because it is not a “requirement” of the Christian faith, employers can ban the wearing of the cross and sack workers who insist on doing so.

The Government’s position received an angry response last night from prominent figures including Lord Carey, the former Archbishop of Canterbury.

He accused ministers and the courts of “dictating” to Christians and said it was another example of Christianity becoming sidelined in official life.

The Government’s refusal to say that Christians have a right to display the symbol of their faith at work emerged after its plans to legalise same-sex marriages were attacked by the leaders of the Roman Catholic Church in Britain.

A poll commissioned by The Sunday Telegraph shows that the country is split on the issue.
Overall, 45 per cent of voters support moves to allow gay marriage, with 36 per cent against, while 19 per cent say they do not know.

However, the Prime Minister is out of step with his own party.
Exactly half of Conservative voters oppose same-sex marriage in principle and only 35 per cent back it.
There is no public appetite to change the law urgently, with more than three quarters of people polled saying it was wrong to fast-track the plan before 2015 and only 14 per cent saying it was right.

The Strasbourg case hinges on whether human rights laws protect the right to wear a cross or crucifix at work under Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

It states: “Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief, in worship, teaching, practice and observance.”
The Christian women bringing the case, Nadia Eweida and Shirley Chaplin, claim that they were discriminated against when their employers barred them from wearing the symbols.

They want the European Court to rule that this breached their human right to manifest their religion.
The Government’s official response states that wearing the cross is not a “requirement of the faith” and therefore does not fall under the remit of Article 9.

Lawyers for the two women claim that the Government is setting the bar too high and that “manifesting” religion includes doing things that are not a “requirement of the faith”, and that they are therefore protected by human rights.

They say that Christians are given less protection than members of other religions who have been granted special status for garments or symbols such as the Sikh turban and kara bracelet, or the Muslim hijab.

Last year it emerged that Mrs Eweida, a British Airways worker, and Mrs Chaplin, a nurse, had taken their fight to the European Court in Strasbourg after both faced disciplinary action for wearing a cross at work.
Mrs Eweida’s case dates from 2006 when she was suspended for refusing to take off the cross which her employers claimed breached BA’s uniform code.

The 61 year-old, from Twickenham, is a Coptic Christian who argued that BA allowed members of other faiths to wear religious garments and symbols.

BA later changed its uniform policy but Mrs Eweida lost her challenge against an earlier employment tribunal decision at the Court of Appeal and in May 2010 was refused permission to go to the Supreme Court.

Mrs Chaplin, 56, from Exeter, was barred from working on wards by Royal Devon and Exeter NHS Trust after she refused to hide the cross she wore on a necklace chain, ending 31 years of nursing.

The Government claims the two women’s application to the Strasbourg court is “manifestly ill-founded”.
Its response states: “The Government submit that… the applicants’ wearing of a visible cross or crucifix was not a manifestation of their religion or belief within the meaning of Article 9, and…the restriction on the applicants' wearing of a visible cross or crucifix was not an ‘interference’ with their rights protected by Article 9.”

The response, prepared by the Foreign Office, adds: “In neither case is there any suggestion that the wearing of a visible cross or crucifix was a generally recognised form of practising the Christian faith, still less one that is regarded (including by the applicants themselves) as a requirement of the faith.”
The Government has also set out its intention to oppose cases brought by two other Christians, including a former registrar who objected to conducting civil partnership ceremonies for homosexual couples.

Lillian Ladele, who worked as a registrar for Islington council in north London for 17 years, said she was forced to resign in 2007 after being disciplined, and claimed she had been harassed over her beliefs.
Gary McFarlane, a relationship counsellor, was sacked by Relate for refusing to give sex therapy to homosexual couples.

Christian groups described the Government’s stance as “extraordinary”.
Lord Carey said: “The reasoning is based on a wholly inappropriate judgment of matters of theology and worship about which they can claim no expertise.

“The irony is that when governments and courts dictate to Christians that the cross is a matter of insignificance, it becomes an even more important symbol and expression of our faith.”

The Strasbourg cases brought by Mrs Chaplin and Mr McFarlane are supported by the Christian Legal Centre which has instructed Paul Diamond, a leading human rights barrister.

Judges in Strasbourg will next decide whether all four cases will progress to full hearings.
If they proceed, the cases will test how religious rights are balanced against equality laws designed to prohibit discrimination.

Andrea Williams, the director of the Christian Legal Centre, said: “It is extraordinary that a Conservative government should argue that the wearing of a cross is not a generally recognised practice of the Christian faith.

“In recent months the courts have refused to recognise the wearing of a cross, belief in marriage between a man and a woman and Sundays as a day of worship as ‘core’ expressions of the Christian faith.
"What next? Will our courts overrule the Ten Commandments?”

Growing anger among Christians will be highlighted today by Delia Smith, the television chef and practising Roman Catholic, who will issue a Lent appeal on behalf the Church’s charity, Cafod, accusing “militant neo-atheists and devout secularists” of “busting a gut to drive us off the radar and try to convince us that we hardly exist”.

ICM Research interviewed an online sample of 2,001 adults between March 7 and March 9. Interviews were conducted across the country and results have been weighted to the profile of all adults.

Prince Harry continues Brazilian tour

RIO DE JANEIRO — Prince Harry has arrived in Rio de Janeiro to continue his tropical tour and promote British relations with Brazil.

Harry arrived from Jamaica. He made earlier stops in Belize and the Bahamas as part of a Diamond Jubilee tour in honor of Queen Elizabeth II as she celebrates 60 years on the throne.

In Brazil, the 27-year-old prince will meet Friday night with top business people, artists and sporting figures at an event center atop Rio's iconic Sugarloaf Mountain.

On Saturday, the prince will teach tag-rugby and take beach volleyball lessons. He's then expected to visit a local slum and see a British-supported construction project. Harry then heads to Sao Paulo state on Sunday to take part in a polo match for charity.

Solar storm's upside: Best places to see intense northern lights

By Mary Forgione Los Angeles Times Daily Travel
Travelers in Alaska, Canada, the northern Plains, parts of the Midwest and much of the West tonight (Thursday) may be treated to a northern lights display more intense than usual because of the powerful solar storm hitting the Earth's surface, according to science and weather reports.

The geomagnetic storm reached Earth about 5:45 a.m. EST Thursday. Scientists say the initial storm has been weaker than expected but may intensify later today.

Northern lights trackers say tonight could bring a spectacular show to mid- and high latitudes in the Northern Hemisphere. AccuWeather.com says bright streaks were seen over the Great Lakes region Wednesday night.

And here's the forecast for Alaska from the Geophysical Institute at the University of Alaska, Fairbanks: "Auroral activity will be high. Weather permitting, highly active auroral displays will be visible overhead from Barrow to Bethel, Dillingham and Ketchikan, and visible low on the horizon from King Salmon."

The Weather Channel says about the aurora forecast: "There is near certainty that this solar storm will produce aurora across the northern latitudes and could produce them as far south as the mid-latitudes," particularly on Thursday night-Friday morning.

Outside the U.S., Spaceweather.com shows spectacular northern lights photographs taken Wednesday night from northern parts of Russia, the Sky Station at Abisko National Park in Sweden and parts of Finland.

For those who might be in the northern lights belt, here are some viewing tips from the Geophysical Institute:

"[A]void city lights, and acquire a clear view of the northern horizon. Dress warmly, and plan to watch the sky between 10 p.m. and 2 a.m. local time, although an active period can occur anytime during the dark hours. Active periods are about 30 minutes long, occurring every 2 hours."

Auroral photography: A guide to capturing the Northern Lights

By Ben Hattenbach
If you've ever been interested in aurora photography, now is a great time to get out there and give it a try. Here's why:

    The activity of our sun (the cause of aurorae here on Earth) ebbs and flows in eleven year cycles.  The peak of the current solar cycle - an apex of auroral activity - will occur around 2013.

    Revolutionary improvements in imaging technology have been made since the last solar cycle. We have progressed from film to an age of digital image sensors which offer far greater sensitivity and resolution, along with real time feedback and less noise.

    Our ability to predict the timing and intensity of aurorae has been enhanced considerably with the launch of the Solar & Heliospheric Observatory, the product of a collaboration between the European Space Agency and NASA.

In the next few years we will enjoy sensational aurorae, advance notice of their arrival, and the equipment necessary to capture them as never before. Even armed with all of these advantages, however, the aurorae are not going to put themselves on your memory cards. That's something you'll have to do yourself, and it can be a struggle.

This article provides ten suggestions that, if followed, will improve your odds of emerging from that struggle with some exceptional imagery. This article consists of two pages - the first page deals with how to find an aurora and equip yourself to capture it properly, and page 2 will guide you through the remainder of the process, including camera settings, composition and advanced topics.

1. Know Your Subject

Let’s begin by getting to know the aurora. According to my friend, astrophysicist Dr. Henry Throop, the aurora was thought at one time to be caused by ices suspended high above the Earth’s coldest, darkest regions. We now know that the aurora is actually an electrical phenomenon, caused by interactions between the solar wind and the Earth’s upper atmosphere. The sun emits massless photons that we see as light, but also emits out a real, physical, tangible wind of particles which moves at several hundred kilometers per second.

When this wind reaches the Earth, it begins a process that ends by exciting gasses in the Earth’s atmosphere, eventually leading to the emission of light. And just as a true neon light only comes in one color (red), the colors of the aurora are limited too: green and red caused by oxygen, with the fainter blue and purple caused by nitrogen. Unlike the wispy shapes of the aurora, its colors are narrow and precise.

Just like stars, the aurora is present during the day and the night, though during the day it is overwhelmed by the brightness of the sky. As the sun sets, it starts to become visible, being brightest near midnight when the orientation of the Earth’s magnetic field and the solar wind cause it to be strongest. The aurora is seen mostly in a ring centered roughly around the poles, where the solar wind is focused most intensely by the Earth’s magnetic field.

If the Earth had no magnetic field, we’d still have an aurora, but it would be weaker and more flat across the sky: a dull glow seen in every direction. A planet like Jupiter with a stronger magnetic field has a comparably more intense aurora, while Mercury - having neither an atmosphere nor magnetic field - has no aurora at all.

A terrestrial wind passing across the continents creates an unsettled display of turbulence and eddies, which we see in the form of dynamic cloud patterns, vortices, weather, and storms. In much the same way, the solar wind crossing the Earth’s magnetic field makes visible to us the turbulence of space: the vortices and eddies of magnetic fields peel off and pass rapidly overhead.

Even though - like wind - the magnetic fields themselves are invisible to us, we can see it through its tracers: charged particles. As the aurora moves in the sky overhead, the ripples in it are like the wakes and eddies peeling off a boat as at travels up a rough river at night, working at times with, at time against, the current and forcing what’s there out of the way.
2. Timing Is Everything

Now that you know what you’re chasing, when should you expect to actually see your quarry? Sadly there is no easy answer to that question. Here are some notes to consider, as you prepare for the hunt:

    Aurorae are caused by Earth-directed coronal mass ejections. Those ejections often come from solar flares associated with sunspots, or originate from coronal holes on the sun. The sun rotates around into an Earth-facing position roughly every 27 days, meaning that at least on a short term basis there is an element of a 27 day cycle to geoeffective emissions.

    There is an annual cycle that results in disproportionately high numbers of aurorae in the weeks on either side of the spring and fall equinoxes.

    There is an 11-year solar cycle (the 'Schwabe cycle') during which the activity of the sun rises and falls. The number of sunspots tends to track this cycle, resulting in prevalent aurorae around the peak of this cycle. Oddly enough, though, coronal holes are most common about three years after the sunspot maximum, resulting in large numbers of aurorae also appearing about three years after the peak of the Schwabe cycle.

    There are also much longer solar cycles stacked on top of these shorter ones, including cycles with periods of 22 years (the 'Hale cycle'), 87 years (the 'Gleissberg cycle'), 210 years (the 'Suess cycle') and 2,300 years (the 'Hallstatt cycle'). Most of us won’t be around for more than a few of these, though, so there is little sense letting them drive our planning.

    The weather on Earth is another important factor. If the sky is cloudy, it doesn't matter what's going on above the cloud layer - you won't see it. In much of the arctic, the skies tend to be clearer in late winter and early spring than in fall.

    Ambient light is another critical issue. In the high arctic, excessive sunlight will overwhelm any aurorae during summer and the surrounding months. The moon is another source of ambient light that must be considered. A partial moon may helpfully illuminate the surrounding countryside, avoiding the “silhouette” effect common in aurora photographs. I usually prefer about a quarter to a half of a moon when I’m including landscape in a photograph and want it to be illuminated. Anything approaching a full moon, however, can make it quite difficult even to see, much less photograph, ordinary aurorae.

Fortunately, the modern auroral photographer can take advantage of a lot of 'real time' information and analysis of so-called 'space weather', freely available online. Resources I recommend include:

    The most informative space weather related information on the net, in my view is www.spaceweather.com.

    An alternative presentation of similar information is available from the Space Weather Prediction Center.

    Good short-term auroral predictions for Alaska are available on the University of Alaska website.

    iPhone and iPad applications 'LightTrac' and 'Darkness,' which provide location-based data regarding sun and moon rise/set.

    Further information on solar cycles is available on Wikipedia.

3. Location, Location, Location

Photographers in search of exceptional aurora imagery will generally need to travel a significant distance. This is because aurorae form in oval rings that, roughly speaking, circle the magnetic north pole (the 'aurora borealis') and magnetic south pole (the 'aurora australis').  When observed from far away, these rings will appear as a faint glow on the horizon. When viewed from the arctic or antarctic, however, even an ordinary aurora will often appear directly overhead.

Overhead aurorae tend to be more photogenic, clearer and brighter because of reduced atmospheric interference, and will more effectively illuminate the foreground. Auroral displays over snow, for instance, will generally cause the snow to take on the coloration of the aurora. In comparison, when an aurora is low on the horizon, the foreground will often appear as a less-interesting silhouette.

In addition to finding a location remote from the equator, you’ll want to situate yourself far away from city lights, airports, and other sources of light pollution. To give you a quantitative sense of what this means, when photographing around Fairbanks, Alaska (population under 100,000, counting the surrounding boroughs), I prefer to be at least 30 to 40 miles out of town. The farther, the better. Even from 100 miles into the bush, my photos will occasionally still show a faint orange glow on the horizon.
     
Here are a few popular spots:

    Central and Northern Alaska: Relatively easy access from most of the United States, via Fairbanks. Hundreds of miles of beautiful mountain scenery, with year-round road access. The best locations, in my opinion, are along the Dalton Highway north of Coldfoot.

    Iceland: Astoundingly beautiful landscapes abound, and unfrozen water suitable for reflections is abundant, even in winter. Frequently overcast, but still one of the world’s most wonderful countries to visit. However, travel from most places outside of Europe can be time-consuming, and staying in Iceland can be very costly.
                                                                                                          
    Yellowknife, Canada: Well-situated in the auroral belt, but most photos from Yellowknife seem to feature flat fields of snow with pine forests.

    Greenland: At the time of writing Greenland is quite difficult to reach directly from the United States or most other countries, unless you’re a world-class swimmer. There's no road system, but Greenland is a superb place to snowshoe around in the dark, searching for aurorae. Greenland isn't for the faint of heart though - think twice before wandering around in the dark, searching for aurorae in a land filled with polar bears.

    Tromsø, Norway: A very long trip from North America, not even counting the time required to find the 'ø' on your computer when booking the flight. This location offers picturesque mountains and water in which auroral reflections regularly appear, but you might struggle to completely exclude the glow of town and city lights from your photographs.

    Antarctica: Exotic, and one of few locations where one can photograph the aurora while huddling for warmth with a colony of emperor penguins. Unfortunately, unless you’re a scientist overwintering at a research station, it’s virtually impossible to access the continent when aurora are most prevalent.

As I’m based on the west coast of the United States, northern Alaska has become my preferred location for aurora photography.
4. Gear Up For Battle

When photographers are asked how they managed to achieve a certain result, they will usually point to their own artistic proficiency, not the capability of their tools. 'It’s the photographer, not the camera,' is the common refrain. There are, of course, elements of artistry in aurora photography as well. However, the importance of good quality equipment cannot be overstated. Aurora photography does not require the most expensive kit available; it requires gear that can capture broad views, in low light, in cold weather. You will need:

    A camera body that excels with clean high-ISO operation. There are a number of new bodies in recent years that meet these criteria well, and which have enabled revolutionary advances in the field of aurora photography. Weather-sealing is a definite plus, although not a necessity.

    A wide, fast lens. On a full frame camera, a focal length of 24mm or less is desirable – but the wider, the better, in my experience. Ideally the lens will be able to shoot sharp pictures with minimal vignetting at a maximum aperture of f 2.8 or less, as you’ll want to keep your exposures short. All else being equal, your exposure will be inversely proportional to the square of your aperture, meaning that a lens at f 2.8 will need four times as long to capture an image as at f 1.4. Currently, my favorite lens for this purpose is Nikon’s AF-S Nikkor 14-24mm f 2.8G ED.

    A sturdy tripod, and a remote shutter release (or, at a pinch, your camera's self-timer function). Don’t bother leaving home without them. They’re essential for aurora photography. A robust ballhead is also extremely useful.

Gearing up for winter photography, at night, in the arctic, necessitates psychological preparation as well. If you want to get the most out of your journey, you’ll need to be prepared to be awake and working most of the night.
5. Brace Yourself For A Chilly Reception

Aurorae just don’t seem to enjoy the warmth of the tropics or the glow of the midnight sun during summer.  You’ll need to play on their home turf, during the dark months. That means planning to spend hours on end, standing around outside at night, quite possibly in extreme cold, and probably a long way from home.

Clothing: be sure you’re dressed for the occasion. This is not a party you’ll want to attend in a mini-skirt.  For winter aurora photography I’ve settled on a down-filled mountaineering suit (the Mountain Hardwear Absolute Zero), winter boots rated to -40 degrees F (the Sorel Caribou Reserve), multiple pairs of long thermal underwear (Under Armour ColdGear Base 3.0, both top and bottom), and a wind-proof cap (by Mountain Hardwear).

For the hands, you’ll want gloves thick enough to keep you warm, but thin enough to allow you to operate your camera. Personally I prefer to forgo gloves and keep my hands in warm pockets between shots. Most of the time it works fine. If you’re averse to occasional frostbite, try a different approach.

Batteries: The temperatures of the far north take an enormous toll on battery life. My camera batteries last around 1,500 actuations in normal conditions, but in the arctic winter have become exhausted after as few as 25 frames. The conventional cold weather advice is to keep your battery warm by storing it in a jacket pocket while not in use, but that is not an adequate solution under extreme arctic conditions. I recommend bringing multiple batteries and a charger, and rotating the batteries through the charging station when they’re not in use. If your aurora photography will take you far from the nearest well-stocked camera store, consider also bringing backups for any other 'mission critical' elements of your system.

Tripods: Carbon fiber tripods are just wonderful. They’re light, and in cold weather can be carried without chilling your hands as much as metal would. In frigid temperatures, however, both the carbon fiber legs and the adhesive used to connect then to your tripod base can become brittle. Exerting substantial pressure on your tripod, particularly when its legs are buried in deep snow, can easily result in the amputation of a leg. If you’d prefer not to find yourself hundreds of miles from civilization, with only a 'dipod' for support, be particularly cautious when planting your gear in deep snow.

Cameras and lenses: As noted above, weather-sealing is preferable. In part, this is to help prevent condensation from forming inside your equipment, when you move from an exceptionally cold environment (e.g., shooting outside) to a much warmer space (e.g., into a heated car). Particularly for non-weather-sealed equipment, including most medium format cameras and lenses, it is essential that the cold-to-warm transition be made gradually. It only takes one misstep to generate trip-ending amounts of condensation inside your lenses or sensor. To help slow the transition, I transfer my equipment to a camera bag that has also been outside, and only after sealing the bag do I move the bag and its contents into a warmer space. The camera is then allowed to heat up, slowly and safely, within the bag. For even better protection, consider placing your equipment in an airtight enclosure, such as a Ziploc bag, during the thawing process.

Safety gear: If you’re headed to the far north during winter you should, of course, also read up on how to travel safely in cold, icy climates. When travelling in northern Alaska between November and March, I’ll usually bring extra fuel, chemical additives to prevent the fuel from freezing, an oversupply of food (including food that will be palatable when frozen), a cold weather sleeping bag (rated to -25 degrees F), jumper cables and a tow rope with which a vehicle could be rescued after sliding off of an icy road. My tow rope has paid for itself on multiple occasions.

Happy 100th Birthday Oreo!

On March 6, 1912, the first Oreo cookie rolled off the line at the Chelsea Market Bakery in Manhattan, and now, 100 years later the chocolate cookie with the cream filling is sold in more than 100 countries.

The U.S. tops the list of the biggest markets for Oreos, but around the world, the little cookies come in flavors like blueberry and green tea ice cream. As for how people enjoy their Oreos: 50 percent of Oreo eaters pull the cookies apart first, with women twisting the top off more than men.

To celebrate the chocolatey, creamy goodness of Oreos, we've rounded up some of our favorite Oreo commercials with cute little kids from around the world. Grab a glass of milk and enjoy!


Andrew Breitbart: Coroner wants to 'cover all the bases'

The Los Angeles County coroner's office said it is awaiting the results of toxicology tests before releasing an official cause of death for conservative author and activist Andrew Breitbart, who died unexpectedly Thursday at age 43.

A source familiar with the investigation told The Times the tests are routine in a death of someone so young.

An autopsy was completed Friday, and the tests are expected to take several weeks.

Reuters. "We have a very young man who died suddenly and unexpectedly, so we want to make sure we cover all the bases."

The source, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the case was still under investigation, said officials are working on the assumption that Breitbart died of natural causes. A witness saw him collapse while walking near his home and said that he had no external injuries, the source said. Paramedics rushed Breitbart to Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center, where doctors pronounced him dead.

"It looks like a heart attack, but no one knows until "an autopsy is done, Breitbart's father-in-law, actor Orson Bean, told The Times.

"He was walking near the house somewhere.... He was taken by paramedics to UCLA, and they couldn't revive him," Bean said. "We're devastated. I loved him like a son."

Breitbart is survived by his wife, Susannah; four children; his parents; and a sister. The family has not announced memorial arrangements.

Sources said officials will also try to determine whether Breitbart had any underlying health problems that could have contributed to his death, a common tack in such cases.

Breitbart was a Hollywood-criticizing, mainstream-media-loathing conservative and shot to stardom with two stories in recent years: breaking the story over sexually charged tweets by former Rep. Anthony Weiner of New York, a scandal that led to his resignation; and posting a video of Shirley Sherrod, an employee of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, in which she appeared to make racially charged comments, leading to her firing and then a subsequent apology by the Obama administration when it was later revealed that the video had been heavily edited and her comments portrayed out of context.

Sherrod released a statement saying: "My prayers go out to Mr. Breitbart's family as they cope during this very difficult time. I do not intend to make any further comments."

Breitbart spent his early professional years helping to edit the Drudge Report and later helped launch the Huffington Post. In 2005, he started his news aggregation site Breitbart.com, which was designed to counter what he described as the "bully media cabal" that he said ignores stories at odds with prevailing liberal orthodoxy. His goal, he often said, was to "destroy the institutional left."

His big splash came in 2009, when he posted an undercover video in which a pair of conservative activists posing as a prostitute and her boyfriend asked employees of the community group ACORN for help with a brothel that would house underage Salvadorans. ACORN was embarrassed when some of its workers seemed too helpful; Congress responded by defunding the organization.

Breitbart's mother-in-law, Alison Mills Bean, called him "one of the most genuine people I’ve met in my life.... He always spoke the truth of his heart, and no matter what people agreed or disagreed with him he never wavered.

"And he was loved by a lot of people," she said. "And I know a lot of people found fault with his points of view ... but everyone loved him. It is a great loss for everybody."There was no stopping Andrew Breitbart from fighting the good fight with every fiber of his soul," Rep. Thaddeus McCotter (R-Mich.) said in Congress. "Goodbye and God bless, Brother Andrew. You are loved and mourned and ever remembered."

Breitbart lived with his family in Westwood. He had been adopted by moderately conservative Jewish parents and attended two of L.A.'s most exclusive private schools -- Carlthorp and Brentwood.

His father, Gerald, owned Fox and Hounds, a landmark Tudor-style Santa Monica restaurant that later became the punk rock club Madame Wong's West. His mother, Arlene, was an executive at Bank of America in Beverly Hills and downtown L.A.