Luxor opens up to sacred street of lost sphinxes

A hidden wonder of the ancient world is to be unveiled in Egypt after excavation of the first stretch of a two-mile avenue lined with hundreds of carved sphinxes.

Built more than 3,000 years ago, the so-called Avenue of Sphinxes linked two giant temples and was used once a year for a religious procession. It was gradually buried by silt and built over after falling out of use in the 5th century AD.

Now it is being uncovered and the first part is expected to open within weeks. Visitors will have the chance to stroll under the imperious gaze of the sphinxes — mythological creatures with the body of a lion and head of a human or ram.

The remainder of the buried avenue, 75 yards wide and flanked originally by an estimated 1,350 sphinxes, will be opened in the next few years.

It is the longest processional avenue in the world,” said Jihane Zaki, a government Egyptologist. Its restoration, he said, would return “dignity and glory” to Luxor, in what was once the ancient city of Thebes.

Controversy has surrounded the project, not least because of the speed of the excavation in which bulldozers have cut a 100-yard trench through some of the densely populated districts of Luxor…

The dispute has drawn in Unesco, which has responsibility for world heritage sites such as the Luxor and Karnak temples at each end of the avenue. It accused Egypt of bulldozing potentially significant ruins in a rush to get the job done…

Golly. I wonder where they might have learned that kind of behavior?

Restoration of the avenue and its sphinxes will pay rich dividends to the city on the Nile that already draws crowds. The work is part of an ambitious reorganisation of Luxor that involves turning it, in the words of Samir Farag, the governor, into a “living museum” with “tourist villages” and the reenactment of ancient processions among the sphinxes…

Amenhotep III, who ruled about 3,400 years ago, built the avenue to connect the two temples. Sphinxes were carved on either side of the road next to chapels stocked with offerings for the gods. Workers have so far found 650 of the sphinxes.

Another piece of history worth visiting.

Flu shots for children help the whole community

An unusual study done in 49 remote Hutterite farming colonies in western Canada has provided the surest proof yet that giving flu shots to schoolchildren protects a whole community from the disease.

Although previous studies have demonstrated what scientists call “herd immunity,” none have been so incontrovertible, because they were done in less isolated places with more sources of flu passing through. Also, only one other study, done 42 years ago, immunized over 80 percent of a community’s children, as this one did. Success repeated in many separate communities with very high vaccination rates implies that the shots themselves — rather than luck, viral mutations, hand-washing or any other factor — were the crucial protective element…

“Not only was that clearly needed to protect the kids, but they probably wound up protecting the older people, too,” Dr. Fauci said…

Although they frown on television and radio, Hutterites drive cars and modern tractors. More important from a medical point of view, they live in communities of up to 160 people, own everything jointly, attend their own schools, eat in one dining hall and have little contact with the outside world. Each community governs itself, but, in Dr. Loeb’s words, “after one very with-it Alberta bishop recognized the study’s benefit to the rest of the world and backed it,” almost 50 communities voted to participate.

Hutterites have no religious objections to Western medicine, that very “with-it” bishop, John K. Stahl, 76, said in a telephone interview. While deliberately cut off, they perform acts of generosity — for example, many donate blood frequently…

There was a 60 percent “protective effect” for the whole community, the study concluded. It implies, Dr. Bridges said, that giving flu shots only to schoolchildren would protect the elderly just as well as giving flu shots to the elderly themselves.

The C.D.C. would never recommend that, she cautioned, “because you still should vaccinate high-risk people.”

Anyone who ever worked in an office setting populated by folks with schoolkids in their family knows what happens even with the common cold – much less the flu. Everyone brings it to work after they catch something from their kids.

RTFA. The study was fortunate to connect with religious communities that aren’t anti-science from the gitgo. Down here in the lower 48, we’re still hampered by political winds blowing out the butts of pundits, demagogues and populists who use every excuse in the book to hinder ordinary medical science.

Condoms sold in Roman school. Pope says, “We’re dooomed!”

For its critics in the Vatican, it is a matter of “deep concern”. For its proponents, it is “evidence of great courage”.

Amid national controversy, the Kepler scientific secondary school became the first in the Italian education system to install condom vending machines for students. The machines, in the girls’ and boys’ toilets, will sell cut-price condoms just a few miles from the Vatican; the Kepler is in a lower-middle class district of Rome, just outside the city’s ancient walls.

Cardinal Agostino Vallini, who stands in for the pope in his capacity as bishop of Rome, deplored the initiative as “trivialising sexuality”…

In the grand scheme of things, there is little that isn’t trivial about religion, especially sects far beyond their use-by-date as the Roman Catholic Church. True Believers, however, may be dangerous.

The Kepler’s headteacher, Antonio Panaccione, invited other schools “not to take fright, and do the same“. His comments and those of others reflected the continuing influence in Italy of Catholic teaching on sexual matters.

“At the outset,” Panaccione said, “there was some hesitation among some of the parents and teachers, motivated by fear and insecurity. But then, by discussing it, that was all got over.”

The Italian student’s union, which noted that the French Lycée in Rome had been making condoms available to its pupils since 2001, said in a statement: “Only in Italy would this cause a stir.” It added: “A number of secondary educational institutions in western countries distribute condoms, as do many schools in the US…”

Cripes! The U.S. as an example of enlightened sexuality? Shows you how far behind Italy really is.

Italy’s very low fertility rate – estimated last year at 1.31 births per woman of child-bearing age – indicates that many couples do use contraception. But the prejudice against artificial methods remains strong…

Religions that excel in being stuck into the past, like around the Dark Ages, will never get it right. This was the core issue that drove my father’s generation from the Catholic Church – in 1942!

LG building $303 million Volt battery plant in Michigan

Korea-based LG Chem is the lithium-ion battery supplier for GM’s Chevrolet Volt electric car.

GM has been working closely with LG’s Michigan-based subsidiary Compact Power Inc. since mid-2007 to first develop and then refine the Volts’ 16 kwh battery pack. In January of 2009 it was announced that LG had been awarded the Volt’s battery contract. Since then, hundreds of packs have been built, and GM has launched its own battery pack production facility which has been operational since January.

The lithium-ion cells have been manufactured on a line at LG Chem’s battery plant in Korea, where the cells for the initial production run of Volts will continue to come from.

The source of these cells will soon change to the USA.

LG Chem has announced it will invest $303 Million to build a lithium-ion cell manufacturing plant in Holland Michigan. The 650,000 square foot plant will create 400 jobs and be capable of producing from 15 to 20 million prismatic automotive cells per year, which is enough to sustain a production capacity of around 60,000 Chevy Volts per year…

Groundbreaking on the facility, which will be located on a 120 acre site in Holland Michigan, is expected to begin this summer and the plant will be fully operational in 2012.

Keeping GM in business begins to turn a profit and several billion$ in loan repayment is on schedule.

The Chevy Volt as a Range-Extended hybrid-electric vehicle is a step forward in automotive design. Successful enough to be copied by Honda, Lotus, Proton and others.

Li-on batteries are scaling up in production – and down in cost – so fast that most naysaying analysts are having a hard time retracting their estimates quickly enough to keep from looking like the absolute dumbass pundits they are.

Oh, and don’t forget to tune on in Republicans trying to tell the 400 families who will have someone working at this factory – that the Obama stimulus package and the GM loan was worthless.

Evangelical takes on Beck for hating social justice churches

An evangelical leader is calling for a boycott of Glenn Beck’s television show and challenging the Fox News personality to a public debate after Beck vilified churches that preach economic and social justice.

The Rev. Jim Wallis, president of Sojourners, a network of progressive Christians, says Beck perverted Jesus’ message when he urged Christians last week to leave churches that preach social and economic justice.

Wallis says Beck compared those churches to Communists and Nazis.

Wallis says at least 20,000 people have already responded to his call to boycott Beck. He says Beck is confusing his personal philosophy with the Bible…

He’s afraid of being challenged on his silly caricatures,” Wallis says. “Glenn Beck talks a lot when he doesn’t have someone to dialogue with. Is he willing to talk with someone who he doesn’t agree with?…”

For some Christians, practicing economic and social justice means that churches should practice charity: setting up soup kitchens, assisting victims of natural disasters, and helping people find jobs.

For other Christians, practicing economic and social justice also means trying to change the conditions that cause people to be poor or unemployed. The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. subscribed to this definition of biblical justice.

The Rev. Jim Wallis is the president of Sojourners, a network of Christians.

That concern for justice is what helped convert him, says Wallis, president of Sojourners. Wallis, who counts King as one of his faith role models, says the Bible isn’t just concerned with feeding the poor — it’s concerned about the conditions that create the poor…

“The Bible just didn’t say take care of the victim — it talks about justice,” says Wallis…

Meanwhile…he’s waiting for that public debate with Beck. “I’ll have it,” Wallis says, “anywhere he wants.”

Har! Demagogues like Beck aren’t especially long on individual courage. Or integrity.

Republicans deny owning the Tea Party – How can they can approve or disapprove a Tea Party candidate?

It’s a grass-roots protest movement composed of the newly politicized and people distrustful of hierarchy. So how is it possible to be an illegitimate Tea Party member?

Ask Republicans in Nevada. Some are accusing Jon Scott Ashjian, a new Tea Party candidate running for U.S. Senate, of being a fake. The allegation? He was put in the race by agents of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to siphon votes from the GOP.

“No doubt about it,” says Danny Tarkanian, one of the many Republican Senate candidates hoping to challenge Reid in November…

As for Reid, an aide dismisses the accusations. As does Reid, who says he’s never met Ashjian or “anyone in his family.” Reid tells CNN, “I think there are too many conspiratorialists in the world today. This is a free country…”

The conspiracy theories abound from Tea Party activists and worried Republicans: Ashjian’s never attended Tea Party rallies; he hasn’t coordinated with local organizers; the secretary of his Tea Party of Nevada, Barry Levinson, is a registered Democrat. Levinson said, “I vote the person, not the party” and calls the accusations “political garbage…”

Jon Scott Ashjian seems to find the fuss amusing. New to the political scene, he personally gave CNN directions to his house for an interview that his wife, daughter and bulldog attended. He said it was the first time he’d spoken with the national media. Ashjian, who helped form the Tea Party of Nevada just to run for this seat, said that he’d never take marching orders from the Democrats or Reid.

He says he’s fielded endless calls from Republicans trying to strong-arm him to leave the race, and he resents it: “I don’t think Republicans own the Tea Party,” Ashjian said. “In fact, I know they don’t in Nevada, because I do. That’s what’s really got them in an uproar.”

Pretty hilarious. If true, it’s one of the oldest tricks in the book.

Cripes, I spent my childhood growing up in a factory town with a “Socialist” mayor for 22 years. Every one of his campaigns was funded by the Republican Party – and they never ran a candidate against him.

It’s just extra funny to see these hypocrites claiming they love the independence of “grassroots” organizations – funded by former Republican officials – and ripped because someone may have stolen their tapdance routine.

1 of every 6 FBI agents tracking corruption at Mexican border

“We don’t need no stinking accountants!”

The FBI has focused its anti-corruption efforts on the U.S.-Mexico border, a top official told a Senate committee.

Kevin L. Perkins, assistant director of the criminal investigative division, testified before a subcommittee of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee. He said 120 of the 700 agents involved in anti-corruption investigations are assigned to the Southwest border.

Perkins said those agents, working with the Department of Homeland Security and other federal agencies, are getting results. In 2009 he said there were more than 100 arrests and 130 state and federal criminal cases.

In one case, Perkins said, agents determined a border inspector had sought the job in order to make money from drug trafficking. The inspector was sentenced to 22 years in prison after pleading guilty to conspiring to import more than 2,000 pounds of marijuana.

After another investigation, government employees working for 12 state, federal and local agencies were charged with drug trafficking, he said, with 84 guilty pleas so far.

Take a nice profitable crime operation like drug-running, it’s to be expected that bribery and corruption of the “good guys” will follow.

Sometimes they’re sophisticated about it – taking lessons from the guys who hire the really smooth lawyers and accountants. More often, it’s good old-fashioned bribery and kickbacks to local yokels in law enforcement.

I lived for years in a city where the chief of police would drop in at the Old Boys private mens club to play cribbage, every Thursday night. Didn’t matter who he played. Didn’t matter if he was sober or slopped out of his gourd. By the end of the night he was ahead $2,000. Every Thursday night.

In today’s dollars, that would be more like $30,000. Don’t forget, I’m an old cranky geek.