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US clinic plans first face transplant

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

US doctors are to interview 12 patients with a view to performing the first ever transplant of a human face.

The Cleveland Clinic will choose between seven women and five men to find the person most suited for the experimental procedure, which is a radical and controversial solution to extreme facial scarring or disfigurement.

Having practiced the procedure on bodies donated for medical research, the Cleveland Clinic team believe they have a 50% chance of success. The procedure will not live up to science-fiction predictions and give the recipient the appearance of the donor; the underlying bone structure is the deciding factor in the final appearance. The new face will end up resembling neither the donor nor recipient.

Surgeons in several other countries have announced being ready to perform this procedure in the past. However, the risk and non life-threatening nature of disfigurement have meant that gaining approval for the groundbreaking surgery has been difficult. Like many other transplant operations, the recipient would be required to take drugs to prevent tissue rejection for the remainder of their life. These drugs can have side effects and carry their own risks involving the patient’s immune system.

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Feb
20

Rare 1856 Double Eagle gold coin sells for US$345,000 in California

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Rare 1856 Double Eagle gold coin sells for US$345,000 in California

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

An exceptionally rare coin, which had been hidden in a family collection for over a century, sold at Heritage Auction Galleries Californian Coin Auction for US$345,000.

The 1856-O Double Eagle gold coin, rated as XF45+ (XF meaning Extremely Fine) was discovered in July 2010, having been held by a family after it had been held in the James Bullock collection. Given a value in the auctioneer’s catalogue of $220,000, it quickly rose past that with the help of the 5,000 bidders Heritage say were involved in the auction.

The coin is believed to be one of 20 or fewer examples available commercially. Two are in the Smithsonian Museum.

The President of Heritage Auctions, Greg Rohan, said, “We were all quite impressed overall with how these coins performed”. He continued, “Collectors continue to respond enthusiastically to the best and rarest examples, as evidenced by the heated competition for the Bullock 1856-O double eagle. We don’t expect to see a drop-off in gold demand as the year comes to a close and we hold our last few auctions of 2010.”

Overall, Heritage said that a $13.4 million total was achieved with 96% of lots sold.

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Feb
19

Home of controversial book publisher set ablaze">
Home of controversial book publisher set ablaze

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Four people have been arrested on terrorism charges in Islington, London, England, after a suspected petrol bombing on the house of Martin Rynja, owner of book publishing company Gibson Square.

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His company recently sparked controversy after buying the rights to publish The Jewel of Medina, a work of fiction by Sherry Jones depicting the Muslim prophet Muhammad and his child bride, Aisha.

The bombing, which occurred in the early hours of Saturday morning, led to the evacuation of the £2.5 million property in Lonsdale Square. Three men, aged 22, 30 and 40, were arrested at 2:25am BST by armed officers, two in Lonsdale Square, and one after being stopped near Angel tube station.

Police comments suggested that the trio had been under surveillance, and that they had advance knowledge of the plot and simply waited for the arsonists to strike, before arresting them.

On Saturday, a woman was arrested for obstructing police during their searches of four addresses – two in Walthamstow, and two in Ilford and Forest Gate.

Speaking earlier this month, Mr Rynja said that “The Jewel of Medina has become an important barometer of our time. As an independent publishing company, we feel strongly that we should not be afraid of the consequences of debate.” Ms Jones commented that she did not intend for her novel to be offensive to Islam. She noted that she “[has] deliberately and consciously written respectfully about Islam and Muhammad.” She “envisaged that [her] book would be a bridge builder” between Islam and the western world.

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Feb
19

2012 Olympics clash with Ramadan">
2012 Olympics clash with Ramadan

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Muslim groups from across the world are criticising the organisers of the 2012 Olympics in London after it was revealed that the games will take place over Ramadan. The most holy month in the Muslim calendar, which will take place from the 21 July to 20 August in 2012, involves fasting during daylight hours and will affect an estimated 3,000 athletes.

Joanna Manning Cooper, spokesman for the games said: “We did know about it when we submitted our bid and we have always believed that we could find ways to accommodate it.”Nevertheless, this will come as a huge embarrassment for the organisers who have tried to ensure the event involve all of Britain’s ethnic communities.A quarter of the athletes who took part in the 2004 Athens Olympics were from predominantly Muslim countries and the fast will put any athletes involved at a clear disadvantage.

The chairman of the Islamic Human Rights Commission, Massoud Shadjared said: “This is going to disadvantage the athletes and alienate the Asian communities by saying they don’t matter. It’s not only going to affect the participants, it’s going to affect all the people who want to watch the games.”

The president of the National Olympic Committee of Turkey, Togay Bayalti, said: “This will be difficult for Muslim athletes. They don’t have to observe Ramadan if they are doing sport and travelling but they will have to decide whether it is important to them. “It would be nice for the friendship of the Games if they had chosen a different date.”

The games will run from the 27 July to 12 August to coincide with the British Summer holidays. The summer holidays are a six week period running from mid July to early September. During this time, public transportation is generally less crowded and it will be easier to find the 70,000 volunteers needed to keep the games running. The International Olympics Committee has specified that the games must take place between July 15 to August 31. Giselle Davies, IOC spokesperson said, “We give a window to the five bid cities. The host city selects the dates within that window.”

The organisers are working with the Muslim Council of Great Britain to find ways around the problem.

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Feb
19

Frank Messina: An interview with the ‘Mets Poet’">
Frank Messina: An interview with the ‘Mets Poet’

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

In the early Olympic games, athletes used to run a mile and then recite a poem. The first poet-in-residence of an English football team, Ian McMillan, remarked that football chants are like huge tribal poems. Generally, though, sport and poetry have never seemed natural companions in human enterprise. Until the New York Mets baseball team suffered in 2007 arguably the worst collapse in Major League Baseball history. To describe the anguish fans felt, The New York Times turned to a poet, Frank Messina. “Nothing was really representing the fan’s point of view,” Messina told Wikinews reporter David Shankbone in an interview. “There’s a lot of hurting people out there who can’t express what happened.”

And to those who read the Times last Saturday, Messina wants you to know his father never apologized for raising him as a Mets fans. “I never asked for his apology, and he never apologized, nor did he owe us one. I was misquoted in the New York Times.”

Messina’s parents taught him about opposite ends of the spectrum of life. “My mother was supportive even when I made mistakes. She taught me to never give up no matter what vocation you choose in your life.” Whereas Messina’s mother taught him to never give up, his father taught him how to die with grace. He passed away from cancer in 2005. “I got to see a man who accepted his fate. He was like the Captain of the Titanic. My mother was also calm. I was the one freaking out inside. I saw someone who had acknowledged his own demise, accepted it, and died at home. He was a tough old guy. It takes a lot to accept that; it takes a very strong person. Some of the special moments toward the end was sitting with him and watching baseball games.”

It is baseball that has garnered Messina attention now. He has performed in 32 countries and 40 states, and in 1993 he founded the band Spoken Motion, a spoken word band. What is striking about Messina is that his work has branched two worlds that often don’t interact: downtown coffeehouse denizens of poetry and the denizens of Shea Stadium. It is Frank Messina who has personalities as diverse as Joe Benigno, the archetype of the New York sportscaster at WFAN, reflecting on love and poetry. “No one would question a poet writing about love for a woman,” said Benigno, “but when you’re a fan of a team, the emotional attachment is even stronger….” Benigno sounded similar to avant-garde writer and musician David Amram, who said Messina’s poems paint “the stark beauty of the streets, the pain of 9/11, the joy of everyday life, the mysteries of love all fill the pages of this book. It’s a feast of images and sounds that stay with you.”

I spoke with the person Bowery Poetry Club founder Bob Holman called the “Rock n’ Roll Poet Laureate” recently in Washington Square Park:


DS: You have received a good deal of attention recently.

FM:Even though I’m not Michael Jackson or somebody, when people come up to me and introduce themselves and say, ‘Hey Frank, my name is John,’ I say, ‘Hey John, my name is Frank’ and they laugh. It’s a funny phenomenon.

DS: What goes through your head when that happens?

FM: I understand it. I’ve gone to readings and concerts. I look at it as human interaction. Over the years I have performed in 32 countries and 40 states. I’ve been doing this professionally since I was in my twenties, and before that since I was sixteen doing little tidbit poetry readings in coffeehouses. The band I started in 1993, Spoken Motion, received a lot of recognition as a spoken word band born out of the New York spoken word scene. I worked with some great musicians and performed around the world. I remember signing my first autograph to a kid when I was 25 years old. As time went on, I came out with books and CDs, and I became used to that kind of thing. To me, the ultimate feeling of success as an artist, is to move somebody enough where they thank you. When someone comes up and says, ‘Frank, thank you, your work is great.”

DS: You have a long career in poetry, but as of late the attention you have garnered is for the Mets-inspired work. How do you feel about having a lot of your work overshadowed by the Mets work?

FM:It’s ironic. Some of the greatest poetry has been born out of failure and the depths of adversity in the human experience. Walt Whitman, the first great American poet, wrote about the Civil War. He went looking for his brother, George Whitman, after he a telegram telling him his brother was injured in the South. When he started out his poems were about beating drums, and blow, bugle, blow. Real patriotic. Then he started to see the real horrors of war. He was able to tap into the human condition and the situation at that time. Eventually when he found his brother he had resolution.
I experienced that kind of adversity during 9/11 being a civilian volunteer. I loaded ferry boats in Jersey City across the river to deliver goods to Ground Zero. I turned to Whitman to find some understanding of what is happening in the world right now. When I wrote my 9/11-related poems, that was true adversity. I realize baseball is just a game.

DS: Can you recite a stanza that expresses how you feel right now?

FM: This was a piece that the Times only quoted one stanza, but it’s about preparation for a battle, and being prepared to either rise to the occasion, or go down:

Do you know what it’s liketo be chased by the Ghost of Failurewhile staring through Victory’s door?Of course you do, you’re a Mets fancaught in a do-or-die momentin late September at Shea

As one that’s battled hardthrough many a broken dreamLet me say, “in order to rise to the occasionyou must be willingto go down with the ship”,Have no fear, no hesitation,for Winning shall be it’s reward!

Don’t let them get in your head!you’ve kept it up this longYou’re a Mets fan in late Septemberand you’ll fight til the glorious endCheer the team today;(your boys in orange and blue)Let them hear you shoutas they fight for what’s mightily due

(copyright Frank Messina; reprinted with permission)

DS: Sports fans aren’t known as patrons of poetry. Have you had interaction with ‘new readers’ through your Mets work?

FM: This one person who I never met took a picture of me and sent it to me in an e-mail. The e-mail said, ‘Frank, I have never bothered you during the game, but I just wanted to say thank you for your work and thank you for making some sense of the successes and failures and I wish you much success with your work.’
Last year in my section at the stadium I had a banner that read We Know’. That’s all it said. Then earlier this year these shirts started to come out that said, “Poet says We Know“. It was amazing. We didn’t use the banner this year, though, because we didn’t know. The team wasn’t so far ahead that we knew. Last year we just knew we were going to the playoffs; we knew we were going post-season. This year we weren’t sure. We were walking on eggshells.
There was a woman, a season ticket holder and a die hard fan. She was staggered by the loss last year to the Cardinals. Last year she came up to me during one of the games late in the season; she was so happy we were going to the post season. By that point we had clinched it. She handed me a shirt she bought at the stadium and she gave me a big hug. With tears in her eyes she said, “Thank you, Mets Poet, thank you.” It’s cool…it’s like another family.

DS: Moments like that must make you realize you have touched people who aren’t normally touched by poetry.

FM: It’s opened up a new fan base, so to speak. For the last year SNY has broadcast footage of me with my poems, so quite a few fans known about the ‘Mets Poet’. I have never called myself that, by the way. The back of my jersey says ‘The Poet’ because growing up that was my nickname. My brother was a runner and they used to call him The Birdman–Birdie–and they called me The Poet. It was a natural thing, but I never coined myself as ‘The Mets Poet.’

DS: Jack Nicholson once said, “The fuel for the sports fan is the ability to have private theories.” What are some of your private theories?

FM: The fan is always right. No matter if he is wrong, he is right. The fan always has an opinion. That’s why we have talk radio and people call Joe Benigno and Steve Somers and Mike and the Mad Dog all day long. That’s why we have 24/7 sports-related talk. If you were to come from another planet with only three hours on Earth to find out what human beings are like, to discover how dynamic life is as a human being, you would take them to a baseball game. A season is like a life, but a game is like one day in that life. A season has its beginning, its renewal, its innocence and its arch into maturity into the season. Panic sets in when it hits the middle-age of the season. Will it we have success, or will we have failure. At end of season, fans have to accept whether we have failed or whether we have achieved victory. Kansas City Royals fans know at the beginning of the season that, more than likely, nothing is going to happen for them. As Mets fans, we want to win, but we never expect it to be easy. It’s always going to be a fight; it’s always going to be hard.

DS: The second-class citizen in a first rate city idea that is found in one of your poems.

FM: Yeah, you’re going to get pushed around. People are going to disagree with you. It’s not going to be easy. You’re going to have to take a lot of pills, take an extra drink, go to the gym an extra day to run off some energy.

DS: You and poet Ron Whitehead embarked on a “War Poets” tour of Europe. You as a pro-war poet, and Whitehead as a pro-peace poet. Forgive the crude terminology; I realize there is probably nuance in there. In the over four years since that tour has your outlook evolved at all?

FM: I’ve never been for any war. I try to avoid altercation on any level, be it emotional, physical, or political. But there are some wars I think that are necessary. History has shown this. Was this one necessary? I don’t know. Twenty years from now we’ll have to figure that out. I hope that we’ve all learned something from it.

DS: What is your feeling toward the Iraq War now?

FM: It’s a mess. It’s a mess. We went in to get a job done, get Hussein out of there, liberate the Iraqi people as was dictated in the 1998 Liberation Act that Senator Lieberman helped draft and President Clinton put out there. President Bush, Congress and the American people supported going in there. I’m not going to backtrack: I did support going in there, and even as an artist and a poet, and as a freak, I made a decision, that it was time to take this guy out. I spoke with many Iraqi Americans who live in my neighborhood who also supported that. Lebanese and Iranian friends I have supported it. One of my childhood friends, Adel Nehme, came out of Beirut, Lebanon around 1972. We met in kindergarten and we’ve been friends ever since. He was someone who escaped that turmoil. His family brought him to New Jersey specifically to pull him out of that hell, like the way my father took us out of the gangland hell of the South Bronx. Like any father would do, to protect his family.

DS: Do you still feel the Iraq War is protecting us, and that the original reasons you supported it are still valid?

FM: It’s a mess. The original reasons? Yes. Looking back, hindsight is always 20/20. Unlike many artists, I have vocally supported the war. Many artists who support this war won’t say that. Ron Whitehead is a dear friend. We have mutual respect for each other but we disagree on a lot of issues. Nevertheless, there’s only one man I want fighting in the trenches of life with me, and that’s Ron Whitehead.

DS: When you look at the state of the world, what five descriptors come to mind?

FM: Chaos. Yearning for peace. Confusion. Desperation. Hope.

DS: And are you hopeful?

FM: Yes.

DS: Where do you get that hope from?

FM: My faith in the human spirit. I think people are inherently good.

DS: Joe Benigno said, “No one would question a poet writing about love for a woman, but when you’re a fan of a team, the emotional attachment is even stronger, because women come and go, but your team never changes.” Do you think that analogy really holds, because you are attracted to the Mets, and you are attracted to women, and the players on both of those teams in your life change.

FM: Loving a baseball team is having to put up with the imperfections, the routine of what kind of mood is it going to be today. It doesn’t come down to whether we are going to win or lose, it comes down to: is the player going to perform this way? Or , is the pitcher going to be ambivalent? Am I even going to have enough strength to watch this game? Am I going to wash my hands? Am I going to lay in bed all day? What am I going to do? The game becomes a reflection of true life in that way.

DS: The difference is that you know what to expect from the players on the Mets. They have defined roles and there is some certitude. With women, as the players change you don’t know what they are going to do; whereas in baseball the players have roles and you know what to expect of them.

FM: It’s a dangerous proposition being any fan, but particularly a Mets fan, because you are going to have to accept you will fall in love with imperfection. When you fall in love with a woman, you are accepting them for all their flaws, those elements that make them human, worts and all. And I accept my team worts and all. They have given me a great deal of joy, a great deal of entertainment, exhilaration, and a hell of a lot of pain like in any fan. This isn’t the Brady Bunch, this isn’t Leave it to Beaver. Few things are, if anything.

DS: You were the recipient of the 1993 Allen Ginsberg Poetry Award. In 1996 I met Ginsberg at the Naropa Institute in Boulder. I asked him about NAMBLA, the North American Man/Boy Love Association. He told me to follow him into the bathroom. As I stood there he peed and told me he wasn’t for having sex with children, but that he thought that age-of-consent laws were outdated, that he knew what he wanted when he was fifteen and that he thought everyone does at that age. He said he wasn’t for sex with children, but that it should not be illegal to have sex at that age. When you accepted the Ginsberg award, did you have an issue with some of his political stances?

FM: I was too young at the time to realize what he thought. I never knew what went on behind closed doors with Allen, and aside from meeting him a few times, I never knew him on a personal level. I accepted the nomination, like young people do each year, because of his poetry, not because of his politics. I was proud. That is what the award was designed for. There are laws in this country for a reason, to protect children and to protect people from predators. Whether Allen was a predator or not, I don’t have any idea.

DS: All evidence is that he was not a predator, but that he was a voice for change of age-of-consent laws.

FM: To me, it’s a non-issue. Put your hand on my kid and believe me, it’s all over for the predator. That’s my policy. When someone’s 18, that’s the deal. I’ll stick with the law on that one.

DS: What’s a lesson your mother taught you?

FM: To never give up. She was supportive even when I made mistakes, as a good mother will do. In school my parents were called up a lot. It was not easy being a parent of Frankie. Teachers were constantly calling. I was disruptive, I would talk out of line, I was a class clown. She taught me to never give up no matter what vocation you choose in your life. My mother was never critical of my poems and writing. We’re good friends and she’s a lot of fun.

DS: How would you choose your death?

FM: Either in battle or laying in bed with family around me.

DS: Have you ever had a moment where you saw your death?

FM: Yes, a couple of times. Once I was on one of those small planes flying to Pittsburgh last year to see the Mets, actually one of those 25-seat airplanes flying out of Newark in a lightning storm. We had ascended over Newark and the plane was struck by lightning. There was no panic on the plane at all, but something, we knew, was terribly wrong. I saw a flash of light when it hit the plane and a fellow across the aisle said, “Did you just see that?” and I said that I thought we were struck by lightning. He said it felt like something got ripped off the plane. There was so much turbulence. The stewardess came out with one of the co-pilots, who announced we were struck by lightning, but that we were going to continue the flight. There was a moment there, I think a good 30 seconds, where I was certain the plane was going to break apart.

DS: Did you have any realizations?

FM: I thought, this is it. This is it. There was acceptance. When my father was diagnosed with cancer in June of 2005 and I got to see a man who accepted his fate. He died two months later. He was like the Captain of the Titanic. My mother was also calm. I was the one freaking out inside. I saw someone who had acknowledged his own demise, accepted it, and died at home. He was a tough old guy. It takes a lot to accept that, it takes a very strong person. In this culture we value life very much, and some people look at death as a failure, but it’s going to happen to all of us. My theory is to help yourself, and help others in life.

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Feb
18

Rachel Weisz wants Botox ban for actors">
Rachel Weisz wants Botox ban for actors

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

English actress Rachel Weisz thinks that Botox injections should be banned for all actors.

The 39-year-old actress, best known for her roles in the Mummy movie franchise and for her Academy Award-winning portrayal in The Constant Gardener, feels facial Botox injections leave actors less able to convey emotion and that it harms the acting industry as much as steroids harm athletes.

In an interview with UK’s Harper’s Bazaar, coming out next month, Weisz says, “It should be banned for actors, as steroids are for sportsmen,” she claims. “Acting is all about expression; why would you want to iron out a frown?”

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Currently living in New York, she also mentions that English women are much less worried about their physical appearance than in the United States. “I love the way girls in London dress,” she claimed. “It’s so different to the American ‘blow-dry and immaculate grooming’ thing.”

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Feb
18

Scientology protest group celebrates founder’s birthday worldwide">
Scientology protest group celebrates founder’s birthday worldwide

 Correction — March 19, 2008 The next protest is scheduled for April 12, 2008. The article below states April 18 which is incorrect. 

Saturday, March 15, 2008

The Internet group Anonymous today held further protests critical of the Church of Scientology.

The global protests started in Australia where several hundred protesters gathered at different locations for peaceful protests.

In a global speech, the Internet protest movement said Scientology “betrayed the trust of its members, [had] taken their money, their rights, and at times their very lives.” The protesters welcomed the public interest their protests have led to, and claimed they witnessed “an unprecedented flood of Scientologists [joining] us across the world to testify about these abuses.” The group said it would continue with monthly actions.

In a press statement from its European headquarters, Scientology accused the anonymous protesters of “hate speech and hate crimes”, alleging that security measures were necessary because of death threats and bomb threats. This also makes the Church want to “identify members” of the group it brands as “cyber-terrorists”.

Wikinews had correspondents in a number of protest locations to report on the events.

Anonymous states that the next protest is scheduled to take place on April 18, which happens to be the birthday of Suri, the daughter of Tom and Katie Cruise.

Contents

  • 1 Location reports
    • 1.1 Adelaide, Australia
    • 1.2 Atlanta, Georgia
    • 1.3 Austin, Texas
    • 1.4 Boston, Massachusetts
    • 1.5 Brussels, Belgium
    • 1.6 London, England
    • 1.7 Manchester, England
    • 1.8 New York, New York
    • 1.9 Buffalo, New York
    • 1.10 Seattle, Washington
    • 1.11 Sydney, Australia
    • 1.12 Portland, Oregon
  • 2 Related news
  • 3 Sources

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Feb
14

Category:Science and technology">
Category:Science and technology

This is the category for science and technology.

Refresh this list to see the latest articles.

  • 11 February 2019: Pioneering oceanographer Walter Munk dies of pneumonia in California
  • 27 January 2019: Male Magellanic penguins pine for pairings: Wikinews interviews biologist Natasha Gownaris
  • 26 January 2019: US study finds correlation between youth suicide, household gun ownership
  • 16 January 2019: Lion Air disaster: Crashed jet’s voice recorder recovered from Java Sea
  • 12 January 2019: Scientists report correlation between locations of Easter Island statues and water resources
  • 10 January 2019: Wikinews investigates disappearance of Indonesian cargo ship Namse Bangdzod
  • 9 January 2019: Simple animals could live in Martian brines: Wikinews interviews planetary scientist Vlada Stamenkovi?
  • 28 December 2018: Police warn new drone owners to obey law after disruption at UK’s Gatwick Airport
  • 29 November 2018: NASA’s InSight Lander makes it to Mars
  • 26 November 2018: US National Climate Assessment warns of climate-related damages to economy, ecosystems, human health
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Feb
14

Neola North wildfire in Utah blamed for three deaths">
Neola North wildfire in Utah blamed for three deaths

Monday, July 2, 2007

A wildfire in the Ashley National Forest has been blamed for three deaths and has led to the evacuation of about 500 residents of the communities of Whiterocks, Farm Creek, Paradise and Tridell in eastern Utah.

The fire broke out on Friday, June 29 at around 9:00 a.m. local time in Duschene county, north of Neola by state route 121, and proceeded to spread westward into Uintah county.

To date, the cause of the wildfire is unknown. An early report by public safety officials claimed it was caused by a faulty power line or transformer. However, a later announcement by Moon Lake Electric Association CEO Grant Earl disputed this.

By Saturday morning, the fire had spread across approximately 46 square miles of land and been blamed for three fatalities: George Houston, his son Tracy Houston, and Roger Roberson, all from Farm Creek. Eleven year old Duane Houston, George’s grandson, was able to escape the fire with only minor injuries.

The communities of Whiterocks, Farm Creek, Paradise and Tridell, consisting of approximately 500 local residents, were evacuated by Sunday, and at least five homes are known to have been destroyed. Those without family or friends to provide lodging have been relocated to the Ute Indian Tribe’s auditorium in Fort Duchesne and Union High School in Roosevelt.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency became involved in the management of fire fighting efforts on Sunday, and a specialized regional wildland fire team, the Rocky Mountain Type One Management Team, had begun to converge on the Uinta Basin to assist with the firefighting, along with about 100 members of the Utah National Guard.

Reports that same day claimed the fire was 5% contained, but that it had split into at least two separate smaller fires. Authorities declared their intention to prevent the fire from moving eastwards into Dry Fork Canyon and the town of Tridell.

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Feb
13

British conductor Edward Downes and wife die in double assisted suicide">
British conductor Edward Downes and wife die in double assisted suicide

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

British conductor Sir Edward Downes and his wife Joan took their lives at a Swiss assisted suicide clinic on Friday, July 10, 2009, according to a statement from their family. Lady Downes, 74, was afflicted with terminal cancer, and Sir Edward, 85, was nearly blind with increasing hearing difficulties. These disabilities had forced him to give up conducting. Having no religious beliefs, the couple decided against holding a funeral.

The statement read, “After 54 happy years together, they decided to end their own lives rather than continue to struggle with serious health problems. They died peacefully, and under circumstances of their own choosing, with the help of the Swiss organisation, Dignitas, in Zurich.”

Many who knew the couple as friends said that Sir Edward was not terminally ill, but wanted to die with his wife, who he had been with for more than 50 years.

Sir Edward Downes’s children, in an interview with The London Evening Standard, said they escorted their parents to Zurich, and on that Friday, they watched in tears as their parents consumed “a small quantity of clear liquid,” and then proceeded to lie down together, holding hands.

“Within a couple of minutes they were asleep, and died within 10 minutes,” said their 41 year old son, Caractacus Downes.

Sir Edward was well respected in the operatic and orchestral worlds and was particularly noted for his performances of British and Russian music and of Verdi, conducting 25 of the composer’s 28 operas. He had a long association with the Royal Opera House, where he conducted for more than 50 seasons in succession. This did not stop him from refusing to conduct a series of performances of Verdi’s Nabucco there as he was “out of sympathy” with the adventurous production. His approach to conducting was similarly conservative. He wrote “The duty of a conductor should be to present… a faithful and accurate account of the composer’s music as he wrote it, disregarding any subsequent ‘interpretations’, ‘meanings’, or political agendas that may have been attached to it by others.”

It was on Friday, 28 September, 1973, that Sir Edward conducted the opening public performance at the Sydney Opera House, a staging of Prokofiev’s War and Peace by Opera Australia, of which he was musical director. Downes also served as chief conductor of the Netherlands Radio Orchestra and principal conductor of the BBC Philharmonic.

The family reported that Lady Downes “started her career as a ballet dancer and subsequently worked as a choreographer and TV producer, before dedicating the last years of her life to working as our father’s personal assistant.”

The Metropolitan Police have announced that Greenwich CID are investigating the circumstances of the couple’s deaths. Assisting a suicide is illegal in the United Kingdom.

Over 100 people who wished to die have made the journey from Britain to Switzerland to take advantage of the clinical services that Dignitas offers. British police have investigated many of the resulting deaths, but no family member has yet been prosecuted for helping relatives negotiate with Dignitas and travel to Switzerland. Debbie Purdy, a woman with multiple sclerosis, attempted last year to obtain a ruling from the English High Court that family members would not be prosecuted for helping someone use the service, and in particular that her husband would not be charged should she decide to use Dignitas in future. The court refused as it believed that such clarification is the responsibility of parliament and not the judiciary.

Last week the House of Lords rejected a proposal by former Lord Chancellor Lord Falconer to allow people to help someone with a terminal illness travel to a country where assisted suicide is legal.

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