The Bitter Side of Diet Soda: Strokes

The Bitter Side of Diet Soda: Strokes – Sun Feb 27, 7:20 pm ET

Drinking diet soda is associated with a 50-percent increase in stroke risk, according to a study presented earlier this month at the American Stroke Association’s International Stroke Conference in Los Angeles.

Not surprisingly, reaction to the news among dieters has been disparaging and defensive, as each person cycles through the Kubler-Ross five stages of grief, from denial and anger to bargaining, depression and acceptance.

“Now the health police tell us we can’t drink Diet Coke,” captures the tone on many of the diet blogs.

If it’s any consolation for diet-soda fans, the results presented at the meeting — based on preliminary analysis from a 2,500-person subset of the ongoing Northern Manhattan Study (NOMAS) — are far from definitive. There’s no way to tell yet, for example, what ingredient would be associated with strokes or whether lifestyle choices among drinkers are the real cause.

That said, is drinking diet soda safe? Of course not, especially when it is the main source of liquid refreshment every day. You’re drinking copious amounts of phosphoric acid, artificial colors, artificial flavors, and some laboratory-crafted chemical that tricks your brain into perceiving the sensation of sweet.

Diet soda is an alternative to regular soda, but neither is healthy. You are merely trading calories from sugar for chemicals of questionable nature.

Hooked on sugar

The proliferation of diet soda cuts to the core of what’s wrong with the Western diet. The Western approach is to remove the most obvious dangers from an unhealthy habit — in this case, removing the 12 teaspoons of sugar per can of fizzy water laced with acids, colors and flavors of uncertain origin — so that we can continue that habit in denial of other dangers.

The underlying problem is that we are addicted to sugar; beverages without a sweetener now seem bland. For the first million years or so of pre-human and human existence, water was adequate to quench our thirst. But apparently no longer.

Hold the sugar and corn syrup and pass the aspartame. Some doctors actually encourage dieters to drink diet soda to cut calories instead of recommending zero-calorie water or tea.

We see this “short-cut” diet phenomenon also among some people who want to be vegetarian. They eat vegetarian hot dogs and other faux-meat dishes made from heavily processed soy and vegetable meal loaded with salt, sugar and fat. This is likely unhealthier than the meat they are shunning.

So, similarly, at issue is that we are so addicted to meat that meals without it no longer seem satiating. To do vegetarianism right, you’d have to learn how to cook lentils, beans, grains and other staples of a vegetariandiet, and that’s too consuming for many people.

Writing on the wall

Studies on diet soda have been flawed, because researchers have discounted one important fact: Those drinking diet soda likely drink it not because they are health nuts but because they have a certain health condition. They are either overweight or diabetic. Thus, they are at risk for strokes, heart attacks and cancer regardless of the type of beverage they prefer.

One of the more impressive aspects of the NOMAS project is that researchers can control for weight and other health conditions. It’s inevitable that NOMAS and similar studies will tease out the dangers of drinking too much soda in general, either diet or regular.

It is a shame the United States cannot adopt Asia’s tradition of unsweetened teas, ubiquitous in shops and vending machines. But even otherwise healthy green tea in the United States is tainted with sugar or artificial sweetener — yet another example of corrupting a healthy alternative.

The bottom line is that dieters need to cycle through those Kubler-Ross stages to reach acceptance: Diet soda is no healthy alternative, and nothing beats water.

Christopher Wanjek is the author of the books “Bad Medicine” and “Food At Work.” His column, Bad Medicine, appears regularly on LiveScience.


7 Ways to Raise Your Risk of Stroke

Stephanie Pappas
Date: 16 March 2010 Time: 03:37 AM ET

Stroke is the number three killer in the United States, affecting almost 800,000 people each year, according to the National Stroke Association. These “brain attacks” occur when blood flow to the brain is interrupted (an ischemic stroke) or when a blood vessel in the brain leaks or bursts (a hemorrhagic stroke). For 144,000 people each year, the result is death. Hundreds of thousands of others are left with long-term disabilities.

Genetics, age and race play a role in stroke, as do many other factors, both controllable and uncontrollable. Recent research has teased out more and more of these risk factors, from how you eat to where you live.

Here’s what scientists are finding are top risks for a stroke:

7. High-fat diet

The same foods associated with heart attacks —red meat, anything fried — can also raise your risk of a brain attack. At the American Stroke Association’s (ASA) International Stroke Conference in February, researchers from the University of North Carolina presented findings that post-menopausal women who consumed high-fat diets had 40 percent more incidences of ischemic stroke than low-fat eaters. Trans fats, found in processed foods like pastries and crackers, seem particularly nasty: The group of women who consumed seven grams of trans fat each day had 30 percent more stroke incidents than those who ate one gram.

So what to eat instead? Multiple studies suggest that a Mediterranean-inspired diet can lower stroke risk. That means lots of vegetables, whole grains, fish, olive oil, nuts and seeds, and very little red meat and sweets.

6. Being single

If you’re a man who’d like to cut his chances of a fatal stroke, get hitched. A Tel Aviv University study of more than 10,000 Israeli men found that those who were married at midlife were 64 percent less likely to die of a stroke during the next 34 years than single men. The data was adjusted for other stroke risk factors like socioeconomic status, blood pressure and smoking.

But there’s a catch: The marriage has to be a happy one. Men who reported dissatisfying marriages were just as likely as single men to die of a stroke, the researchers reported at the ASA’s International Stroke Conference.

5. Being unhappy

Happiness is music to your cardiovascular system. Researchers at the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston reported in 2001 that among older individuals, positive moods and attitudes protected against strokes. Even incremental increases in happiness helped: For every step up on the researchers’ happiness scale, male participants’ stroke risk dropped 41 percent. Women’s risk dropped 18 percent per happiness unit.

Even if you’re not happy, it might pay to act like you are. The researchers speculate thathappy people are more likely to get medical care, exercise and stay healthy, all protective factors against stroke.

4. Being obese

More weight means a higher risk of stroke, according to researchers from the University of Minnesota. In a study presented at the International Stroke Conference last month, researchers followed more than 13,000 Americans for 19 years and found that the risk of stroke in people with the highest body mass index (BMI) was 1.43 to 2.12 times higher than in those with the lowest body mass index. (BMI is calculated with a person’s height and weight and is considered an indicator of body fatness.)

The reason for the correlation is that some stroke risk factors are worsened by obesity, study co-author Hiroshi Yatsuya said in a statement. The biggest culprits, according to the data are high blood pressure and diabetes.

3. Smoking

Lighting up nearly doubles your risk of stroke, according to the American Heart Association (AHA). Fortunately, quitting can drop that risk back down, even for heavy smokers. One 1988 study found that former smokers had the same rate of stroke as nonsmokers five years after snuffing their last cigarette.

2. Being born in the wrong demographic (for a stroke)

Unfortunately, not all risk factors are under your control. Blacks have twice the incidence of strokes as whites, according to the AHA. Not only that, but the death rate from stroke is significantly higher for blacks than the overall stroke death rate. Part of the disparity may be explained by higher-than-average rates of diabetes and high blood pressure among blacks.

Being female can also put you at a disadvantage when it comes to stroke. In a study presented at ASA’s International Stroke Conference, University of Southern California researchers reported that women aged 35 to 64 are almost three times as likely to have a stroke as men of the same age. The reason may be that women in midlife carry moreabdominal fat than men, a risk factor for stroke, said the researchers.

1. Being a born-and-bred Southerner

The swath of stroke-prone states across the Southeastern United States — generally including North and South Carolina, Georgia, Tennessee, Arkansas, Mississippi and Alabama  — have long been known as the “Stroke Belt.” But recent research suggests that just being born and spending your childhood in one of these states raises your risk for stroke, even if you move away later.

In a study published in the journal Neurology in 2009, Harvard public health professor Maria Glymour and her colleagues reported that among blacks, being born in the Stroke Belt increased the risk of stroke by 22 percent. For whites, the number was 30 percent. Part of the reason may be due to risk factors like poor diet, smoking and obesity, which may start earlier in southern states, Glymour told LiveScience.

“By the time that they’re middle-aged and we’re enrolling them in our studies, it looks like lots of people have those risk factors,” she said. “But maybe people in the South have been carrying them for longer.”


10 Easy Paths to Self Destruction

LiveScience Staff
Date: 22 November 2006 Time: 09:09 AM ET

Eat Junk


Last year, at least 400,000 Americans managed to kill themselves based almost solely on what they ate. Heart disease is the country’s number one killer and, while some of that comes from genetics, most of it’s due to the fat-laden, sugar-heavy junk we put in our bodies. Looking for the most effective, probably most enjoyable way to do yourself in? Have another doughnut. And make it cream-filled!


They don’t call them cancer sticks for nothing: Tobacco-related illnesses are America’s number two killer, and the most preventable. But if you’re bent on putting the kibosh to healthy living, go ahead and light up; just one cigarette will immediately increase your blood pressure and decrease the circulation to your extremities. Imagine what you could do with a pack.

Watch TV

Not only is television entertaining, it can keep us on the couch for hours at a time several days per week. The average American spends a full 9 years of his life glued to the boob tube, years that could otherwise be spent exercising. Resist the urge! Being an obese, sedentary TV-addicted couch potato makes for speedy self-destruction, though you may be a little smarter (if you watch those nerdy science channels).

Stress Out

Creating more stress in your life is a great way to invite all kinds of diseases to attack the body. When you’re chronically stressed, the adrenal glands are forced to work overtime and eventually exhaust themselves, inhibiting the immune system. So go ahead and worry about everything from the color of your socks to whether dinner will be ready on time. Your hormones won’t know what hit them.

Drink a Lot

The occasional drink of alcohol, especially wine, can be beneficial to your health, many studies suggest. But if you’re looking to do yourself in, overdo the two-drink-per-day limit and imbibe heartily. Besides alcoholism of course, too much booze causes liver damage, diabetes and is the root cause of nearly 100,000 deaths per year.

Drive a Lot

If people wanted to increase their chance of surviving ’til a ripe old age, they’d fly everywhere. Driving kills more people aged 1 to 35 than anything else, a statistic that could drop to near zero if everyone just stayed home. But how fun would that be? So hit the road, forget the speed limit, yak on your cell phone?or worse, eat?and don’t buckle up if you’re anxious to become part of this popular statistic.

Have a Lot of Sex

Most people agree that sex in itself isn’t so bad, it’s how you do it that could mean life or death. The smart self-destructor doesn’t use protection, ignores the partner’s sexual history and shuns the annual medical exam. Twelve million Americans contract sexually transmitted diseases every year, many of which can leave the victim infertile. Killing yourself and preventing new births: there?s a two-fer!

Dumb Down Your Brain

Reading, doing crosswords and tackling sudokus are all risky behaviors if you’re looking to avoid Alzheimer’s. The degenerative brain disease attacks almost everyone who lives long enough, though mind games and puzzles are known to ward off the effects.

Ignore the Doctor

Many Americans agree that their health is hardly worth finding thirty minutes among 526,000 for that once-per-year physical exam. It’s a good tactic if early disease detection and important medical consultation are going to get in the way of your Tommy Lee lifestyle. If you don’t want to hear the doctor tell you our other tips for self-destruction are unhealthy, just don’t go.

Sacrifice Sleep

Inadequate sleep (less than 7 or 8 hours a night) has been tied to many different health problems, including obesity, diabetes and cancer. Mental fatigue is also as big of a risk factor for vehicular accidents as alcohol. And just think of all the time you’d have for destructive behavior if you shunned the zzz’s altogether!



ICE dive unit in Miami targets drug smuggler ships

ICE dive unit in Miami targets drug smuggler ships


By CURT ANDERSON, AP Legal Affairs Writer – 1 hr 3 mins ago
M/V Seaboard Pride

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement

In this Feb. 4, 2011 photo, a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement diver checks the hull of the 498-foot container ship M/V Seaboard Pride in the murky waters of the Port of Miami in Miami. The divers were searching the ship for so-called ‘parasitic’ devices used to smuggle drugs and potentially, terrorist bombs or weapons.

(AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)

MIAMI – A team of elite divers donned wetsuits and air tanks and descended into the murky waters beneath the 498-foot container ship M/V Seaboard Pride, on a mission in the dark to search for an unusual stowaway: drugs.

The seven members of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement dive team, formed in 2004 and the only one of its kind in the U.S., were searching for large metal boxes that Latin American cocaine traffickers sometimes weld or clamp onto freighters and even cruise ships to smuggle drugs. The boxes also could be used to hide terrorist bombs or weapons.

Once in this country, the boxes can be opened by divers working with the drug organizations. Sometimes they are detached and later opened at another location. The so-called parasitic devices have been found on vessels in Miami, West Palm Beach and elsewhere containing bricks of cocaine and other illegal drugs — although, so far, no bombs or weapons.

ICE agent Dean Lang, assistant chief of the dive team, said the intense law enforcement focus on drug trafficking through Mexico could push some cocaine smuggling operations to U.S. coasts and ports. Miami in the 1980s was a main avenue for cocaine, and U.S. officials don’t want a return to the violent “cocaine cowboy” days, when rival drug traffickers battled in South Florida for control.

“If you cut off one way for drugs to get in, they will find another way,” Lang said.

When agents first boarded the white-and-green Seaboard Pride, they informed its captain of the random check and secured all machinery so none of the 13 mainly Filipino crew members would inadvertently start a propeller or pump. The captain, Dariusz Karbowiak, said he had just unloaded a dozen 40-foot containers of fruit and seafood and did not suspect anything illegal.

“It’s no problem. We have no problem,” said Karbowiak, 42, who is from Koszalin, Poland. “I don’t have any events where I suspect something wrong.”

The ICE agents quickly obtained blueprints of the ship’s hull. With two agents staying aboard, the divers jumped feet-first off a sea wall into Biscayne Bay to execute a search known as a “half-necklace” — meaning they would swim underneath one side, circle the ship’s stern by the massive propeller and then inspect the other side. They held a length of rope to communicate with various hand tugs and pulls.

“Don’t squeeze too tight,” the ICE dive team leader, agent Joseph Skidmore, told the men. “Just keep a loose grip.”

It’s not as easy as it seems. The water was dark green, even on a sunny February morning. Currents are treacherous and unpredictable in the relatively shallow water about 15 feet below the surface. The divers sometimes encounter sharks, barracuda and eels, and they can feel strong vibrations from the ship inches above.

It’s extremely dark, and the divers can only see about four to seven feet ahead, said Alan Vega, a team member who has done about 100 dives over the past three years.

“You have a flashlight and it’s like very burgundy red, which is the paint they put on the ship,” Vega said. “And you’re just kind of scanning along … to see if there is anything unusual. It’s not a nice scenic Caribbean dive.”

A few yards away from the ship, a police boat motors slowly back and forth to prevent other craft from approaching — and just in case there’s a problem.

Sometimes a ship is targeted because it spent time in a drug-source country such as Colombia. Other times, tips are received about ships that may have had boxes attached during repairs or maintenance when they are taken out of the water.

Other dives are random, said Anthony Mangione, chief of the ICE field office in Miami.

Back on the bay, the ICE team found nothing amiss on the Seaboard Pride during a 20-minute search.

“Everything looks good, but it needs cleaning,” Skidmore told the captain, Karbowiak.

With that, Karbowiak and his ship were cleared for their next trip to the Caribbean island of St. Thomas. Although the divers came up empty, each dive is invaluable training for other missions, including possible attempts by al-Qaida or other terrorist groups to use ports like Miami to bring in explosive devices or blow up the ships themselves.

“Smugglers, terrorists, you know, they adapt,” Vega said. “So it could be a ship coming in from London, who is an ally of the U.S. We’ll search it, because you never know where that wild card is going to be.”

When they aren’t scanning the cargo vessels, the divers also scour waterways when presidents and dignitaries visit. Sometimes they have kept watch while investigating drug trafficking and other crimes, or helped local police locate guns and stolen cars from lakes and quarries. In January, for instance, the team made a grisly find in a canal: a still-unidentified human skull.

It’s even more difficult to see during those forays into fresh water, the agents said — and tougher to watch for alligators, crocodiles and poisonous snakes.

“South Florida has lots of different kinds of threats,” Mangione said. “This is a challenging environment to work in.”


Soldier impersonators target women in web scams

Soldier impersonators target women in web scams


By JANET CAPPIELLO BLAKE and BRUCE SCHREINER, Associated Press Sun Feb 27, 4:44 pm ET
This screen shot take from on Thursday, ...

Facebook friend Janice Robinson

This screen shot take from on Thursday, Feb. 24, 2011 shows a Facebook page set up by a person impersonating Army Sgt. James Hursey and showing Facebook friend Janice Robinson. Hursey, 26, discharged and sent home from war in Iraq to nurse a back injury, found a page with his photos on Facebook — on a profile that wasn’t his. It was fake, set up by someone claiming to be an active-duty soldier looking for love. The fake’s cover was blown by Janice Robinson, of Orlando, Fla., after she had begun talking to him thinking he was one of several people named Mark Johnson that she knew.

(AP Photo/Facebook) NO SALES

LOUISVILLE, Ky. – Con artists are targeting women on Facebook in what’s becoming an all-too-common ruse: They steal photos of soldiers to set up profiles, profess their love and devotion in sappy messages — and then ask their victims to cut a check.

Army Sgt. James Hursey, 26, discharged and sent home from war in Iraq to nurse a back injury, found a page with his photos on Facebook — on a profile that wasn’t his. It was fake, set up by someone claiming to be an active-duty soldier looking for love.

Military officials say they’ve seen hundreds of similar cases in the past several years. Some of the impersonators have even used photos of soldiers who have died overseas.

“It’s identity theft, really, if you think about it,” said Hursey, of Corbin, Ky., a married father of a 2-year-old.

The impersonator using Hursey’s photos portrayed himself as a soldier named “Sergent (sic) Mark Johnson.” The fake followed the same steps every time: Send a friend request, immediately express undying love and affection, and ask for money.

The fake’s cover was blown, though: Janice Robinson, 53, of Orlando, Fla., knew something wasn’t right when the man professed his love to her and signed every message with, “Johnson cares.” She had begun talking to him thinking he was one of several people named Mark Johnson that she knew.

“I said, ‘How can you say you love me? You don’t even know me. You are insane,'” she told The Associated Press in a telephone interview. “… You could tell the guy in the picture was young. I’m 53 years old. You can look at my picture and tell I’m not 20.”

Her story was first reported by WYMT-TV in Hazard, Ky., and WKMG-TV in Orlando.

Christopher Grey, spokesman for the Army’s Criminal Investigation Command at Fort Belvoir, Va., said the Internet impersonators often make ridiculous claims. Some say they need money for special laptops and cell phones. Others say they need cash to buy special papers to come home on leave or a registration form because military officials won’t let them talk to family.

“Well, there is no such thing,” Grey said. The papers are phony, often poorly doctored versions of actual military documents.

The person using Hursey’s photographs sent Robinson what he called a form to register to be able to speak to the soldier on the telephone. He told her it would cost $350 for them to be able to communicate by phone.

The form, a poorly doctored copy of a common Army form used to correct information in a soldier’s official record, included a blank to fill in the intended victim’s social security number.

Robinson said she knew people didn’t have to register to talk to soldiers and refused to fill out the form. She also refused his requests to wire money and send credit card and bank account numbers.

Instead, she contacted a local television reporter and Hursey, whose name was visible in the phony profile’s photos.

“I just wanted to see exactly how far this would go and I wanted to protect people … that aren’t as savvy to scams as I am and don’t pick up on this stuff,” Robinson said.

Grey said there are no known instances of Army personnel losing money in such scams. But the victims have. In one case, a person lost some $25,000, he said. Because many scams originate in foreign countries, military officials can do little except offer advice about the scams and direct victims to agencies such as the Federal Trade Commission.

The scam artists use untraceable e-mail addresses, route accounts through international locations, and use pay-per-hour Internet cyber-cafes that also make it difficult to trace them, Grey said.

The Army encourages anyone who suspects they are being used in a scam to file a report with their local police as well as report the cases to agencies such as the Federal Trade Commission.

Only one state, California, has made online impersonation a crime, said Tim Senft, founder of, a website that focuses on scams via social media. The law makes impersonating someone online a misdemeanor, punishable by up to a $1,000 fine and a year in jail.

Hursey, who had been based at Fort Richardson, Alaska, said has no clue who concocted the scheme or why he was targeted.

The fake profile featured several photos of Hursey: After basic training, in Iraq and decked out in his military dress uniform. There was even a picture of his dog. Some of the photos apparently were taken from his mother’s Facebook page, Hursey said.

“I think it’s pathetic that someone is going to impersonate a soldier to try to get money from women,” he said.


UK, Germany fly secret missions into Libya

UK, Germany fly secret missions into Libya


By KIRSTEN GRIESHABER and SYLVIA HUI, Associated Press – Sun Feb 27, 11:15 pm ET
Cvilians disembark from a Royal Air Force C130 Hercules in Maltas. (Associated Press/Paul Randall)

BERLIN – British and German military planes swooped into Libya’s desert, rescuing hundreds of oil workers and civilians stranded at remote sites, as thousands of other foreigners are still stuck in Tripoli by bad weather and red tape.

The secret military missions into the turbulent North Africa country signal the readiness of Western nations to disregard Libya’s territorial integrity when it comes to the safety of their citizens.

Three British Royal Air Force planes plucked 150 stranded civilians from multiple locations in the eastern Libyan desert before flying them to Malta on Sunday, the British Defense Ministry said in a statement. One of the RAF Hercules aircraft appeared to have suffered minor damage from small arms fire, Defence Secretary Liam Fox said.

The rescue follows a similar secret commando raid Saturday by British Special Forces that got another 150 oil workers from the remote Libyan desert.

Separately, Germany said its air force had evacuated 132 people also from the desert during a secret military mission on Saturday.

German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle said Sunday that two German military planes landed on a private runway belonging to the Wintershall AG company, evacuating 22 Germans and 112 others and flying them to the Greek island of Crete.

Another 18 German citizens were rescued by the British military in a separate military operation Saturday that targeted remote oil installations in the Libyan desert, Westerwelle said. He said around 100 other German citizens are still in Libya and the government was trying to get them out as quickly as possible.

“I want to thank the members of the Germany military for their brave mission,” Westerwelle said.

German military missions abroad need approval by parliament, and Westerwelle said he had spoken to all party leaders in parliament Friday to tell them about the upcoming military mission. He said the coalition government led by Chancellor Angela Merkel had evaluated the situation in Libya as “very dangerous” and therefore ordered an immediate evacuation by the air force.

The German foreign ministry refused to name the exact location of the company and the site where the evacuation took place.

The head of Wintershall, Rainer Seele, thanked the government.

“We are all relieved and grateful,” he was quoted as saying by the DAPD news agency.

Prior to their secret missions in Libya, the British government had been embarrassed by earlier botched attempts to rescue its citizens stranded by the uprising in this North African nation. Its first rescue flight broke down and became stuck on a London runway on Wednesday.

But on Sunday, newspapers could not gush enough about the “daring and dramatic” military operation by two RAF Hercules planes that brought stranded citizens to Malta.

“SAS swoops in dramatic Libya rescue,” the Sunday Telegraph headline read, in reference to the storied Special Air Service.

The mission was risky because Britain sent the planes in without obtaining prior Libyan permission, Foreign Secretary William Hague said.

One evacuee said his military plane was supposed to carry around 65 people out of Libya, but quickly grew to double that.

“It was very cramped but we were just glad to be out of there,” Patrick Eyles, a 43-year-old Briton, said at Malta International Airport.

As thousands finally made it to safety on the Greek island of Crete, two ships trying to ferry foreigners out of Libya were still struggling to leave Tripoli, delayed by officialdom and rough seas. A Russian-chartered ferry arrived at a Libyan port further east to pick up more than 1,000 people.

The UK frigate HMS Cumberland also returned to the eastern Libyan port of Benghazi from Malta to evacuate more people.

Lt. Cmdr. James Farrant of the ship said they were expecting 250 to 400 evacuees. Because of adverse weather conditions and rough seas the first trip to Malta lasted nearly two days, he said.

One of those waiting to board the ship was oil company worker Mike Broadbent, who together with other colleagues made a six-hour trip from a southern oil field after realizing that no help was coming.

“We did a high speed drive across the desert — foot down, fingers crossed,” said Broadbent, who works for Zueitina Oil Company.

Thousands of Bangladeshis, Pakistanis, Somalis, Ethiopians and others spilled out of a row of port side shelters and shivered in the strong winds and torrential rains. These are some of the foreigner workers whose governments have not organized evacuation for them. Many work for Chinese and Turkish construction firms.

On Crete, three more ships arrived from the eastern Libyan port of Benghazi early Sunday carrying about 4,200 passengers, mostly Chinese but also 750 Bangladeshis and 200 Vietnamese, authorities said. Air China planned four flights Sunday from Crete, carrying about 1,200 Chinese back to their homeland.

Another ferry from Benghazi with 2,000 more Chinese was expected to reach Crete on Monday night, shipping agents said.

The sheer numbers of foreigners leaving Libya as Moammar Gadhafi’s regime battles anti-government protesters has been staggering. At least 20,000 Chinese, 15,000 Turks and 1,400 Italians had been evacuated, most working in the construction and oil industries.

In addition, some 22,000 people have fled across the Libyan border to Tunisia and another 15,000 crossed the border into Egypt, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told the Security Council.

Italy’s San Giorgio military ship arrived in Sicily on Sunday, carrying about 250 people, half of them Italian.

“Having come back to Italy is a miracle to us, we couldn’t wait to get back,” Francesco Baldassarre, an Italian evacuated with his father Gino, told the ANSA news agency.

One cruise ship carried some 1,750 evacuees — mostly from Vietnam and Thailand — from Libya to Malta early Sunday, and another ship reached the Athens port of Piraeus carrying 390 evacuees, chiefly Brazilians, Portuguese and British.

In Tripoli, Henri Saliba, managing director of Virtu Ferries, said the ferry San Gwann was accepting anyone and was almost at capacity with more than 400 passengers. The Maria Dolores ferry has been chartered by a private company and has some 90 passengers on board.

They started taking passengers on Saturday evening but Libyan police only let people board in a trickle. Then bad weather on Sunday morning prevented their departure. Saliba said the ferries hope to leave Tripoli on Sunday evening and arrive in Valletta, Malta, on Monday.

He said conditions at Tripoli’s port were safe and calm.

The Interfax news agency, citing Russia’s Emergencies Ministry, said the St. Stephan ferry had docked in the central Libyan port of Ras Lanuf, where it was taking aboard 1,126 evacuees, including 124 Russians.

Two Turkish frigates evacuating more than 1,700 people were expected to arrive in Turkey’s Mediterranean port of Marmaris late Sunday. Four other Turkish civilian ships — escorted by the Turkish navy — were also on their way to evacuate more people from three Libyan ports — Tripoli, Misrata and Ras Lanuf.

Turkey had up to 30,000 citizens mostly working in construction projects in Libya before the trouble began. It was not clear how many more needed to be evacuated.

A plane carrying 185 evacuees also landed Sunday at Boryspil Airport in Kiev.


Best and worst dressed at the Oscars

Best and worst dressed at the Oscars

2011: Red Carpet Report Card

photo by Jason Merritt/Getty Images – 2011

Natalie Portman
Grade: A

The “Black Swan” Best Actress winner showcased her burgeoning baby bump in a plum, off-the-shoulder Rodarte gown. Tiffany & Co. tassel earrings set off her dress, and though pregnant, she dared to wear Jimmy Choo heels for her walk down the red carpet.

photo by John Shearer/Getty Images – 2011

Halle Berry
Grade: A

Halle was flawless as usual in a crystal encrusted Marchesa gown and a spiky cropped coif.

photo by JohN Shearer/Getty Images – 2011

Nicole Kidman
Grade: D

Unfortunately, the “Rabbit’s Hole” Best Actress nominee did not put her best foot forward in an Asian-inspired embroidered Christian Dior Spring 2009 Couture gown, which sort of resembled a napkin. The dress was somewhat saved by her vintage Fred Leighton diamond choker.

photo by Jeff Vespa/ – 2011

Anne Hathaway
Grade: B

The Oscars co-host struck a pose in a red vintage Valentino bustle gown. Do you think the ruffled rose detailing is frumpy … or fabulous

photo by John Shearer/Getty Images – 2011

Reese Witherspoon
Grade: A

The newly engaged actress channeled ’60s Hollywood glamour in a black-and-white Giorgio Armani Prive column gown and blond bouffant ‘do.

photo by Matt Sayles/AP Images – 2011

Javier Bardem and Penelope Cruz
Grade: A

“Biutiful’s” Best Actor nominee donned Gucci for Hollywood’s biggest night, and was joined on the red carpet by his beautiful wife Penelope, who rocked a dazzling red L’Wren Scott gown. Can you believe she only gave birth to their son one month ago?

photo by Chris Pizzello/AP Images – 2011

Sandra Bullock
Grade: A

2010’s Best Actress winner was simply elegant in a strapless scarlet Vera Wang gown, which she accessorized perfectly with a simple updo, crocodile clutch, and ruby red lips.

photo by Alberto E. Rodriguez/ – 2011

Scarlett Johansson
Grade: B+

The newly single starlet turned plenty of heads in a risqué Dolce & Gabbana magenta lace gown and sexy bedhead hair. Ryan Reynolds eat your heart out!

photo by Jason Merritt/Getty Images – 2011

Colin Firth
Grade: A

“The King’s Speech” Best Actor winner, who was accompanied by his beautiful wife Livia, was debonnaire in his Tom Ford suit.

photo by Matt Sayles/AP Images – 2011

Jennifer Lawrence
Grade: A

The “Winter’s Bone” Best Actress nominee sizzled in a simple-yet-sexy Calvin Klein creation, long flowing locks, and minimal jewelry provided by Chopard .

photo by Jason Merritt/Getty Images – 2011

Jennifer Hudson
Grade: A

JHud strutted her fab new physique in a tangerine va-va-va-voom Versace halter gown.

photo by Steve Granitz/ – 2011

Gwyneth Paltrow
Grade: A-

The “Country Strong” songstress looked like California Barbie thanks to her shimmering Calvin Klein creation, stick-straight blond locks, and glowing tan.

photo by ason Merritt/Getty Images – 2011

Mila Kunis
Grade: B-

The “Black Swan” beauty looked lovely in a lacy lavender Elie Saab gown. Sideswept bangs and diamond earrings completed her ethereal ensemble.

photo by Kevin Mazur/ – 2011

Helena Bonham Carter
Grade: B-

The always eccentric Best Supporting Actress nominee for “The King’s Speech” surprised us with a relatively conservative black bustier ensemble created by “Alice in Wonderland” costume designer Colleen Atwood. Bonham Carter, who accessorized with a fan-shaped clutch, said, “I thought it would be nice to celebrate film instead of fashion.”

photo by Matt Sayles/AP Photos – 2011

Justin Timberlake
Grade: B+

The singer-turned-movie-star cleaned up nicely in his Tom Ford tux.

photo by John Shearer/Getty Images – 2011

Jesse Eisenberg
Grade: B

Timberlake’s “Social Network” co-star and Best Actor nominee dressed for the occasion in a Band of Outsiders suit.

photo by John Shearer/Getty Images – 2011

Michelle Williams
Grade: B

The “Blue Valentine” Best Actress nominee was chic as can be in an embellished Chanel dress and pixie cut. Nude makeup and Harry Winston diamond earrings completed her classic look.

photo by Jason Merritt/Getty Images – 2011

Busy Philipps
Grade: B-

The “Cougar Town” star got all glammed up in a black fishtail gown to attend the Academy Awards as her best friend Michelle Williams’ date. She’s come a long way from “Freaks and Geeks,” eh?

photo by Kevin Mazur/Getty Images – 2011

Hailee Steinfeld
Grade: A

The Best Supporting Actress nominee picked the perfect pale pink Marchesa frock for her first trip down the Oscars red carpet. The 14-year-old “True Grit” star even helped Marchesa design the one-of-a-kind creation!

photo by Matt Sayles/AP Photo – 2011

Christian Bale
Grade: C

Bale, who took home the Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his performance in “The Fighter,” accessorized his black-on-black Gucci tux with a bushy ginger beard and his stunning wife Sibi.

photo by John Shearer/Getty Images – 2011

Amy Adams
Grade: A-

“The Fighter’s” Best Supporting Actress nominee sparkled in a form-fitting midnight blue L’Wren Scott gown and emerald-and-diamond Cartier jewels, which perfectly set off her strawberry blond locks.

photo by Jason Merritt/Getty Images – 2011

Celine Dion
Grade: B+

Although Celine Dion just gave birth to twin boys last October, you’d never know it! The “My Heart Will Go On” songstress looked svelte and sleek in Armani Prive. Loose locks and a Van Cleef & Arpels necklace completed her ensemble.

photo by Frazer Harrison/Getty Images – 2011

Jeremy Renner
Grade: A-

The dapper Best Supporting Actor nominee (“The Town”) gave a salute to style on the Academy Awards red carpet.

photo by John Shearer/Getty Images – 2011

Helen Mirren
Grade: A-

The Dame reigned supreme in a gunmetal gray Vivienne Westwood gown, Cartier diamonds, and a short ‘do. Can you believe she’s 65?

photo by Jason Merritt/Getty Images – 2011

Russell Brand
Grade: B+

Mirren’s “Arthur” co-star stood out in a blue-and-black suit, which he paired with a matching checked shirt and greasy locks.

photo by John Shearer/Getty Images – 2011

Melissa Leo
Grade: D+

“The Fighter’s” Best Supporting Actress winner sported a Marc Bouwer creation for her big night that unfortunately resembled a giant doily

photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images – 2011

Annette Bening
Grade: A

“The Kids Are All Right” Best Actress nominee might have missed out on the big prize, but scored top marks on the red carpet thanks to her sparkling Art Deco gown by Naeem Khan.

photo by John Shearer/Getty Images – 2011

Sharon Stone
Grade: D+

Is it just us, or does Sharon Stone remind you a little of Cruella de Vil in her feather-adorned one-shoulder Christian Dior gown?

photo by Steve Granitz/ – 2011

Jackie Weaver
Grade: B-

The Best Supporting Actress nominee for “Animal Kingdom” sparkled in a bejeweled gown designed by fellow Aussie Collette Dinnigan, which she paired with metallic clutch and a smile.

photo by Matt Sayles/AP Photo – 2011

Mark Wahlberg
Grade: B+

“The Fighter” star scored a knockout in his Giorgio Armani tux thanks to his best accessory, his wife Rhea Durham, who wore a Naeem Khan design.

photo by Jason Merritt/Getty Images – 2011

Marisa Tomei
Grade: D+

The Oscar-winning actress (“My Cousin Vinny”) failed to impress in an ill-fitting vintage 1950s Charles James Couture dress from Lily et Cie.

photo by Frazer Harrison/Getty Images – 2011

Cate Blanchett
Grade: B-

The always fashion-forward actress donned a pale lavender silk chiffon Givenchy Couture gown, which she paired with Van Cleef & Arpels jewels. Do you think the stylish star pulled off her outside-of-the-box look?

photo by Jason Merritt/Getty Images – 2011

Mark Ruffalo
Grade: A-

“The Kids Are All Right” Best Supporting Actor nominee was sexy in his tux and salt-and-pepper hair.

photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images – 2011

Mandy Moore
Grade: C

The singer — who performed her song from “Tangled” — blended in with the crowd in her nude, crystal-encrusted Monique Lhuillier gown.

photo by Jason Merritt/Getty Images – 2011

Robert Downey Jr.
Grade: A

Although he typically dons rather outlandish red carpet getups, RDJ (with wife Susan) successfully toned it down for this year’s Academy Awards.

photo by Jason Merritt/Getty Images – 2011

Virginia Madsen
Grade: C-

Virginia Madsen looked a little “Black Swan” in her feathered Romona Keveza frock. The actress topped off her ensemble with messy tresses and chandelier earrings.

photo by John Shearer/Getty Images – 2011

Andrew Garfield
Grade: B+

The star of the upcoming “Spider-Man” reboot was ready for action in his Louis Vuitton tux.

photo by Jason Merritt/Getty Images – 2011

Florence Welch
Grade: D

The Florence and the Machine lead singer looked more appropriately dressed to front a band called Florence and the Frontier in her frumpy, tiered Valentino number.

photo by Jason Merritt/Getty Images – 2011

Hilary Swank
Grade: B

Although the two-time Oscar winner looked stunning in her strapless Gucci gown, we feel like we’ve seen this feathered-metallic combo a million times before.

photo by Matt Sayles/AP Photo – 2011

Matthew McConaughey
Grade: A

The Dolce & Gabbana clad “Ghosts of Girlfriends Past” star was upstaged by his baby mama Camila Alves, who was simply sublime in a Kaufman Franco gown.

photo by Jason Merritt/Getty Images – 2011

Dale Dickey
Grade: B

The “Winter’s Bone” star, who took home the Best Supporting Actress Independent Spirit Award on Saturday night, sparkled in a blue dress that accentuated her fit figure.

photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images – 2011

Cheryl Hines
Grade: B

The “Curb Your Enthusiasm” star stepped out in a shimmery black sweetheart gown, which she accessorized with a glam diamond necklace and a casual updo.

photo by Kevin Mazur/ – 2011

Hugh Jackman
Grade: B+

The Aussie hunk switched things up with a double-breasted Ferragamo tux, while his wife Deborra-Lee suffered a fashion flop thanks to her black-and-white feathery wrap.

photo by Matt Sayles/AP Images – 2011

Aishwarya Rai
Grade: B+

The Bollywood beauty struck a statuesque pose in a copper-colored creation by Armani.

photo by Kevin Mazur/ – 2011

Julia Ormond
Grade: C

The British “Temple Grandin” actress graced the red carpet in a strapless lace gown.

photo by Kevin Mazur/ – 2011

Josh Brolin
Grade: B-

The “No Country for Old Men” star bucked the black trend and opted for a navy three-piece suit.

photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images – 2011

Maria Menounos
Grade: B

The “Access Hollywood” correspondent played it safe in a black velvet Johanna Johnson one-sleeved number, which she set off with an attention-grabbing piece of bling.

photo by Jason Merritt/Getty Images – 2011

Donald and Melania Trump
Grade: B-

The Donald rocked his signature coif, while wife Melania made the scene in a Dolce & Gabbana gown.

photo by Jason Merritt/Getty Images – 2011

Daphne Zuniga
Grade: C+

While we were surprised to see the “One Tree Hill” star on the Oscars red carpet, she was apparently there to support her designer friend Nicole Miller. Of course, Daphne wore one of Miller’s gowns to the show.

Mass. company making diesel with sun, water, CO2

Mass. company making diesel with sun, water, CO2


By JAY LINDSAY, Associated Press – Sun Feb 27, 5:09 pm ET

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. – A Massachusetts biotechnology company says it can produce the fuel that runs Jaguars and jet engines using the same ingredients that make grass grow.

This Oct. 26, 2010 photograph provided by Joule Unlimited shows the company’s ethanol and diesel production

Joule Unlimited has invented a genetically-engineered organism that it says simply secretes diesel fuel or ethanol wherever it finds sunlight, water and carbon dioxide.

The Cambridge, Mass.-based company says it can manipulate the organism to produce the renewable fuels on demand at unprecedented rates, and can do it in facilities large and small at costs comparable to the cheapest fossil fuels.

What can it mean? No less than “energy independence,” Joule’s web site tells the world, even if the world’s not quite convinced.

“We make some lofty claims, all of which we believe, all which we’ve validated, all of which we’ve shown to investors,” said Joule chief executive Bill Sims.

“If we’re half right, this revolutionizes the world’s largest industry, which is the oil and gas industry,” he said. “And if we’re right, there’s no reason why this technology can’t change the world.”

The doing, though, isn’t quite done, and there’s skepticism Joule can live up to its promises.

National Renewable Energy Laboratory scientist Philip Pienkos said Joule’s technology is exciting but unproven, and their claims of efficiency are undercut by difficulties they could have just collecting the fuel their organism is producing.

Timothy Donohue, director of the Great Lakes Bioenergy Research Center at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, says Joule must demonstrate its technology on a broad scale.

Perhaps it can work, but “the four letter word that’s the biggest stumbling block is whether it `will’ work,” Donohue said. “There are really good ideas that fail during scale up.”

Sims said he knows “there’s always skeptics for breakthrough technologies.”

“And they can ride home on their horse and use their abacus to calculate their checkbook balance,” he said.

Joule was founded in 2007. In the last year, it’s roughly doubled its employees to 70, closed a $30 million second round of private funding in April and added John Podesta, former White House chief of staff under President Bill Clinton, to its board of directors.

The company worked in “stealth mode” for a couple years before it recently began revealing more about what it was doing, including with a patent for its cyanobacterium last year. This month, it released a peer-reviewed paper it says backs its claims.

Work to create fuel from solar energy has been done for decades, such as by making ethanol from corn or extracting fuel from algae. But Joule says they’ve eliminated the middleman that’s makes producing biofuels on a large scale so costly.

That middleman is the “biomass,” such as the untold tons of corn or algae that must be grown, harvested and destroyed to extract a fuel that still must be treated and refined to be used. Joule says its organisms secrete a completed product, already identical to diesel fuel or ethanol, then live on to keep producing it at remarkable rates.

Joule claims, for instance, that its cyanobacterium can produce 15,000 gallons of diesel full per acre annually, over four times more than the most efficient algal process for making fuel. And they say they can do it at $30 a barrel.

A key for Joule is the cyanobacterium it chose, which is found everywhere and is less complex than algae, so it’s easier to genetically manipulate, said biologist Dan Robertson, Joule’s top scientist.

The organisms are engineered to take in sunlight and carbon dioxide, then produce and secrete ethanol or hydrocarbons — the basis of various fuels, such as diesel — as a byproduct of photosynthesis.

The company envisions building facilities near power plants and consuming their waste carbon dioxide, so their cyanobacteria can reduce carbon emissions while they’re at it.

The flat, solar-panel style “bioreactors” that house the cyanobacterium are modules, meaning they can build arrays at facilities as large or small as land allows, the company says. The thin, grooved panels are designed for maximum light absorption, and also so Joule can efficiently collect the fuel the bacteria secrete.

Recovering the fuel is where Joule could find significant problems, said Pienkos, the NREL scientist, who is also principal investigator on a Department of Energy-funded project with Algenol, a Joule competitor that makes ethanol and is one of the handful of companies that also bypass biomass.

Pienkos said his calculations, based on information in Joule’s recent paper, indicate that though they eliminate biomass problems, their technology leaves relatively small amounts of fuel in relatively large amounts of water, producing a sort of “sheen.” They may not be dealing with biomass, but the company is facing complicated “engineering issues” in order to recover large amounts of its fuel efficiently, he said.

“I think they’re trading one set of problems for another,” Pienkos said.

Success or failure for Joule comes soon enough. The company plans to break ground on a 10-acre demonstration facility this year, and Sims says they could be operating commercially in less than two years.

Robertson talks wistfully about the day he’ll hop into the Ferrari he doesn’t have, fill it with Joule fuel and gun the engine in an undeniable demonstration of the power and reality of Joule’s ideas. Later, after leading a visitor on a tour of the labs, Robertson comes upon a poster of a sports car on an office wall, and it reminds him of the success he’s convinced is coming. He motions to the picture.

“I wasn’t kidding about the Ferrari,” he says.


African dictator’s son orders luxury superyacht

African dictator’s son orders luxury superyacht


By MICHELLE FAUL, Associated Press – 2 hrs 59 mins ago

JOHANNESBURG – The son of Equatorial Guinea’s dictator of 30 years commissioned plans to build a superyacht costing $380 million, nearly three times what the country spends on health and education each year, a corruption watchdog said Monday.

The statement from Global Witness said that German company Kusch Yachts has been asked to build the yacht, housing a cinema, restaurant, bar and swimming pool, though construction has not yet started.

Global Witness has been urging Washington to institute sanctions against Teodorin Obiang, whose extravagant lifestyle currently includes a $35 million-dollar mansion in Malibu, California, a $33 million jet and a fleet of luxury cars, while earning a salary of $6,799 a month as agriculture minister.

The government press office in Equatorial Guinea confirmed that the president’s son had ordered the yacht design, but said he “then dismissed the idea of buying it.”

It said that if the order had gone ahead, he would have bought it with income from private business activities and not “with funds derived from sources of illegal financing or corruption.”

President Teodoro Obiang, who reportedly is grooming his son to succeed him as president, took power in a bloody 1979 coup. Forbes has estimated his wealth at around $600 million.

Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo, Equatorial Guineas ...

Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo

Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo, Equatorial Guinea’s President and new African Union (AU) Chairman, speaks during the closing ceremony of the 16th African Union Summit, in Ethiopia’s capital Addis Ababa, January 31, 2011. The presidents of South Africa, Tanzania, Mauritania, Burkina Faso and Chad will form a high-level panel tasked with resolving Ivory Coast’s leadership dispute, an African Union official at the summit said on Monday.


Teodorin Obiang justified his wealth in a sworn affidavit to a South African court questioning his ownership of luxury mansions and expensive cars in Cape Town in 2006.

He stated that public officials in his country are allowed to partner with foreign companies bidding for government contracts and said this means “a Cabinet minister ends up with a sizable part of the contract price in his bank account.”

The tiny West African nation may be oil rich, but U.N. statistics show that 20 percent of children in Equatorial Guinea die before reaching the age of 5, and the average citizen is unlikely to live beyond 50. The State Department report on human rights also has condemned killings by security forces and the torture of prisoners.

Meanwhile, writer Juan Tomas Avila Laurel is in the 17th day of a hunger strike demanding justice for the people of Equatorial Guinea, inspired by the popular revolutions that have ousted longtime leaders of Egypt and Tunisia and now threaten Libya’s Moammar Gadhafi.

Avila Laurel, 44, left Malabo for Barcelona, Spain, amid fears for his safety the day he began his hunger strike Feb. 11. He joins one-third of the population living in voluntary or enforced exile, according to the U.S. State Department.

The government has reacted to the author’s hunger strike by denouncing “the web of gossip, lies and miserable maneuvers” surrounding reports about Equatorial Guinea.

“Nonetheless, we hope this person’s example also serves to silence many mouths who continuously speak of lack of freedom and respect for human rights in Equatorial Guinea since, as is more than evident, this person has acted at all times with absolute freedom,” it said in a statement on its website.