Sunday, July 31, 2011


Month-long fast begins for the Muslim world
07/31/2011 18:5

Cairo mosques

Special emphasis is given to reading Koran during this time;Acre imam: Keeping Ramadan in the oppressive heat will be "very, very hard"
Hundreds of millions of Muslims around the world will begin the annual spiritual ascent of the Ramadan month on Monday, marked with fasting, prayers, charity and the receiving of the Koran.

“We believe the fasting is not only for us, but also for those who were before us, for the Jews, Christians, and any believer,” Acre Imam Sheikh Samir Assi said on Sunday. “It was in this month that God gave us the Koran, and we thank him for it and fast.”

The monthly daily fasting, beginning in Israel around 4:20 a.m. and ending at 7:45 p.m., will end with the three-day Id el-Fitr celebration. Prior to that, on the 27th day of the fast, will be Laylat El Kadr, the exact night in which the Koran was handed down, when prayers in mosques are held the entire night.

“It’s not just hard, it’s very very hard,” said Assi with a smile when asked about the difficulty of such an extended fast in the oppressive summer heat. “But we have no choice.”

Besides eating and drinking, smoking is also prohibited during Ramadan. Boys over 13 years and girls over 12 are expected to fast.

Faddi, who works at a vegetable stand in the Iraqi section of Jerusalem’s Machaneh Yehuda market, will not be cutting himself any slack on one of the most important commandments in the Muslim tradition.

“Of course I’ll fast, what a question,” he said while cutting a piece of pumpkin in two. Asked how he’ll be able to endure the heat with his physical labor, Faddi beckoned with his head to the religious Jew at the other side of the stand, near the red peppers. “My boss will cover for a few hours in the afternoon when I’ll be going to rest,” he said.

The rationale behind not eating during the Ramadan is not different than the reason behind fasts in other religions.

“We are undertaking a spiritual journey, and seek to be holy like angels, who don’t need food,” said Assi. “The fast uplifts you from the ground to heaven, and also makes you more sensitive to others, such as those who don’t have food any time in the year.”

One of the commandments observed more closely during the month is giving charity, called the Zakaat al-Fitr. “Everyone must give it, even those who haven’t fasted,” said the sheikh.

Since the Ramadan is the month of the Koran, special emphasis is given to reading it in this time. There is also the Tarawih prayer recited in the mosques after the evening prayer during the days of the fast.

What makes this monthspecial, said Assi, “is the fact that the mosques are full of people praying. EvenMuslims who normally do not attend prayers will show up, become penitent, and pray. If you enter a mosque at night during this month, you will see it’s full.”

A day before the beginning of the month of Ramadan, “I wish all Muslims an easy fast, that the situation in the Muslim world, Arab world and world will become stable, and that we can all live together in peace and fraternity,” said Assi.

First Trojan asteroid circling sun in Earth's orbit discovered


This artist's concept provided by NASA illustrates the first known Earth Trojan asteroid, discovered by NEOWISE, the asteroid-hunting portion of NASA's WISE mission. The asteroid is shown in gray and its extreme orbit is shown in green. Earth's orbit around the sun is indicated by blue dots. The objects are not drawn to scale.

NASA’s Wide—field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE) mission has discovered a long—hidden companion of the Earth — the first Trojan asteroid circling the sun in the Earth’s orbit.

Trojans are asteroids that share an orbit with a planet, locked in stable orbits by a gravitational balancing act between a planet and the Sun. Neptune, Mars and Jupiter are known to have Trojans.

Two of Saturn’s moons share orbits with Trojans. Scientists had predicted Earth should also have Trojans, but they have been difficult to find because they are relatively small and appear near the sun from Earth’s point of view.

"These asteroids dwell mostly in the daylight, making them very hard to see,” said lead author Martin Connors of Athabasca University in Canada. "But we finally found one, because the object has an unusual orbit that takes it farther away from the sun than what is typical for Trojans. WISE was a game—changer, giving us a point of view difficult to have at Earth’s surface,” he added.

Connors and his team began their search for an Earth Trojan using data from NEOWISE, an addition to the WISE mission that focused in part on near—Earth objects, or NEOs, such as asteroids and comets. The NEOWISE project observed more than 155,000 asteroids in the main belt between Mars and Jupiter, and more than 500 NEOs, discovering 132 that were previously unknown.

The team identified a small asteroid named ‘2010 TK7’ as an Earth Trojan after follow—up observations with the Canada—France—Hawaii Telescope on Mauna Kea in Hawaii.

The asteroid is roughly 1,000 feet (300 meters) in diameter. It has an unusual orbit that traces a complex motion near a stable point in the plane of Earth’s orbit, although the asteroid also moves above and below the plane. The object is about 50 million miles (80 million kilometers) from Earth.

The asteroid’s orbit is well—defined and for at least the next 100 years, it will not come closer to Earth than 15 million miles (24 million kilometers).

"It’s as though Earth is playing follow the leader. Earth always is chasing this asteroid around,” said Amy Mainzer, the principal investigator of NEOWISE at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, Calif.

The discovery is published in the July 28 issue of the journal Nature.

Sex swap miracle baby born to woman who was man and man who was woman

by Deirdre O'Brien and Annette Witheridge, Sunday Mirror 31/07/2011


When little Dante is old enough, his parents will sit him down and ­explain that ­“Mummy couldn’t have babies... so daddy did it for her.”

That’s because this cute toddler was born into one of the world’s most amazing families. His mum Emily was born a boy. And his father Cai was born a girl.

Doctors were baffled, believing it was medically impossible for “dad” Cai, 24, to give birth, especially as Emily was also thought to be sterile.

Cuddling their hazel-eyed son, now 22 months old, the proud ­parents explain how it happened.

“We didn’t plan on having a baby,” says Emily, 28. “We didn’t try to make it happen nor did we think it could happen. We were planning on adopting because, as far as we knew, having a baby on our own was ­impossible separately, let alone together.

“How it happened is a mystery, but we’re very grateful for it. I guess when two people love each other a lot, then a lot of special things can happen.”

It was love at first sight when the couple – whose surname we are not ­revealing for their protection – first met. Neither had undergone surgery but they were living as the opposite sex and moved in ­together within three weeks, knowing they truly understood each other.

“Being transgender is a pain, actually, and ­certainly not something you do on a whim,” says Emily. “Then I met Cai and it was ­amazing. I thought such things only happened in fairy tales.”

Office worker Emily was waiting for surgery to remove her male parts and had been taking female hormones since the age of 16. The couple had ­unprotected sex, but believed there was no risk of pregnancy because the ­formerly female Cai was on a high dose of the male hormone testosterone and was thought to be “chemically sterile”.

“I had long since resigned myself to the idea that I’d never be able to have biological children of my own,” says Emily. Having been on hormones for close to a decade it was considered impossible for me.”

What’s even more remarkable is that cautious Cai also had birth control injections just to be safe. But nine months on from their first date he discovered that   his ­“stomach upset” was in fact a baby. “I was seven months’ pregnant and I didn’t know it,” he says. “I’d put on 18lbs but didn’t feel the baby move.”

Emily, born as a boy called Scott, is Dante’s ­biological ­father. She had a full sex-swap operation a few months after the birth, and admits she felt so broody during the preg­nancy she wished she could have given birth instead.

Despite the unplanned, unorthodox pregnancy, the couple are now doting parents, each taking on the role of their new sex. Emily “breast-feeds” Dante with formula milk using a special attachment.

“I’ve always felt like the mum,” says Emily. “Regardless of anything else there is a lot of love in our family. We both ­absolutely adore our son, and the amount of joy he’s brought us is amazing. He is being raised in a loving, nurturing ­environment. That’s a fantastic way for a child to grow up. Our son is great. He’s ­perfectly healthy in every way.”

Although Emily went ahead with her sex-swap operation to make her fully a woman, Cai says he is happy as he is.

“As far as how we see each other, we’re a heterosexual couple,” says Emily. “He’s a man but has female parts. I’m a woman that once had male parts.”

Emily, who looks so feminine that most work colleagues don’t know her background, adds. “When I’m at work people just assume that I’m just an average mother with a kid and husband.”

The couple, who live in rural ­Penn- sylv­ania in the US, now star in a ­TV ­document­ary called Pregnant and Transgender. And as Dante grows up there will be no secrets. “We’ll be upfront with him,” says Emily. “We’ll explain the situation, and that it doesn’t mean anything is wrong or that he’s different. We will say mummy couldn’t have babies so daddy did it for her.”

Cai adds: “Some say we shouldn’t have had a child, that we will confuse him growing up. But we’ll say, ‘We did things a little differently but here you are.”

Cai admits going through a stage of questioning his decision to change sex. “I remember one morning watching a couple in church with a baby,” he says. “It was physically painful for me because I am sitting there thinking that’s what I want and I will never have.”

Now that dream has come true Cai says he knows exactly what his role is. “I really do feel like the dad,” he says.

Pakistan News: US ambassador stopped at Islamabad airport

US ambassador Cameron Munter stopped at Islamabad airport; asked about NoC

ISLAMABAD: The US lodged a strong protest with Pakistani authorities after ambassadorCameron Munter was stopped at the airport here by officials enforcing a rule that requires all foreign diplomats to have a "no-objection certificate" for travelling outside Islamabad. 

Munter, who reportedly possessed the NoC, was stopped atBenazir Bhutto International Airport and asked about the document while he was travelling to Karachi last week. 

The envoy "strongly protested" about the incident, which was subsequently taken up with President Asif Ali Zardari, the Dawn newspaper reported. 

The incident reflected the tensions that have characterised US-Pakistan relations since al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden was killed by American special forces in a covert raid in Abbottabad on May 2. 

Pakistan had threatened to impose "more formal restrictions" on travel by all US diplomats and to require prior notification but dropped the demand when the American administration threatened similar restrictions for Pakistani diplomats in the US, an unnamed US official was quoted as saying by ABC News. 

Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence began keeping a close watch on American diplomats in the wake of the raid against bin Laden as it believed the CIA was running a secret network of American and Pakistani operatives in the country. 

The Foreign Office sought to play down the incident involvingambassador Munter, with spokesperson Tehmina Janjua saying "no US-specific" travel restrictions had been applied. 

"However, there are general guidelines regarding travel of Pakistan-based diplomats, designed only to ensure their safety and security, which have existed for a long time," she said in a statement.

Guyana News: Jet Crash

Jet splits in half on landing
Despite overshooting its runway, bursting through a fence and breaking in two when it crashed at Georgetown's airport, all 163 people on board the Caribbean Airlines jet survived.
2:06PM BST 31 Jul 2011
The jet with 163 people on board crashed and broke in two while landing in Guyana in the early hours of Saturday, but miraculously nobody was killed.

The Caribbean Airlines plane overshot the runway at Cheddi Jagan International Airport in the capital Georgetown in rainy weather and narrowly avoided plunging into a 200-ft deep ravine.

Images screened on television showed how the plane had cracked in two down the middle after landing at 1.32am local time (6.32am BST).

President Bharrat Jagdeo said there could have been dozens of fatalities if the plane had dropped into the ravine.

"We are very, very grateful that more people were not injured," he said as authorities closed the airport, leaving hundreds of passengers stranded and delaying dozens of flights.

About 100 people received medical attention out of the 157 passengers plus six crew on board, according to Devant Maharaj, transportation minister in Trinidad, where Caribbean Airlines is based.

Four people were hospitalised with serious injuries including one with a broken leg, authorities said.
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Moscow pleasure boat sinking leaves at least eight dead

Captain accused of being drunk as tragedy follows recent Volga river sinking that killed 122Miriam Elder in Moscow, Sunday 31 July 2011 14.13 BST

Moscow emergency services gather where pleasureboat sank on the Moskva river. Photograph: Dmitry Kostyukov/AFP/Getty Images
At least eight people drowned when an overcrowded pleasure boat collided with a barge on Moscow's Moskva river.

Seven people were rescued in the sinking early on Sunday morning in central Moscow, which came three weeks after a decrepit overcrowded pleasure boat sank in the Volga river, killing 122 of the 201 people on board.

Revellers had gathered on the small boat, called the Lastochka, to celebrate the 31st birthday of a Turkish citizen, according to news reports.

Survivors said the owner's ship and captain, who died in the sinking, had been drinking. "Rescued passengers say the captain, Gennady Zinger, was drunk and didn't let anyone steer the boat," Pavel Seliverstov, the head of Moscow's investigative committee on transport, told the tabloid Life News.

Witnesses said the ship was manoeuvring wildly on the river. It sank at about 1am after crashing into a barge.

Vladimir Markin, spokesman for Russia's investigative committee, told Russian news agencies the boat was built to carry 12 passengers, but 17 boarded. One passenger disembarked during the nighttime voyage, he said.

Markin said Zinger had been fined three times, including as recently as June, for violating safety rules on the boat.

The incident shook a country still reeling from the 10 July sinking of the Bulgaria, an overcrowded vessel loaded mainly with women and children when it sank in the Volga.

The tragedy highlighted the poor state of Russian infrastructure, as well as the ubiquity of corruption in the country.

The Soviet-era boat had been having engine troubles before leaving port, and was carrying nearly twice the number of passengers it was than its licence allowed to.

The head of the company that rented the Bulgaria and the inspector who declared the boat fit to sail have both been arrested.

President Dmitry Medvedev reacted harshly to the Volga sinking: "Everyone involved in organising this should bear responsibility.

"Next time, every official, regardless of his rank, will understand that consequences for such a ship leaving a port can be not only disciplinary, but criminal."

The tragedy came as Russia held nationwide celebrations for Navy Day

Technology. Nano-sized batteries

Now, nano-sized batteries to power mobiles!
31 Jul, 2011, 03.50 PM IST, PTI

WASHINGTON: An Indian-origin scientist-led team in the US has packaged lithium ion batteries into a single nanowire, which they claim could soon be a rechargeable power source for new generations of nanoelectronics.

Prof Pulickel Ajayan and colleagues at Rice University claim their creation is as small as such devices can possibly get, in their research published in American Chemical Society journal 'Nano Letters'.

In their research, the scientists tested two versions of their battery.

The first is a sandwich with nickel or tin anode, polyethylene oxide electrolyte and polyaniline cathode layers; it was built as proof that lithium ions would move efficiently through anode to electrolyte and then to supercapacitor-like cathode that gives the device ability to charge and discharge.

The second packs the same capabilities into a single nanowire. The researchers built centimetre-scale arrays containing thousands of nanowire devices, each 150 nanometers wide. A nanometer is a billionth of a meter, thousands of times smaller than a human hair.



5 things Google+ does better than Facebook and Twitter

Google Plus Facebook Twitter Battle
Google+ has only been active for a month, and tech enthusiasts can’t seem to get enough of it. While Google is still trying to figure out exactly how to approach social correctly, the network has built enough buzz toattract a reported 20 million users. While this doesn’t compare to Facebook’s staggering 750 million users or Twitter’s sizable 200 million users, those networks have been around much longer.
Several of us on the VentureBeat staff have immersed ourselves into the Google+ ecosystem to see what it has to offer. Thus far we’ve come to generally enjoy the service and noticed a few strengths it has over Facebook and Twitter, especially in the realms of privacy and video chat.
Here are five features we’ve seen that we like in Google+ more than Facebook and Twitter:
1. Circles
One of the most talked about Google+ features (and for good reason) is Circles, the feature that allows you manage the people you follow and want to share updates with. With Circles, you can send status updates to groups it is relevant to only, rather than blasting it out to everyone. For example, I created a Circle for just friends of mine that love music so I could share music videos that I have created or really enjoyed.
Facebook and Twitter do offer ways to share updates selectively but it’s not as fine-tuned. I can block updates from certain groups on Facebook but to actually configure that takes time. For Twitter, it’s all or nothing with your updates as you can make your profile private or public.
2. Hangouts
Another often cited feature for Google+ is Hangouts, which let you video chat with up to 25 people at the same time for free. Every person you’re chatting with appears in a small box and whoever is speaking is in a large window on top.
While Facebook recently partnered with Skype to bring video chat to Facebook users, it only supports one-on-one video chat. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg hinted that more features were coming down the pipeline, but right now Google+ is the champion of video chat. Twitter, unfortunately, does not have a video chat option.
3. Mobile capabilities
Google+ so far has released apps for Android and iOS, and both offer much to users on the go. Outside of the basic functionality like reading updates and watching videos, there’s also a group chat feature called Huddles. Unlike apps from Facebook and Twitter, this allows you to chat with many friends at once to make plans or waste time.
While I think Twitter’s mobile presence is generally excellent, the limitations of the network’s core features hinder what can be done on mobile devices. Facebook’s mobile applications are fine for reading updates and sending messages, but it could use an overhaul to keep up with Google+.
4. Data downloading
Google+ is the first prominent network to offer the ability to download your personal data and updates easily. Google’s new Google Takeout service lets you download your saved data from Google’s servers. If you wanted to leave Google+ tomorrow, for example, you could easily download your status updates before checking out.
At this time, Facebook and Twitter offer no service as comprehensive and as easy. Facebook does offer a way to download your data but the tool to do so is basically hidden. The option to “Download Your Information” used to be prominently displayed in Account Settings but now there is a barely noticeable link for the same option.
5. Sparks
Sparks might be one of the most underutilized features in Google+. The feature lets you find content like articles and videos related to any topic you can think of. At the bottom of each peice of content is a Share button that makes it easy to show it to those in your circles.
It’s easy to miss the small “Sparks” link on the left side your Google+ stream and at first click, it seems like the feature is narrow. It highlights interests like Cycling, Fashion, Recipes, Sports cars, Android, and Robotics. But above the highlights is a search bar that pulls up anything you might want. I searched for “Harry Potter” and found entertaining blog posts published today and YouTube videos uploaded this week.
Both Facebook and Twitter don’t make it this easy to find and share content. Both competing networks make you stumble across content from someone else’s steam or look outside the network for new things to share.
Wrap Up
While Google+ still has much to do if it wants to catch up to the popularity of Facebook and Twitter, it’s made many steps in the right direction. The above standout features already show how Google is making some smart decisions. They’ve also already made missteps like booting users off for “fake name” or “community standards” violations. Facebook and Twitter are surely watching closely and will make their own feature additions to keep up.
Are there any other things you think Google+ does better than the rest? What things do you wish Google+ did better?
Depressed? Be kind, compassionate
Jul 31, 2011, 01.32PM IST

Depressed? Be kind, compassionate (Thinkstock photos/Getty Images)

Rather than taking anti-depressants, people suffering from depression have an inexpensive way out - practising acts of kindness and compassion, new research claims.

Acts of kindness or compassion might serve as an effective treatment for depressed people, say researchers from the University of California, Riverside, and the Duke University Medical Centre.

They have proposed a new approach called as Positive Activity Interventions (PAI).

PAIs are intentional activities such as acts of kindness, compassion and feeling optimistic and grateful, collected from decades of research into how happy and unhappy people are different, reports the Journal of Alternative andComplementary Medicine .

Although anti-depressants can be life-saving for some individuals, initial drug therapy produces full benefits in only 30 to 40 per cent of patients, say the neuroscience and psychopharmacology researchers.

Even after trying two to four different drugs, one-third of the people will remain depressed, according to a California statement.

"Social psychology studies of flourishing individuals who are happy, optimistic and grateful have produced a lot of new information about the benefits of positive activity interventions on mood and well-being," says Sonja Lyubomirsky, who led the study.

The World Health Organization estimates that depression affects more than 100 million people globally.

UK News: 'Spiritual Healing'

Indian wins grant for his spiritual healing project in Britain
31 Jul, 2011, PTI
LONDON: A project on 'Spiritual Healing', anancient form of medication, under the aegis of an Indian consultant has bagged 205,000 pounds grant for research and the treatment will soon be offered to British patients.

National Lottery awarded the grant for the two-year study to healing charityFresh Winds, which is working with Birmingham University and theNational Health Service Good Hope Hospital inSutton Coldfield.

Sukhdev Singh, anIndian consultant in gastroenterology who is co-ordinating the research, said he had been encouraged by the results so far, a daily reported.

He added: 'For many of the individuals we see, conventional treatments do not provide the complete answer. By being able to offer healing therapy, we are able to offer complementary methods of treatments which have been showing good results.'

However, critics of this healing form are calling it waste of money pumped into a "voodoo" technique of medication.

Simon Singh, the author of Trick or Treatment? Alternative Medicine on Trial, said, "The 200,000 pounds should have been spent on much better causes.
"There is no worthwhile evidence at all that spiritual healing works in any way, shape or form other than the placebo effect - when the patient feels better just because they are getting some attention."

Sexual Video Games Are Good For Us

Recently, I curated an exhibit at Brooklyn's Babycastles arcade, currently housed in a Williamsburg show space where indie games are on display in hand-made cabinets, alongside a lineup of bands.

I picked sexual games; even what some would call deviant games.

I wanted people to understand something very special about games' power of expression, even if I had to push their comfort zones to do it.

I chose two games from renowned indie designer Anna Anthropy. She sought to articulate the grueling and emotional nature of BDSM relationships through the cruel old-school arcade dynamics and bondage themes of Lesbian Spider Queens of Mars andMighty Jill Off. I picked Beautiful Escape: Dungeoneer, a fascinating narrative-driven title about a fetishistic serial killer; I selectedHey, Baby, a game designed as a statement against street harassment, a game which fulfills the fantasy of women literally armed against sexual predators.

Finally, I chose a Japanese sex game about gender-bending, called Yin Yang: X-Change Alternative. I thought that it'd be interesting to include a game that featured graphic sex among the rest of the exhibit's pieces. Much to my surprise and joy, it was popular among curious attendees.

Instead of passing by the arcade cabinets on their way to watch the bands, guests to Babycastles demonstrated a fascinating willingness to ask questions about and try all the games. They were wildly enthusiastic and demonstrative. I gave so many tours my voice went hoarse, and I felt a strange and bizarre sort of pride that folks who were quite literally your average man and woman from off the street were curious and excited to see what kinds of statements games could make about identity, relationships and sexuality.

Babycastles: Bad Bitches, as I titled the exhibit (named after the Kreayshawn track ‘Gucci Gucci') wasn't meant to be especially heavy or deep. What I most wanted to do was invite mainstream players to participate in the conjunction of silly, strange and deeply personal that games that deal with issues of gender, sex and subculture can create. I was pleasantly surprised with how receptive the exhibit's audience was.***

Some of the earliest writing I ever did on games was in this little column at GameSetWatch I called "The Aberrant Gamer" In it, I aimed to focus on all the little bits of undiscovered deviance I saw in games that, to my mind, no one seemed to notice. At the time I consumed all kinds of games blogs voraciously, but most things I read focused on things I didn't need to be told and that I had never really longed to be told.

You've had that feeling, haven't you? Lots of times, don't you read reviews of games you've already played just to see if they agree with you? Sometimes, don't you read game articles just to identify yourself in them? And that's fun and all, but here's the thing. For a long time in my teens, my favorite thing about video games-–the weirder and more obscure the better-–was that there were so many rare, precious off moments, like when the sisters in Fatal Frame 2 look just a little bit too comfortable with each other, or when Silent Hill 2's convoluted symbolism pointed to male sexual frustration and resentment. And no one was writing about that.

It's not that I was a huge deviant or anything; no more than teen girls generally are, especially those of us who were growing up alongside the internet. Today's teens are desensitized as a rule, and they will never know what it felt like to "log on" to the din of a garbled, hissing modem-dial and have an entirely unfamiliar world of images and cultures open up like a foreign country, ready for the visiting.

Nowadays, the web can still surprise you. There are people who have taken escapism to an extreme. There are people who have devoted themselves rather intimately to the fictions of The Legend of Zelda, Harry Potter, Pokemon, and Final Fantasy VII. You wouldn't think there was much to chew on there as far as "sexual deviance", but people've unearthed it, invented it alchemically, prized and archived it (the fruits of their labors are not hard to find online, if you're feeling adventurous).

Even if you're not into that kind of thing yourself, it's a little bit fascinating, isn't it? What is it that people find within these simplistic worlds to get aroused by, to fall in love with and to fetishize? It's strange to us, yet perfectly natural to fans of those subterranean channels.

The idea that video games in particular lend themselves to unusual cultural sideroads has fascinated me since I was young, almost from the time I figured out what fanfiction was. Some of that sensation of foreign encounter, of unfamiliar curiosity, could have been chalked up to the cultural divide between (at the time dominant) Japanese versus Western games: We faced symbolism with odd archetypal yet unfamiliar roots, the sort of things that led pretty twins to hug a little too tight or that meant upskirt shots were par for the course even in the most serious of scenes.

Piqued, I wanted articles that weren't about gameplay features, but that analyzed subtext; I wanted writers to say, "hey, maybe I'm not sure what this means, but this is strange, isn't it? Why does this game look like this, why does it feel like this?"

Unable to find others with theories about, for example, the female protagonist in Haunting Ground, I just started writing those kinds of things myself. I wouldn't even claim I wrote all that well at the time. If I found an audience, it was probably because I'd wildly underestimated the volume of folks who were poking around in offbeat video games, recognizing the same archetypes, wondering the same things I wondered.

If I'd been a man, perhaps the Aberrant Gamer column wouldn't have been so successful. Maybe if I hadn't been a young woman, people might have called me a creepster, might have wondered why I spent so much time exploring games' ability to build jungle gyms for niche subcultures, to build bridges from the underbelly of one culture to another. Might have wondered why I'd go to the trouble of seeking out and installing the "UnDress" patch on the child-raising sim Princess Maker 2. Would they have?

I don't have answers to those questions, even years later. But I know that the column was enormously successful. Called out of hiding, hundreds of people mailed me, visited my blog, shared my curiosity about games' ability to explore sexuality, identity, all of mankind's kept secrets. And we still love these kinds of things: to grab a recent example, Atlus' Catherine is the cause of much anticipation, drums up much hope and curiosity among you, only on the promise of prettily-presented adult sexual complexity.

Among "us", I should say, because we don't lose that appetite for weirdness. We're interested in sexuality. We want more of it, because with psychological and social complexity comes the promise of adulthood, of maturity, of something more substantial than those incomprehensible clues we've been chewing all along.

Maybe interactive entertainment has an ability you and I don't have: To articulate strange things, deviant things, the moth's-wing flutters of our secrets, our sexuality, our emotions. Maybe we notice strangeness, and we want to hear somebody else say it, we want to hear somebody else explain it, because the game has done so well at touching parts of us that we don't have words for.

I've since realized something: What I wanted, in those times, when I was digging around for those flavors of the unfamiliar that I called "aberrant," was proof that video games could speak to human identity, all the private spectral shades thereof. I hoped that they could help us glimpse compelling inner worlds of others through psychology, sociology, inter-relationships, sexuality. That's why I wrote that column back then.

And games about romance and sexual identity—the less-familiar the better—are still so appealing to me. Maybe even moreso. If sex and death are the two constants of human life, then given how many games we have exploring murder and death, I want to see them evaluating all kinds of avenues for sexual expression, too.

The Bad Bitches exhibit runs for the next few weeks at Babycastles' 285 Kent location in Williamsburg, Brooklyn (official info here). Hopefully you can come check it out. And if you can't, next time you notice unusual subtext in the games you love, rest assured: You have friends who are trying to find ways to talk about it. By being interactive—a conversation between creator and player, a dance between expression and interaction—video games can communicate primal things about human identity that no other medium can.
Leigh Alexander is editor-at-large for Gamasutra, author of the Sexy Videogameland blog, and freelances reviews and criticism to a wide variety of outlets. Her monthly column at Kotaku deals with cultural issues surrounding games and gamers. She can be reached at leighalexander1 AT gmail DOT com.

Pakistan News: Swiss Couple in Pak Taliban Custody.

Pak Taliban want Aafia in return for Swiss couple
Last Updated: Saturday, July 30, 2011, 13:50
Peshawar: The Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) has said that a Swiss couple, who were kidnapped earlier this month from Balochistan province, were in good health and demanded they be exchanged for a Pakistani scientist jailed in the US.

Olivier David Och, 31, and Daniela Widmer, 28, were abducted on July 01, while driving in Balochistan.

“The Swiss couple are with the TTP. They are at a very safe place. They are completely in good health, they are getting reasonable food and they have not fallen ill since they landed in our custody,” the Daily Times quoted TTP Deputy Head Waliur Rehman, as saying.

He added that the Taliban would release the couple if the US freed Aafia Siddiqui, a female neuroscientist sentenced in 2010 for the attempted murder of US government agents in Afghanistan.

“We call upon the Western world to put pressure on America for the release of Aafia Siddiqui,” he said.

“If America does not agree to her release then our shura (council) will take a decision about the Swiss hostages,” he added.

Other Taliban sources confirmed TTP’s claim, saying that the hostages were now being held South Waziristan.

The Swiss Foreign Ministry had earlier reiterated that it is “continuing with their efforts to bring the two Swiss citizens back safely to Switzerland”.


China News: Violence in Xinjiang

Seven people killed in Xinjiang violence
July 31, 2011 12:39 pm
Seven people have been killed in the restive western Chinese region of Xinjiang, the second time in a fortnight that deep-rooted tensions in the area have exploded into violence.

State media reported that two knife-wielding men hijacked a truck, killed its driver, and then drove the vehicle into a crowd, before attacking bystanders. Six people died before one attacker was killed and the other captured. At least 22 were left injured, government-run media said on Sunday.

The incident happened in the Silk Road city of Kashgar in northwest Xinjiang, a region troubled by ethnic violence in recent years.

Tianshannet, a Xinjiang government-run website, and the official Xinhua news agency, said the violence followed two explosions late on Saturday night. One of the blasts was from a minivan while another occurred in the street lined with food stalls where the hijacking took place, Xinhua said. Police said the motive was unclear.

Home to the most of China’s onshore energy reserves, Xinjiang is populated by Uighurs, a mostly Muslim Turkic-speaking people, most of whom do not want to be part of China. Many resent the growing presence of majority Han Chinese who have moved there.

Two years ago Uighurs turned on their Han Chinese neighbours in Urumqi, the regional capital, killing close to 200 people, most of them Han. It was the worst ethnic violence for decades in Xinjiang.

The Kashgar unrest was the second incident of serious violence in the region in two weeks. On July 18, at least 20 people were killed in an attack on a police station in Hotan, a remote oasis town.

State media quoted an official in Xinjiang as saying that clash was a “terrorist” attack. Residents said the attackers briefly replaced the People’s Republic of China flag on the police station’s roof with the blue half moon flag of East Turkestan used by the advocates of an independent Uighur state.

Zhao Genlin, deputy party secretary of the Hotan city police, told the Financial Times that the attack was the worst violence Hotan experienced since a riot in 1999. “It seems that terrorism cannot be rooted out in Xinjiang, but look at Afghanistan or Iraq. They are struggling with the same problem,” Mr Zhao said.
In the latest attack, Xinhua said the attackers struck pedestrians as they were trying to escape but said they deliberately drove the truck into the crowd. The crowd retaliated, beating one of the attackers to death and capturing the other, according to that account.

Libya rebels overrun rogue faction
Four dead and six wounded as main opposition army overruns base of rogue branch, and scrambles to dispel rumours.
Last Modified: 31 Jul 2011 10:41
Mustafa Abdel Jalil, of the Libyan National Transitional Council, has worked to quash rumours of infighting [Reuters]
A battle between Libya's main opposition and a rogue faction inside the movement's armed forces has raised fears of infighting caused by the yet unexplained murder of one of its chief commanders.

Libya's opposition said on Sunday its forces had overrun the base of a pro-regime faction after five hours of fighting near the opposition stronghold Benghazi, according to spokesman Mahmoud Shamam.
Al Jazeera's Tony Birtley, reporting from Benghazi, said the battle was launched to subdue elements of Muammar Gaddafi's forces that had been operating as a "fifth column" within the opposition ranks.
"According to sources here there is no connection with the attack and the death of [Abdel-Fattah Younes]," said Birtley, who added that documents were found on the defeated faction that linked it to Gaddafi.

'Unity intact'
Shamam said fighting broke out early on Sunday and left four dead and six wounded. The main rebel force is now in control of the al-Nidaa Brigade's base on the western outskirts of Benghazi, the de facto capital of Libya's opposition-held east.
"It was a long battle and it took many hours because they were heavily armed," he said.

"In the end we arrested 31 of them. We lost four people," said Shamam, who added the group of fighters were rounded up for their role in organising a prison break in Benghazi earlier in the week.

The fighting followed Thursday's killing of chief rebel commander Younes under mysterious circumstances.

Some reports claimed Sunday's clashes pointed sharp rifts within the campaign to unseat Gaddafi nearly six months after the start of the uprising.
Al Jazeera's Birtley disagreed: "I'm not sure there are huge divisions, but there are some cracks. The NTC (opposition National Transitional Council) is taking great steps to suggest their unity is intact and they are speaking with one voice."
Gaddafi defiant
Meanwhile, the Gaddafi regime said on Sunday it was in contact with members of the opposition National Transitional Council (NTC).

Click here for more of Al Jazeera's special coverage
In the Libyan capital, Tripoli, Deputy Foreign Minister Khaled Kaaim denied rumours of recent contacts with Younes.

"He was in contact with the government during his visit in Italy two months ago. Since then we had no contact with him despite [the fact that] we still have contact with other members of NTC but not with Abdel Fattah," Kaaim said.

Gaddafi, meanwhile, on Saturday night renewed his pledge "never to abandon"  the battle, in an audio tape on state television despite NATO air strikes earlier that day on the broadcaster's headquarters in Tripoli.

Libya's enemies would be "defeated in the face of the resistance and courage of the Libyan people," he said in a speech following the strikes, which Tripoli said killed three journalists.

France calls on Libyans  
Also on Sunday, France said it was committed to striking Gaddafi's military assets for as long as needed for him to leave power and called on Libyans in Tripoli to rise against him.

"We say to Gaddafi that we will not ease our pressure and to his opponents that we will not abandon them," French Defence Minister Gerard Longuet was quoted as saying by the newspaper Le Journal du Dimanche.

"Things have to move more in Tripoli ... the population must rise up," he added.

With their bombing campaign dragging on unresolved, France and Britain have been forced to accept that Gaddafi may stay in Libya if he quits power under a ceasefire, despite calls for international justice.

"We are signed up for the duration and are thereby facilitating a negotiated settlement" between Gaddafi's regime and the opposition forces backed by France and Britain, Longuet said in the interview published on Sunday.

Syrian tanks kill protesters in Hama

Syrian troops' assault on opposition stronghold appears to be part of nationwide offensive ahead of start of Ramadan
Syrian tanks storm Hama
A screengrab taken from al-Arabiya shows an armoured vehicle on a street of an unspecified Syrian city. A tank assault on Hama is said to have killed scores of people. Photograph: EPA
Scores of people have been shot dead and there were reports of bodies lying in the streets of the opposition stronghold of Hama following a tank assault as Syrian troops unleashed an apparent nationwide offensive targeting protesters against the regime of President Bashar al-Assad.
Videos posted online showed columns of black smoke rising from Hama after tanks moved in at dawn, with witnesses reporting indiscriminate firing at citizens. Residents shouted "God is great!" and threw firebombs and stones at the tanks as they pushed through the city.
Assad's forces also opened fire in the eastern cities of Deir Ezzor and Al Boukamal and the southern town of Hirak.
"The tanks came into the city around 5.30am from four different directions," a Hama resident said by telephone, as gunfire was heard in the background. "They ran over some of the makeshift checkpoints and there is gun and tank fire," he said.
The death toll continues to rise, with activists saying at least 40 people may have been killed in Hama alone. Bodies were reported to be piling up in hospitals, where doctors were calling for blood donations.
The foreign secretary, William Hague, condemned the assault.
"I am appalled by the reports that the Syrian security forces have stormed Hama with tanks and other heavy weapons this morning killing dozens of people, he said.
"Such action against civilians who have been protesting peacefully in large numbers in the city for a number of weeks has no justification."
Those confirmed dead include Khaled al-Hamed who, activists from the Local Coordination Committees said, was shot and then run over by one of the tanks while attempting to flee from his neighbourhood.
In what appears to be a coordinated nationwide assault on the eve of Ramadan, the military moved into Deir Ezzor and Al Boukamal on Saturday, according to activists and residents, with reports of a further 10 people shot dead there on Sunday.
Four people were killed after forces entered the southern town of Hirak, close to the southern city of Deraa where protests first broke out en masse, the Local Coordination Committees said. More than 200 people were also arrested in Moadimiyeh, close to Damascus, in dawn raids.
Activists say they believe the regime is trying to scare people off the streets before Ramadan, when protests are expected to intensify after daily evening prayers.
"It's a massacre. They want to break Hama before the month of Ramadan," a witness who identified himself by his first name, Ahmed, told The Associated Press by telephone from Hama. He said he had seen up to 12 people shot dead in the streets in a district known as the Baath neighbourhood. Most had been shot in the chest and head, he said.
A doctor, who preferred to remain anonymous, told Reuters that the city's Badr, al-Horani and Hikmeh hospitals had received 24 bodies.
"There are bodies uncollected in the streets," said another resident, adding that army snipers had positioned themselves on the roofs of the state-owned electricity company and the main prison.
Tank shells were falling at the rate of four a minute in and around northern Hama, residents said.
The now notorious government official Reem Haddad, who has provoked comparisons with Iraq's Comical Ali for insisting on absurd explanations for the brutal government responses to protests, told al-Jazeera that forces had entered Hama because people could not go about their daily life. "It's as if it belongs to another planet," she said.
Human rights groups say 1,600 civilians have died in the crackdown on the largely peaceful protests since mid-March and thousands have been detained.
But the bloodshed has only served to rally more people to the streets, while the regime has focused on consolidating its support base. After offers of dialogue and reforms accompanied by raids, killings and arrests failed to kowtow protesters, the regime appears to have decided to escalate its use of brute force.
"The attack [on Hama] appears to be part of a coordinated effort across a number of towns in Syria to deter the Syrian people from protesting in advance of Ramadan, Hague said. "President Bashar is mistaken if he believes that oppression and military force will end the crisis in his country. He should stop this assault on his own people now."
Hama has become the epicentre of demonstrations with thousands taking to central al-Aasi square after government forces moved out of the city following the shooting dead of more than 70 people on 3 June. While protesters have controlled the streets, government forces have surrounded the city since the start of July and conducted overnight raids.
Before the assault on Hama, electricity and water supplies had been cut, activists said, in a tactic regularly used by the regime before entering towns.
Analysts say the regime had been holding off from attacking Hama because of its historical sensitivity. In 1982, at least 10,000 people were killed in the Sunni city of 800,000 when the army put down an armed Islamist revolt against the rule of Assad's late father, Hafez.
Earlier this month the US and French ambassadors made a visit to the city to show solidarity with the protesters, while the Turkish prime minister, Recip Tayyip Erdogan, has said there must not be "another Hama" in reference to 1982 massacre.
There were also reports this weekend of a Syrian army colonel saying he had founded an army of defectors after fleeing with hundreds of soldiers. The man, identifying himself as Colonel Riad al-Asaad, told AFP: "I am the commander of the Syrian Free Army" and warned against any attack on Deir Ezzor.
Amateur footage circulating online also purported to show soldiers defecting in Hama, including one video showing soldiers kissing protesters.
Nour Ali is the pseudonym of a journalist in Damascus