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How it works: the plug-in hybrid

Thanks largely to the market leading Toyota Prius we're all by now quite accustomed to hybrid cars and most of us probably know to one extent or another how they work. Well, the latest step on our path towards electric cars (or however we'll eventually achieve eco-friendly personal transport) is the plug-in hybrid.

So what's the difference between a conventional hybrid and a plug-in one? Well, we're about to tell you, and believe it or not it's actually a little more interesting than 'one's got a plug' - even though that's true.

Ok, so before we begin remind me how a regular hybrid works?

That question is like asking how a regular engine works - in the same way we have different engine configurations and fuels, so too are there different types of hybrid. Toyota's 'Hybrid Synergy Drive' is an example of a 'full hybrid' system, which means that it has a combustion engine and an electric motor powered by a battery pack. Either the electric motor or the engine can power the car alone, or they can work together.

Some hybrids, like that in the Honda Insight, cannot be driven on electricity alone, but use their electric motor to back up the petrol engine, thus making fuel consumption gains because a smaller engine can be used and isn't as hard worked in pulling the car along.

Excellent, I feel fully clued up now. So how does a plug-in system improve things?

By increasing the range of a full hybrid, thus allowing more electric-only driving and, therefore much improved fuel consumption. In an ideal world, the plug-in hybrid would never need to call on the fuel sloshing about in its tank, which would serve purely as a very wet kind of comfort blanket.

Hang on... a comfort blanket?

Yes indeed. We're so used to the way our cars work - the dynamic of filling up with fuel and knowing we're 'safe' until the gauge needle sinks to zero - that battery power throws us into a collective panic. It's known in the industry as 'range anxiety' and is the main thing that worries us about driving electric only cars; we trust a tank of fuel and the few hundred miles that will get us, but what do we do if our car battery runs out suddenly? Range anxiety is no surprise given electric cars, to date, offer far fewer miles from a charge than a tank of fuel does.

Ah, so having a 'backup' tank of fuel means we're not bothered if the battery runs out?

Exactly. The plug-in hybrid works the same way as a normal hybrid - offering both petrol and electric power, or both - but weans us into electric-only power because it can pull juice from the same socket your toaster's plugged into, and theoretically never needs to use fuel. Toyota's plug-in Prius, for example, replaces the regular car's nickel-metal hydride battery with a lithium ion one (as used in mobile phones), which is more energy intense and can take charge quicker. So, as opposed to the pitiful one-mile electric range of the normal Prius, at speeds up to 31mph, the plug-in version can whirr about for 12.5 miles at up to 60mph. If you live six miles or less from work, Bob's your uncle - no fuel!

What's the next step then?

It's already here, but you can't buy it yet. The Vauxhall Ampera (Chevy Volt in America) is due in 2012 - possibly the time your new Insignia is due for replacement - and can run for 40 miles on its battery before the petrol motor kicks in. The difference is, the petrol unit isn't attached to the wheels, but rather acts as a generator to power the battery for a 300-mile plus total range.

Thus eradicating range anxiety?

Yes indeed. You learn quickly. In the meantime, plug-in hybrids will increase their ranges too so that pretty soon we'll be going to the shops in CO2-free silence, but not worrying if we're all of a sudden called to divert a sudden crisis 100 miles away. Like finding out the bottle bank outside Tesco is closed, prompting a 99-mile round trip to another store in the Range Rover to do some recycling.
If the idea of driving around in a porcelain vase appeals to you, Ferrari has the ultimate answer in the form of this very special one-off 599 GTB Fiorano. Following the announcement of a limited edition batch of 599s called the 'China Limited Edition' models, the Italian supercar maker has commissioned seminal Chinese artist Lu Hao to make a one-off version finished in this spectacular porcelain effect coat.

No more than twelve China Limited Edition cars will be made, each featuring a two-tone 'fire red' paint job and a silver roof, and incorporating Chinese script design flashes throughout. This new version is an absolute one-off though, featuring 'cracked glaze' paint that's inspired by the Ge Kiln porcelain of the Song Dynasty, of which only a few pieces survive today. According to Ferrari, the pattern 'has the lustre of jade and is often used to symbolise the qualities of a true gentleman.'

So, suitably wealthy gentlemen can attend the auction of the car during a charity Gala in Beijing on November 3rd 2009. Part of the proceeds will go to an educational sponsor programme that helps young Chinese students study engineering - but not pottery, oddly.

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Private equity firm OpenGate Capital and New York Daily News owner Mort Zuckerman have dropped out of the bidding for McGraw-Hill Cos Inc's BusinessWeek magazine, people familiar with the matter said, leaving Bloomberg LP and ZelnickMedia to vie for the money-losing asset.

OpenGate and Zuckerman, who is also co-founder of real estate investment trust Boston Properties Inc, could have lost interest because McGraw-Hill executives favor a sale to Bloomberg, the financial news and data provider owned by New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, the sources said.

McGraw-Hill considers Bloomberg the best buyer for BusinessWeek because it could capitalize on the marriage of two brand names well-known in financial circles, another source told Reuters on September 29. But the company has remained open to superior offers, the source added at the time.

OpenGate had put in a bid for the 80-year-old magazine last month, along with Bloomberg and ZelnickMedia.

Zuckerman, whose media holdings include U.S. News & World Report, came in with a last-minute bid, but dropped out a "few days ago," one of the sources told Reuters.

Zuckerman previously owned The Atlantic Monthly and Fast Company magazines, but his recent attempts to buy media properties -- such as a 2008 bid for the Newsday newspaper -- have been less successful.

OpenGate Capital, based in Los Angeles and Paris, is an opportunistic investor with assets around the world. Its media assets include TVGuide magazine.

McGraw-Hill said in July it was considering "strategic options" for BusinessWeek as ad sales worsened, indicating it might sell the magazine. The company hired investment bank Evercore Partners Inc to run the sale.

A McGraw-Hill spokesman, Zelnick and OpenGate all declined to comment. A spokesman for Zuckerman was unavailable for comment.

Shares of McGraw-Hill closed up 2.8 percent at $25.98 on the New York Stock Exchange.

Dutch financial services firm ING (ING.AS) has agreed to sell its Swiss private banking asset to Julius Baer (BAER1.VX), two sources with knowledge of the deal said.

The announcement is likely to come later on Wednesday, one of the sources told Reuters.

As part of a global restructuring, ING is selling its Asian and Swiss private banking units in what would be the biggest deal in the wealth management industry since the credit crisis began.

HSBC (HSBA.L) and Switzerland's Julius Baer (BAER1.VX) have been seen as the front-runners for the assets. On Tuesday, Julius Baer CEO Boris Collardi told Reuters he expected an outcome to the sale "very soon."
A U.S. Senate healthcare reform bill would raise $29 billion more in taxes on healthcare companies over 10 years than originally estimated, congressional experts said on Tuesday, fueling new Republican attacks on the legislation.

The nonpartisan Joint Committee on Taxation reported the bill would raise $121 billion in fees on drug companies, health insurers and the makers of medical devices, up from the $92 billion it reported last month.

The new estimate came as the Senate Finance Committee neared a vote on its sweeping overhaul of the nation's healthcare system amid Republican charges the proposal is too costly and includes too many new taxes.

The healthcare bill, one of five pending in Congress on President Barack Obama's top domestic priority, would levy new taxes on some industries to help pay for the changes.

The Joint Committee on Taxation said its new estimate of the revenue raised by the taxes was higher because the companies would not be able to deduct the fees from their corporate taxes.

Senator Charles Grassley, the senior Republican on the panel, said the higher taxes would be passed on to consumers in the form of higher insurance premiums and healthcare costs.

"One of the goals of healthcare reform should be reducing premiums and costs for Americans, but these taxes will have the opposite effect," Grassley said.

The Senate panel has delayed a vote until the Congressional Budget Office delivers a revised estimate of the financial impact of the plan to rein in costs, regulate insurers and extend coverage to millions of uninsured.

Democratic Chairman Max Baucus said he hoped to get the cost estimate from CBO on Wednesday, which could clear the way for a committee vote this week.

Republicans have repeatedly asked Obama and his fellow Democrats to slow down the healthcare battle, and Grassley said the shift showed why committee Republicans wanted tax and budget experts to appear again before the panel.

The Democratic-controlled committee adopted dozens of amendments during seven days of debate, and lawmakers need a full understanding of the legislation before voting, Grassley and other Republicans said in a letter to Baucus.

Once the Finance Committee approves the bill as expected, Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid will merge it with a bill passed earlier this year by the Senate health panel and move it to the floor for debate within the next few weeks.

The House of Representatives also is edging toward a floor debate on healthcare. Democratic House leaders met again on Tuesday night to meld the three bills passed by House panels, and will discuss their progress at a Democratic caucus on Wednesday.

Boeing Co (BA.N), looking to win more business as the U.S. Defense Department seeks to bolster support to soldiers, said on Tuesday that it sees many applications for a family of advanced trailers it has developed that can be used to retrieve damaged military vehicles from hostile environments.

The trailers, which are in the testing phase, can evacuate and recover hard-to-move vehicles that weigh as much as 80,000 pounds, and will roll on rough terrain. The system uses hydraulic lifts and winches to pull vehicles onto a trailer bed so they can be taken to a safe location for repairs.

The trailers, which can be tilted, lowered or raised, can also be used to transport military cargo.

Boeing said the trailers can curb the amount of equipment, number of people and time it takes to recover a damaged armored truck.

The aerospace and defense company said it has been awarded a contract to build two of the trailers under the Joint Capability Technology Demonstration (JCTD) program, a U.S. initiative that speeds the development and delivery of certain military capabilities. The contract is expected to be announced this week.

"Once it gets through the testing, we think there's literally a market for thousands of these types of vehicles," Daniel Afflick, director of ground forces support solutions for Boeing, told a briefing at the Association of the U.S. Army conference in Washington.

"I don't have to tell you that the ground customers especially are skeptical of a solution has not been proven," he added.

In June, Boeing said it won a $5.2 million contract to cover testing and certification from the U.S. Marine Corps to build four of these trailer systems that can retrieve Mine Resistant Ambush Protected (MRAP) vehicles, armored trucks that are being used by troops in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Afflick said the trailers also had commercial uses, in industries such as logging and mining.

"We're looking at customer applications in a lot of different areas," he said.

 A private equity manager who wanted to buy the Sun-Times Media Group said on Tuesday that his attempt to bid on the bankrupt newspaper publisher was blocked, and that he wants the court to reopen the sale process.

Thane Ritchie said he made requests to meet with the Chicago Newspaper Guild to discuss a coalition offer to buy the publisher, whose largest paper is the daily Chicago Sun-Times.

He said that his group "was told that it was against federal labor laws for a potential bidder to have a conversation with the guild."

Ritchie, who said he is interested in buying and preserving other newspapers around the United States, is asking the Chicago Newspaper Guild to ask the Delaware bankruptcy court to reopen the bidding process for 30 more days. He also wants an order that the guild not be blocked from working with Ritchie to ensure an alternative offer.

A guild official could not be reached for comment.

Sun-Times Media Group spokeswoman Tammy Chase disputed Ritchie's statement.

"Various other parties expressed interest in the transaction, but ultimately declined to bid," Chase said. "Assertions that any party was improperly deterred from making a bid in this process are patently false."

Chicago investor James Tyree, chief executive of financial services firm Mesirow Financial, led a bid to buy the Sun-Times Media Group, but last month threatened to walk away unless bargaining units at Sun-Times unions agreed to concessions.

Nine of 11 unions have agreed, while five more have rejected. Two have yet to vote, the Sun-Times reported on Tuesday.

Tyree's group remains the sole bidder so far, and his $25 million offer for the company will be submitted to the bankruptcy court on Thursday.

The Sun-Times filed for bankruptcy earlier this year, making it the second newspaper company in Chicago, along with Tribune Co, to be operating under Chapter 11 protection.

Both companies, along with other U.S. newspaper publishers, have been hurt by severe advertising revenue declines as more people abandon print newspapers for the Web and advertisers follow. The recession has accentuated those declines.

 Gold held below its record high in early Asian trade on Wednesday, but could be set for another spike up as the U.S. dollar continues to struggle and inflation concerns grow, analysts said.

Spot gold was quoted at $1,039.50 at 2245 GMT, based on Thomson Reuters data, retreating from an all-time peak of $1.043.45 set on Tuesday.

"There was some profit taking initially, but given the fact that we continue to see further weakening in the U.S. dollar, people might be tempted to hold on and I think it will push higher," said Darren Heathcote of Investec Resources in Sydney.

"The weight of it might well be to hold rather than sell."

Gold has gained about 18 percent in the year to date. Spot gold and U.S. gold futures have benefited from a convergence of factors, particularly a hobbled U.S. dollar, as well as technical buying and concerns over inflation.

"The sentiment today is certainly favoring gold from the standpoint of the U.S. dollar," said Nick Raffan, gold analyst for Fat Prophets in Sydney.

"It certainly isn't going up on the basis of supply and demand, because demand is actually fairly weak," Raffan said.

The U.S. dollar slid broadly on Tuesday after an interest rate hike in Australia underscored concerns the Federal Reserve will lag other central banks in pulling out of its loose monetary policy.

Adding to pressure on the dollar was a British newspaper report that Gulf Arab states were in secret talks with Russia, China, Japan and France to replace the greenback with a basket of currencies in trading oil, though big oil-producing countries denied the report.

 The David Letterman extortion affair and sex scandal is proving a late night ratings bonanza for TV network CBS (CBS.N).

Some 5.7 million people tuned in on Monday to hear Letterman apologize to his wife and staff for his on-air revelations last week about his sexual affairs and an alleged blackmail plot.

That was a 36 percent increase over the audience for the "Late Show with David Letterman" on Monday last week, and a 19 percent jump on the 2009-2010 season-to-date average for the talk show of 4.8 million viewers, CBS said on Tuesday.

Show business newspaper Daily Variety noted that Monday's Letterman ratings at 11:30 p.m. were higher than anything struggling NBC had on Monday in prime time, including its returning drama series "Heroes," new medical series "Trauma" and "The Jay Leno Show" at its new 10 p.m. slot which pulled in 4.3 million viewers.

Letterman told his audience on Monday that his wife Regina, with whom he has a 5-year-old son, had been "horribly hurt" by his behavior and that he was trying to patch things up.

On Thursday last week, Letterman stunned Americans when he said he was the target of a $2 million blackmail attempt, and then admitted having sexual affairs with women on his staff.

One day later a CBS news producer pleaded not guilty in connection with the alleged extortion. He faces up to 15 years in prison if convicted.
TOKYO, Oct 1 (Reuters) - Japan's Toshiba Corp (6502.T) said on Thursday it has taken over Fujitsu Ltd's (6702.T) loss-making hard drive business as it seeks to eke out growth in notebook PC hard drives in a market dominated by bigger rivals.

The conclusion of the 30 billion yen ($334 million) deal, first announced in February, had been postponed three times due to delays in obtaining approval from an anti-trust regulator.

Toshiba, which competes with bigger rivals Seagate Technology (STX.O), Western Digital Corp (WDC.N) and Hitachi Ltd (6501.T), now holds 80.1 percent of Fujitsu's HDD operation, and will raise that to 100 percent by December next year.

Toshiba is aiming for hard drive sales of 600 billion yen in the year ending March 2012, and 20 percent of the market in the year ending March 2016. Toshiba and Fujitsu together had about a 13 percent market share in April-June, according to research firms IDC and TSR Research.
PRINCETON, N.J., Oct. 2 /PRNewswire/ -- Next Inning Technology Research (http://www.nextinning.com), an online investment newsletter focused on semiconductor and technology stocks, announced it has updated outlooks for Juniper Networks (Nasdaq: JNPR), Motorola (NYSE: MOT), Nokia (NYSE: NOK) and Tellabs (Nasdaq: TLAB).

During the July earnings season, Editor Paul McWilliams was spot on. Not only was he the only one to predict Intel would report revenue of $8B, he laid out the details so accurately that one reader commented, "It was almost as though McWilliams wrote the script for the Intel conference call."

With the October earnings season just around the corner, McWilliams has begun publishing his special "State of Tech" reports. In this series of reports, readers will find detailed data covering the sector leaders as well as some of the up and coming niche players, commentary about sector trends and specific calls as to which stocks McWilliams thinks readers should buy and which he thinks they should sell.

To read McWilliams' State of Tech reports, including his special in depth Intel earnings preview that will be published October 5th, and to have full access to the Next Inning web site as well as a direct feed of McWilliams' frequent investment ideas that have yielded a year-to-date return of 70% for the Next Inning Portfolio, please visit the following link:


McWilliams covers these topics and more in his State of Tech reports:

-- Why might Cisco's new data center initiative actually prove to be a positive development for rival Juniper? Even after Juniper has moved 50% higher since McWilliams called it a "good strategic investment" in December, does he continue to see further gains for the stock from here?

-- Motorola has jumped 95% since McWilliams called the stock a "good speculative buy" in December. Is Motorola taking the right steps to retool its business and operating model into one that will deliver dependable profitability? Can the recent strength in Motorola shares be sustained? What is the one weakness in the Motorola business model that the company can only fix via an acquisition?

-- Is Nokia falling too far behind rivals Apple and Research in Motion in the handset space? Should investors be tempted to pick up Nokia shares at what is a bargain price relative to its peers? What is the one critical aspect of the Nokia business model the company is failing to execute?

-- Tellabs is now up roughly 70% since McWilliams called it "a good speculative investment" in December. Does McWilliams continue to see Tellabs as a potential turnaround story that's trading at a value price? What is the one aspect of the current Tellabs business model that Wall Street has failed to fully recognize?

Founded in September 2002, Next Inning's model portfolio has returned 226% since its inception versus 17% for the S&P 500.

About Next Inning:

Next Inning is a subscription-based investment newsletter that provides regular coverage on more than 150 technology and semiconductor stocks. Subscribers receive intra-day analysis, commentary and recommendations, as well as access to monthly semiconductor sales analysis, regular Special Reports, and the Next Inning model portfolio. Editor Paul McWilliams is a 30+ year semiconductor industry veteran.

NOTE: This release was published by Indie Research Advisors, LLC, a registered investment advisor with CRD #131926. Interested parties may visit adviserinfo.sec.gov for additional information. Past performance does not guarantee future results. Investors should always research companies and securities before making any investments. Nothing herein should be construed as an offer or solicitation to buy or sell any security.

Nuance Communications Inc. (NUAN) bought eCopy, a company that makes touchscreen technology for document scanning, for about $54 million in stock.

The takeover is the latest in a long series of acquisitions by Nuance, which has been holding up well in the recession. It has also acquired companies that build voice command technology and perform mobile searches on handheld devices this year.

Nuance, which makes software that converts speech into text, said eCopy would boost profit in its existing document-imaging business starting this fiscal year, which began just last week.

It plans to combine eCopy's services with its own multifunction printer services to deliver network scanning connecting a wide range of printers to a broad set of business applications and content management systems.

The company heralded eCopy's innovation, customer service reputation and its big client list of printer vendors

Nuance has resisted drag from the recession well, thanks partly to revenue from steady sources like long-term contracts, royalties and licenses. In August, it said its fiscal third-quarter loss narrowed sharply on higher revenue and slight cost increases.

Nuance shares closed Friday at $14.01 and weren't trading premarket. The stock has risen 35% this year.

It was intended as a gift to movie lovers everywhere to celebrate the 70th anniversary of the classic film, but Netflix's free streaming presentation of "The Wizard of Oz" this past Saturday wasn't much fun for the deaf and hard of hearing, and the National Association of the Deaf is hopping mad about it.

Hacking Netflix reports that Rosaline Crawford, a representative for the NAD, fired off an angry letter to Netflix after Saturday's free showing of "Oz," which was streamed over the Web without closed captioning.

Crawford accused Netflix of ignoring an earlier request to provide closed captioning for the movie, and called for "a policy and timeline to provide captions" for its "Watch Instantly" streaming service.

"Unlike the characters in 'The Wizard of Oz,' Netflix looks like it is still searching for its brain, heart, and courage," Crawford wrote, adding that the missing captions during Saturday's showing of the film is "a blatant statement by Netflix that 36 million deaf and hard of hearing people are second-class citizens."

The lack of closed captioning on its streaming movie and TV service is a sore point for Netflix, which explained in a blog post back in June that laying in subtitles for each of its 17,000-odd online titles isn't as easy as it looks, and could be "about a year away."

"Encoding a separate stream for each titles is not an option," wrote Netflix exec Neil Hunt in the blog post. "It takes us about 500 processor-months to make one encode through the entire library, and for this we would have to re-encode four different formats. Duplicating the encoded streams is prohibitive in space too."

Instead, Hunt wrote, Netflix "is working on optionally delivering the SAMI file (Synchronized Accessible Media Interchange), or similar, to the client, and having it render the text and then overlay it on the video at playback time," but "the tools for rendering SAMI files in Silverlight, or in CE devices" like the Netflix-enabled TVs and Blu-ray players "are weak or non-existent, and there is some technology development required."

But that explanation isn't good enough for Crawford, who points out that other streaming video sites, like Hulu and YouTube, already offer closed captioning--and she's right. (The videos on Hulu and YouTube, it should be noted, are powered by Adobe's Flash technology, while Netflix uses Microsoft's Silverlight system.)

So, what's the deal? Any streaming video experts out there care to enlighten us on why Hulu can handle closed captioning but Netflix can't (or can't yet)?

Update: Just got a statement from Netflix VP Steve Swasey: "Netflix developers are working on captioning for 2010 but the situation is exactly as Neil Hunt explained in the blog. Unfortunately, there's no fast and easy fix."
My iPhone's battery used to last the entire day and then some, but it's been struggling to make it past dinnertime ever since I upgraded to firmware 3.1. But hey, at least I haven't encountered "coma mode" yet.

The complaints about iPhone software 3.1, which added such features as Genius song mixes and App Store recommendations, have been piling up since its release early last month.

The first thing that many iPhone users--myself included--was a huge hit on battery life. An 89-page thread on Apple's support pages is packed with users complaining about iPhone batteries that die after just a few hours of use, or lose big chunks of their charges while merely sitting in standby mode.

It's been happening to me, too. Example: Earlier this month, during a train ride from New York to Philly, I decided to read a book on my iPhone's Kindle app--and as I read, I watched my iPhone's battery meter steadily tick down, about a percentage point a minute. I tried switching to Airplane mode to staunch the bleeding, but it didn't do any good. By the time I arrived at the station, I was down to about 20 percent--and no, I hadn't made any calls, watched any videos, or played any 3-D games. I wasn't even using the Kindle app the entire time.

Of course, iPhone users have complained about poor battery life ever since the thing first came out, but after watching my iPhone's battery go completely dead three times in a month after a moderate day's use, well ... believe me, this is different.

And that's just one of the complaints about iPhone firmware 3.1. Fortune's Apple 2.0 blog details the iPhone's new "coma mode": an apparent (and unwanted) 3.1 feature that turns the iPhone into a frozen paperweight, requiring a hard reset to revive.

Fortune also reports that some users have had trouble making calls or sending text messages after installing iPhone software 3.1, although that hasn't happened to me yet.

So, what's Apple's response to all this? Well, as has been reported a few weeks back, Apple service reps have been quietly investigating the complaints about poor iPhone battery life after the 3.1 upgrade, although it hasn't made any public announcements/explanations yet, and I've yet to see a reply from an Apple staffer on any of the various message threads.

In any case, I know I'm not alone in hoping that iPhone software 3.2--complete with a battery life fix--arrives real, real soon.

Any other iPhone users having battery life or "coma mode" trouble after upgrading to firmware 3.1?

Optical media is perpetually playing catch-up against its magnetic counterpart, with the highest-capacity optical discs typically offering about a tenth the storage space of the highest-capacity hard disk drives.

And that gap has been getting even larger in recent years. Of late, hard drive technology has taken some amazing leaps forward as it's pushed into the terabyte space, but optical has been stuck with Blu-ray's 50GB limit as its biggest generally-available format for a few years now.

Now TDK is hoping to give Blu-ray a generational kick in the pants with an upcoming format change, bumping that 50GB maximum capacity to a whopping 320GB.

That would be an impressive update, one which would finally make optical a decent format for storing a full backup copy on your hard drive, something that invariably takes multiple discs today even if you use 50GB platters.

How is TDK upgrading Blu-ray to more than six times its current capacity? The secret is all in the layers. While a 50GB Blu-ray disc sandwiches only two pieces of writeable material in its shell, TDK's new platters are a whopping ten layers thick. TDK says the secret doesn't have anything to do with the write-layer material or the laser used to read and write them, but rather the outermost shell of the disc, which has to be made exceptionally clear and transparent so 99 percent of light that hits it passes through.

According to the website linked above, TDK is demonstrating the new discs this week at a Japanese trade show and says the disc is beyond prototype stage and is already reliable enough for commercial use. There's no word on whether existing Blu-ray equipment would be able to read and write to the discs, but could we actually see this technology on the market in 2010? Fingers crossed...
Verizon Wireless confirms that it'll finally add some Google Android-powered phones to its handset lineup, while Microsoft fights to stay relevant in the smartphone market with the latest revision of Windows Mobile.

First up: Not a huge surprise given all the rumors, but Verizon Wireless has at last confirmed that it will, indeed, be launching at least two Android phones this year, according to Reuters.

Neither company went into details on which handsets would mark the first pair of Android phones on Verizon, but Engadget is guessing that the two phones will be the Motorola Sholes (with a roomy 3.7-inch touchscreen and slide-out QWERTY keypad) and a re-branded HTC Hero (which is already available on Sprint).

Reuters also reports that both of Verizon's new Android phones will come with the Google Voice app--the very same one that Google says Apple rejected from the iPhone App Store. (If you recall, Google Voice connects all your various land and wireless lines to a single number, and it also lets you send text messages and make cheap international calls.)

In any case, we now have three of the big four U.S. carriers officially on the Android bandwagon: Sprint, T-Mobile, and Verizon Wireless, and by the end of the year we should have seven Android phones on sale in the States: the G1, myTouch 3G, the Motorola Cliq, and the Samsung Behold II on T-Mobile, the HTC Hero on Sprint, and two more to be named later on Verizon. Talk about a big year for Android, especially after its slow start in 2008.

That leaves AT&T, the exclusive carrier of the iPhone in the U.S., as the lone Android holdout among the big four national carriers.

Meanwhile today: Microsoft unleashes Windows Mobile 6.5, the long-awaited update to its struggling mobile OS that adds features such as the Windows Marketplace (stocked with nearly 250 apps), the MyPhone mobile sync/backup/remote-wipe service, a revamped home page, a series of mobile Internet Explorer improvements, and various other tweaks.

Microsoft also unveiled five new Windows Mobile 6.5-powered smartphones for the U.S., including two for AT&T (the HTC Pure, pictured above, and Tilt 2), the HTC Imagio and Ozone for Verizon Wireless, and the Samsung Intrepid for Sprint. The coolest-looking new WM 6.5 handset isn't slated to the U.S., though (or at least not yet): the HTC HD2, a gorgeous-looking phone with a massive 4.3-inch display and HTC's new "Sense" user interface (first seen in the Android-powered Hero--and no, it's not a Windows Mobile feature).

As Dean Takahashi writes for VentureBeat, Microsoft's Windows Mobile OS could use a serious shot in the arm, especially given the news that Microsoft's worldwide smartphone market share has dwindled to just 9 percent, behind Nokia, BlackBerry, and the iPhone.

But will the relatively modest innovations in Windows Mobile 6.5 do the trick? Based on the early reviews, it doesn't look good. "Windows 6.5 isn't just a letdown--it barely seems done," says Gizmodo, calling it a "superficial" update "revealing an OS that hasn't been fundamentally changed in years." Matthew Miller at ZDNet, a self-described Windows Mobile "fan," writes that he "wasn't expecting a whole lot from this point release, but I was expecting more than what Microsoft delivered." Meanwhile, MobileCrunch's headline is even more succinct: "Windows Mobile 6.5 Review: It Still Sucks."

In the meantime, the world watches and waits for Windows Mobile 7 ... and waits. And waits.

A bill that would allow same-sex couples to marry in the nation's capital was introduced Tuesday, a measure that even opponents acknowledged seems almost unstoppable.

The bill was nearly certain to pass the D.C. city council, but whether it becomes law is more complicated because Congress gets an opportunity to review D.C. legislation before it takes effect. Still, even challengers in Congress acknowledged the bill was likely to become law.

The city began in July recognizing same-sex marriages performed elsewhere. Congress had a chance to act on that legislation but didn't.

U.S. Rep. Jason Chaffetz, a Republican from Utah who said he would work to defeat the new bill, anticipates that will happen again with the proposal. A spokesman for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said she believed it was a matter for D.C. to decide.

D.C. Councilman David Catania introduced the new measure at a standing-room only council meeting. The independent and one of two openly gay council members said he hopes for a vote in December.

"There is no question that we are about to embark on an exciting journey here in the district," he said.

His bill specifically says religious leaders and institutions are not required to perform the marriages or rent their space for same-sex ceremonies unless they let the public use or rent them.

If the bill becomes law, the city will follow Massachusetts, Connecticut, Iowa and Vermont, which issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. New Hampshire will begin issuing them in January.

The legislature in Maine has also passed a same-sex marriage bill, but voters will decide in November whether to reverse it. California briefly issued licenses before voters passed a law stopping the practice.

In the District of Columbia, the bill was co-introduced by 10 of the city council's 13 members and has the support of the mayor.

If Congress blocked the bill, it would be rare. In the past 25 years, Congress has rejected only three pieces of legislation. According to Brian Flowers, the city's general counsel, Congress rejected a law in 1991 that would have permitted taller buildings in the city.

In 1999, Congress amended a bill so that city medical marijuana would not be legalized. Congress also repealed a law that would have required D.C. government employees to be city residents.

Same-sex marriage supporters cheered the bill's introduction. D.C. residents Juan Rondon and Edward Grandis came to the meeting wearing T-shirts that displayed copies of their California marriage license.

"I feel a sensation of relief," Grandis said.

According the U.S. Census Bureau, there were about 3,500 same-sex couples living together in the city in 2008, though the number has a wide margin of error. D.C. has 600,000 residents.

Rick Rosendall, vice president for political affairs for the Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance, said he was proud of the city but acknowledged: "We have a long way to go, of course."

The Catholic Church and Washington's archbishop, Donald Wuerl, have been vocal in opposing the legislation. And a group led by Bishop Harry Jackson, the pastor of a Maryland church, had previously asked D.C.'s board of elections to authorize a ballot initiative defining marriage as between a man and a woman.

The board will consider the request later this month.

"We are prepared to go to court," Jackson said.
Honduras - Ousted President Manuel Zelaya on Tuesday dismissed the withdrawal of an emergency decree that curbed civil liberties, calling it a meaningless gesture from a coup-imposed government that refuses to restore him to power.

Two pro-Zelaya media outlets that were closed under the decree said the government had not returned seized equipment, preventing them from re-establishing normal operations. Channel 36 owner Esdras Amado Lopez called the lifting of the decree "a lie aimed at deceiving the international community."

Zelaya criticized Interim President Roberto Micheletti for lifting the emergency decree Monday only after security forces arrested dozens of protesters and closed down two critical media outlets. He expressed frustration that interim leaders continue to oppose his reinstatement less than two months before Nov. 29 presidential elections.

"Roberto Micheletti continues to mock the people, declaring that he is completely revoking the decree after achieving the most possible harm," Zelaya, who is holed up in the Brazilian Embassy with dozens of supporters, said in a statement.

The ousted president -- who was visited Tuesday by four European Union Parliament members on a fact-finding mission -- said refusal to return him to power "puts the electoral process at risk and deepens the institutional and political crisis in our beloved Honduras."

Even many backers of the June 28 coup had denounced the Sept. 27 emergency decree, arguing that it undermined the interim government's portrayal of itself as a democracy and could damage the validity of the presidential election that Micheletti hopes will make Zelaya's demands moot.

The decree was imposed after Zelaya supporters staged large-scale demonstrations and clashed with security forces after the ousted president sneaked back into the country and sought refuge in the Brazilian Embassy.

Micheletti said Monday the decree had been necessary to control the burning of vehicles and businesses by protesters, and was imposed after officials learned of plans for more such actions. He said Monday that he had ordered the decree revoked.

The order empowered police and soldiers to break up public meetings, arrest people without warrants and restrict the news media.

The main effect was to close down the two main pro-Zelaya media outlets, Radio Globo and Channel 36, and Micheletti said they would remain shut down until their owners "come to the courts to recover their right to be on the air."

"We thought that when the decree was revoked, the equipment would be returned, but that has not happened," said Yesenia Herculano, an activist with Honduras' Committee for Free Expression. "There has been no progress."

Police arrested several dozen people and lodged sedition charges against 38 of them.

On Tuesday, Zelaya supporters demonstrated at the U.S. Embassy in Tegucigalpa in the first street protest since Micheletti revoked the Sept. 27 decree. More than 100 police and soldiers equipped with riot shields and helmets stood by.

"We hope there is calm without the decree. We hope our rights are respected," said protest leader Juan Barahona.

Meanwhile, 12 people active in protests sought political asylum in the Guatemalan Embassy.

Maria Cruz Alfaro, a pro-Zelaya activist, said the 12 Lenca Indians, including several children, have been harassed by security forces over the past three months and have had several friends beaten and arrested for taking part in anti-coup protests. "They are afraid," she said.

Salvador Zuniga, a representative of an indigenous rights organization, said Guatemalan officials were processing the asylum requests. If denied, the asylum-seekers might try to stay inside the Embassy and wage a hunger strike, he said.

Zelaya was forced from office with the backing of the Honduran Congress and Supreme Court for trying to hold a referendum on rewriting the constitution. His opponents charged he wanted to lift the charter's provision limiting presidents to a single term -- an accusation he denies.

With the backing of much of the international community, Zelaya is seeking to be reinstated to serve out his term, which ends in January. The U.S. has suspended millions of dollars in aid to Honduras, and its ambassador has refused to meet with Micheletti, in hopes of pressuring the interim government to relinquish power.

Victor Rico, an Organization of American States official, said he was optimistic a resolution would be reached. Zelaya and Micheletti representatives have been in informal talks ahead of a visit of foreign ministers from the region Wednesday.

"We're advancing well. We are still reasonably optimistic," Rico told reporters.
North Korea's suggestion that it may return to nuclear negotiations could open the way to its first talks with the Obama administration, but there are warning signs that the North has no intention of fully disarming.

The administration is eager to get North Korea on track toward giving up its nuclear weapons capability even though the White House remains leery of the regime's pattern of progress followed by provocation.

The North agreed in 2007 to dismantle its nuclear arms program but then reversed course. Last April and May it conducted nuclear and missile tests, coupled with a declaration that negotiations were dead, then reversed course again, reaching out to the U.S. after former President Bill Clinton met in the North Korean capital of Pyongyang with North Korean leader Kim Jong Ill.

The State Department on Tuesday declined to comment on news reports that Kim told Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao on Monday that he might be prepared to resume so-called six party negotiations with the U.S., China, Russia, Japan and South Korea. Kim was reported to have said a resumption depended on progress in talks with the U.S.

But a State Department official said Tuesday that the U.S. will not agree to one-on-one talks unless it is given assurances in advance that the outcome will be a deal to resume six-party negotiations.

The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity in order to discuss internal deliberations, said the U.S. hopes to hear from China on Wednesday whether Kim gave such an assurance in Monday's meeting with Wen, who was in Pyongyang for the 60th anniversary of diplomatic relations between the two countries.

The Obama administration has said it is willing to hold one-on-one talks with North Korea so long as it leads to a return to the six-party effort, which Washington sees as a more effective way of applying diplomatic leverage. The last six-party talks were held in December 2008; in April the North Koreans announced that they would never return to that format and that they were expanding their nuclear force.

Scott Snyder, director of the Center for U.S.-Korea Policy at the Asia Foundation, said it's unclear whether the administration would be wise to go ahead with either one-on-one or multiparty talks.

"Without North Korea's recommitment to complete denuclearization, neither form of dialogue can achieve U.S. objectives," Snyder said.

Bruce Bennett, a North Korea watcher at the RAND Corp. think tank, said it appears the North Koreans are trying to "bait" the Americans into negotiations that have no realistic chance of achieving disarmament.

"I don't think North Korea at this stage is willing to give up its nuclear weapons," Bennett said in an interview. "It would appear the North Korean objective is to be recognized as a nuclear power, not to denuclearize."

In anticipation of a North Korean assurance that the one-one-talks could lead to the return of six-party negotiations, the administration has been laying the groundwork for a one-on-one dialogue. That preparation has included sorting out who would participate and where the talks would be held, according to another State Department official who also spoke on condition of anonymity.

Richard C. Bush III, an Asia expert at the Brookings Institution and former U.S. government intelligence officer, said the administration may send Stephen Bosworth, its special envoy on North Korea, to Pyongyang for any one-on-one talks.

The purpose, he said, should be to assess the North Korean attitude and to emphasize the importance of denuclearization, but not to negotiate one-on-one.

"But I don't really see much in what Kim Jong Il reportedly said (Monday) to indicate that the situation has really changed," Bush said, adding that the Koreans' apparent aim is to negotiate over what they perceive to be a hostile U.S. policy, not to negotiate an airtight elimination of their nuclear weapons.

"Until there is credible evidence that North Korea again might be willing to give up its nuclear weapons in a complete and verifiable way, it's not clear that the six-party talks -- or any venue, for that matter -- is an appropriate way to reach that goal," Bush said.

 Sen. John Ensign said Tuesday that he will not resign, even as a watchdog group raised questions about whether he improperly tried to appease his mistress' husband with a lobbying job and made phone calls on behalf of the man's clients.

"No," he told The Associated Press, when asked if he intended to resign. "I've been saying that all day."

Indeed, reporters have trailed the embattled Nevada Republican all over the Capitol complex during a busy day of Senate business, amid a sex-and-influence scandal that has spawned a preliminary ethics committee inquiry and lots of questions about the two-term senator's conduct.

The swirl intensified this week after the New York Times reported new details about the aftermath of his 2008 affair with former campaign aide Cynthia Hampton, the wife of Ensign's former chief of staff, Doug. The couple left the senator's staff in May 2008 but the affair continued three more months.

The questions surround Ensign's efforts to find Doug Hampton a job as a lobbyist, whether either of the two men had contact in violation of a federal one-year ban on lobbying and whether the senator illegally tried to influence Hampton's clients.

Senate Republicans have refused to issue any statement of support for their embattled colleague. Democrats, too, have remained silent, but for different reasons. Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid, who with Ensign represents Nevada, has declined to comment under a non-aggression pact the two men struck years ago.

But the Times report revealed new details about the complex relationship between the families, devout Christians and until the affair, longtime friends. Ensign continued to deny wrongdoing.

"I have helped staff, recommended them for jobs, just like I did for Doug Hampton," Ensign told the AP. "I have recommended countless number of staff over the years and I did it the same way I did it with him."

Asked whether he was under any pressure from his GOP colleagues to step down, Ensign replied, "Nope."

Ensign is dealing with such questions as a nonpartisan government watchdog group has filed more details to its complaints against him.

Citing new details about Ensign's conduct revealed by the New York Times last week, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington filed a letter to the ethics committee and the FBI alleging that Ensign helped Hampton violate a one-year lobbying ban and illegally advocated on behalf of Hampton's clients.

"He has proved himself to be a philandering criminal disguised as a U.S. senator," said CREW's Executive Director Melanie Sloan. She said the committee should also investigate the role Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., played in negotiations between Ensign and the Hamptons for a financial payment of restitution to the couple.

Coburn told the Times that he acted as a middleman in financial negotiations between Ensign and Hampton.

Ensign, trailed by reporters around the Capitol complex during a busy day of Senate business, denied any wrongdoing and promised to cooperate with any investigations of the matter.

Ensign has stepped down from his Republican leadership post. He would not say whether the Justice Department had tried to contact him or his lawyer regarding any criminal investigation.

Several Republican senators said Ensign attended the caucus' weekly policy lunch Tuesday and spoke to the group about health care reform. The scandal, several said, did not come up in the closed-door session.

Ensign's one-time presidential ambitions imploded this summer after disclosures about the affair -- including reports of his own efforts to hide it by finding a consulting and lobbying job for Hampton and making phone calls on behalf of Hampton's clients.

Federal criminal law prohibits congressional aides from lobbying their ex-bosses or office colleagues for one year after departing their jobs on the Hill.

Ensign did not deny having spoken with Hampton within the one-year limit. The law, Ensign said, "doesn't mean you don't talk to them. You can talk to anybody."

The law prohibits talking about clients and their interests.

"Oh I never met with Doug Hampton about any of that stuff," Ensign told CNN.

 Attorney General Eric Holder said Tuesday he is worried that lawmakers' opposition to bringing terrorist suspects held at the military prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, to U.S. prisons could hurt the effort to close the detention center.

"The restrictions that we've had to deal with on the Hill give me great concern," said Holder, who disputed the claim, made often by Republican lawmakers, that Guantanamo Bay detainees are simply too dangerous to be brought to U.S. soil.

"I don't see how that in fact is accurate," he said. "One of the things we're going to have to do is to come up with a facility here in the United States to house people for trials that would be held here."

The Senate on Tuesday approved a defense spending bill that would also ban any transfer of accused enemy combatants from the facility into the United States. Last week, the House passed a nonbinding recommendation against bringing detainees to this country.

Current law permits transfer of detainees to face trial or go to prison. Earlier this year, Congress passed a number of restrictions on transfers of detainees, both within the United States or to other countries, requiring prior notification to lawmakers of such moves, and explaining why such transfers are safe.

Holder said he will have to do more work to convince lawmakers that it is safe to do so.

"You can go through a litany of very, very dangerous people who are safely housed in facilities that pose no dangers to the communities that surround them," he said "I think we have a good track record."

As examples, he cited Ramzi Yousef, mastermind of the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, and "Unabomber" Ted Kaczynski.

The attorney general conceded it will be difficult to close the facility by President Barack Obama's self-decreed deadline of January 2010 but said it is important for those in government to set deadlines and try to meet them.

The Navy-run prison at Guantanamo Bay holds 223 detainees. Dozens of those have been approved for release, but U.S. officials fear they will be mistreated or killed if sent to their native countries, and they have yet to be accepted by other countries.
President Barack Obama's approval ratings are starting to rise after declining ever since his inauguration, new poll figures show as the country's mood begins to brighten. But concerns about the economy, health care and war persist, and support for the war in Afghanistan is falling.

An Associated Press-GfK poll says 56 percent of those surveyed in the past week approve of Obama's job performance, up from 50 percent in September. It's the first time since he took office in January that his rating has gone up.

People also feel better about his handling of the economy and his proposed health care overhaul.

But not about the war.

Support for the war in Afghanistan has declined, the poll said Tuesday. And approval of Obama's handling of it is holding steady -- in contrast to his gains in other areas -- as he considers a big troop increase there. Poll respondents narrowly oppose the increase.

Overall, 39 percent said they disapproved of Obama's performance in office, down from 49 percent last month.

While a majority of those surveyed remain pessimistic about the direction of the country, that number has begun to improve, too. The poll found 41 percent now believe the U.S. is headed in the right direction, compared with 37 percent in September.

But a large majority of respondents said they remain very concerned about most of the major issues facing the country. The economy was the biggest concern, with 88 percent saying they consider it extremely or very important, followed by unemployment, health care, terrorism, the budget deficit, taxes and the war in Afghanistan.

The increase in Obama's job approval rating was driven by a more positive view of his handling of nearly all of those issues.

Fifty percent of those surveyed said they approved of the president's handling of the economy, up from 44 percent in September. And 48 percent said they approved of his handling of health care, up six points and about equal to the 47 percent who said they disapproved. Obama has made health care the signature domestic issue of his presidency.

Terence Glass, a 45-year-old Milwaukee resident studying to be a teacher, said he was pleased with Obama's handling of health care and the economy, especially his decision to provide federal help to the ailing auto industry.

"We have to look at what was going on before he got in his office. The country was in pretty bad shape," Glass, a Democrat said, adding that since Obama had become president, "I look at it now and I think it's doing a little better."

The only measure that remained unchanged from September was Obama's handling of the war in Afghanistan. Forty-six percent said they approved of his handling of the conflict, while 41 percent disapproved.

Indeed, the poll found a drop in overall support for the 8-year-old war. Forty percent said they favored it, down four points from July, while 57 percent said they were opposed. Some 46 percent favor sending more U.S. troops there, while 50 percent oppose a troop increase, a major decision Obama is weighing.

Obama boosted troop levels in Afghanistan last spring by about 21,000. He and his national security team are now reviewing a warning by Gen. Stanley McChrystal, commander of U.S. forces in that country, that the war will be lost without another big increase.

Glenda Holton, 53, a retired Army sergeant from Dublin, Ga., said she strongly disapproved of Obama's performance in office -- and opposed a troop increase.

"I don't feel like they need to have any of them over there," she said about U.S. troops in Afghanistan. "Because it's not doing any good, it's escalating and there hasn't been any improvement."

Holton, who did not vote for Obama in the general election and considers herself an independent, added, "It's not our fight over there."

To be sure, the poll found persistent and deep partisan divisions over Obama. While 88 percent of Democrats said they approved of his performance in office, just 18 percent of Republicans approved. But that GOP figure was up six points since September, when only 12 percent of Republicans said they approved.

Obama's job approval has also gone up among independents. Fifty-three percent said they approved of the president's job performance, a nine point increase since September. Even more strikingly, the percentage of independents who said they disapproved plunged 16 points, from 53 percent last month to 37 percent now.

The poll of 1,003 adults was conducted Oct. 1-5, using both landline and cell phone interviews, with a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3.1 percentage points.

 Al-Qaida's role in Afghanistan has faded after eight years of war.

Gone is the once-formidable network of camps and safe houses where Osama bin Laden and his mostly Arab operatives trained thousands of young Muslims to wage a global jihad. The group is left with fewer than 100 core fighters, according to the Obama administration, likely operating small-scale bomb-making and tactics classes conducted by trainers who travel to and from Pakistan.

Assessing the real strength and threat posed by al-Qaida is at the heart of an evolving policy debate in Washington about whether or not to escalate the U.S. military presence in this country. The war was launched soon after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks to root out al-Qaida and deny the militant movement a safe haven in a Taliban-ruled Afghanistan.

U.S. national security adviser James Jones said last weekend that the al-Qaida presence has diminished, and he does not "foresee the return of the Taliban" to power.

He said that according to the maximum estimate, al-Qaida has fewer than 100 fighters operating in Afghanistan without any bases or ability to launch attacks on the West.

"If the Taliban did return to power, I believe we are strong enough to deter them from attacking us again by strong and credible punishment and by containing them with regional allies like India, China and Russia," said former State Department official Leslie Gelb.

But Bryan Glyn Williams, a University of Massachusetts associate professor who monitors militant Web sites, told The Associated Press he has collected reports of large numbers of al-Qaida fighters in various provinces in addition to across the border in Pakistan.

Michael Scheuer, a former CIA analyst who tracked bin Laden for three years, believes the administration may have underestimated al-Qaida's role here because the organization prefers to work in the background providing logistics, propaganda and training to local allies.

Most of the foreigners fighting against NATO in Afghanistan are believed to be Pakistani Pashtuns and Uzbeks, who are harder to identify than Arabs because of ethnic similarities to Afghans.

NATO casualties have risen dramatically this year at the hands of a resurgent Taliban, and U.S. Gen. Stanley McChrystal is asking for up to 40,000 more American troops so that he can bolster security, especially in northern and western Afghanistan.

Opponents of that strategy, notably Vice President Joe Biden, prefer to maintain current U.S. troop levels -- about 65,000 -- and shift the focus to missile strikes and special forces operations in neighboring Pakistan, where many key al-Qaida figures have sought sanctuary.

Those critics believe the Taliban -- a radical Islamist movement that emerged among the ethnic Pashtun community and ruled in Kabul from 1996 until 2001 -- pose no threat to the United States. They say the real enemy, al-Qaida, lies across the border in Pakistan.

Although the Taliban never fully embraced al-Qaida's doctrine of global jihad, the movement has spread among ethnic Pashtuns in Pakistan, threatening the stability of that nuclear-armed country.

"When you see less and less of al-Qaida in an Islamist insurgency, it almost certainly means that it is more effective than when you saw more of it," Scheuer said. "I am sure that al-Qaida is still fielding some field-grade cadre to toughen the Taliban's ranks."

Some experts believe al-Qaida operates in Afghanistan through Lashkar al-Zil, or "Shadow Army," which is believed to have carried out attacks in eastern Afghanistan and Pakistan.

"In my opinion al-Qaida fighters from the Lashkar al-Zil are actively involved in all Taliban fronts, from Nuristan in the north to Helmand in the south," Williams said. "While foreigners do not play a considerable role in the current jihad, al-Qaida is definitely there."

Even those who doubt bin Laden's followers could stage a comeback won't rule out that possibility, given Afghanistan's tribal-based politics where alliances forged today are discarded tomorrow.

"Afghanistan is a complicated place that has always worked on the basis of discussions and deals where nobody comes out a complete loser and nobody comes out a complete winner," said Richard Bassett, the U.N.'s chief al-Qaida and Taliban watcher.

Nevertheless, al-Qaida's presence has vastly diminished since the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks that triggered a U.S.-led invasion a month later.

U.S. officials in Afghanistan rarely mention al-Qaida in sharp contrast to Iraq, where the U.S. military was quick to blame the group for most attacks against Shiite civilians.

If there are significant numbers of Arab al-Qaida members left in Afghanistan, they maintain a low profile. During the years of Taliban rule, many Afghans deeply resented the presence of swaggering young Arabs, who in turn looked upon their hosts as backward and primitive.

Bassett believes Taliban leader Mullah Omar would never allow al-Qaida operatives free rein again because he blames them for provoking the war that drove his Islamist group from power.

"Al-Qaida has sort of sensed their future lies more with the Taliban groups in Pakistan than with the Taliban groups in Afghanistan," Bassett said.

However, al-Qaida has maintained longtime ties with a number of key figures within the broad coalition that is fighting U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan.

Chief among them are Jalaluddin Haqqani and his son Sirajuddin, whose Pakistan-based forces are battling the Americans and their allies across eastern Afghanistan. NATO officials say the Haqqani group, among the most feared fighters in Afghanistan, may have taken part in the Saturday assault on a U.S. outpost in Nuristan province that left eight American soldiers dead.

Another faction with longtime al-Qaida ties is led by Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, a former prime minister and rebel commander in the war against the Soviets in the 1980s.

"Al-Qaida is still very close with Hekmatyar and is also tight with the Haqqanis," said Bruce Hoffman, a counterterrorism expert at Georgetown University. "I think one of the problems is that the Americans see the Taliban as a monolithic entity."

Hoffman believes a U.S. failure in Afghanistan would be spun by al-Qaida as a victory that would invigorate the group regardless of whether it returned to Afghanistan in force.

"They faced annihilation seven years ago and they have certainly rebounded from that setback," Hoffman said. "Withdrawal would be an enormous tonic to them in two respects: the propaganda value would be a game changer. They would portray it as having defeated the only other superpower in the world."

Michael O'Hanlon, a research director of the Brookings Institute, agrees a Taliban victory "would be a big deal for us" because of the psychological boost it would give to al-Qaida and associated movements it inspires around the world.

"It would allow al-Qaida to say they got the momentum back, after a couple of years in which America did better against them in other locations," he said.

President Barack Obama on Tuesday ruled out shrinking the Afghanistan war to a counterterrorism campaign. Yet he did not signal whether he is prepared to send any more troops to the war zone -- either the 40,000 his top commander wants or a smaller buildup, according to several officials.

House and Senate leaders of both parties emerged from a nearly 90-minute conversation with Obama with praise for his candor and interest in listening. But politically speaking, all sides appeared to exit where they entered, with Republicans pushing Obama to follow his military commanders and Democrats saying he should not be rushed.

Obama is examining how to proceed with a worsening war that has claimed nearly 800 U.S. lives and sapped American patience. Launched after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks to defeat the Taliban and rid al-Qaida of a home base, the war has lasted longer than ever envisioned -- eight years on Wednesday.

Obama said the war would not be reduced to a narrowly defined counterterrorism effort, with the withdrawal of many U.S. forces and an emphasis on special operations forces that target terrorists in the dangerous border region of Afghanistan and Pakistan. Two senior administration officials say such a scenario has been inaccurately characterized and linked to Vice President Joe Biden, and that Obama wanted to make clear he is considering no such plan.

The president did not show his hand on troop increases. His top commander in Afghanistan, Gen. Stanley McChrystal, has bluntly warned that more troops are needed to right the war, perhaps up to 40,000 more. Obama has already added 21,000 troops this year, raising the total to 68,000.

Obama also gave no timetable for a decision, which prompted at least one pointed exchange.

Inside the State Dining Room, where the meeting was held, Obama's Republican opponent in last year's presidential race, Sen. John McCain, told Obama that he should not move at a "leisurely pace," according to people in the room.

That comment later drew a sharp response from Obama, they said. Obama said no one felt more urgency than he did about the war, and there would not be nothing leisurely about it.

Obama may be considering a more modest building of troops -- closer to 10,000 than 40,000 -- according to Republican and Democratic congressional aides. But White House aides said no such decision has been made.

The president insisted that he will make a decision on troops after settling on the strategy ahead. He told lawmakers he will be deliberate yet show urgency.

"We do recognize that he has a tough decision, and he wants ample time to make a good decision," said House Republican leader John Boehner. "Frankly, I support that, but we need to remember that every day that goes by, the troops that we do have there are in greater danger."

What's clear is that the mission in Afghanistan is not changing. Obama said his focus is to keep al-Qaida terrorists from having a base from which to launch attacks on the U.S or its allies. He heard from 18 lawmakers and said he would keep seeking such input even knowing his final decision would not please them all.

Several lawmakers described the exchanges as helpful and open. Different views emerged over just how much backing the president will get.

"The one thing that I think was interesting is that everyone, Democrats and Republicans, said, 'Whatever decision you make, we'll support it,' basically," said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev. "So we'll see."

The Senate's top Republican, Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, said later: "I think Republicans will be able to make the decisions for themselves." But he added that Obama is likely to get significant Republican support if he follows the advice of his military commanders. Boehner agreed, saying "my colleagues on the House side will be there to support" Obama if he stays true to the mission of denying a haven for al-Qaida terrorists or Taliban militants who are fiercely fighting coalition forces.

Obama's emphasis on working off a strong strategy did not mean he shed much light on what it would be. He did, though, seek to "dispense with the more extreme options on either side of the debate," as one administration official put it. The official spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss details of the closed-door meeting.

The president made clear he would not "double down" in Afghanistan and build up U.S forces into the hundreds of thousands, just as he ruled out withdrawing forces and focusing on a narrow counterterrorism strategy.

"Half measures is what I worry about," McCain, R-Ariz., told reporters. He said Obama should follow recommendations from those in uniform and dispatch thousands of more troops to the country -- similar to what President George W. Bush did during the 2008 troop "surge" in Iraq.

Public support for the war in Afghanistan is dropping. It stands at 40 percent, down from 44 percent in July, according to a new Associated Press-GfK poll. A total of 69 percent of self-described Republicans in the poll favor sending more troops, while 57 percent of self-described Democrats oppose it.

The White House said Obama won't base his decisions on the mood on Capitol Hill or eroding public support for the war.

"The president is going to make a decision -- popular or unpopular -- based on what he thinks is in the best interests of the country," press secretary Robert Gibbs told reporters.

Producers of "American Idol" say the show's charity effort will return next year, with "Idol Gives Back" set to air April 21.

The fundraising program will benefit national and international charities, including Malaria No More, Save the Children and the United Nations Foundation, Fox said Tuesday.

"Idol Gives Back" has raised $140 million since its inception in 2007. The star-studded fundraiser has previously included appearances by Brad Pitt, Reese Witherspoon and President Barack Obama. Producers did not announce who will appear on the third "Idol Gives Back" special, which invites viewers to make donations during and after the show.

The "Idol" singing competition series returns for a new round in January.

It wasn't two left feet, but two fractured feet that forced Tom DeLay to hang up his dancing shoes on Tuesday.

The former House Republican Whip said he's taking his doctor's advice and leaving the ABC television show "Dancing With the Stars."

DeLay has been diagnosed with stress fractures in both feet from the rigors of dancing and must wear foot braces when away from the ballroom.

Doctors and producers urged the 62-year-old to withdraw from the dance-off. But he was determined to continue Monday, performing a sufficient samba with professional partner Cheryl Burke.

"What's a little pain when you can party?" he asked before performing.

But the pain proved too much Tuesday and DeLay said he couldn't continue on the hit reality show.

"If you can't practice, you make a fool of yourself out here," he said. "And I don't want to do that to Cheryl."

The former Texas congressman said his next dance would have been the Texas two-step. Show host Tom Bergeron invited DeLay to perform the dance on the season finale if his feet were up to it.

"That'd be wonderful," said DeLay, still wearing his red-and-white performance outfit adorned with a Republican elephant.

DeLay and Burke finished one point away from last place Monday, earning 15 points out of 30.
BeBe and CeCe Winans are looking to show their family remains strong as they launch their first album in 15 years while dealing with the loss of their father and BeBe's upcoming court date in a misdemeanor assault case.

CeCe Winans said she believes it's an opportunity for the duo to follow the same message they have sung in their inspirational lyrics: Have faith.

"It has to put be put through the test," she said. "We sang about the answer for years. So when we experience the trials and tribulations, we have to apply the same answer we've been telling others for years. It's a reality. We have to make the walk and not just talk about it."

On Tuesday, about six months after their father David "Pop" Winans Sr. died in Nashville, BeBe and CeCe Winans released "Still." It's the first album in 15 years for the duo, which has won five Grammys and seven Dove Awards.

Recently, after taping a show at the Gospel Music Channel, the brother and sister reflected on how "Pop" influenced their careers, keeping them humble during their time of soaring success.

While recording "Still" with CeCe, BeBe said their father often came to mind. So did their brother Ronald, who died in 2005.

"Everything we do, we think about them," said BeBe, 47. "We had to draw on each other's strengths on this one. We'll always remember everything we've learned from our father. He kept us grounded no matter how successful we became."

BeBe, CeCe and their eight brothers and sisters were raised by gospel stars David and Delores Winans in one of gospel music's first families.

The brother-sister duo's hits include 1991's "Addicted to Love" and the 1996 release "Feels Like Heaven (With You)." They have turned out nine albums, going platinum once and gold three times.

CeCe stepped out on her own as a solo artist, releasing eight albums to win one of her seven Grammys with this year's album "The Kingdom Come." BeBe has produced six solo albums and has won three Grammy awards.

They were once criticized by gospel purists for their R&B-infused gospel sound.

But many believe BeBe and CeCe's contemporary sound helped pave the way for top-selling artists like Mary Mary and Kirk Franklin.

"They showed how gospel music can be portrayed in another way," said Tina Campbell of the sister duo Mary Mary. "Some were afraid to do it. But they did with excellence. So when I first heard about them releasing their new album, I screamed with joy. That's how much they mean to gospel music."

Although they have matured over the past 15 years, BeBe and CeCe say they still believe songs can be inspirational without explicitly mentioning "God" or "Jesus."

"We're offering up our praises and how we express ourselves," said CeCe, 45. "Most accept it now, and some are going to have their opinion. And that's fine."

"Still" is a mixture of laid-back songs like the album's first single, "Close To You," and uptempo songs such as "He Can Handle It." Mervyn Warren, Mario Winans and Warryn Campbell each produced tracks on the album.

BeBe, who wrote most of the songs, said he had to rely on his faith when he was charged with misdemeanor domestic assault after authorities said he pushed his ex-wife to the ground in Nashville in March. A court date is set for Oct. 20.

The dispute came during a time when BeBe was a judge on BET's television show "Sunday Best." When the charges were made public, he had to learn how to endure criticism.

"I'm wiser in my purpose," he said. "You understand the industry and how people perceive you -- whether it's negative or positive. Over the time, my skin became thicker."

BeBe believes the adversity has made the family stronger too.

"We're just like any other family that goes through the ups and downs," he said. "But understanding who God is and how He keeps you through, I know that everything will be all right."

Politician Tom DeLay and actress Debi Mazar have turned in their last dance. Both are leaving "Dancing With the Stars."

DeLay withdrew from the ABC dance-off Tuesday after being diagnosed with stress fractures in both feet, while Mazar was eliminated the traditional way: low scores and insufficient fan support.

Each performed the samba on Monday's show. DeLay earned 15 points out of 30 for his performance with partner Cheryl Burke. Mazar and her partner, Maksim Chmerkovskiy, finished with 17.

Viewer votes are combined with judges' scores to determine which contestant is eliminated each week.

Fan votes kept DeLay afloat, but doctors and show producers advised him to quit the competition because of his injuries.

"I want to dance no matter what," the 62-year-old former House Republican Whip said Monday, but he reconsidered on Tuesday.

Mazar said she struggled with the samba and missed a key step during Monday's performance. Judges said the dance lacked sizzle.

"It was neat and precise. But for me, it just didn't ignite," head judge Len Goodman said.

The 45-year-old actress said she "loved every moment" on the show.

"I definitely know a few more steps, and I've had a great time," Mazar said after learning her fate.

Queen Latifah and hip-hop dance group Jabbawockeez also performed on Tuesday's episode.
With their ties already strained following the bitter fight over Siliguri's mayor office, allies Trinamool Congress and the Congress are headed for yet another showdown ahead of the bypolls for 10 Assembly seats in the state due on November 7.

After its humiliation in Siliguri Municipal Corporation, where its ally Congress managed to wrest mayor's office with the Left's support, the Trinamool is expected to play the hard ball and demand a few seats in north Bengal, a Congress bastion. Among the seats that Mamata Banerjee's party may stake claim on is Goalpokhor, which is located in the constituency of Deepa Dasmunsi, the Congress MP who played a key role in her party's decision in taking the Left's support to beat the Trinamool in the mayoral race.

After the Siliguri "betrayal", aggrieved Trinamool leaders in north Bengal are now bearing pressure on the party's state leadership to contest all the 10 Assembly seats. Though seat-sharing talks for the bypolls are yet to start between the two estranged allies, signs from the Trinamool are ominous, with Banerjee recently saying the Congress will have to accept her party's supremacy in West Bengal. Local Trinamool leaders in Siliguri vow they would not spare Assembly seats like Goalpokhor and Rajgunge to the Congress, which won them in 2006.

Interestingly, Goalpokhor was won by Deepa Dasmunsi and fell vacant after she was elected to the Lok Sabha this year. Now, Trinamool leaders want to "teach her a lesson".

"Deepa has often opposed our party and we are planning to field our own candidate in Goalpokhor. In fact, it is Deepa who played a key role in forming the Siliguri civic board with support from the CPM. She must be taught a lesson," said Goutam Deb, Trinamool leader in Siliguri.

His party, however, may spare the Congress bastion of Sujapur, which was won by Mausam Benazir Noor, now a Lok Sabha MP. "Didi has good relations with the family of late A B A Ghani Khan Chowdhury and she will not allow us to contest the seat against the Congress," said a Trinamool leader in Malda.

Ten seats where bypolls are due on November 7 are -- Kalchini, Rajgunj, Sujapur, Goalpokhor, Contai (South), Egra, Serampore, Alipore, Belgachia East and Bongaon. Of the ten seats, Contai (South), Egra, Serampore, Alipore and Bongaon were won by the Trinamool Congress during the 2006 Assembly elections.

Meanwhile, the Congress too seemed bracing for a showdown. "We are strong in North Bengal. Therefore, it is only logical that we field candidates here. I do not know what Trinamool leaders are saying about this. But we are clear on our stand," said Dasmunsi.

Seat-sharing talks between Trinamool and the Congress will start in a day or two.

After skipping three politburo meets, Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee is set to attend the fifth meeting of the CPM's highest policy-making body to be held in Delhi Sunday next.

This will be the second politburo meeting the CM will attend after the drubbing his party CPM received in the Lok Sabha polls held early this year.

Bhattacharjee is to leave for New Delhi on Saturday but his return will depend on his scheduled meeting with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, sources said.

CPM sources said the CM, upbeat after the Siliguri experiment, will drive home the message that the Congress is not untouchable for the CPM in Bengal. Backed by state CPM secretary Biman Bose, Bhattacharjee will push Siliguri experiment for politburo's approval, sources added.

After the CM skipped three politburo meetings, speculation was rife he had fallen out with CPM general secretary Prakash Karat. But a senior CPM leader said today the two leaders have buried the hatchet. "Karat met Buddhadeb to break the ice more than once after which the chief minister was back to his normal functioning."

A 20-year-old computer teacher at a private institute was gangraped and physically assaulted near the railway tracks in Sultanpuri, West Delhi, on Monday evening.

The victim is in the intensive care unit of Sanjay Gandhi Hospital.

According to the police, the victim was walking back home around 7.15 pm Monday with a male colleague when they were attacked by five men. Both live in Sultanpuri, the police said.

A BCom student, the victim teaches computers at Raja institute in Puthkala.

The victim's father, Satbir, said on Tuesday that the two were walking past a railway crossing on their way home. There was a jam at the crossing as a train had stopped there. They decided to cross the tracks a little further ahead.

They were attacked at this spot -- "a few minutes from the jam," Satbir said.

The tracks where the incident took place runs between a cluster of four schools on one side and slums on the other. The road isn't much travelled and residents say it is home to gamblers, drug dealers, drunkards and other anti-social elements.

"The men waylaid my daughter and Satyaprakash and two of them beat him up badly," said Satbir, who runs a small cellphone and watch shop in Nangloi.

According to the police, the assailants forcibly carried the victim to the nearby bushes and raped her by turn. She was then physically assaulted and left near the pits, surrounded by dense vegetation.

The assailants are still at large, the police said.

An officer said a policeman on patrol heard the victim's cries more than an hour later and called the Police Control Room. She was then rushed to the Sanjay Gandhi Hospital.

Satbir said Satyaprakash did not inform either the police or her home even after he saw the assailants carry her away. "He just went home -- he later said he tried dialling the PCR but found it busy," Satbir said.

Satyaprakash has been detained for his "questionable role" in the incident, an officer said.

Satbir said his daughter is being treated for various injuries and severe bleeding. "Her eyes are swollen, her face is unrecognisable. Her body has 15 wounds -- I can't bear to look at her."

In her statement to the police, the victim said she couldn't remember the faces of the assailants since it was dark. Satyaprakash has reportedly told police that he could recognise the two men who beat him up.

According to reports, there was a dispute between officials of Nangloi and Sultanpuri police stations over jurisdiction of the case, which is understood to have resulted in a delay in beginning the probe. Told about this during his interaction with the media today, Police Commissioner Y S Dadwal said he will conduct an inquiry. "Even if it is half an hour delay, we cannot tolerate it. The delay is totally against our policy," he said.

After proposing an increase in LPG rates, bus and Metro fares, the Delhi government is now looking at a proposal to increase circle rates, which will affect property rates in the Capital. The state revenue department has prepared a proposal to increase circle rates by 10 per cent; this is the first revision since these rates were introduced in 2007. The move came after stamp duty collection dipped drastically and authorities in adjacent Gurgoan and Noida hiked circle rates, Finance department officials said.

Officials said the government's revenue earning from stamp duty decreased by Rs 100 crore this year, compared to the same period last year.

Circle rate is the minimum amount at which one can buy a property -- it includes the cost of land and the cost of construction. At present rates, male property owners need to pay a one-time stamp duty of 8 per cent of the property's value for registration; women have to pay 5 five per cent. Delhi is divided into eight categories for calculating circle rate, ranging from Rs 6,900 to Rs 43,000 per square metre as cost of land, and Rs 2,370 to Rs 14,960 per square metre as cost of construction.

According to officials, the Revenue department has submitted the proposal to the Finance department for approval; it is under review at present. While Revenue department suggested an increase of 10 per cent across all eight categories, officials said the Finance department has suggested a few changes in the proposal. The official said, "The proposal borrows elements from Gurgaon, where circle rates were increased by 10 per cent to 12 per cent in June."

The move will have to be cleared by the Cabinet before it can be implemented.

The onset of the festive season has saddled the police in central Gujarat with the unique task of solving cases involving the theft of Diwali bonuses. Though senior officers consider it an opportunity to test the investigative skills of their personnel, the fishy complaints often pose problems for the investigators.

The theft of copper wire and money meant as Diwali bonus from the Rajasthan-based company (PLR's) freight trailer has baffled the police. Investigating Officer, Sub-Inspector R F Dabhi from the Godhra Taluka police station said: "Company Manager Ramesh Lalbegh Sharma has alleged that the driver of the truck, Bhisham Singh, who was coming from Nathdwara in Rajsamand district of Rajasthan siphoned off Rs Rs 17,000 along with wires worth Rs 78 lakhs. But, when we checked the timings of the entry through the toll gate in Vadodara, we found a discrepancy. The entry timing of the truck going towards Godhra was 7.45 pm at Golden Chowkdi, while Sharma has said the theft took place between 6.30 pm and 7 pm on Monday evening. It looks like the company's official is not giving us proper information about the vehicle and instead wants to frame the driver."

On Tuesday, the police started interrogating the company manager as well. Dabhi said the money, which the driver was supposed to deposit to Sharma, was meant for distribution as Diwali bonus.

In another instance, truck driver Ashok Richpal Yadav registered a complaint at the Panigate police station that four unidentified Hindi-speaking miscreants looted him between Waghodia Road and Kapurai Chowkdi on the outskirts of Vadodara, where he had taken a break to attend nature's call at a public toilet near the highway.

"As per the complainant, he had come to Halol to dump plastic material at GTC Company on October 4 from Jhujhunu in Rajasthan. Later, he met one Prakash Singh near Golden Chowkdi on NH-8, on the outskirts of Vadodara, who gave him Rs 70,500 in cash to be delivered as Diwali bonus to three employees of the company in Jhujhunu in Rajasthan. But, on October 5, when he resumed his journey back to Jhujhunu from Vadodara via Waghodia Road, four motorcycle-borne miscreants robbed him at gunpoint at the public toilet," said Sub-Inspector L B Parmar.

The truck driver's version is full of loopholes though, as no one by the name of Prakash works in Haryana Roadways.

Meanwhile, a senior officer from Vadodara said: "These things happen a lot during Diwali as many companies and firms rely on truck drivers to transfer cash for distribution as Diwali bonus."

From 33-year-old MNS candidate Kiisshor Shinde to 74-year-old Anna Joshi of NCP, the newly formed Kothrud constituency has much diversity among the four prime candidates in the fray; diverse with respect to age group, qualification, assets and offences.

Shinde from MNS is the youngest candidate in the constituency, while Anna Joshi (74) contesting on NCP ticket is the eldest. The contrast became visible when the two came face-to-face while filing nomination papers and Shinde took blessing of Joshi. In between is 42-year-old Shiv Sena candidate Chandrakant Mokate, 50-year-old Deepak Mankar contesting as an independent and 61-year-old Himani Savarkar of Hindu Mahasabha.

Interestingly, eldest candidate Joshi and youngest candidate Shinde are the most qualified from the constituency. According to their respective affidavits, Joshi has completed M.Sc (Maths) from Pune University in 1959, while Shinde has completed B.Com in 1997, Masters in Computer Management (MCM) in 2000 and LLB in 2004. Savarkar has done G.D. (Arch) from Abhinav Kala Mahavidyalaya in 1972. Sena's Mokate, who is believed to be a strong runner in this constituency, has appeared for SSC in 1985. Mankar, too, is SSC pass in 1975.

However, the diversity fades away when assets of the candidates run in lakhs. Mankar is the richest candidate to be contesting from Kothrud with property of at least 13 crore in his name. He is followed by Mokate with assets worth around 4 crore and Joshi with 2.64 crores. While Savarkar has declared assets amounting to Rs 24.5 lakh, Shinde has property of about 13 lakh.

"Probably, this constituency has the most diverse structure. However, a voter's decision does not depend on any of these aspects. The party matters the most. The criminal background of the candidate, too, does not necessarily play a role in voting pattern," said Kakasaheb Purandare, a senior citizen from Kothrud who will be voting for the fifth time this year.Agreeing with him is a young voter and engineering student Mithila Deore. "I will not necessarily vote a young candidate just because he/she is young. The party ideology and reputation matters," he said.

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Jokes & Funny Images / Angry drivers meet
Oct 06, 2009, 01:05 PM
Angry drivers meet
In a very small alley two trucks driving in opposite directions meet.

As the drivers are equally stubborn, neither of them wants to reverse.

They angrily look one at the other.

Finally, one of them picks up a newspaper and starts reading.

The other one politely asks, "When you've finished the paper, will you please bring it over, and let me read it?"
Jokes & Funny Images / Tour near glaciers
Oct 06, 2009, 01:05 PM
Tour near glaciers
The following is supposedly a true story relating to an actual guide and his response to questions.

Swiss mountain guides who always do the same trails can get tired answering the same questions over and over. One time an English tourist was giving his guide an especially hard time with silly questions. They were walking through a mountain valley that was strewn with rocks, and the traveler asked, "How did these rocks get here?"

"Sir," said the guide, "they were brought down by a glacier."

The tourist peered up the mountain and said, "But I don't see any glacier."

"Oh, really?" said the guide. "I guess it has gone back for more rocks."
Jokes & Funny Images / Where are we going?
Oct 06, 2009, 01:04 PM
Where are we going?
An American man, a Russian man, and an African man were all up in a hot-air balloon together. After a few minutes, the Russian man put his hand down through the clouds. "Aaah!" he said. "We're right over my homeland."

"How can you tell?" asked the American.

"I can feel the cold air." he replied.

A few hours later the African man put his hand through the clouds. "Aah we're right over my homeland." he said.

"How do you know that?" asked the Russian. "I can feel the heat of the desert."

Several more hours later the American put his hand through the clouds. "Aah, we're right over New York."

The Russian and the African were amazed. "How do you know all of that?" they exclaimed.

The American pulled his hand up. "My watch is missing."
Jokes & Funny Images / Talking on a plane
Oct 06, 2009, 01:04 PM
Talking on a plane
The following is supposedly a true story relating to an actual event that took place during a flight.

As a Delta Air Lines jet was flying over Arizona on a clear day, the co-pilot was providing his passengers with a running commentary about landmarks over the PA system.

"Coming up on the right, you can see the Meteor Crater, which is a major tourist attraction in northern Arizona. It was formed when a lump of nickel and iron, roughly 150 feet in diameter and weighing 300,000 tons, struck the earth at about 40,000 miles an hour, scattering white-hot debris for miles in every direction. The hole measures nearly a mile across and is 570 feet deep."

From the cabin, a passenger was heard to exclaim, "Wow! It just missed the highway!"
Jokes & Funny Images / Heard on a public bus
Oct 06, 2009, 01:04 PM
Heard on a public bus
Heard on a public transportation vehicle in Orlando.

"When you exit the bus, please be sure to lower your head and watch your step."

"If you miss your step and hit your head, please lower your voice and watch your language. Thank you."
Jokes & Funny Images / On the back of a van
Oct 06, 2009, 01:03 PM
On the back of a van
Seen on the back of a van in Rochester, New York:

Caution: Blind Man Driving

On the side of the van (after passing it to see who might be driving):

Rochester Venetian Blind Co.
Jokes & Funny Images / On a truck's mudflaps
Oct 06, 2009, 01:03 PM
On a truck's mudflaps
Seen on rear mud-flaps of a large truck

left mud-flap      right mud-flap

Passing Side      Suicide
/|                    |\
/ ------          ------ \
\ ------           ------ /
\|                    |/
El Paso         El Cruncho
(spanish)      (spanish)
Jokes & Funny Images / You're in the Desert
Oct 06, 2009, 01:02 PM
You're in the Desert
16 Ways of Knowing You're in the Desert
You no longer associate bridges (or rivers) with water.
You can say 110 degrees without fainting.
You eat hot chilies to cool your mouth off.
You can make instant sun tea.
You learn that a seat belt makes a pretty good branding iron.
The temperature drops below 95, you feel a bit chilly.
You discover that in July, it takes only 2 fingers to drive your car.
You discover that you can get a sunburn through your car window.
You notice the best parking place is determined by shade instead of distance.
Hot water now comes out of both taps.
It's noon in July, kids are on summer vacation, and not one person is out on the streets.
You actually burn your hand opening the car door.
You break a sweat the instant you step outside at 7:30 a.m. before work.
No one would dream of putting vinyl upholstery in a car or not having air conditioning.
Your biggest bicycle wreck fear is, "What if I get knocked out and end up lying on the pavement and cook to death?"
You realize that asphalt has a liquid state.
Jokes & Funny Images / You're at a Bad Motel
Oct 06, 2009, 01:02 PM
You're at a Bad Motel
Top Signs You're At A Bad Motel
The "complimentary" paper tells you that President Kennedy has died.
The mint on the pillow starts moving when you come close to it.
The "magic fingers vibration" is supplied by giving a quarter to the town epileptic.
There is still some stuff that they put around crime scenes that is yellow
The pictures are not placed for decoration but to cover up recent bullet holes.
You have to wait until the guy next door is done with the towel so you can use it.
There's a chalk outline in the bed when you pull back the covers.
The desk clerk has to move the body in order to get some ice for you.
The Only TV station you can get is a porno channel with roseanne on it.
The wake up call comes courtesy of police helicopter.
Jokes & Funny Images / Murphy's Travel Laws
Oct 06, 2009, 01:02 PM
Murphy's Travel Laws
Murphy Laws For Frequent Flyers
No flight ever leaves on time unless you are running late and need the delay to make the flight.
If you are running late for a flight, it will depart from the farthest gate within the terminal.
If you arrive very early for a flight, it inevitably will be delayed.
Flights never leave from Gate #1 at any terminal in the world.
If you must work on your flight, you will experience turbulence as soon as you touch pen to paper.
If you are assigned a middle seat, you can determine who has the seats on the aisle and the window while you are still in the boarding area. Just look for the two largest passengers.
Only passengers seated in window seats ever have to get up to go to the lavatory.
The crying baby on board your flight is always seated next to you.
The best-looking woman on your flight is never seated next to you.
The less carry-on luggage space available on an aircraft, the more carry-on luggage passengers will bring aboard.
Jokes & Funny Images / Run over the rooster
Oct 06, 2009, 01:01 PM
Run over the rooster
A man was driving down a quiet country lane when out into the road strayed a rooster. Whack! The rooster disappeared under the car. A cloud of feathers.

Shaken, the man pulled over at the farmhouse, rang the door bell. A farmer appeared. The man, somewhat nervously said, "I think I killed your rooster, please allow me to replace him."

"Suit yourself," the farmer replied, "you can go join the other chickens that are around the back."
Jokes & Funny Images / Stay over one night
Oct 06, 2009, 01:01 PM
Stay over one night
A hindu priest, rabbi and a lawyer were driving down the road, when the car breaks down. Fortunately finding a farmhouse nearby, the farmer informed them that he had only one spare room, and that it had only two twin beds.

They were welcome to it, but one of them had to sleep in the barn. After much discussion, the hindu volunteered to go to the barn. A few moments later, a knock on the bedroom door, and the hidu explained that there was a cow in the barn, and cows are sacred and he could not possibly sleep in the barn with a cow.

Annoyed, the rabbi volunteered. A few moments later, a knock on the door. The rabbi explained that there was a pig in the barn and that he, being very orthodox, could not possibly spend the evening in the barn with the origin of pork.

Finally the lawyer said that he would go to the barn. A few moments later there was a knock on the door. It was the cow and the pig!
Jokes & Funny Images / Haircut before a trip
Oct 06, 2009, 12:59 PM
Haircut before a trip
A man was getting a haircut prior to a trip to Rome. He mentioned the trip to the barber who responded, "Rome? Why would anyone want to go there?

It's crowded & dirty and full of Italians. You're crazy to go to Rome.

So, how are you getting there?"

"We're taking TWA," was the reply. "We got a great rate!"

"TWA?" exclaimed the barber. "That's a terrible airline. Their planes are old, their flight attendants are ugly, and they're always late.

So, where are you staying in Rome?"

"We'll be at the downtown International Marriott."

"That dump! That's the worst hotel in the city. The rooms are small, the service is surly and they're overpriced. So, whatcha doing when you get there?"

"We're going to go to see the Vatican and we hope to see the Pope."

"That's rich," laughed the barber. "You and a million other people trying to see him. He'll look the size of an ant. Boy, good luck on this lousy trip of yours. You're going to need it."

A month later, the man again came in for his regular haircut. The barber asked him about his trip to Rome.

"It was wonderful," explained the man, "not only were we on time in one of TWA's brand new planes, but it was overbooked and they bumped us up to first class. The food and wine were wonderful, and I had a beautiful 28 year old stewardess who waited on me hand and foot.

And the hotel-it was great! They'd just finished a $25 million remodeling job and now it's the finest hotel in the city. They, too, were overbooked, so they apologized and gave us the presidential suite at no extra charge!"

"Well," muttered the barber, "I know you didn't get to see the pope."

"Actually, we were quite lucky, for as we toured the Vatican, a Swiss Guard tapped me on the shoulder and explained that the pope likes to personally meet some of the visitors, and if I'd be so kind as to step into his private room and wait the pope would personally greet me. Sure enough, five minutes later the pope walked through the door and shook my hand! I knelt down as he spoke a few words to me."

"Really?" asked the Barber. "What'd he say?"

He said, "Where'd you get the lousy haircut?
Jokes & Funny Images / Deaf lady in trouble
Oct 06, 2009, 12:59 PM
Deaf lady in trouble
One day a lady was driving on the Highway. She frequently checked her speed gauge to make sure she stayed within the speed limit. However, when she looked into her rear mirror, much to her dismay, she saw a police car not far behind! And, to make matters worse, the police car turned on his flashing lights. She thought to herself, "Uh-oh, what have I done now? I'm not speeding. I'm not drinking. I have my seat belt on! I have kept up my license dues and everything!"

So, she pulled over and the police car pulled over to the side right behind her car. She drove her car slowly to a stop, slowly rolled down the window, and prepared for a ticket when she knew she didn't deserve it. A policeman walked up to her window, and spoke to her. The lady pointed to her ear and shook her head, meaning she was deaf. The policeman smiled slightly, and knowing sign language, signed back, "I know. I'm here to tell you that your horn is stuck."
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