Friday, September 12, 2008

Solemn rituals mark seventh anniversary of 9/11

NEW YORK - Familiar rituals of grief marked the seventh anniversary of Sept. 11 on Thursday as thousands paid tribute at the attack sites, the presidential candidates laid flowers at ground zero and children mourned parents they can barely remember.

Sens. John McCain and Barack Obama called off their campaigns for the day, and in the late afternoon descended the long ramp into the pit of the World Trade Center site, bowing their heads and leaving the flowers in a reflecting pool.

At the Pentagon, 15,000 people turned out for the dedication of the first permanent memorial built at any of the three sites where hijacked planes crashed. It includes 184 benches that will glow at night, one for each victim there.

"Thanks to the brave men and women, and all those who work to keep us safe, there has not been another attack on our soil in 2,557 days," President Bush said at the outdoor dedication.

In New York, the crowd fell silent in a park just east of the trade center site at 8:46, 9:03, 9:59 and 10:29 a.m. — the times when two hijacked jets slammed into the buildings and the twin towers fell.

Alex, Aidan and Anna Salamone — now 13, 11 and 10 years old — wore old soccer jerseys belonging to their father, broker John Patrick Salamone, who was 37 when he was killed. They recalled playing in the yard with a toy wagon.

"He was strong. He was funny. He always made me laugh," Alex Salamone said. I wish I could remember more, but we were so young when he died."

"We love you, daddy," said Anna.

Still others chose to forgo the public observances altogether and mark the day in quieter, more private ways. Kai Thompson Hernandez toasted her late husband, Glenn Thompson, at a beach, with his favorite brand of beer.

"I try and celebrate his life rather than mark the place of his death," she said.

Family members of the trade center dead and students representing the more than 90 countries that lost citizens in the attack — Azerbaijan to Zambia to Vietnam — read the names of the 2,751 victims killed in New York.

Others descended seven stories below street level to pay respects where the towers once stood. A giant crane, an American flag hanging from a hook, overlooked the anniversary ceremony from ground zero, where office towers, a memorial and transit hub are under construction.

The New York memorial is years away from completion. Some of the mourners worried the progress on it would prevent them from being allowed to pay respects next Sept. 11 on the ground where their loved ones died.

"When you walk through the site, you really feel like you're right where they were, and it's very raw," said Dennis Baxter, whose brother, Jasper, died while attending a conference at the trade center. "I think the spot should remain raw."

Many family members reading names paused to thank the troops fighting the two U.S. war launched since Sept. 11, 2001, drawing applause on several occasions.

"They took from us innocent lives in the names of their God," said Rosaria Reneo, whose sister Daniela R. Notaro was killed on Sept. 11, "and it seems some people have forgotten what happened here seven years ago."

Edward Bracken said to loud applause that his sister, Lucy A. Fishman, was "murdered by coward men using their religion to say they are right and we are wrong."

In Shanksville, Pa., McCain attended a simple ceremony held in a large field near the point where United Airlines Flight 93 slammed into the ground — driven down, investigators believe, when passengers who rushed the cockpit to prevent another attack on a building.

Grieving family members and a few dignitaries sat in front of a chain-link fence adorned with flags and mementos that serves as a temporary memorial while a permanent one is constructed. Bells rang as the name of each victim was read. McCain said those on Flight 93 might have saved his own life. He said the only way to thank those who died on the flight is to "be as good an American as they were."

"We might fall well short of their standard, but there's honor in the effort," the Republican Arizona senator said.

Obama, in a statement, recalled that after the attacks, "Americans across our great country came together to stand with the families of the victims, to donate blood, to give to charity, and to say a prayer for our country. Let us renew that."

In New York, relatives of victims began arriving at dawn for the memorials, wearing their loved ones' pictures on T-shirts and holding signs saying, "We miss you," "We love you" or "You will never be forgotten."

As in years past, two bright blue beams of light were to rise from lower Manhattan. But many family members said they wished there were more of a memorial.

"It's still very hard for us to come here. It doesn't get any easier," said Norma Linguito, a relative of Sept. 11 victim Michael Diehl. "I just wish they'd get the memorial up so we can have something, a marker, to remember everyone."


Associated Press writers Matthew Barakat, Ramit Plushnick-Masti, Jennifer Peltz and Colleen Long contributed to this report.



Nicole Kidman tops Hollywood overpaid list

CANBERRA (Reuters) - Nicole Kidman was named the most overpaid celebrity in Hollywood in the second annual list of least bankable stars by U.S. magazine Forbes, taking the top slot from fellow Australian Russell Crowe.

Kidman's films were estimated to only earn $1 for every dollar the Oscar-winning actress was paid compared with $8 a year ago.

"The Invasion," a remake of the 1956 classic "Invasion of the Body Snatchers," even lost $2.68 for every dollar earned by Kidman who was reportedly paid $17 million for her role.

"Despite winning an Oscar for her performance in 2002's "The Hours," Kidman has become the most overpaid celebrity in Hollywood," said Forbes, adding that her upcoming movie "Australia" could give her a boost.

Second in the list came Jennifer Garner, whose movies including "The Kingdom" and "Catch and Release" have underperformed at the box office. Her movies were calculated to earn $3.60 for every $1 she was paid.

Kidman's ex-husband, Tom Cruise, came third in the list with a $4 return for every dollar he was paid, mostly because of the failure of last year's movie "Lions for Lambs." For every dollar the star earned the film returned only $1.88.

Forbes said the ranking was compiled by looking at a star's past three movies and dividing their total earnings by the films' gross income to get the actor's payback figure.

Making up the top 10 of overpaid Hollywood celebrities were Cameron Diaz, Jim Carrey, Nicolas Cage, Drew Barrymore, Will Ferrell and Cate Blanchett.

The actor whose bankability improved most over the past year was Crowe, who was ranked the most overpaid celebrity last year when Kidman was in second place.

Last year, Forbes estimated the movie "Cinderella Man" earned $5 for every dollar that Crowe was paid.

But this year, he was the 18th best earner on a previously issued list of which actors were worth their paychecks, with a return of $6.88 for every dollar he earned.

This bump was attributed to last year's movie "American Gangster" with Denzel Washington, for which Crowe returned a healthy $10.80 for every dollar he was paid.


Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Mystery has surrounded Kim Jong Il

(CNN) -- North Korea's Kim Jong Il has remained one of the most mysterious leaders in the world.

Even as questions about the North Korean leader's health remained unanswered, a complete picture of Kim has remaiined elusive.

Kim has been suffering from serious health problems, and may have had a stroke, a U.S. intelligence official told CNN this week.

The reclusive communist leader has been portrayed variously as an unstable nuclear-armed madman and a cognac-swilling playboy serviced by a team of women known as the "Joy Brigade."

It is unclear where or when he was born, how many times he has been married or even exactly how many children he has.

But despite his reputation as being very odd, some experts maintain Kim is quite rational.
"He's not crazy. He might be somewhat emotional. He might be somewhat eccentric. But crazy? Absolutely not," said Peter Maass from The New York Times Magazine in 2005.

Indeed, Kim's persona seems to have been carefully cultivated to become a leader who has played a poor hand of cards skillfully.

As supreme leader of an impoverished, backward country, he has little to bargain with on the international stage and his reputation may work to his advantage.

Indeed, behind it all he seems to be a shrewd dictator.

Really, everybody who's met with Kim Jong Il, and there've been quite a few -- South Koreans, Americans, Russians, North Koreans who've since defected -- they all come out saying this man knows what he's doing," said Maass.

Kim inherited the role of absolute ruler from his father Kim Il Sung who died suddenly from a heart attack in 1994.

The elder and venerated founding father dubbed himself "Great Leader" and the younger Kim followed suit. He is known as "Dear Leader."

Kim is believed to have been born in the far eastern region of the Soviet Union in 1941 or 1942. But his birthplace is often listed instead as sacred Mount Paektu, the highest point on the Korean Peninsula.

According to legend, the peak on the northern border with Chinese Manchuria is the site where the Korean nation came into existence 5,000 years ago.

"At the time of his birth there were flashes of lightning and thunder, the iceberg in the pond on Mount Paektu emitted a mysterious sound as it broke, and bright double rainbows rose up," according to the official line.

Kim's younger brother drowned as a child and his mother died when he was 7 years old.
But despite the hardships suffered by most Koreans, Kim was presumably surrounded by luxury and privilege throughout most of his childhood.

Under his newly organized government, Kim's deceased father was deemed "eternal leader" and the presidential post left unclaimed.

Kim Il Sung's unique style of Stalinism, suffused with the Korean "juche" philosophy (roughly translated as "self reliance"), was subordinated to the more militant theme of Kim Jong Il's "Red Banner" policy, introduced in 1996.

Since its inception, North Korea has demonized America as the ultimate threat to its social system and has molded its policies toward the eventual unification of Korea under Pyongyang's control, according to the CIA.

While it boasts a million-strong army, North Korea faces desperate economic conditions and massive international food aid deliveries have allowed the people to escape mass starvation since famine threatened in 1995.

Kim had a reputation as a hard-partying playboy as a young man -- and reportedly still has an eye for the ladies.

"He recruited attractive young girls of junior high school age to take part in 'Joy Brigades,' whose function was to help in relaxation to his senior officials," said Jerrold Post, a former CIA profiler.
Kim is thought to have been married three times -- although it's not clear if all were official -- and he is known to have three sons and at least one daughter.

His taste for the high life extends to a fondness for fast cars and fine dining.

One 2003 account by Russian official Konstantin Pulikovsky, who accompanied Kim on a train journey across Russia, described how live lobsters and roasted donkey -- reportedly the North Korean leader's favorite food -- were flown out to supply the train each day.

Kim is also a huge film buff boasting a collection of as many as 20,000 films.

U.S. officials say he even once went so far as to order the kidnapping of a South Korean actress and her director husband.

While Kim tends to stay behind the scenes, when he does go live on television, it is carefully choreographed official visits to prestigious public works projects or large scale ceremonies, accompanied by an entourage of approving advisors.


Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Massive physics experiment on Wednesday

Particle physicists believe they will throw open a new frontier of knowledge on Wednesday when, 100 metres below ground, they switch on a mega-machine crafted to unveil the deepest mysteries of matter.

The most complex scientific experiment ever undertaken, the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) will accelerate sub-atomic particles to nearly the speed of light and then smash them together, with the aim of filling gaps in our understanding of the cosmos.

It may also determine the outcome of novel theories about space-time: does another dimension - or dimensions - exist in parallel to our own?

After nearly two decades and 6 billion Swiss francs ($A6.6 billion), an army of 5,000 scientists, engineers and technicians drawn from nearly three dozen countries have brought the mammoth project close to fruition.

At 9.30am (1730 AEST) on Wednesday, the first protons will be injected into a 27-kilometre ring-shaped tunnel, straddling the Swiss-French border at the headquarters of the European Organisation for Nuclear Research (CERN).

Whizzed to within a millionth of a per cent of the speed of the light, the particles will be the first step in a long-term experiment to smash sub-atomic components together, briefly generating temperatures 100,000 times hotter than the Sun in a microscopic space.

Analysts will then pore over the wreckage in the search for fundamental particles.

"We will be entering into a new territory of physics," said Peter Jenni, spokesman for ATLAS - one of four gargantuan laboratories installed on the ring where a swathe of delicate detectors will spot the collisions.

"Wednesday is a very major milestone."

The LHC is massively-muscled machine compared to its CERN predecessor, the Large Electron-Positron (LEP) collider, and an ageing accelerator at the legendary Fermilab in Illinois.

It has the power to smash protons or ions - particles known as hadrons - together at a whopping 14 teraelectron volts (TeV), seven times the record held by Fermilab's Tevatron.

The leviathan scale of the project is neatly juxtaposed by its goal, which is to explore the infinitely small.

Physicists have long puzzled over how particles acquire mass.

In 1964, a British physicist, Peter Higgs, came up with this idea: there must exist a background field that would act rather like treacle.

Particles passing through it would acquire mass by being dragged through a mediator, which theoreticians dubbed the Higgs Boson.

The standard quip about the Higgs is that it is the "God Particle" - it is everywhere but remains frustratingly elusive.

French physicist Yves Sacquin says that heroic work by the LEP and Fermilab has narrowed down the energy range at which the devious critter is likely to spotted.

Given the LHC's capabilities, "there's a very strong probability that it will be detected," he said.

Some experts are also hopeful about an early LHC breakthrough on the question of supersymmetry.

The supersymmetry theory goes way beyond even the Higgs. It postulates that particles in the Standard Model have related, but more massive, counterparts.

Such particles could explain the unsettling discovery of recent years that visible matter only accounts for some four per cent of the Universe. Enigmatic phenomena called dark matter and dark energy account for the rest.

CERN Director General Robert Aymar is confident the massive experiment will yield a correspondingly big breakthrough in penetrating these mysteries.

"It is certain that the LHC will yield the identity and understanding of this dark matter," he said in a video statement.

CERN has had to launch a PR campaign aimed at reassuring the public that the LHC will not create black holes that could engulf the planet or an unpleasant hypothetical particle called a strangelet that would turn the Earth into a lump of goo.

It has commissioned a panel to verify its calculations that such risks are, by any reasonable thinking, impossible, and France too has carried out its own safety probe.

Either way, the end of the world will not happen on Wednesday, for the simple reason that the LHC will not generate any collisions that day.

These will probably be initiated "in a few weeks" as part of a phased programme to commission the LHC, testing its equipment and evaluating work procedures before cranking it up to full strength, said Jenni.

Looking at the daily mountain of data that will have to be analysed, "it will take weeks or months before one can really hope to start discovering something new," he cautioned.

"The LHC is more than a machine. It is the intellectual quest of our age," the British weekly New Scientist said in this week's issue.

"With luck... today's physics textbooks will start to look out of date by the end of 2009."