Friday, March 4, 2011

Anyone wanting proof that comics aren't just for kids or socially challenged teenagers take note, this collected work by the Brazilian twins Gabriel Ba and Fabio Moon is on par with richly worded works of literature in its exploration of how a life is lived and the multitudinous paths it can take.

All of which is made more remarkable given the fact that the protagonist - Bras de Oliva Domingos - in this collection of the 10-issue limited series published in 2010 meets his mortal end at the end of each tale. The trade edition, which retails for $19.99, was released last month by DC's Vertigo imprint, and immediately shot to the top of The New York Times Paperback Graphic Books list before slipping lower. On Friday, it regained the No.1 spot.

But Domingos' death is what makes his life - told in 10 different variations - so astounding, both in words and images. Each tale finds the son of a novelist, and budding journalist, in a different, yet important, phase of his life.
Queen Elizabeth II will make her first-ever state visit to the Republic of Ireland later this year.

It's a deeply symbolic move, as no ruling British monarch has visited since 1911, when King George V spent six days in Dublin.

At the time, Britain and Ireland were united under a single crown. Ireland won its independence in 1922, but relations between Ireland and Britain remained poisoned by continuous arguments - and fighting - over the fate of Northern Ireland, which remained part of the United Kingdom.

The 1998 Good Friday peace accord, which gave Northern Ireland a measure of self-government, went a long way toward healing the historic rift.

British Ambassador Julian King said the invitation "symbolizes how far the relationship has come in recent years; the strength of our economic and political ties; and the progress that has been made in Northern Ireland. "
A large clothes dryer loaded with towels caught fire Friday and caused minor damage at Goodyear Ballpark, the spring training home shared by the Cleveland Indians and Cincinnati Reds.

No one was injured.

The dryer was destroyed and the facility's sprinkler system flooded the indoor bullpen area behind the right-field wall. Water seeped onto the warning track, and the ballpark's groundscrew was still working to get the field ready for an exhibition between the Indians and Colorado Rockies.

The game will be played as scheduled.

"There was no damage to the structure or public areas," ballpark manager Nathan Torres said. "We're ready to play ball."

Torres said the cause of the fire was still under investigation.
Libyan state television images appear to show that at least one of three Dutch marines captured in Libya after a botched evacuation mission is a woman.

Dutch government officials refused Friday to confirm any details of the identity or the gender of the marines, amid intense diplomacy to secure their release.

Footage aired by Libyan state TV purported to show two of the marines, a man and a woman, as well as their Lynx helicopter that was seized by armed men loyal to Moammar Gadhafi on Sunday. The footage also shows weapons and other equipment alleged to be from the helicopter, including a large machine gun, ammunition, cash and what appears to be a two-way radio.

The Dutch Cabinet discussed the plight of the captured marines at its regular Friday meeting, but Prime Minister Mark Rutte refused to reveal any details.

"Everything is focused on getting the three safely back to the Netherlands," he said.

Holding three marines from a NATO member state could complicate any possible outside military help for anti-government protesters, such as enforcing a no-fly zone to prevent Gadhafi's forces hitting rebels with air strikes.
A U.S. government contractor went on trial in Cuba on Friday in a case sure to have a profound impact on relations between the Cold War enemies.

Alan Gross faces a possible 20-year sentence for "acts against the integrity and independence" of Cuba. The 61-year-old Maryland native was working for the Bethesda-based Development Associates International on a USAID-program that promotes democracy when he was arrested in December 2009.

His family, and U.S. and company officials, say he was bringing communications equipment to Cuba's 1,500-strong Jewish community. Cuban Jewish groups deny having anything to do with him, and there was speculation some Cuban Jewish leaders would testify against him.

Gross's wife, Judy, and lawyer Peter J. Kahn arrived by foot at the courthouse in a converted residential mansion in Havana's once-prosperous 10 de Octubre neighborhood. American consular officials also arrived at the court as observors. They did not speak to reporters, who were kept some distance away across a narrow street.

The trial - closed to the media - is expected to be over in a day or two, with a verdict announced immediately thereafter. Sentencing, should Gross be convicted, would likely come about two weeks later.

In Washington, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said the U.S. government is "deeply concerned" about Gross's fate.
A lone gunman enraged over the war in Afghanistan probably acted alone when he shot dead two U.S. airmen and wounded two others at Frankfurt airport this week, a German prosecutor said on Friday.

German media had reported the man could be part of a terrorist cell, raising fears of further attacks on U.S. targets in Germany.

Arid Uka, a Kosovan national, confessed to firing on the U.S. airmen at point-blank range with a 9mm pistol, federal prosecutor Rainer Griesbaum told a televised news conference in Karlsruhe, western Germany.

"He wanted revenge for the U.S. operations in Afghanistan," Griesbaum said. Uka had frequented jihadist websites before the attack and said he wanted to prevent the soldiers from committing crimes against civilians, the prosecutor added.

"Preliminary evaluations and evidence show it was the act of an Islamist-inspired single perpetrator," Griesbaum said. "There is no evidence at the moment the act was coordinated with others or that he was a member of a terrorist organization."
Osama bin Laden's deputy is urging fellow Egyptians to establish Islamic rule after the ouster of President Hosni Mubarak.

In an Internet audio message, Ayman al-Zawahri warns the "honest and free people" of Egypt and Tunisia not to allow America and others steal the fruits of their uprisings by allowing them to install puppet regimes.

It's Al-Zawahri's fourth message since the uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt. The 28-minute recording was posted on a militant website Friday.

He also urged Yemenis to continue their struggle to topple President Ali Abdullah Saleh's regime, which he said turned Yemen into an American spy base. Yemen is home to an al-Qaida offshoot.

Before becoming deputy al-Qaida leader, the Egyptian al-Zawahri headed the Al-Jihad extremist group that battled Mubarak's regime.
A rocket carrying an Earth-observation satellite plummeted into the Pacific Ocean after a failed launch attempt Friday, the second-straight blow to NASA's weakened environmental monitoring program.

The Taurus XL rocket carrying NASA's Glory satellite lifted off early Friday morning from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, but fell to the sea several minutes later. The same thing happened to another climate-monitoring satellite two years ago with the same type of rocket.

During a press conference Friday, officials explained that a protective shell atop the rocket did not separate from the satellite as it should have about three minutes after launch. That left the Glory spacecraft without the velocity to reach orbit.

"We failed to make orbit," NASA launch director Omar Baez said at a press conference Friday. "Indications are that the satellite and rocket ... is in the southern Pacific Ocean somewhere."

The 2009 failed satellite, which would have studied global warming, crashed into the ocean near Antarctica. Officials said Glory likely wound up landing in the same area. Both were on Taurus rockets launched by Orbital Sciences Corporation of Dulles, Va.
A bomb hurled at a political rally in Nigeria killed three people and wounded 21 others, police said.

The incident occurred at a gubernatorial rally for the ruling People's Democratic Party in Suleja, located in the country's western Niger state.

Elections are scheduled for April in the oil-rich country, the most populous in Africa.

Olusola Amore, national police spokesman, said the explosive was thrown from a moving vehicle, and struck women selling vegetables near the rally. Police were investigating, Amore said.

The Suleja rally was taking place at the same time that the main opposition party, the Congress for Progressive Change, was holding a rally in Niger state.
Libyan state television images appear to show that at least one of the three Dutch marines captured in Libya after a botched evacuation mission is a woman.

Dutch government officials are refusing to confirm any details of the identity or even the gender of the three marines. They say intense diplomacy is under way to secure their release.

Footage aired by Libyan state TV purports to show two of the marines, a man and a woman, as well as their Lynx helicopter that was seized by armed men loyal to Moammar Gadhafi on Sunday.

Prime Minister Mark Rutte refused to reveal any detail of Cabinet discussions Friday about the captured marines.

"Everything is focused on getting the three safely back to the Netherlands," he said.

Your guide to the NFL talks

The clock has stopped. But the problems remain.

The NFL and its players union have agreed to a 24-hour extension in their collective bargaining negotiations, pushing the new lockout deadline to midnight Friday.

So for now at least, they've avoided the first work stoppage in professional football since 1987.

Even if the deadline gets extended further, the strong possibility of a lockout still looms over the sport, and that would be a fan's worst nightmare.

Stadiums are replaced with courtrooms, games are replaced with bargaining sessions and the real fantasy football will be the day when the players take the field again.

As the negotiations continue, here are the key questions and answers surrounding a labor dispute that could threaten the 2011 season.

What's the problem anyway? Isn't football the most popular sport in the country?

It is, and its popularity is booming in spite of the sour economy. Essentially, the dispute boils down to this: The players and the owners disagree on how to divide $9 billion in revenues. The players get 59.5% after the owners take $1 billion off the top. They are fine with the status quo. The owners want to skim another $1 billion off that and then reduce the percentage that the players receive.
An activist says Libyan rebels' military commander in Zawiya, the closest opposition-held city to the capital, was killed along with three other people in fighting.

Alaa al-Zawi, an opposition activist in Zawiya, says Col. Hussein Darbouk was hit by anti-aircraft gunfire during clashes with forces loyal to Moammar Gadhafi that attacked Friday morning.

Darbouk and other troops in Zawiya defected to the opposition early on in the uprising, which began in Libya on Feb. 15. He has since been leading rebel forces in the town, which has withstood multiple assaults by pro-Gadhafi forces.

Al-Zawi says three other rebel fighters were killed and dozens of people wounded in the fighting, but he says the city remains under opposition control.

A Washington woman accused of killing a friend in Tacoma told police they were arguing over the drugs each was using - crack cocaine versus heroin.

Loniesh Veasey pleaded not guilty Monday to a murder charge in the Feb. 12 slaying of Ginny "Bridget" Thomas at Thomas' apartment.

Court papers say Veasey was high on crack cocaine and Thomas was using heroin when the argument erupted.

The documents say Thomas stuck Veasey in the palm with a syringe and Veasey fought back with a razor blade wrapped in a tissue.

The News Tribune reports a bloody pair of shoes, a fingerprint and phone records led investigators to Veasey.
The United States expressed concern Thursday about recent arrests in Zimbabwe of political and civil society activists and allegations by their lawyer that some of them were tortured.

On February 19, former Movement for Democratic Change Member of Parliament Munyaradzi Gwisai and 45 other labor union and student activists "who had gathered peacefully to discuss recent events in Egypt" were arrested and charged with treason, State Department spokesman Philip J. Crowley said in a statement.

Other political and civil society activists have also been arrested, he said.

"Gwisai's defense attorney has reported that several of the 46 people were tortured while in custody, and we understand that the magistrate has ordered physical examinations to substantiate those claims," he said. "We call on the government to provide medical attention for those who need it and, if torture occurred, to take immediate action to hold the perpetrators accountable."

A ruling on the charges' merits is to be delivered March 7.

Crowley called on the government of Zimbabwe to uphold rights spelled out under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and to ensure that those arrested are guaranteed due process.

Zimbabwean authorities said the 46 people were arrested and charged with treason after they were caught watching footage of the protests that led to the ouster of Tunisian leader Zine El Abidine Ben Ali and Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.

"On 16 February they held a meeting and the purpose of the meeting was to organize, strategize and implement the removal of a constitutional government of Zimbabwe by unconstitutional means, the Tunisian-Egyptian way," prosecutor Edmore Nyazamba said last week in court.

At least 12 of the activists were beaten with broomsticks on their buttocks and the soles of their feet, defense attorney Alec Muchadehama told a packed courtroom on Thursday. All 46 defendants were charged with treason, a charge that carries a death sentence in Zimbabwe.

"If watching television footage of the uprisings was treason, most Zimbabweans would be guilty of it because we watch news daily," Muchadehama said.

Robert Mugabe, 87, has ruled Zimbabwe since independence in 1980. Like Mubarak and Ben Ali, he has been accused of rigging elections and instituting repressive laws to tighten his grip on power.

The arrests may be an indication that authorities are worried that the changes sweeping across north Africa may inspire Zimbabweans to rise up. The opposition Movement for Democratic Change, MDC, which is in a troubled unity government with Mugabe's ZANU-PF, has called the arrests "an abuse of state machinery by ZANU-PF to suppress the people's views."

Mugabe's policies over the past decade have been blamed for plunging the once-prosperous country into economic crisis. Mugabe has called for an election this year, but his political rival and leader of the MDC, Morgan Tsvangirai, has threatened to boycott the poll if a referendum on a new constitution is not held.
The late-night wars have erupted again, this time over ice cream.

Stephen Colbert and Jimmy Fallon faced off on Thursday's "The Colbert Report" in a mock feud over their respective Ben & Jerry's flavors. The ice-cream maker years ago named "Americone Dream" for Colbert, while earlier this week "Late Night Snack" was unveiled for Fallon, host of "Late Night" on NBC.

The two traded insults, with Fallon claiming Americone Dream was merely a "palate cleanser for `Toss.0.'" Colbert said "Late Night Snack" was "pretty good - for 12:30" and compared it to a Fallon "Saturday Night Live" sketch: "Halfway through, you break down laughing and you can't finish it."

The two sought backup, yelling "Lead-ins assemble!" Jay Leno didn't show, but Jon Stewart did. Armed with a bat, the trio of late-night hosts resembled a similar throw-down among Colbert, Stewart and Conan O'Brien during the 2007-2008 writers strike.
Microsoft has dialed up its competition in the search-engine wars with the introduction of a daily deals facility on Bing.

Microsoft knows daily deals are the hottest meme at the moment, so its announcement is suitably cheeky and aggressively street-hawkeresque (we kid): "Calling all bargain hunters, deal lovers, Groupon groupies and Living Social fanatics! Things just got easier" it trumpets, making no bones about mentioning the biggest name in daily deals right now, Groupon, to gin up interest in its service.
Bing Deals arrived Thursday on desktop PCs and smartphones (where it's possibly most useful) via Bing's dedicated, simpler, mobile site It promises to give access to "more than 20,000 unique offers in over 14,000 cities and towns across the U.S." 

But how has Microsoft managed to amass such a diverse coverage and ad-partnership pool already, you may wonder?

Employers hired in February at the fastest pace in almost a year and the unemployment rate fell to 8.9 percent - a nearly two-year low.

The economy added 192,000 jobs last month, with factories, professional and business services, education and health care among those expanding employment. Retailers, however, trimmed jobs. State and local governments, wrestling with budget shortfalls, slashed 30,000 jobs, the most since November. Federal government hiring was flat.

Private employers added 222,000 jobs last month, the most since April. That shows that companies are feeling more confident in the economy and about their own financial prospects. And it bolstered hopes that businesses will shift into a more aggressive hiring mode and boost the economic recovery.

The unemployment rate is now at the lowest point since April 2009. It has been falling for three months, down from 9.8 percent in November, marking the sharpest three-month decline since 1983.
More than 50 African Union peacekeepers have died in fighting in Somalia since a major offensive against Islamist militants began two weeks ago, officials told The Associated Press on Friday.

The death toll is far higher than any publicly acknowledged casualty figures for the African Union, which appears to be trying to keep the extent of its losses under wraps due to political considerations in Burundi, one of two nations providing the bulk of the forces.

The African Union force, known as AMISOM, has publicly confirmed only a handful of deaths since heavy fighting broke out in Somalia on Feb. 19. An AMISOM spokesman in Nairobi did not answer calls Friday. The Burundian government spokesman was unavailable for comment.

Wafula Wamunyinyi, the second-highest ranking official on the AU's commission for Somalia, declined to discuss casualty figures when reached Friday.

"I don't have that information where I am now," he said.

Two Nairobi-based diplomats said at least 43 Burundian and 10 Ugandan troops have been killed since Feb. 18, citing information from people involved in the operation. The two spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the press.

In addition, a Burundian soldier has been captured alive by militants, and his image and a recorded statement have been circulating on websites used by al-Shabab, Somalia's most dangerous insurgent group.
The mother of a black Ohio fifth grader assigned to play a slave for a social studies lesson says the school should be more sensitive.

Principal Scott Schmidt of Chapelfield Elementary in Gahanna (guh-HA'-nuh) called Aneka Burton to apologize for what happened to her son, Nikko, on Wednesday. Columbus station WBNS-TV reports Schmidt said no harm was intended.

Ten-year-old Nikko says the class was randomly divided into "masters" and "slaves" and that the only other black student got to be a master. Burton says her son refused to take part in a simulated slave auction and was sent back to his desk.

Burton says she appreciates the apology, but the exercise was inappropriate.

The school district said in a statement Thursday that officials acted promptly once the concern was raised.

Beware politics' evil twins

Overreach and backlash: They are the prime drivers of politics in our time, pushing the pendulum swing back and forth between the parties faster and faster.

We've seen the cycle before, and now we may be seeing it again in Congress and state capitols from Wisconsin to New Hampshire and beyond.

Here's how it works. One party comes into power. Its more extreme politicians, encouraged by activists, willfully misinterpret their election victory as an ideological mandate. They overreach legislatively, their arrogance alienates the moderate majority of Americans in the process and provokes a massive backlash in the next election.

There was the Bill Clinton-driven Democratic landslide of 1992 -- supposedly the beginning of a baby-boomer repudiation of Reagan conservatism. That lasted until 1994's Republican Revolution.

This supposed sea change ended with Clinton's re-election in 1996, and when Republicans overreached in the Monica-gate impeachment proceedings, they lost so many seats in 1998 that House Speaker Newt Gingrich resigned.

After a series of Bush-era corruption scandals (Jack Abramoff), social conservative appeals (Terri Schaivo), partisan hackishness (Monica Goodling and the U.S. attorney firings) and Iraq, Democrats catapulted back into congressional power as a check on the arrogance of one-party Republican rule.

When Obama swept into office in 2008, Democratic strategists started talking demographic shifts that would ensure 40 years in power. Their unified reign lasted two years -- less, if you consider the backlash from independent voters who opposed the post-stimulus explosion of deficits and debt, and later the health care bill.

Republican gains in 2010 were unprecedented, not just in congressional seats but also 17 legislatures where they gained control. But there are costs that come with conservative populism -- an ideological absolutism that plays to the base and can seem absurd or irrelevant to the electorate at large. In Congress, the message of 2010 election seemed clear -- focus on the economy and reduce the deficit and the debt. During the campaign, social issues were de-emphasized.

But the first votes of the new conservative Congress were the somewhat token repeal of health care reform, followed by a series of anti-abortion bills.

Few people warn you about the downside to being a Diva. Like, for example, all that glitter.

"You have no idea," says Jacqueline Arnold, shaking her head.

Arnold, one of three Divas in Broadway's "Priscilla Queen of the Desert, The Musical," says she found the silvery stuff all over a shirt while unpacking on vacation. Ashley Spencer, a fellow Diva, says glitter still shows up in her clothes even after doing laundry.

"It will live with us forever," Spencer says, in mock horror.

Anastacia McCleskey, the third Diva, is beginning to worry about the medical implications down the line. "When we start having respiratory problems, we'll know - it's the glitter," she says.

Arnold, imitating a doctor, solemnly announces: "She's shiny on the inside. She's radioactive!"
Zimbabwe's leader of 30 years returned to Singapore for a medical check, his fourth visit there this year, his spokesman said Friday, as questions about his health add to uncertainty about the country's political future.

Presidential spokesman George Charamba said Friday that President Robert Mugabe, 87, left Thursday for a final examination after undergoing routine cataract surgery in Singapore in January. He is expected home on Sunday, state media reported Friday.

"There is nothing to cause any alarm" over Mugabe's health, Charamba said.

At celebrations marking his birthday on Feb. 21, an increasingly frail Mugabe said even if his body "may get spent," his mind remained young and alert.

But seven weeks away in Asia since December - three of them his official annual vacation - have fueled doubts on the health of Zimbabwe's authoritarian ruler since independence in 1980. Officials have dismissed reports he received treatment for prostate cancer.
In-line U.S. jobs figures on Friday failed to boost stocks any further, with most indexes set to end the week with little momentum after sharp gains the previous day.

The Labor Department reported that the U.S. economy generated 192,000 jobs in February, up from January's 63,000 but in line with expectations following forecast-busting surveys earlier in the week. The unemployment rate fell for the third month running to a near two-year low of 8.9 percent, largely because people are dropping out of the labor force.

Though the payrolls figures are often subject to big revisions on a monthly basis, they are routinely at the heart of financial markets' attentions, especially at a time when investors are trying to work out when the Federal Reserve may start raising interest rates once again.

The prevailing view is that the Fed will continue to pump more money into the U.S. economy and keep its main interest rate near zero percent until there is clear evidence that the unemployment rate is heading down towards 7 percent.

Stock gave up some of their earlier gains following the figures.
Egypt's prime minister-designate vowed Friday before thousands of demonstrators at a central Cairo square to do everything he could to meet their demands and pleaded with them to turn their attention to "rebuilding" the country.

Essam Sharaf was picked by Egypt's military rulers on Thursday to replace Ahmed Shafiq as prime minister.

Shafiq was the last premier to be named by Hosni Mubarak, who stepped down Feb. 11 in the face of massive anti-government protests demanding an end to his 30-year rule.

A former transport minister, Sharaf endeared himself to the protesters when he joined the demonstrations that forced Mubarak to resign. His made his address Friday at Tahrir Square, the protests' epicenter.
With retail video game sales smacked down by the rough economy and ever-growing competition in the crowded social and mobile game marketplace, it seemed like attendees at this week's annual Game Developers Conference were more frustrated than birds catapulted at pigs.

Game designers, programmers and executives from around the world converged at the Moscone Convention Center in hopes of figuring out how to become the next "Angry Birds," the silly top-selling mobile game that pits birds against pigs. Yet many attendees dismissed the mobile platform as The Next Big Thing, noting that selling 99-cent games isn't a dependable way to generate revenue.

"Downloadable games are the future, which is what I keep telling my team when they ask why we don't make any money," joked "Psychonauts" and "Brutal Legend" developer Tim Schafer while hosting the Game Developers Choice Awards on Wednesday. "Just kidding. I blame marketing."

Nintendo president Satoru Iwata said in the conference's keynote speech Wednesday morning that "game development is drowning" because of the rise of cheaply made and priced mobile and social games. He expressed concern that those platforms have "no motivation to maintain the value of gaming" and that they lower gamemakers' ability to make a living.