News & Current Affairs

September 14, 2008

Pope holds huge Mass in Lourdes

Pope holds huge Mass in Lourdes

Pope Benedict XVI has told tens of thousands of pilgrims in the southern French town of Lourdes that love can be stronger than all the world’s evil.

The 81-year-old pontiff gave the homily during an open-air Sunday Mass at the highly-revered Roman Catholic shrine.

Benedict is in Lourdes to mark the 150th anniversary of what many Roman Catholics believe was a vision of the Virgin Mary by a young local girl.

On Saturday, he also celebrated an outdoor Mass in the capital, Paris.

More than 200,000 pilgrims made the trip to Lourdes for Benedict’s first papal Mass at the shrine.

The pontiff is making a three-day pilgrimage to the sanctuary, which is visited each year by six million believers.

There is a love in this world that is stronger than death, stronger than our weakness and sins
Pope Benedict XVI

Benedict looked elated and moved by the rapturous welcome he received from the crowds – some of the faithful had queued through the night to make ensure their place.

Security has been tight, with more than 3,000 police officers drafted in to the area.

After his arrival at the shrine, in the foothills of the Pyrenees, Benedict prayed at the Grotto of Massabielle, also known as the Cave of Apparitions.

The riverside site is where 14-year-old peasant girl Bernadette Soubirous told local clergy in 1858 the Virgin Mary had appeared to her.

When he arrived on Saturday night, Benedict also drank water from a spring that believers say has miraculous healing powers.

Pope Benedict XVI has celebrated his first Mass at Lourdes

Saying Mass from under white canopies shaped like sails, the Pope told his listeners to be true to their faith because “it tells us that there is a love in this world that is stronger than death, stronger than our weakness and sins”.

He said: “The power of love is stronger than the evil which threatens us.”

Pope Benedict arrived in Paris on Friday for his first visit to France since becoming Pope in 2005. He was welcomed by French President Nicolas Sarkozy, whom he praised for promoting the role of religion in society.

France staunchly upholds a 1905 law that enshrines the separation of Church and state, but Mr Sarkozy has supported efforts to ease the country’s strict secularism law.

France is a Roman Catholic country but Sunday Mass attendance is now below 10%.

Before his visit, a French newspaper poll showed that more than half of those questioned had a positive view of the Pope.


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September 7, 2008

New charges for actor accused in stabbing

New charges for actor accused in stabbing

VISTA, California (AP) — Prosecutors have brought additional charges against a Hollywood actor accused of stabbing his ex-girlfriend 20 times.

Shelley Malil portrayed the character Haziz in "The 40-Year-Old Virgin."

Shelley Malil portrayed the character Haziz in “The 40-Year-Old Virgin.”

Shelley Malil, 43, who played a supporting role in “The 40-Year-Old Virgin,” was charged Friday with residential burglary and assault with a deadly weapon for allegedly attacking a man who with Malil’s ex-girlfriend, Kendra Beebe, on August 10.

Prosecutors say that was the day Malil stabbed Beebe with two knives while chasing her in and around her San Marcos home as her two children slept.

A man who was with Beebe at the time grabbed one knife, but Malil found another and continued the attack until a neighbor disarmed him, prosecutors said.

Malil previously pleaded not guilty to one count of attempted murder with a special circumstance of premeditation and one count of personal use of a knife and inflicting great bodily injury. He faces life in prison if convicted.

During a Superior Court hearing Friday, a judge reduced his bail from $10 million to $3 million. Malil’s attorney, Steve Meiser, argued that the higher figure was unreasonable and that his Indian-born client was not a flight risk.

Malil has been jailed since August 11.

Beebe, 35, suffered deep wounds to her lungs and throat, but prosecutors said she was expected to recover.

Malil played a co-worker, Haziz, to comedian Steve Carell’s title character in “The 40-Year-Old Virgin.” He has appeared on dozens of TV shows, including “NYPD Blue” and “Scrubs.”

August 14, 2008

BA seals alliance with American

BA seals alliance with American

British Airways says it has sealed an alliance with American Airlines that will allow the two carriers to agree fares, routes and schedules together.

The move will also include Spain’s Iberia, which is merging with BA.

With aviation fuel prices near record levels and spending on air travel slowing, airlines are looking at ways to cut costs.

But the carriers will have to persuade the US that the deal does not break US rules on foreign ownership of airlines.

Challenges

Under the business agreement, the three airlines will co-operate on flights between the US, Mexico and Canada and the EU, Switzerland and Norway.

“We believe our proposed co-operation is an important step towards ensuring that we can compete effectively with rival alliances and manage through the challenges of record fuel prices and growing economic concerns,” said Gerard Arpey, chairman and chief executive of AMR Corp, the parent company of American Airlines.

However, BA’s rival Virgin Atlantic, owned by Sir Richard Branson, said the plan would reduce competition in the airline industry.

“What they’re proposing is to create the world’s biggest airline with American Airlines,” said Virgin’s Paul Charles.

“But we know what dominant players do – they snuff out competition, they raise prices and they become even more dominant.”

Competition

Peter Morris, an aviation analyst from Ascend, told that it was unlikely that the deal would be anti-competitive.

“I think BA would argue that it will reduce its cost structure, which it can then pass on, to a degree, to passengers.

“BA is far less dominant than any of Air France, KLM or Lufthansa are out of their hubs.”

AA and BA tailfins

The airlines hope the alliance will help them to cut costs

Mark Pritchard MP, a member of the House of Commons Transport Select Committee, also saw the decision as “good news” for both UK and US consumers.

“With tougher trading conditions for most airlines – coupled with the need to support the spirit of the Open Skies Agreement, Congress has no real excuse to delay the deal unnecessarily,” he said.

The airlines said they planned to apply to the US Department of Transportation for immunity from US anti-competition rules and they would also notify European regulators.

They have previously failed to win an exemption from these laws because of their dominance at Heathrow, where BA and AA control nearly half of all the landing and take-off slots to the US from the airport.

‘Good news’

However, BA chief executive Willie Walsh said the relationship would strengthen competition by providing consumers with easier journeys to more destinations.

“This may not be good news for Richard Branson but it is good news for consumers,” Mr Walsh told.

Earlier this week, Sir Richard said he had written to presidential hopefuls Barack Obama and John McCain to warn that the proposed alliance between BA and American Airlines would severely damage competition on transatlantic routes.

All because the lady loves a foreign accent

All because the lady loves a foreign accent

Bride of the Rif, The Sheikh's Reward and  At the Sheikh's Command

Courtesy BBC

By Samanthi Dissanayake
BBC News

It is the stuff of escapist fantasy. A tall, dark and handsome type sweeps a cream-and-roses Home Counties heroine off her feet. In its 100 years of publishing, the exotic alpha male has been a staple of the Mills and Boon romance.

The tale of the passionate desert sheikh who sweeps secretary Janna Smith h off her feet in Violet Winspear’s 1970 romance Tawny Sands is perhaps the quintessential Mills and Boon story.

Still from 1921's The Sheik

Silent film sex symbol Rudolph Valentino in The Sheik

“His tone of voice was softly mocking, but she knew he didn’t really jest. He was Raul Cesar Bey and the further they traveled into the desert the more aware she was of his affinity with the savage sun and tawny sands.”

Shocking, suggestive, the tale of their love was wildly popular with a generation of romance readers.

It is also typical of a taste for foreign pleasures when it comes to romantic fiction.

It’s 100 years since Mills and Boon published their first book. Sold in 109 countries and translated into 26 different languages, it is arguably Britain’s best-known publishing house worldwide.

From early in the company’s history, its winsome heroines have looked beyond Britain’s shores to find love.

Nobody can quite identify the very first Mills and Boon romance to feature an exotic hero or location. But Dr Joseph McAleer, author of Passion’s Fortune: The Story of Mills and Boon, says it was probably in the 1910s, following the lead of Hollywood cinema and its preoccupation with desert sheikhs and jungle escapades.

The fascination still exists today with the best-selling title of the June 2008 Modern Romance series being Desert King, Pregnant Mistress by Susan Stephens.

“Exotic locations gave great scope to authors to be a bit racier. It is usually an English person going into the tropics to experience this different culture,” Dr McAleer says.

“But they never lose their moral foundation. The heroines normally wind up reforming the sheikh.”

Steamy scenes

In 1915 Louise Gerard wrote The Virgin’s Treasure, the story of Dr Keith Harding, who leaves England for Africa to treat tropical diseases.

British woman dancing with an American GI in 1942

A fine wartime romance

“This was not England but the tropics where blood was hotter and where incredible things happen with amazing swiftness” Gerard writes, preparing the reader for the steamy scenes to come. It was only in the 1930s that Mills and Boon became a dedicated romantic fiction publishers. Since then, enigmatic sheikhs, brooding Spaniards and sardonic Greek tycoons have become a staple of their storylines.

These international tales have tended to mirror broader social trends. The experience of World War II enhanced the possibilities of love abroad. WAAF Into Wife, by Barbara Stanton, follows the fortunes of Mandy Lyle, who falls under the spell of Count Alexei Czishkiwhizski, leader of a Polish squadron.

“With horizons being broadened and more international travel, the romances set in rose-covered cottages did not have the same cache as Greece, Ibiza, and South Africa,” Dr McAleer says.

The exotic and the international became a key measure of the ultimate romantic lead.

“The alpha male has to be larger than life, an incredibly heroic figure. He was usually fabulously wealthy with a mystery about him,” says Dr McAleer.

Greek shipping magnates emerged in the 70s and 80s, and the Mediterranean hero rose in popularity as package holidays became the norm.

The growth in air travel also saw the rise of the air hostess/pilot romance, with many tender words lavished on the captains holding passengers’ lives in their manly hands.

Woman reading on a beach

It could happen to you…?

Nowadays, Italians and Spaniards remain popular heroes and at least one sheikh romance a month is published. Even Russian oligarchs have made an appearance.

“As the world has become more globalised our settings have had to become more exotic, more luxurious and exciting. Where our heroes were once millionaires, now they have to be billionaires,” says Clare Somerville, marketing director for Mills and Boon.

Middle Eastern tycoons feature frequently but hail fictional countries and kingdoms – there is little room for the realities of the region’s geopolitics in escapist fiction.

The company’s largest markets have been the UK, United States, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. Demographically, North America is the biggest market but with the launch of English-language editions in India earlier this year, Mills and Boon acknowledges this could change.

Harlequin Mills and Boon
The real aim of romance is to provide escape and entertainment
Violet Winspear

As India’s middle classes exercise their consumer muscle, so the company wants to expand its roster of romantic heroes.

“We are also looking at the Indian prince idea. He is a clear extension of the alpha male and we are looking at launching this next year,” says Ms Somerville.

It is also running a competition to find new local authors in India. Mills and Boon novels are translated in China, and for some years now its romances have graced Japanese bookshelves in the form of manga comics.

Exotic escape

Mills and Boon claim its readership all over the world look for the same thing: identification with the heroine and intense romantic relationships.

Shirley Valentine

You’re not in Liverpool now, Shirley

Violet Winspear, one of Mills and Boon’s best-selling authors in the 1960s and the author of Tawny Sands, set many of her books in Greece, Spain and North Africa.

But she was a spinster who reputedly never left south-east England – instead she meticulously researched her far-flung settings at the local library.

Miss Winspear caused considerable controversy when explaining her archetypal hero – the sort of men “who frighten and fascinate” and “the sort of men who are capable of rape: men it’s dangerous to be left alone in the room with”.

Although this comment would haunt her, Dr McAleer says she thought hard about what exotic themes brought to her readers. In a letter to her publisher, she wrote: “Who on earth can truly identify with a sardonic Spanish Don, a handsome surgeon, a dashing Italian or a bittersweet Greek? The real aim of romance is to provide escape and entertainment, not to dish up ‘real life’ and ‘real life people on a plate with egg on it’!”

Shirley Valentine would surely agree.


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August 9, 2008

Texas bus crash kills 15 pilgrims

Texas bus crash kills 15 pilgrims

Bus wreckage in Sherman, TX

The crash sent the bus off a bridge

Fifteen people have been killed in the US state of Texas after a bus carrying a Vietnamese church group crashed off a bridge into a ravine.

The bus, carrying 55 people, slid off a bridge in Sherman, about 60 miles (100 km) north of Dallas, at 0045 local time (0545 GMT) on Friday.

Police said the bus was chartered by Vietnamese Catholics from Houston who were on a pilgrimage to Missouri.

The operators of the bus did not have a valid licence, officials say.

Initial reports said the bus lost control and smashed into the rail guard of the bridge. It apparently then skidded along the rail before sliding off the bridge.

At the site of the crash, the crumpled wreckage of the bus lay on its right side, littered with luggage, shopping bags and scattered clothing.

Expired certificate

Twelve people died at the screen of the crash and another three later in local hospitals.

Bus crash survivor Leha Nguyen

Leha Nguyen: “I’m the luckiest one”

A large section of the highway was closed as ambulances and at least 13 helicopters rushed to the scene to ferry the wounded to several hospitals in the Dallas area.

One passenger, Leha Nguyen, 45, said people were dozing off when passengers started screaming.

“Somebody was laying on my legs. A lady next to me, she had her arm crushed up,” she said.

“I think I’m the luckiest one out of most people,” she added, stating that none of the passengers were wearing seat belts.

Accident investigators say that a tyre on the bus blew out, and that it had been refitted with a new tread, in violation of safety regulations.

The National Transportation Safety Board said that the 52-year-old driver, who survived the crash, had a commercial licence, but had an expired medical certificate.

According to Houston’s KHOU-TV, the passengers were from the Vietnamese Martyrs Church of Houston who were on their way to Carthage, Missouri, for the Marian Days festival, an annual celebration to honour the Virgin Mary.

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