February 23

Neighbor of missing San Diego girl is taken into custody

Associated Press

AP Photo/John McCutcheon

David Westerfield is taken into custody and led away from his lawyer’s office in San Diego Friday.

SAN DIEGO — A neighbor of a 7-year-old girl abducted from her bedroom three weeks ago was arrested Friday after her blood was found on his clothing and in his motor home, police said. The girl was still missing.
David Westerfield, 49, was taken into custody for investigation of kidnapping in the disappearance of Danielle van Dam, who vanished in the middle of the night.
Police Chief David Bejarano said DNA tests confirmed the blood in his vehicle and on a piece of his clothing was the girl’s.
“I can’t stress enough how strong that link is,” the chief said.
Westerfield’s attorney, Steven Feldman, said he will likely ask a judge to impose a gag order on those involved in the case.
“We certainly intend to mount a vigorous defense but we don’t wish to try the case in the media,” he said.
Danielle was reported missing from her second-story bedroom the morning of Feb. 2 when her parents went to check on her.
Bejarano would not offer any details about what may have happened to the girl and would not discuss why she was kidnapped.
“We are very happy that police have made an arrest... But the fact still remains that we don’t have our daughter. We still need to find Danielle,” the girl’s mother, Brenda van Dam, said outside the family home.
Search leaders made a renewed plea for more volunteers over the weekend.
Bejarano said police have no conclusive evidence on whether she is alive, but added, “As a father, I’m optimistic that at some point we will find Danielle.”
Police have questioned Westerfield several times in the case. His sport utility vehicle, motor home and other property has been impounded.
Police said Friday that child pornography was found in his home.
Westerfield, a self-employed engineer and divorced father who lives two doors down, appeared calm as he was led into an unmarked police car.
Damon van Dam, the girl’s father, has previously said that the family did not know Westerfield well.
“He’s an acquaintance. He’s not a friend,” van Dam said. “We’ve seen him since we moved in. We wave to him. We say hello to him when we drive by.”
Westerfield was transferred to San Diego County jail after questioning. He is expected to be arraigned Tuesday.
Westerfield has told reporters that he saw Brenda van Dam at a bar near their home the night before Danielle was reported missing. Westerfield also said he went away that weekend and later showed police the locations in the desert east of San Diego.
Danielle was last seen when Damon van Dam put her to bed about 10 p.m. on Feb. 1. He stayed home with Danielle and her two brothers while Brenda was at the bar.
Brenda van Dam came home around 2:30 a.m., then stayed up for an hour with her husband and friends. She said she made sure the children’s bedroom doors were closed to keep from disturbing them, but didn’t check on the children.

Threats made against crematory operator

AP Photo/John Bazemore

Tri-State crematory owner Ray Brent Marsh is led past news cameras by Walker County Sheriff’s deputies as he arrives for a court hearing Friday in Lafayette, Ga.

NOBLE, Ga. (AP) — A judge declined to set bail Friday for the operator of a north Georgia crematory where nearly 300 decaying bodies have been discovered.
Magistrate Judge Jerry Day said he would decide in the next few days whether Ray Brent Marsh should be eligible for bail.
Prosecutors argued Marsh should not be released because of the outrage in the community. Walker County Sheriff Steve Wilson said death threats had been called in against Marsh.
Marsh’s attorney, Ken Poston, said his client was not a flight risk and had lived in the community all his life. He said concern for Marsh’s safety was no reason to deny him freedom.
Poston said Marsh had no intention of leaving town, or going back to his family’s crematory, if he is released on bail.
“He’s not going anywhere near his home,” Poston said.
Marsh, wearing a bulletproof vest, sat quietly during the hearing, occasionally consulting with his attorney. His sister and wife attended but did not speak to reporters. Neither Marsh nor his family members have made any public comment.
Marsh, 28, is charged with 16 counts of theft by deception for allegedly taking payment for cremations he never performed. Wilson told the judge 289 bodies have been found on the Tri-State grounds. At least 54 have been identified.
The sheriff also declined to speak with reporters following the hearing, citing a gag order imposed Thursday by a judge. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, WSB-TV and WSB Radio in Atlanta filed a motion Friday challenging the gag order,
Marsh had officers all around him, and a crowd gathered at the courthouse for Friday’s hearing.
Leatha Shropshire, whose mother’s body was recovered at the crematory, wore a T-shirt with her mother’s face on it and the inscription “Victim of Marsh’s Crematory.”
As Marsh was led away, she yelled: “Brent, look at what you’ve done! Look at what you’ve done!”
The operation to recover human remains from pits, sheds, metal vaults and even a shallow lake near the crematory continued Friday and could take at least eight months, officials said.

Arlington National Cemetery to expand

AP Photo/Evan Vucci

Construction cranes rise above the Pentagon as a hearse sits parked near a gravsite at Arlington National Cemetery. The cemetery is expanding by 60 acres to make room to receive another generation of honored dead.

ARLINGTON, Va. (AP) — Arlington National Cemetery is expanding by 60 acres to make room to receive another generation of honored dead. Yet at the nation’s most famous cemetery, no one can say how many rows of white headstones will be needed by midcentury.
Workers felt the grounds tremble Sept. 11, when a hijacked airliner smashed into the Pentagon just beyond the cemetery fence. Sixty-five of those killed have joined Arlington’s ranks.
Cemetery planners rely on demographics and topography to predict that the expansion will add 35 years to the life of Arlington cemetery, allowing it to accept fallen warriors until 2060.
There should be room enough for 350,000 more veterans, dignitaries and unforeseen heroes, an average of 6,000 per year.
As millions of World War II’s fighters age, burials are expected to increase over the next five or six years, covering large swaths of land before tapering off again.
Most World War II veterans will not end up here, even if they meet the strict eligibility requirements. But those who do would help fill the cemetery by 2025 if it stayed at last year’s size of 612 acres.
So Arlington has begun its first growth since the 1960s. Last month, the National Park Service turned over 12 acres of woodland behind the historic home of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee, which is at the heart of the cemetery.
Congress also has approved putting graves on almost 50 more adjacent acres, already owned by the military, by the end of the decade.
The biggest chunk will come when offices sitting on a hill next to the Pentagon, called the Navy Annex, are torn down. An Air Force memorial also is planned for that site.
Already, 275,000 people rest at Arlington. They include presidents John F. Kennedy and William Howard Taft, Supreme Court justices, the crew of the Space Shuttle Challenger, polar explorer Richard Byrd, boxer Joe Louis, and veterans of every war the United States has fought.
With space at a premium, burials are normally reserved for active duty personnel, military retirees, retired reservists who reach age 60, winners of the military’s highest decorations, and former prisoners of war. Their spouses also qualify.
So do all presidents, as well as high government officials with past military service. Other veterans who served on active duty can have their ashes inurned in the columbarium.
Congress is considering legislation to allow other veterans to be buried at Arlington, but the Army, which oversees the cemetary, opposes changes that would use up space more quickly.

Shopper claims self-defense in checkout rage incident

LOWELL, Mass. (AP) — A shopper accused of beating another customer for bringing too many items into an express checkout line surrendered Friday, but her lawyer said she was only defending herself.
The lawyer said the other customer swore at Karen Morgan, then spit in her face and lunged at her outside the Market Basket grocery store. Police say Morgan, 38, was the aggressor.
The Feb. 10 dispute began when the 51-year-old woman, who was not identified by police, brought 13 items into a 12-items-or-fewer checkout lane.
The woman said Morgan got in line behind her, complained she didn’t know how to count, then swore at her. She said that as she walked home with the groceries, Morgan drove up and the two exchanged words.
“Then she got out of the car and commenced a whooping on me,”’ the woman told The Sun of Lowell.
Police say Morgan pulled the victim’s hair and hit her hard enough to knock her to the ground, then kicked her in the head. The woman took down the car’s license-plate number, and it was traced to Morgan’s address.
Morgan’s attorney, David LiBassi, said Morgan never kicked the woman or initiated any assault.
Morgan was charged with assault and battery with a dangerous weapon — her shod foot. She faces up to 10 years in prison.
Friday’s surrender came after she failed to appear at an initial court hearing. Arraignment was expected later in the day.

Conditions right for an El Nino this year, but it is no sure thing

BOSTON (AP) — Higher than normal water temperatures in the eastern tropical Pacific suggest an El Nino weather pattern may be forming, meteorologists said Saturday, but its development is far from a sure thing.
“The essential preconditions are the thing we have,” meteorologist Stephen Zebiak said at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. “They’re set for an El Nino to unfold, but they are not sufficient.”
If El Nino does develop, it probably means wetter weather than usual in California, Texas and Florida. Northern states would be more likely to have a warm and relatively snow-free winter, similar to the one now.
El Nino is a natural climate phenomenon that develops in the tropical Pacific Ocean every two to seven years. A pool of warm water that typically sits in the western Pacific near the Philippines shifts eastward, changing circulation patterns in both the ocean and the atmosphere above it.
The weather pattern generally brings dry conditions to Australia and southeast Asia, and wetter than normal conditions to the west coast of South America.
El Nino is often blamed for flood and famine. But geographer David Changnon of Northern Illinois University said his research on the most recent El Nino, of 1997-98, suggests it may have brought more benefits than harm to the U.S. economy.
At the same time it caused $1.1 billion in damage to southern California, the warm conditions the weather pattern delivered that year to the upper Midwest saved billions more by lowering heating and snow removal costs. It also decreased transportation delays caused by winter storms and increased retail sales, home construction and other weather-dependent economic activity.

NOAA works to develop more accurate forecasts

AP Photo/Al Grillo

Richard McNamara, left, and Daniel Lino, engineers for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, prepare a one pound cylinder containing atmospheric measuring instruments to launch out of the Gulfstream G-1V jet as they fly over the Pacific Ocean.

OVER THE PACIFIC OCEAN (AP) — Behind the cockpit of the Gulfstream jet, flight meteorologist Stan Czyzyk counts the seconds until the next launch of instruments tracking an evolving storm poised to threaten the Winter Olympics.
At 41,000 feet above the Pacific Ocean, two engineers at the rear of the specially modified plane wait for him to utter one word into their ear phones: “Drop.”
At that command, Richard McNamara places a cylinder into a chute and Dan Lino pushes a button, opening a small trap door. The 1-pound cylinder shoots out with the sucking sound of a vacuum tube at a drive-up bank window. The airborne container instantly sprouts a tiny parachute for its 20-minute descent to the Pacific before sinking 14,000 feet to the bottom of the ocean.
During the seven-hour flight from Anchorage, the crew launched 26 of the pressboard cylinders to collect data on the developing cold front. The mission was part of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s efforts to survey severe winter storms born in the vast, largely unmonitored north Pacific and improve weather forecasts across the United States.
The crew averages five missions every two weeks.
“We’re measuring the atmosphere surrounding the storm,” said program manager Jack Parrish, dressed in a blue flight suit like the rest of the 10-man crew aboard the Gulfstream G-IV. “Think of a storm as a floating cork in a stream. It can only go where the stream takes it. We’re measuring the stream.”
From such a high altitude, that meant a smooth ride, other than a bout of jet-stream turbulence that briefly rattled the 13-seat plane as it soared high above a frozen cloud. But plenty of chaos lurked in the science involved during the 3,000-mile flight from the Gulf of Alaska to the “middle of nowhere” west of the Northern California coast.
The cylinders, priced at $600 apiece, measure humidity, temperature and the speed and direction of wind at various elevations of their descent.
On a computer, Czyzyk hustled to process the signals arriving twice every second. He constantly flipped between screens of solid numbers and colorful squiggly lines akin to a child’s crude drawing.
The incoming data was transmitted by satellite to NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Predictions in Suitland, Md. There, supercomputers develop forecast models, incorporating information from various sources, including the Gulfstream jet, a few scattered weather buoys and weather balloon launching sites on Adak, Hawaii, and Wake Island on the other side of the International Dateline.
Much of the atmosphere over the Pacific goes unmeasured, however, other than data collected during the flyovers launched in 1998 through NOAA’s Aircraft Operations Center. The AOC crew works from Alaska and Hawaii with a team of counterparts from the Air Force Reserve.
The computers in Suitland use physics to move predictions forward in time intervals, creating current weather pictures as well as short- and long-range forecasts.
Reports are distributed to the National Weather Service and picked up by news outlets and organizations which handle emergency services, agriculture, aviation and recreation.
The cylinder drops create more accurate, far-reaching forecasts, giving people additional time to prepare for snowstorms and blizzards, mudslides, severe winds and floods.
“Basically, it means an extra day’s lead time on the weather,” Parrish said. That extra time is crucial to plan evacuations, close schools and warn people to stay indoors. It also helps utility companies share resources during emergencies.
“Very few storms catch you by surprise,” Parrish said. “But they could be 15- to 20- percent stronger than expected. That information makes a difference.”
During warmer months, storm trackers chase hurricanes from Gulfstream and other research aircraft based at the Aircraft Operations Center headquarters at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, Fla. Those rougher rides yield higher doses of adrenaline — and relative calm.

Drug makers targeting farm storage tanks in rural America

AP Photo/Terry Gilliam

A storage tank filled with the farm fertilizer anhydrous ammonia sits on the grounds of a fertilizer plant in Waldo. Drug thieves have been tapping into tanks that carry the fertilizer, a volatile ingredient that can be used to produce methamphetamine.

TOLEDO (AP) — A siphoning hose found on the ground next to a tank filled with farm fertilizer was the first clue.
Drug thieves had tapped into the tank at a fertilizer plant to steal anhydrous ammonia — a volatile ingredient that can be used to produce methamphetamine.
Fertilizer plants and farms nationwide are increasingly being targeted as popularity and production of meth soars. The trend has been dangerous — improper handling of the chemicals has caused sickness in some people and forced evacuations of nearby communities.
States including Missouri, Arkansas, Oklahoma and Texas have been fighting ammonia thieves since 1998. Now thefts have spread throughout the South and Midwest, according to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration.
“How many times we’ve been hit I don’t know,” said Greg Lowe, who monitors losses at County Springs Farmers Co-Op in Sandusky County in north-central Ohio.
Anhydrous ammonia, which costs about $245 a ton, is close to pure nitrogen and is sprayed on corn fields to increase growth. Drug makers mix it with common chemicals such as starter fluid, paint thinner, batteries and cold medicine to produce methamphetamine.
“It’s the cheap man’s cocaine,” said Mark Murtha, an agent for the DEA
According to a DEA survey, the number of people abusing the drug — also known as speed, ice, crystal or crank — has tripled over five years to 9.4 million in 1999.
Meth labs have been mushrooming. Last year, the state with the highest number of meth lab seizures was California, with 1,232, the DEA said.
“I don’t think there’s a week last year where we didn’t find one, get ready to find one or hear about one,” said Richard Cerniglia, the DEA agent in charge in Cincinnati.
Federal and local agents in Ohio found 114 labs last year, up from 23 the year before.
The state has 234 sites registered to store anhydrous ammonia. The Ohio Department of Agriculture inspects them all to make sure the chemicals are stored properly. Many times the thefts go undetected because no more than 10 pounds are taken.
“There’s not a lot you can do,” said Rick Dunbar, who manages the Edon Farmers Co-Op in northwest Ohio’s Williams County. “We put chains and padlocks on the tanks and the next time, they just cut the chain.”
The thefts of the chemical, which causes a freezing burn and can peel skin or melt the cornea of an eye, have also taken their toll on nearby communities.
In April, all 230 residents in Old Monroe, Mo., were forced from their homes when thieves let ammonia leak out of a storage tank.
An apparently botched theft at a farm supply store in Utica, Ky., in September forced 50 people from their homes and caused several crashes on a highway when drivers inhaled the fumes.

Ex-chief of staff testifies that Traficant coached him on grand jury testimony

CLEVELAND (AP) — A former chief of staff for U.S. Rep. James A. Traficant Jr. testified Friday that the congressman coached him on how to testify before the grand jury that was investigating allegations of corruption.
Paul Marcone said Traficant pulled him into the hall outside the congressional office before Marcone’s grand jury appearance in April 2000. He said the nine-term congressman feared his office was bugged.
Traficant, on trial on racketeering, bribery and other charges, is accused of having full-time staff members on the federal payroll who did very little work for the congressional office.
Marcone said Traficant told him to say those staffers worked very hard. The corruption charges against Traficant allege that he received kickbacks from the salaries of staffers Henry DiBlasio and Allen Sinclair.
Several senior members of Traficant’s staff have testified this week that DiBlasio and Sinclair did very little work at the congressional office.
“What I wanted him to tell me was to just go in there and tell the truth,” Marcone said. “I think I told him in the hallway, I wasn’t Henry’s supervisor. I don’t know how hard he worked and I don’t know what Allen did.”
Marcone, who was Traficant’s chief of staff in Washington from 1993-2000, also testified about a variety of actions Traficant’s office took to help local businesses. Traficant is accused of accepting money and services from those businesses in exchange for working on their behalf in Washington.
Marcone said, at the time, the office staff had no idea that these businesses were providing services at Traficant’s horse farm near Youngstown.
“That would’ve raised a red flag immediately because it’s illegal,” he said.
Although not a lawyer, Traficant is defending himself in the U.S. District Court trial. Traficant, 60, could be sentenced to 63 years in prison and face expulsion from the House if convicted.
Two former employees testified Thursday that they did chores at the horse farm while on the congressional payroll.
Richard Rovnak said he was hired in 1990 as a part-time staff member and made $750 a month to help constituents at the district office in Youngstown. But Rovnak said he spent most of his time at the Traficant farm, at times working 16-hour days doing plumbing, carpentry and electrical work.
Traficant sought to discredit him as a witness. Traficant had Rovnak acknowledge that he committed perjury in an unrelated civil lawsuit involving his sister.
“I’m not proud,” Rovnak said.
Former employee George Buccella said he spent 100 to 300 days at the farm during his 15 years on Traficant’s staff.
Buccella said that during weeks he worked on the farm he still put in the 30 hours of work on congressional matters that full-time staff members are required to perform. And he said he was never forced to do farm work.
“I was never given an ultimatum,” Buccella said.

Dolls are more racially diverse

AP National Writer

AP Photo/Stephen Chernin

Tommy Perez, president of Teddi's Toy's Inc. poses with his Ghetto Kids line of Dolls during Toy Fair 2002 last week in New York. The company hopes to provide a source of enjoyment with their products as well as providing information to help develop healthy discussions about serious issues. The dolls, from left to right, are San Juan Carmen, Confederate Tammy, Starlet Stephanie, Beantown Cynthia, and New York Sammy.

CHICAGO — One girl is black, the second white. But Allister Byrd and Samantha Arvin say the same thing when it comes to playing with dolls.
They love them in any color — black, white, brown, you name it.
Toy makers are taking note with new doll lines that are more diverse than ever, including the first multiracial Barbie, which was on display last week at the American International Toy Fair in New York. A Mattel spokeswoman says the new Barbie could be viewed as black, Asian and Hispanic — a “mix of cultures in one doll.”
Kids like Allister and Samantha are thrilled, even if some parents and other adults are still getting used to the idea.
“Having different races is a lot funner,” says 9-year-old Allister, who lives in O’Fallon, Ill.
Samantha, a white 10-year-old who lives across the Mississippi River in suburban St. Louis, agrees. Last Christmas, she asked for a third black Barbie so she could recreate her favorite music group — Destiny’s Child.
“It would be really boring if there were all white people,” says the fourth-grader, who also likes her dolls to portray people she knows — from her half-Asian cousins to classmates of all races.
Adrienne Hymes, a Los Angeles doll maker, says she’s definitely seen more demand for dolls that aren’t white in the past year.
“I just chalk it up to people being more open-minded now,” says Hymes, who began making her dolls, now sold as a line called Hymakins, when she was a child.
On her Web site, customers can choose everything from skin color — buff to light, medium and dark brown — to hair type and styles.
Some dolls of different races and ethnicities, including black Barbie, have been around for years. But industry experts say an increased demand and awareness of other cultures has spawned a new wave of diverse dolls.
Sometimes they have a historical theme. The popular American Girl doll company makes Addy Walker, a fictional character said to be a freed slave from the Civil War era, and Josefina Montoya, a Hispanic doll from colonial New Mexico.
There are also new lines with more modern themes, including the Yue Sai Wa Wa Asian fashion doll and the Get Real Girls. The latter is a line of six dolls from a variety of backgrounds who do everything from snowboard to play basketball.
At least one new line, called the Ghetto Kids, was criticized by some parents and TV commentators because its packaging included hard-hitting doll “biographies” that mentioned parents who were drug addicts, or who abandoned and even sold their children.
Officials at Chicago-based Teddi’s Toys, who created the dolls, have since removed some of the made-up doll background. But they’re keeping the Ghetto Kids name as an attention grabber. They also hope information on their Web site, including a cartoon series, will spur parents to talk to kids about such topics as smoking, guns and teen-age pregnancy.
“It’s real life, real time,” says company founder Tommy Perez, who unveiled a Jewish Ghetto Kid at the New York toy fair. “It doesn’t pull many punches.”
Some parents say the race issue alone can be touchy, even if diversity among dolls is expanding.
Rob Whitehouse, a father from Akron, Ohio, says he’s noticed the looks his fair-haired, fair-skinned 5-year-old gets when she totes around her favorite companion, a black Addy doll.
“You let her play with that doll?” one family member asked.
“I just say, ’Yeah she loves it!”’ Whitehouse says. “It’s best just to be very matter-of-fact about it.”
Marguerite Wright, a clinical psychologist from Oakland, Calif., says that’s a good way to handle it. But sometimes, she says, parents insist that their children play with dolls of a certain race, usually their own.
“It’s just a small step between forcing children to choose dolls according to skin color and forcing them to choose friends according to skin color,” says Wright who addresses the doll issue in her book, “I’m Chocolate, You’re Vanilla: Raising Healthy Black and Biracial Children in a Race-Conscious World.”
Some parents say their children still don’t have much choice in dolls because the selection remains overwhelmingly white.
Phyllis Redus, who is black, says she often has a hard time finding anything but white dolls in her hometown of Huntsville, Ala. So her 10-year-old daughter, Jasmine, persuaded one store to order a black doll made by Ty Inc. that happens to look like her and whose name includes her own nickname — Jazzy.
Says Jasmine, “It makes me feel special.”

Animation program may allow virtual stunt artists to replace real stuntmen

AP Science Writer

AP Photo/Reed Saxon

Petros Faloutsos, a computer scientist at the University of California, Los Angeles, poses by a projected computer image of a skeleton diving headfirst down a staircase, at his office on the UCLA campus. Faloutsos, who created the prototype, believes the animation program one day will allow virtual stunt artists to replace their flesh-and-blood counterparts in performing otherwise dangerous feats.

LOS ANGELES — The gangly skeleton pauses at the top of the staircase and then, fearlessly, dives headfirst, crumpling in an apparently bone-jarring fall.
Petros Faloutsos chuckles as he replays the clip on his laptop computer. Again and again, the UCLA scientist commands the virtual character to dive.
The animation is primitive, the technology complex.
Beyond the initial command to jump, the fall is completely unscripted. Physics, not the computer animator’s mouse, controls the action.
Although just a prototype, Faloutsos believes his animation program will one day allow virtual stunt artists to replace their flesh-and-blood counterparts in performing otherwise deadly feats of derring-do.
“Maybe people will be directing virtual actors, and we’ll have to give them Oscars too,” Faloutsos mused.
The brief clip is a glimpse into the nascent field of physics-based animation. The technique, whether used for movies or video games, strives to create a virtual world consistently guided by the same physical laws that give order to the real world.
“It’s the Holy Grail of character animation. Everybody wants to do it, but there’s not a whole lot of it out there right now,” said Damien Neff, senior artificial intelligence designer for NFL Fever 2002, a Microsoft video game that makes limited use of the technique.
As the technology matures, real stunt artists have mixed feelings about the impact on their craft.
“There’s a positive side and a negative side: To talk positive, it’s made it safer to do a stunt — you don’t have to lay your neck out on the line as much as you used to. But it’s taken some cash away also,” said Ben Scott, a Hollywood stuntman who works on the HBO series “Six Feet Under.”
Traditionally, animators have relied on their own talents to draw characters that appear to move naturally.
Movie studios and game developers also bank increasingly on libraries of hundreds of stunts amassed by filming the sensor-studded bodies of real performers. Those “captured motions” can then be matched to virtual characters and inserted into movies or games.
Animation systems such as that created by Faloutsos and his former colleagues Michiel van de Panne, Demetri Terzopoulos and Victor Ng-Thow-Hing attempt to trump both methods.
The key is using mathematical formulas that only loosely choreograph the movements an animator wants a character to undertake.
Command, say, a character’s arm to move and the momentum will force its torso and head to shift as well.
The range of motions available to a character ultimately guide how it behaves, as does its own computer-generated sensitivity to both gravity and any forces imparted by its virtual surroundings.
Different environments, for example, will prompt the same character to move differently — and unpredictably. A fall on slick ice won’t be the same as one down a steep flight of stairs.
In movies, physics-based animation techniques have been used to render inanimate things like the waves in “The Perfect Storm” or the shock of blue hair that coats James P. Sullivan in “Monsters Inc.”
In video games, they crop up in programming that simulates such action as racing or flying competitions.
With animated characters, attaining of realism is far more difficult, however. Emotion can influence movement as much as gravity does.
“You can tell from how someone is walking if they’re effeminate or angry. How would you account for that in a physics-based system?” said Darren Hendler, technical director at Digital Domain Inc., a Los Angeles special effects studio.
In the forthcoming film “The Time Machine,” Digital Domain used a physics-based animation technique to render the collapse of thousands of skeletons of people turned to dust and bone.
Animators still shy away from using physics to model the movement of people, however. They say the human eye is just too good at spotting even the slightest hint of fakery.
But Faloutsos believes future systems will allow directors to guide characters as they do live actors. “The ultimate goal is to have a totally complete human inside the computer that you can direct,” he said.
Until then, officials with the Screen Actor’s Guild know there will be work for the more than 6,600 Hollywood stunt artists the union represents.

Raid at pot club protested

Associated Press

AP Photo/Justin Sullivan

San Francisco residents Taj Turner, left, and Mike Barnes, right, protest outside the Commonwealth Club in San Francisco. Hundreds of protesters lined the streets in front of the venue to protest a crackdown on medicinal marijuana clubs in San Francisco and Oakland.

SAN FRANCISCO — In the latest tussle between local and federal officials over medical marijuana, the head of the Drug Enforcement Agency was jeered by city leaders hours after his agents raided a club that provides pot to sick people.
DEA Administrator Asa Hutchinson was denounced while delivering a speech at the Commonwealth Club of California. Audience members shouted “Liar!” when he said “science has told us so far there is no medical benefit for smoking marijuana.”
Demonstrators outside blew kazoos and chanted “Go away D-E-A” while the smell of marijuana wafted through the air.
Earlier, federal agents seized more than 600 pot plants from the Harm Reduction Center and arrested the group’s executive director. Three other men also were arrested.
The raid coincided with President Bush’s announcement of a stepped-up war on drugs, with a goal of cutting drug abuse by 25 percent in five years, in part through improved law enforcement.
California, Alaska, Arizona, Colorado, Hawaii, Nevada, Maine, Oregon and Washington state allow the infirm to receive, possess, grow or smoke marijuana for medical purposes without fear of state prosecution.
The U.S. Supreme Court said last year it is illegal to distribute marijuana for medical reasons.
During the raid, the Harm Reduction Center’s executive director, Richard Watts, was arrested and two other men were charged with growing more than 100 pot plants. In a separate case, a fourth man was charged with growing more than 1,000 marijuana plants.
“They all are connected with marijuana smuggling,” DEA spokesman Richard Meyer said. “We’ve said all along the cultivation and distribution of marijuana is illegal regardless of state or local law.”
The center serves about 200 patients a day, all with doctors’ recommendations to get the drug.
Many suffer chronic pain from AIDS and cancer, said David Witty, the marijuana club’s chief of security.
San Francisco District Attorney Terence Hallinan has been outspoken in his support of such clubs, and Police Chief Fred Lau has said his officers wouldn’t take part in any raids. City leaders declared San Francisco a sanctuary for medical cannabis use last year.
“This is a decision to be made by the voters of California and the people of the city and county of San Francisco,” Hallinan said through a bullhorn outside the building where Hutchinson spoke.
Board of Supervisors President Tom Ammiano went one step further, calling the DEA an “obnoxious, grandstanding” agency. “I don’t want somebody in my house that’s not invited!” Ammiano shouted.

Robertson: Islam is violent religion

NORFOLK, Va. (AP) — Religious broadcaster Pat Robertson drew criticism Friday from Arab-Americans and others for describing Islam as a violent religion that wants to “dominate and then, if need be, destroy.”
Robertson made the comment Thursday on his “700 Club” television program after watching a segment about Muslims’ views on terrorism.
Co-host Lee Webb asked Robertson why he thought Muslim immigrants would want to live in the United States “if they have such contempt for our foreign policy.”
Robertson replied: “Well, as missionaries possibly to spread the doctrine of Islam.” He went on to say that Islam “is not a peaceful religion that wants to coexist. They want to coexist until they can control, dominate and then, if need be, destroy.”
“The rhetoric is exactly the same as traditional anti-Semitism. All you can do is change the word ‘Jew’ to ‘Arab’ or ‘Muslim,’” said Hussein Ibish, spokesman for the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, a Washington-based civil rights group.
He said remarks like Robertson’s and the Rev. Franklin Graham’s comment to NBC last fall that Islam “is a very evil and wicked religion” are a “slightly warmed-over version of the hatred that led to the Holocaust.”
The Rev. Barry Lynn, a frequent Robertson critic and executive director of the group Americans United for Separation of Church and State, said the episode “is just one in a long history of Robertson’s bigotry toward non-Christians.”
Robertson, whose Christian Broadcasting Network is based in Virginia Beach, had no immediate comment Friday.
After Sept. 11, Robertson was criticized for agreeing with the Rev. Jerry Falwell during a ”700 Club” broadcast when Falwell said the attacks happened because Americans had insulted God by allowing abortion, feminism and pornography.
Falwell later apologized and Robertson issued a statement calling Falwell’s remarks “severe and harsh in tone” and saying he had not fully understood them.

Inmate wants artificial leg month before execution

LIVINGSTON, Texas (AP) — Convicted killer Rodolfo Hernandez wants two legs by the time he makes that final, 50-foot journey to the death chamber next month. But he says the prison system is stalling on his request for an artificial limb.
Hernandez, whose left leg was amputated 4 inches below the knee last July because of complications from diabetes, says the state does not want to spend the money because he is set to be executed anyway.
Prison officials, though, say a persistent, antibiotic-resistant staph infection is preventing Hernandez from being fitted with a prosthesis. They say the cost is not an issue, and neither is his impending execution.
“Just because he has an execution date doesn’t mean we would deny him medical treatment,” says Michelle Lyons, spokeswoman for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice. “It all depends on when his infection clears.”
Hernandez, 52, is set for lethal injection March 21 for his part in robbing and shooting five illegal Mexican immigrants who had crossed into Texas in a boxcar in 1985. One of the five was killed. Hernandez contends he is innocent.
Of the 454 men and women on death row in Texas, Hernandez is the only amputee.
Hernandez will not exactly say whether he wants to walk the final 50 feet from a holding cell to his death. But he says: “I came in here with two legs. I’d like to go out of here with two.”
The prison system provides artificial limbs to inmates who need one to safely perform “major functional activities,” and walking qualifies as such an activity, Lyons says. Prison policy also says preparations for a prosthesis will go forward even if the inmate “will not be in the system for a sufficient period of time” to receive the device.