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"Land of Cheese" Asturias, Spain: thousands of caves hidden in hills used by residents for centuries to age cheese

Raquel Viejo in her cheese cave, where she stores Cabrales, a blue cow's cheese named after the town in Asturias where it was first made

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We were in Asturias, a sliver of northern Spain that rests on the Bay of Biscay, and I had been drawn there by the region’s tagline: “The Land of Cheese.”

My pilgrimage had led me to the bat cave last September where I was following Raquel Viejo, a local woman whose family has lived in Asturias for generations. The specialty of the region — and what was stored on those shelves — is Cabrales, a blue cow’s cheese named after the town in Asturias where it was first made.

Asturias, a sliver of northern Spain that rests on the Bay of Biscay, calls itself The Land of Cheese. There are thousands of caves hidden in the hills of this rugged region, and for centuries residents have been using them to age cheese

There are thousands of caves hidden in the hills here, and for centuries residents have been using them to age cheese. The specifics of each brand of cheese in various regions of Spain are regulated by a denomination of origin, or D.O., and Cabrales’s says it must be stored in cavelike conditions for at least two months so the good bacteria can kill off the bad.  read more »

2009 will witness new US government: Obama, Biden; Hillary Clinton, President-elect’s pick for secretary of state

Barack Obama and Joe Biden

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President-elect Barack Obama on Monday announced Sen. Hillary Clinton as his pick for secretary of state, calling her an "American of tremendous stature who will have my complete confidence."

"Hillary's appointment is a sign to friend and foe of the seriousness of my commitment to renew American diplomacy and restore our alliances," Obama said at a news conference in Chicago, Illinois. "I have no doubt that Hillary Clinton is the right person to lead our State Department and to work with me in tackling this ambitious foreign policy agenda."

president-elect Barack Obama announced his nomination of Sen. Hillary Clinton as secretary of state

Obama also confirmed that he is keeping Defense Secretary Robert Gates in his current post. Rounding out his Monday announcements, Obama named retired Marine Gen. Jim Jones as his national security adviser, Eric Holder as attorney general, Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano as homeland security secretary and Susan Rice as ambassador to the United Nations.

"I am confident that this team is what we need to make a new beginning for American national security," Obama said.

Clinton said leaving the Senate would be difficult for her, but said she believes that the best way for her to continue to serve the country is by joining Obama's administration. "Mr. President-elect, I am proud to join you on what will be a difficult and exciting adventure in this new century," she said at the news conference. Video Watch what Clinton says about her new role »  read more »

Inaugural 2008 Asian Beach Games in Bali, Indonesia promote sports & culture: 6000 athletes, 71 events, 19 sports

Andi Edinata of Indonesia comes out of the water during the Men's Triathlon on day nine of the 2008 Asian Beach Games at Mertasari Beach on October 26, 2008

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About a month ago in Bali, Indonesia, the inaugural 2008 Asian Beach Games came to its conclusion. Intended to promote sports and culture, the games (held every two years) encourage tourism, support local economies and allow host countries like Indonesia to present a more global face to the world. The 2008 games brought 6,000 athletes to compete in 71 events in 19 sports. Sports included well-known games like beach volleyball and triathlon, and some sports better known to asians, like sepak takraw, kabaddi and pencak silat. The next Asian Beach Games are scheduled to be hosted by Oman in the year 2010.

Indonesian team against Myanmar, Asian Beach Games 2008, Bali, Indonesia

The Indonesian team in action against Myanmar during the men's beach sepaktakraw on day six of the Asian Beach Games at Sanur Beach on October 23, 2008 in Bali, Indonesia.

Dragon Boat Races, 2008 Asian Beach Games, Bali, Indonesia  read more »

Troop increases in Afghanistan; soldiers doubt sense of mission: “Politicians need to clarify it more clearly”

soldiers suffer doubts about the sense of their mission in Afghanistan

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German military troops are suffer from a lack of support from their countrymen, the new Protestant bishop for the Bundeswehr said on Tuesday, and soldiers suffer doubts about the sense of their mission there, Dutzmann said. “In Afghanistan the soldiers notice how painstaking the civil reconstruction is. Politicians need to clarify the sense of the mission more clearly,” he said. Chaplains serving the soldiers there are answering more questions about the sense of life from these troops who face life-threatening situations each day, he said.

US Army deserter seeks asylum in Germany

US Army deserter André Lawrence Shepherd has applied for asylum in Germany, his lawyer told reporters on Thursday. Shepherd said he did not want to participate in a war that violates international law. He said he had submitted his asylum request on Wednesday, although the Federal Agency for Migration and Refugees told the DPA news agency it did not have a record of such a document.

Shepherd, 31, has previously served in Iraq where he repaired and maintained Apache helicopters. "I believe that the helicopters are responsible for a substantial number of civilian deaths," he told reporters in Frankfurt. "I am ashamed that I was a part of these horrible acts." Shepherd has appealed to both the Geneva Refugee Convention and EU guidelines that provide protection from persecution for deserters if the military services in question are seen as having violated international law.  read more »

Nothing discernible to the eye of the spirit is more brilliant or obscure than man; ... - Victor Hugo

Nothing discernible to the eye of the spirit is more brilliant or obscure than man; nothing is more formidable, complex, mysterious, and infinite. There is a prospect greater than the sea, and it is the sky; there is a prospect greater than the sky, and it is the human soul.

— Victor Hugo

Mickey Mouse turns 80 - symbol of optimism, fun, sheer zest for life, a little fellow trying to do the best he can

Walt Disney with his most famous creation, Mickey Mouse

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You may have missed it, but one of the great inspirational figures of the last century celebrated his 80th birthday a few days ago. Born in Los Angeles in 1928, he has surely brought more pleasure to more people than anyone of his generation. His features are recognizable in almost every city on earth, and he has probably raised a smile from almost everyone whose life he has touched.

And while his name has become a metaphor for anything gimcrack, cheap or childish, he remains the supreme symbol of American optimism, fun and sheer zest for life. He is, of course, Mickey Mouse.

Mickey Mouse in Steamboat Wille, 1928

Oddly, the Disney corporation is not making a big deal of Mickey's birthday, perhaps because it is worried that mentioning his great age will damage his reputation among his youngest fans. So it is up to the rest of us to celebrate for him - and celebrate we should. For while Mickey's first 80 years coincided with some of the darkest moments in history, and while Disney has become a byword for commercialism, the great Mouse reminds us of the best in humanity. Sure, he may not have the muscles of Michelangelo's David, but he has a much better sense of humor.

Mickey serenades Minnie in Hawaiian Holiday, 1937  read more »

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