Saturday, April 19, 2008

Oldest known person turns 115 on Sunday

Edna Parker, who was born April 20, 1893, is the oldest known human. She will turn 115 on Sunday, April 20, 2008. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)

SHELBYVILLE, Ind. (AP) — Maybe it was a lifetime of chores on the family farm that account for Edna Parker’s long life. Or maybe just good genes explain why the world’s oldest known person will turn 115 on Sunday, defying staggering odds.

Scientists who study longevity hope Parker and others who live to 110 or beyond — they’re called supercentenarians — can help uncover the mystery of extreme longevity.

“We don’t know why she’s lived so long,” said Don Parker, her 59-year-old grandson. “But she’s never been a worrier and she’s always been a thin person, so maybe that has something to do with it.”

On Friday, Parker laughed and smiled as relatives and guests released 115 balloons into sunny skies outside her nursing home. Dressed in pearls, a blue and white polka dot dress and new white shoes, she clutched a red rose during the festivities.

Two years ago, researchers from the New England Centenarian Study at Boston University took a blood sample from Parker for the group’s DNA database of supercentenarians.

Her DNA is now preserved with samples of about 100 other people who made the 110-year milestone and whose genes are being analyzed, said Dr. Tom Perls, an aging specialist who directs the project.

“They’re really our best bet for finding the elusive Holy Grail of our field — which are these longevity-enabling genes,” he said.

There are only 75 people alive — 64 women and 11 men — that are 110 or older, according to the Gerontology Research Group, an Inglewood, Calif.-based group that verifies reports of extreme ages.

Parker, who was born April 20, 1893, was recognized by Guinness World Records as the oldest of that group last August after the death of a Japanese woman four months her senior.

A widow since her husband, Earl, died in 1938 of a heart attack, Parker lived alone in their farmhouse until age 100, when she moved into her son Clifford’s home. She cheated death a few months later.

One winter’s night, Clifford and his wife returned home from a high school basketball game to find her was missing. Don, their son, says he discovered his grandmother in the snowy darkness near the farm’s apple orchard. He scooped up her rigid body and rushed back to the house.

“She was stiff as a 2-by-4. We really thought that was the end of her,” he said.

But Parker recovered fully, suffering only frostbitten fingertips.

Fifteen years later, her room at the Heritage House Convalescent Center in Shelbyville, Ind., about 25 miles southeast of Indianapolis, is adorned with teddy bears and photos of her five grandchildren, 13 great-grandchildren and 13 great-great grandchildren. She’s outlived her two sons, Clifford and Earl Jr.

During a visit this week, Parker was captivated by a new album of photos and documents from her life that Don’s wife, Charlene, had assembled.

“That’s the boys,” she said hoarsely, tapping a photo of her two late sons in their youth. “Clifford and Junior.”

Her two sisters also are deceased. Georgia lived to be 99, while her sister Opal was 88 when she died.

Parker’s long-lived sisters are typical of other centenarians, according to Dr. Nir Barzilai, director of the Albert Einstein College of Medicine’s Institute for Aging Research in New York. Nearly all of them have a sister, mother or other relative who lived a long life, he said.

“Longevity is in the family history,” Barzilai said.

He and other scientists have found several genetic mutations in centenarians that may play a role in either slowing the aging process or boosting resistance to age-related diseases.

Perls said the secret to a long life is now believed to be a mix of genetics and environmental factors such as health habits. He said his research on about 1,500 centenarians hints at another factor that may protect people from illnesses such as heart attacks and stroke — they appear not to dwell on stressful events.

“They seem to manage their stress better than the rest of us,” he said.

7-Year-Old Acts as Human Shield to Save her Mother

Last December, when a Detroit woman, Selietha Parker, and her 7-year-old daughter, Alexis Goggins, got into a car with a friend, an unwelcome visitor forced his way into the backseat: Parker's ex-boyfriend, Calvin Tillie – carrying a loaded gun.

Needless to say, the relationship had not ended on good terms.

After the driver pulled over to call the police, Parker and Alexis were left alone with the dangerous man. Parker begged him not to hurt them, but he refused to listen.

"Me and Alexis was left in the car with him at gunpoint and he starting shooting," Parker told Good Morning, America.

Tillie was aiming at Parker – but her daughter couldn't stand the thought of her mother being hurt, and jumped into Parker's lap to protect her, shouting, "Don't hurt my mother!"

Alexis' body was pelted with six bullets that had been intended for her mother, with shots in the eye, chin, cheek, chest and jaw. When the police showed up, the little girl was lying in a pool of blood, barely breathing. At the hospital, doctors said that Alexis had been so badly injured that she may never walk or talk again.

But against the odds, five months after the accident, Alexis is on her way back to full health. She is able to walk and talk, and her doctors are now expecting her to make a full recovery. "Everybody's still kind of shocked," said Parker.

Alexis has no regrets about taking the bullets meant for her mother. "I saved my mom," she said.

Parker is thrilled that her daughter is doing so well, and is filled with gratitude for the selfless child's incredible act of bravery. "She's my angel and I love her to death."

'Sewers of gold' gang are held after their perfect plan goes down the drain

A sewer

It was a crime mystery combining elements of the films Ocean's Eleven, The Third Man and the 1979 heist movie Sewers of Gold, also known as The Great Riviera Bank Robbery.

Police in Naples had been baffled for months. Six times they were on the verge of capturing would-be bank robbers in the act —- and six times the gang vanished, apparently into thin air.

Three of the aborted raids were even on the same bank, the Antonveneta in the Galleria Umberto I, a smart, wrought-iron-and-glass, art deco shopping arcade opposite the San Carlo Opera House.

When police made arrests yesterday the secret of the gang apparently emerged —- one of those in custody is Salvatore Oliva, the former head of the drains and sewage department for Naples city council.

His knowledge is alleged to have enabled the thieves to melt away into the underground labyrinth of dank, dripping and malodorous tunnels beneath the streets. Police said that the gang had 22 members.

Their technique was allegedly the same in every case: they rented ground-floor rooms next to the banks and when the bank employees had departed, dug tunnels at nights and weekends into the vaults containing safe deposit boxes.

The robbers' plan, which nearly came off, was to ensure that their tunnels connected to the sewer system so they could use it as an escape route. They even used a computer to create a model of the intricate network.

In the last raid on the Antonveneta in February the police, acting on a tip-off, were waiting inside the bank as the robbers emerged - but the gang leapt back into the tunnel and disappeared into the drains.

“No one knows more about underground Naples than Oliva,” a police spokesman told Il Mattino, the Naples newspaper. “He could navigate it with his eyes closed. He knows where all the drains are: the water mains; the dangerous electrical cables.”

Other alleged members of the gang under arrest include three police officers who were to act as lookouts —- in uniform —- then conceal the loot, which the robbers calculated would amount to more than 100 million euros (£80 million).

During one abortive raid the policemen were spotted by patrolling colleagues but they assured them that they were on official duty and “everything is in order”.

Two private security guards also allegedly advised the robbers about the type of security alarms used by the banks so that they could be neutralised by gang members, who were recruited for their expertise in security and communications systems.

After a six-month police operation the secret of the gang was uncovered when the investigators —- headed by Vittorio Pisani, the deputy head of the Naples police, and Massimo Sacco, the head of the anti-robbery flying squad —- intercepted mobile phone calls in which gang leaders were overheard asking a local Mafia boss for his permission to carry out the raid on his patch.

He agreed —- provided he was given a share of the proceeds.

Police said that the robbers used the names of footballers, including Luís Figo, Gennaro Gattuso and the Napoli player Emanuele Calaiò, as aliases in an attempt to disguise their identities when making phone calls.

In The Third Man, the film directed by Carol Reed which was set in the bombed-out ruins of postwar, occupied Vienna, the black-market racketeer Harry Lime eludes his pursuers by hiding in the sewers of the city, but in a famous chase scene he is tracked down eventually and shot.

Things to Do In Asia When You’re Dead

If you find your well-preserved remains on display in a transparent viewing case as part of some guided tour for dignitaries, you might just be one of these former heads of state.


Ho Chi Minh, the former prime minister and president of North Vietnam, wished to be cremated with his ashes buried in the north, center, and south of Vietnam. Instead, upon his death in 1969, his body was embalmed, with a little help from the Soviet Union, and encased in a crystal coffin.

Visitors can see “Uncle Ho” everyday at his mausoleum in Hanoi.

mao-zedong Things to Do In Asia When Youre Dead picture

Mao Zedong, former leader of the People’s Republic of China, also had aspirations of cremation-bliss. But after his death in 1976, contrary to his wishes, his mortal coil was preserved and put on display as a public attraction.

The Mao mausoleum stands in the center of Tiananmen Square in Bejing

north-korea-memorial Things to Do In Asia When Youre Dead picture

Kim Il-sung, the North Korea founder and former leader’s death in 1994 met with a shock wave of public grief, bordering on pandemonium, from North Korean citizens. As befitting a “Great Leader” his immortal shell was blanketed in red and enshrined inside a clear sarcophagus.

He is viewable to the public at the Kumsusan Memorial Palace in Pyongyang. He is only available to foreign visitors via official government tours.


Ferdinand Marcos, former president of the Philippines, died in 1989 as an exile in Hawaii. His corpse was refused admittance into the Philippines until 2001; even then his burial “anywhere in the Philippines” was met with vehement protest.

His cadaver is interned in a glass-viewing casket inside a refrigerated crypt at the Marco’s family mausoleum in Batac until he can be buried with full military honors.

Zen Temole: Home of the Praying Dog

It’s been said that all dogs go to heaven. Man’s best friend gives unconditional love and asks nothing in return; accepting the occasional pat on the head, an infrequently tossed treat, and timely access to the back yard at potty time as his reward.

Even the mean ones aren’t evil, they’re merely responding to being mistreated so they make it to heaven too.

praying-dog Zen Temole: Home of the Praying Dog picture

In Japan a Buddhist priest, Joei Yoshikuni has a pet black and white, one and a half year-old Chihuahua named Conan. Conan follows his master around and sits with him while he’s praying at the altar of Shuri Kannondo temple in Naha, the capitol city of the southern Okinawa prefecture (state).

asian-praying-dog.jpgWith no urging, Conan has learned how to imitate his master saying his prayers; sitting on his haunches with his paws together in front of his face as if he’s praying too. Who knows for sure whether Conan is actually saying doggie prayers or just trying to please his master?

It’s been said that politicians are as crooked as a dog’s hind leg which is why Joei Yoshikuni can’t teach him to meditate. Conan would never be able to cross his legs in the Lotus Position.

Of course Conan doesn’t need to be able to meditate to get to heaven, he already has a free pass; but it’s nice to see he’s hedging his bet with a little prayer time.

The world would be in better shape if more humans were to lead a dog’s life and imitate Conan.