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212605417 tstmp 1427766793If only I could get an Egg McMuffin at midnight in Beijing. (Tomohiro Ohsumi/Bloomberg)

Capitalism, you have served us well.

Puerto Vallarta, Jal.- The Invisible Hand of the market has finally managed the unthinkable: It has gotten McDonald’s to contemplate all-day breakfast. Slipping market share has forced it to think, er, outside the bun.

As any number of people on the Internet will tell you, breakfast at McDonald’s is one of the great boons of this life.

Part of its charm was that it was so difficult to obtain. You had to get up in time for breakfast, and — this was cruel. But it made you love it. Waking up and wrangling your way to the McDonald’s window before the signage flipped was, for those of us not naturally inclined to early rising, the equivalent of one of those fairy-tale challenges where the protagonist must shinny up the side of a glass mountain to pick up lentils while being pursued by a mortar-riding crone with iron teeth. And if the clock struck 10:30 before you could get there? You turned instantly back into a pumpkin.

But it was all worth it. Your task completed, instead of a princess whom you had seen once in a dream (who wants a princess you have seen once in a dream, anyway?), there was the Egg McMuffin. Or the Sausage Biscuit With Cheese. Or — any number of the equally wondrous boons that McDonald’s has bestowed upon us.

For so long, McDonald’s insisted that it could not alter the way it did things. The grill simply could not serve two masters. It was Breakfast or regular McDonald’s. It could not be both. And so all-day breakfast remained, elusive as the McRib or true love, always slipping from our grasp.

Someone wise once observed that when you eat at McDonald’s as a kid, it’s a triumph, and when you go there as an adult, it’s a defeat. This does not hold at breakfast. Breakfast is always a triumph.

Was this lengthened breakfast inspired by McDonald’s lagging market share in the face of the rise of the Taco Bell breakfast menu? If so, this is the greatest gift Taco Bell has ever given us.

I assumed the only thing that could give us all-day breakfast was for humanity to enter a new millennium of peace and goodwill.

But no. Even in these ill times in which we live, it is being tested in a few locations (San Diego first) for a possible nationwide roll-out. A nationwide roll-out!

Much is amiss in the world today. War, famine, poverty — well, I can’t in good conscience say that this in any way makes up for or ameliorates any of those, and I am sorry in retrospect to have brought them into this sentence. The Egg McMuffin is good, but it is not that good. But we were only talking about fast food. In the world of fast food, there are certain laws, as immutable as “You do not talk about Fight Club” and “No one goes beyond the Wall.”

And now we have broken through. We have gone beyond the 10:30 wall. Breakfast has penetrated into the wilderness beyond. Something, for once, is going right.

McDonald’s, I promise, if this goes nationwide, not to grow blase. I will not come staggering into McDonald’s at 7 at night in pajamas and hair curlers, taking the presence of a chicken biscuit for granted. The first thing, maybe. But not the second thing. What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly. But this, we have waited for, all our lives. It’s time.

Alexandra Petri writes the ComPost blog, offering a lighter take on the news and opinions of the day.



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LA Premiere Of Home Garc
Jennifer Lopez attends the Los Angeles Premiere of "Home" at the Regency Village
Theatre on Sunday, March 22, 2015, in Westwood, Calif. (Photo by Todd Williamson/Invision/AP)

PUERTO VALLARTA – Business was brisk at the weekend box-office, where the DreamWorks animated alien adventure "Home" beat out the Will Ferrell-Kevin Hart comedy "Get Hard" with a resounding debut of $54 million, according to studio estimates Sunday.

While the two films had been expected to vie for the top spot at North American theaters, "Home" came in well above expectations, handing DreamWorks Animation a much-needed hit. Though a distant second, "Get Hard" also opened strongly with an estimated $34.6 million, rewarding the Warner Bros. pairing of two of the most bankable stars in comedy.

Last week's top film at the box office, the young-adult sequel "The Divergent Series: Insurgent," slid to third with $22.1 million.

With a $100 million-plus debut expected next weekend for "Furious 7" — a franchise built on street racing adrenaline and a diverse cast — Hollywood scored with two films that sought a variety of audiences.

"Get Hard" united the fans of Hart and Ferrell, albeit while finding some criticism for its racial humor. And "Home" is the rare animated film led by an African American girl character (voiced by Rihanna). She plays a teenage girl left alone after an alien invasion of Earth. Jim Parsons, Jennifer Lopez and Steve Martin round out the cast.

"It's a diverse cast and we drew a diverse audience, which I think is really special and something you don't see in animated films," said Chris Aronson, domestic distribution head for 20th Century Fox, the film's distributor. "That just ends up broadening the appeal of the film."

More than half of the audience for "Home" was African American, Hispanic or Asian, according to Fox. The strong performance of an original release, based on a children's book by Adam Rex, provides Jeffrey Katzenberg's DreamWorks with a welcome lift. After a series of box-office disappointments, the studio cut about 500 jobs earlier this year.

Aronson called the success of "Home" ''indicative of the direction, quality-wise, that DreamWorks is going to get back to." One of the film's producers, Mireille Soria, was in January named co-president of DreamWorks Animation, along with "How to Train Your Dragon" producer Bonnie Arnold.

Despite the lure of March Madness on TV screens, "Home" (which capitalized on the relative dearth of family-friendly options) and "Get Hard" drove moviegoers to theaters. Overall, the box office was up about 8 percent from last year, according to box-office data firm Rentrak.

"Get Hard" had been dogged by controversy, as some questioned the tastefulness of humor that critics called homophobic and racist. The directorial debut of Etan Cohen, it stars Ferrell as a hedge fund manager sentenced to a maximum security prison for fraud. To prepare for life in prison, he turns to the only black person in his orbit, a family man played by Hart.

"When Will Ferrell and Kevin Hart get together, you hope to have some criticism," said Dan Fellman, head of domestic distribution for Warner Bros. He added that it's the biggest R-rated opening for both Hart and Ferrell.

The wild card of the weekend was "It Follows," a critically acclaimed indie horror film from Radius, the Weinstein Company label. After the film drew packed theaters in limited release, plans for a subsequent video-on-demand release were postponed and "It Follows" expanded to 1,218 theaters over the weekend.

"It's an interesting test case," said Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst for Rentrak, who applauded Radius for having the confidence in a small, very low budget movie. "It's rare for a horror film to enjoy those kind of reviews. Ordinarily, you don't see a platform building of theaters for a horror movie. Usually, you see them drop like a rock in the second week."

Estimated ticket sales for Friday through Sunday at U.S. and Canadian theaters, according to Rentrak. Where available, the latest international numbers for Friday through Sunday are also included. Final domestic figures will be released Monday.



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© Jean-Paul Pelissier/Reuters French firefighters prepare to take-off in Digne-les-Bains for the crash site of an Airbus A320,
in the French Alps, March 24, 2015. An Airbus plane operated by Lufthansa's Germanwings budget airline crashed in southern…

Puerto Vallarta,- The crew of the Germanwings flight that crashed in the French Alps on Tuesday did not send a distress signal, civil aviation authorities told AFP.

"The crew did not send a Mayday. It was air traffic control that decided to declare the plane was in distress because there was no contact with the crew of the plane," the source said.

This is a breaking news alert. Please check back for details. AFP's previous story is below.

A German airliner crashed near a ski resort in the French Alps on Tuesday, killing all 150 people on board, in the worst plane disaster in mainland France in four decades.

France's junior transport minister said there were "no survivors" from the crash of the Germanwings Airbus A320, a low-cost subsidiary of Lufthansa, in a remote part of the Alps that is extremely difficult to access.

Civil aviation authorities said they lost contact with the plane, which was carrying 144 passengers and six crew, and declared it was in distress at 10:30 am (0930 GMT).

"The distress signal showed the plane was at 5,000 feet in an abnormal situation," said Alain Vidalies, minister of state for transport.

Spanish King Felipe VI cut short his state visit to France on news of the tragedy, with a number of Spanish nationals believed to be among the dead along with Germans and possibly Turks.

French President Francois Hollande said the plane crashed in an area very difficult to access and rescuers would not be able to reach the site for several hours.

"I want to express all our solidarity to the families affected by this tragedy," Hollande told reporters.

The plane was travelling from the Spanish coastal city of Barcelona to the German city of Duesseldorf when it went down in the ski resort area of Barcelonnette.

A witness who was skiing near the crash site told a French television channel he "heard an enormous noise" around the time of the disaster.

A French police helicopter dispatched to the site of the crash reported spotting debris in a mountain range known as "Les Trois Eveches," which reaches 1,400 metres in altitude.

The government said "major rescue efforts" had been mobilised, but accessing the remote region would present severe challenges.

"The zone is snow-bound and inaccessible to vehicles, but could be overflown by helicopters," said Vidalies.

The plane belonged to Germanwings, a low-cost affiliate of German airline Lufthansa based in Cologne which until now had no record of fatal accidents.

France's leading air traffic controller union SNCTA has called off a strike planned from Wednesday to Friday.

"We are suspending our planned strike as a result of the emotions created in the control rooms by the crash, particularly in Aix-en-Provence," the union's spokesman Roger Rousseau told AFP.

Lufthansa chief executive Carsten Spohr said on twitter the airline had no immediate details on the crash, describing it as a "dark day."

"My deepest sympathy goes to the families and friends of our passengers and crew on 4U 9525. If our fears are confirmed, this is a dark day for Lufthansa. We hope to find survivors."

Hollande spoke briefly by phone with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and expressed solidarity with Germany.

Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve immediately headed to the scene while Prime Minister Manuel Valls said he had called an inter-ministerial crisis cell.

"We don't know the reasons for the crash, we clearly fear that the 150 passengers and personnel have been killed considering the circumstances of the crash," said Valls.

"All is being done to understand what happened and to help the families of the victims," he said.



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Colombia Sex Tourism

Puerto Vallarta, Jal.- A shocking report released Thursday by a federal watchdog group that has cast a glaring light on the misbehavior of U.S. federal agents in Colombia has also shed light on the pervasive culture of the sex tourism and prostitution in the South American country.

The findings of the four-year review, issued Thursday by the Department of Justice inspector general, found 26 cases involving the solicitation of prostitutes abroad – with the DEA is mentioned in 19 of them – and, while report does not identify the country where the alleged sex parties occurred, it does mention the existence of designated "tolerance zones" where prostitution is allowed and which are a fixture of several cities in Colombia.

Prostitution is legal, or at least tolerated, in many nations in Latin America, but Colombia has earned the nickname of the "Thailand of Latin America" – and become the focal point of criticism and scandal.

Colombia – along with the Dominican Republic – has become the leader in the sex tourism industry of Latin America, thanks to its lax laws toward prostitution and seemingly endless supply of young women entering the business.

"Prostitution was widespread and exacerbated by poverty and internal displacement," a 2008 State Department report noted. "Sex tourism existed to a limited extent, particularly in coastal cities such as Cartagena and Barranquilla, where marriage and dating services were often fronts for sexual tourism."

Despite efforts from both the federal and local governments in Colombia – the city of Medellín launched a campaign called "No to Sex Tourism" and the country's human rights commission issued a "sex tourism alert" because of the amount of foreigners flooding Cartagena during tourist season – the country appears to be fighting an uphill battle to shed its image as a prostitution mecca.

The Colombian NGO Pazamanos said that "sexualization of women in Colombian society has led to a lack of respect and abuse of women who are often treated as sexual objects… objectification of women is a big factor when dealing with sex tourists."

Colombia and neighboring Venezuela have the reputation of being countries with highly sexualized women – thanks in large part to the country's penchant for breast and buttocks implants, botox-inflated lips and long hair extensions.

Despite its legality in certain parts of Colombia, prostitution still remains veiled in shadows and is rife with widespread abuse and exploitation of women and girls, many of whom are underage.

"The government and city are blind to this problem, and they do nothing for prevention," Alex Cuello, a human rights lawyer for Cartagena's ombudsman's office told Vice News.

While U.S. federal agents have recently made headlines for soliciting prostitutes in Colombia – besides the recent DEA revelation, Secret Service agents in 2012 were accused of carousing with sex workers at a hotel where they were staying before President Barack Obama arrived in Cartagena – U.S. authorities have also worked closely with their Colombian counterparts to break up a number of prostitution rings in the country.

Agents from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement went undercover last year in Cartagena to pose as pedophile tourists and assisted Colombian authorities in breaking up a so-called "pimp ring" that lead to the arrest of five people – including 20-year-old Miss Cartagena contestant Kelly Johana Suárez – accused of selling underage girls as prostitutes.

Many observers, however, say that if Colombia wants to shed its image as a sex tourism hotspot they need to stop looking at the foreigners coming to their country and instead focus on what their own country is doing.

"One can only hope that … the campaign of groups such as Pazamanos will lead to Colombians taking a step back and thinking about the way they are viewed by foreigners and the effects of the sex trade on the country itself," Craig Corbett of Colombia Reports



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Colombian Beauty Queen

The bikini worn by a regional beauty queen must have really been way too risqué when officials in Colombia took away her crown after photos emerged of her wearing a skimpy bathing suit.

Paola Builes Aristizábal, the reigning Miss Antioquia, was stripped of her crown when photos emerged online of the then teenage model bearing a little too much under-boob for the pageant organizers modest eyes.

The sultry 21-year old Builes Aristizábal, who was a favorite to win this year’s Miss Colombia competition, said she felt "discriminated" against and claimed the photographs had been online for "at least two years."

Here is the photo in question, so readers can be the judge:

"There are other candidates that have pictures of themselves in lingerie, in tiny clothing, so I feel there’s discrimination," she said, according to bluradio. “I’m still in shock about the dismissal. On Sunday I was queen of all Antioqueños and (on Tuesday) there was a new queen."

Antioquia is a region in Colombia that is home to the city of Medellín and known for, along with being the former home of drug lord Pablo Escobar, having an abundance of beautiful women.

Builes Aristizábal punched her ticket to the Miss Colombia competition on Sunday when she won the regional pageant, but a rival contestant leaked the racy photos of her online the following morning. The shot of the skimpy bikini top prompted organizers to call the photo “inappropriate” and a breach of competition rules against being pictured in a bikini below a certain size.

Obviously, they hadn’t checked out her Instagram accountbefore the competition.

Adding to her distress: in order to compete in the pageant she claimed she had previously turned down "lucrative" modeling work to not jeopardize her chances in the competition.



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Puerto Vallarta, Jal.- Is there a big, new idea about immigration? Is there a way of looking at the issues beyond polarization? Is there a way of stabilizing the lives and the living conditions for the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants who hide in the shadows of society, living in fear, and costing the United States as much as $100 billion a decade in services and lost taxation revenue?

Is there a way of making those who employ undocumented workers, or those with dubious papers, from falling into unintended criminality themselves? Is there a "third way?"

The Immigrant Tax Inquiry Group (ITIG), based in Malibu, Calif., has been pondering the implications of taxation in the immigration debate. It was formally established as a not-for-profit foundation in 2010.

ITIG's idea is big -- a new front, in effect. It brings the immigrants out of the shadows, identifies them and gives them respect, while mitigating the impact on the rest of us. It also soothes those who want nothing to do with paths to citizenship.

As I understand it, the ITIG proposal is simple: Cater to the undocumented worker by issuing a 10-year, renewable work permit and taxing the employer at five percent of the wage for employing one of these workers. This would bring the undocumented worker, and his or her family, out of the shadows, provide revenue for their cost to society, and enable them to have dignity and security without citizenship. I can attest, from my own reporting, that not every immigrant wants citizenship and a vote.

The plan has been incubating for decades among a coterie of thinkers who want a practical humane solution to the problem.

Mark Jason, executive director of ITIG, knows something about immigrants. He was educated partly in Mexico and has worked there to improve conditions so fewer people will take the long walk north.

Over the years, Jason, has discussed his ideas with people as disparate as Ronald Reagan (a family friend, when Reagan was governor of California), Cesar Chavez, the National Farm Workers Association founder and leader, and recently retired Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.).

Jason told me Reagan was interested, although this was before he became president and enacted his own immigration plan in 1986, which was straight amnesty. Chavez, he said, was more concerned with conditions in the fields than with the legal status of immigrants, partly because many farm workers come on contract. Waxman, who was a prolific legislator, liked Jason's ideas and encouraged him to "think big."

The ITIG plan is put forward in a detailed report on the Web, complete with revenue projections in graphs and charts.

Jason has worked as a tax consultant, an IRS agent and a farmer in Mexico, where he helped establish a honeydew melon farm near Puerto Vallarta. The farm has three missions: produce and export melons (350 tons in 2014), teach the local farmers better practices, and end the incentive to leave.

What frustrates Jason is the difficulty he has had in getting his ideas circulated in the immigration debate. Although the report by ITIG is detailed and clearly represents an important new dimension in the debate, it has not yet gotten traction in Congress nor, more surprisingly, among immigrant advocacy groups.

The plan, under which workers would get a 10-year work permit, get drivers licenses where states allow it, and travel freely between the United States and their country of origin. It would also convey the benefits enjoyed by American families on the immigrant family, such as education and the protections of the law.

Jason is using his own resources to push the plan. "It is not a panacea, but a practical way to get people out of the shadows and into the economy," he says.

He sees his plan as the solution not to the whole immigration dilemma but as a recognition of reality; as a way of protecting society from the cost of a shadow population. Jason believes it creates an asset where there is a liability -- but real legal status is not changed.

Jason told me his wife fell in love with him because "she said I liked to fix things."

Immigration is a big job for a handyman, but Mark Jason is at work.



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Puerto Vallarta, Jal.- Might want to rethink buying that box of Franzia.

Some studies say that a glass of wine is good for your health, but according to a new lawsuit, it just may kill you. CBS reports that a class action lawsuit was filed today in California against some of the country's top winemakers over the high levels of arsenic in wine. The lawsuit claims that some of the most popular wines have "up to four and five times the maximum amount of Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) allows for drinking water."

Many are upset that there are basically no federal requirements to tell customers what's really in wine. In fact, the wine lobby has been fighting government action to require alcohol companies to label what's in their wine. Biz Journal notes that a Denver laboratory called BeverageGrades started running tests last fall to uncover the calorie counts in bottles of wine. Kevin Hicks — who owns the company — says that he ran tests on 1,300 bottles and was shocked at what results showed. Nearly a quarter of the bottles had levels of arsenic higher than the EPA's maximum for drinking water. When scanning through the results, Hicks noticed a pattern: The lower the price of the wine, the higher the levels of arsenic were. Trader Joe's famous Two-Buck Chuck White Zinfandel had three times the EPA's limit, while Franzia Blush had five times the limit.

Arsenic is linked to many forms of cancer

Hicks says that when he tried to bring this information to the winemakers, they basically "hung up the phone." So, he filed a lawsuit accusing more than 24 California winemakers and sellers "of misrepresenting their wine as safe." Trader Joe's tells CBS that "they're investigating the matter" with many of their wine suppliers. A spokesperson for the Wine Group — another company named in the lawsuit — adds that the largest level of arsenic cited in the lawsuit is "only half of Canada's standard for wine, of 100 parts per billion."

Epidemiologist Allan Smith tells CBS news that arsenic can be fatal over time: "Arsenic is highly toxic," even at a parts per billion level. Smith adds, "[Arsenic] has many effects inside the body as cigarette smoking does" and that it is linked to many forms of cancer.

These new findings could have a negative impact on America's burgeoning wine industry: Last year, America officially dethroned France as the "number-one largest market for wine in the world." The news affects wine drinkers in other countries too. A report released in February shows that the U.S. is one of the largest exporters of wine in the world: In 2015, America exported just under $1.5 billion worth of wine.




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Archaeologists are fuming over the 5a741ce0b22429e446af9f9599c3e16f

Puerto Vallarta, Jal.- (National Geographic/David Yoder)Part of a buried ceremonial seat, one of many ancient artifacts discovered on-site in the Honduran jungle.In a round valley ringed by steep cliffs lies an ancient community buried beneath the rain forest.

The 1,000-year-old ruins — whose timeline coincides with a legendary "lost city" — were uncovered earlier this month.

When news outlets around the globe got ahold of the story, most portrayed it as though an ancient mystery had been solved. National Geographic ran with the headline, "Exclusive: Lost City Discovered in the Honduran Rain Forest." NPR announced, "Explorers Discover Ancient Lost City in Honduran Jungle."

There's one minor problem, though: The ruins were not the "lost city" of lore, and worse, they may never have been "lost" to begin with.

At least that's the claim of 24 researchers, archaeologists, and independent scholars who recently signed a public letter condemning the recent coverage. They take issue especially with the National Geographic story, which they say exaggerates the findings and ignores the indigenous people who still live in the region.

National Geographic has responded to the letter by linking to a statement from the research team. It says their story never claims they found the "lost city," but merely a "lost city" in the same region.

As for it being a "city," the dissenting researchers say that's up for debate, too.

The legend of the "Lost City"

Rumors about an ancient "lost city" (or "White City," as some have called it) of extreme wealth in Honduras circulated among foreigners, conquerors, and aviators in the 1900s. One outsider, a quirky young writer-turned-explorer from Massachusetts, went so far as to claim he'd found it on a trip there in 1940.

(National Geographic/David Yoder)

Unfortunately, there's scant evidence that any of these people ever consulted the indigenous people who lived in the area, instead preferring to portray it as basically barren and forgotten.

When the last person who claimed he'd found the site killed himself 14 years later (having never said where exactly it was), the rumors faded quickly.

Outsiders, it seemed, had forgotten entirely about the alleged "lost city" — until a few years ago.

What they found

In 2012, a team of American and Honduran archaeologists returned to the site on a tip from California filmmaker Steve Elkins, University of Houston engineer and one of the team members Ramesh Shrestha told Business Insider. This time, they came with hi-tech, long-distance gear that enabled them to trace a virtual image of the terrain from airplanes circling high in the air.

Gazing out of their windows, the team of engineers saw gently rolling hills and sloping mountain ridges. Eventually, they came across a basin that looked something like this:


(NCALM/University of Houston)Within hours, their gear picked up something beneath the surface that didn't look like it belonged: a sharp-edged, rectangular shape.
Here's a digital rendering of the finding, provided to Business Insider by the University of Houston:


(NCALM/University of Houston)That rectangular area could only mean one thing, the researchers thought: People. Nature provided land with curving slopes and rounded hills. Only people would have built something shaped like this.

To confirm their suspicions, they sent a team of American and Honduran archaeologists, ethnobotanists, and technicians to explore on the ground.

Sure enough, the team found evidence of the tips of more than 50 objects scattered beneath the Earth, including the tip of a carved construction stone shown here:


(NCALM/University of Houston)The researchers are keeping the site's specific location secret to protect it from looters.Upon close inspection, the archaeologists estimated the people who used these objects lived here sometime between A.D. 1000 and A.D. 1400, about the same time as residents of the famed "lost city" would have thrived.

The National Geographic story leads with this tantalizing sentence: "An expedition to Honduras has emerged from the jungle with dramatic news of the discovery of a mysterious culture's lost city, never before explored."

Problem is, that entire area is rich in ancient ruins, University of Transylvania archaeologist Chris Begley, who has 20 years' experience in the region and was one of the dissenting archaeologists leading the charge against the National Geographic story, told Business Insider.

You could point lidar technology practically anywhere in the region and find something, Begley said.

Colorado State University archaeologist Eric Fisher and the project's lead American researcher, doubts this. "There was no evidence that we could see that anyone had been there in modern times," he said. "If he's done all this research, where is it? Where are the permits?"

Begley says he and other researchers before him have been studying similar communities that thrived thousands of years ago in the region for decades. "This stuff about this being a 'big discovery' — that's just not true," he said.

Lost civilization or merely part of a larger community?

One of Begley's main issues with the National Geographic piece, he said, is that it didn't include the perspective of the indigenous people who live in the region.

Begley has worked with the Pech and the Tawahka people for decades and remains a primary contact point for other researchers and tourists. He thinks the researchers ignored their knowledge of the area and instead chose to portray it as untouched and exotic — "a sunken treasure."

"They didn't reach out to me," said Begley, "because they knew what I'd say and what I'd think about what they were doing."

According to Fisher, that's not true either. "The directors of the project have a right to choose who they work with," he said. "We had someone on our team with a decade of experience, and we had other people who reached out to local indigenous people."

The team's ethnographer, Alicia González, did meet with some members of local indigenous Miskito and Pech communities, at least in 2014 when they did their on-the-ground research. But when they first started the project in 2012, they may not have been so inclusive.

When I asked Shrestha, the engineer who took lidar images of the site in 2012, for example, about whether they'd been in touch with local indigenous people about their work, he said, "As far as I've been told there are no indigenous people there to consult."

Controversy notwithstanding, the research has certainly turned a few heads.

"This is the most positive attention the region has gotten in the last decade," said Fisher. "If people want to be critical, that's fine with me."

NOW WATCH: Scientists Are Planting A Forest Of Prehistoric Trees — And They Won't Tell Anyone Where Exactly It Is



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06 15 PRC 15 LRGPuerto Vallarta, Jal.- The executive director of Positive Resource Center, the San Francisco nonprofit that provides comprehensive benefits counseling and employment services to people who are living with or at risk for HIV/AIDS, is taking a three-month break but says he'll be back.

The announcement this week from Brett Andrews, 50, who's starting a paid sabbatical April 1, follows the recent departure of two other San Francisco nonprofit heads who left their jobs after taking similar leaves.

Transgender Law Center Executive Director Masen Davis left that nonprofit earlier this year. Last summer, Carolyn Laub quit the Gay-Straight Alliance Network. Both Davis and Laub have been replaced.

Andrews, who's gay, insists he'll return to PRC, which he's led for 12 years.

"I am not thinking about leaving Positive Resource Center," he said. "It truly is the intention that I take a break that the board and I both feel I well deserve, and I'm looking forward to coming back."

While Andrews is away, Joe Tuohy, PRC's managing director of development, will have the "day-to-day decision making authority," according to Andrews. The senior management team will support Tuohy.

Andrews said during his sabbatical, which ends June 30, he will travel, rest, and write. There are no educational or professional development requirements, he said.

He plans to "reflect on my life and my body of work," he said. "That will have me prepared to come back and do more of it."

The break comes as the nonprofit has completed a strategic plan that includes giving staff opportunities for sabbaticals. It also includes discussion of the agency buying its own building and other topics.

"We're using it as a retention strategy," said Andrews. "The board is pleased with my work" and feels that "rest and rejuvenation would keep me here at the agency longer, and I agree."

His travel plans include Puerto Vallarta, Mexico; Palm Springs, California; and the East Coast.

Board President Kent Roger said, "The board has been trying to get him to take [a sabbatical] for the past number of years but it was just never the right time."

Roger, who's led the group's board for five years, is stepping down next week. Gay attorney and San Francisco Police Commissioner Julius Turman is set to replace him. Turman didn't respond to a request for comment.

In an email, Tuohy said, "I think Brett's sabbatical can have nothing but a positive impact on PRC. With a solid management team in place to steer the ship in his absence, the organization is poised to benefit from renewed energy and enthusiasm upon his return."

Tuohy, who's 49 and gay, has been with the nonprofit for six months.

The group's 2013 tax filing lists Andrews' "reportable compensation from the organization" as $144,268. "Estimated amount of other compensation" from the nonprofit "and related organizations" was $17,586.

The agency's budget is $3.2 million. There are 32 paid staff, and the nonprofit serves about 2,200 unduplicated clients a year.

Agency's plans

Like many nonprofits, PRC has faced rising rents.

The strategic plan for 2015 to 2017, which was adopted at the board's retreat in January, includes the desire to raise money and purchase a building to ensure the stability of PRC's "occupancy and finances" by December 2016.

The nonprofit's current office is at 785 Market Street. Andrews wouldn't say what PRC's rent is, but the group's tax filing for 2013 lists occupancy expenses as $376,537.

In an email, Andrews said, "Our rent went up 25 percent, starting next month, and we were only offered a two-year lease."

The nonprofit "to date" has "been gifted with a seven-figure bequest" from a trust, he said.

"These funds have allowed us to think more broadly about our occupancy, including having exploratory conversations about the purchase of a building," said Andrews, who indicated he didn't know how much buying a building would cost.

"We are in the preliminary assessment phase of identifying our space needs," he said. "We will know more about that, when/if we do a feasibility study, potentially as soon as mid-2015."

The strategic plan also says that by 2017, the agency will "explore opportunities to support populations in need" and "continue to expand services beyond HIV/AIDS."

Among other projects, PRC is involved in developing a pilot project "to increase the employment of workers with disabilities in California, including workers with mental health issues," according to information Andrews provided.



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PHOTO: Europa 2 now has the title of world’s top-rated cruise ship.

Puerto Vallarta.- It’s the world’s top-rated cruise ship and many of your upscale clients probably have never even heard of it. That’s the reality for Europa 2, which made its first trip stateside, to New York City, just before the New Year. Docked blocks from Times Square, the German ship showcased what $360 million can buy in a 500-guest luxury vessel.

Since the ship’s christening in May 2013, Europa 2 has been named the number-one ship in the world by the “Berlitz Guide to Cruising & Cruise Ships,” considered by many to be the Bible of cruise ship guidebooks. Europa 2 claimed the top spot by beating out Europa, its fleetmate, which had held the honor for more than a decade. Despite these accolades, both ships from Hapag-Lloyd Cruises remain largely unknown in English-speaking markets.

“The question I hear most in the U.S. is, ‘Is this the best cruise vessel in the world? I’ve never heard of it… and you are meant to be the best in the world?’ Normally you know the best in the world,” says Julian Pfitzner, Europa 2’s director of product management. “Before we simply didn’t have the product. That’s why we didn’t do any sales in the U.S. or in the U.K. Now we have the product and we’re pushing it very hard. We’re getting more and more passengers, but it takes a little while because we are a small company and the U.S. is a very big country.”

Both Hapag-Lloyd ships boast some of the highest per diems in the industry. They also feature two very different styles of cruising. Hapag-Lloyd executives like to bill Europa 2 as “21 knots and no tie,” meaning there’s no captain’s dinner or packed cruise itinerary. The ship harbors a more-relaxed atmosphere and targets couples, families and solo travelers alike. Europa 2’s fleetmate, however, is much more traditional.

“A cruise on Europa will offer you a daily schedule for 14 days until you come home,” Pfitzner says. “Those will be the best 14 days but you’ll come home and say, ‘I’m happy to be back on the sofa and relax.’ Europa 2 works the other way around. It’s 14 days off on vacation. It provides service you want when you want it. We plan everything you might like.”

Hapag-Lloyd, which also features two expedition-type vessels as part of its fleet, is now in the midst of a North American promotion as it expands its international outreach. The line is focused on attracting English-speakers and Europa 2 is the product that Hapag-Lloyd executives believe is best suited to achieve that. The goal is to have 10 to 15 percent non-German-speaking passengers on every cruise.

Apparently that objective is being met — and then some. According to recent figures, Hapag-Lloyd’s four vessels have seen a 60 percent increase in international passengers. Europa 2 alone has seen a 240 percent boost in such guests.

One concern that American guests may have about a cruise on a Hapag-Lloyd ship is language. But don’t worry: speaking German is not required to enjoy your time aboard Europa 2, which caters to guests in both English and German. There might be an occasional language barrier, with 95 percent of the staff in restaurants and bars being German, but crewmembers are required to be fluent in English. “This is an important market for us and it’s good for the atmosphere on board,” Pfitzner said.

So what else makes Europe 2 the ritziest ship in the industry? Here are five more reasons why it is the top-rated cruise ship and remains positioned to retain that title in the future:

Get more space onboard: Europa 2 is literally wasting space, something Hapag-Lloyd executives are the first to admit. You could practically fit another deck on the ship and still have the normal ceiling heights of other cruise vessels. Indeed, Europa 2 has the greatest space per passenger in the industry, besting such competitors as Silversea and Seabourn.

PHOTO: A grand suite on Europa 2 comes with over 550 square feet of living space.

There are a total of 251 suites in eight different categories. The smallest stateroom is 301 square feet, and all rooms come with their own balconies. There’s no squeezing in inner cabins. The grand ocean suite, or spa suite, is the next level up in terms of size. These cabins can’t accommodate a walk-in closet because there’s a window in the bathroom, which allows guests to look out at the sea while bathing in their whirlpool tubs.

Dine when you want, how you want: Good luck sticking with that New Year’s resolution to lose weight if you’re cruising on Europa 2. Yes, there is a world-class spa with brand-new fitness equipment, but the odds are against you. On a normal night, 120 different dishes are served à la carte in the ship’s restaurants. Fifty-six cooks serve up to 500 passengers scattered among seven different restaurants.

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PHOTO: Restaurant Weltmeere, the largest restaurant on the ship, serves international cuisine.

German fare is not typically served either. There are French-, Italian-, Japanese- and Asian-themed dining venues to choose from, and guests are encouraged to move around. Food is included in the fare, but guests do have to pay for drinks. This might seem bizarre to many luxury travelers, who are accustomed to all-inclusive packages on a cruise.

“All inclusive to me as the businessman means I need to calculate an average everybody is consuming, and then I’m buying spirits, fine wines and alcohols which are meeting this average,” Pfitzner says. “And average is a word which to me doesn’t fit together in a sentence with Europa 2 because nothing about this vessel is average. Of course we understand that in the U.S. and U.K. markets, all-inclusive is a big thing.” To compensate international passengers, however, Hapag-Lloyd is now offering an onboard beverage credit of up to 200 euros per person on Europa 2.

Enjoy one of the largest art collections at sea: The most expensive piece of art on board hangs in the middle of a hallway nestled by an exit placard. There’s no sign or label acknowledging that this is the work of Gerhard Richter, who recently held the title of most expensive living artist at auction. The piece is one of 890 originals exclusively commissioned for the ship.

“You will never ever find out this is an expensive picture, but it simply hangs here and that is luxury for us,” Pfitzner says. “We don’t make a big sign and say ‘this is very expensive look here.’ We don’t make a fuss about it. We simply have it offered. That’s luxury.”

The art on board focuses on contemporary pieces, including creations from young European artists. The portfolio includes works from Ólafur Elíasson, David Hockney, Damien Hirst, Adam Fuss and Hans Hartung.

Special attention also is paid to the art selection in suites. For example, in the two Grand Penthouse Suites and the two Owner Suites, guests enjoy works from British pop-art artist Hirst. They’re part of his portfolio The Souls I, II, III, IV, which consists of four different series of butterfly images in 80 different colors. If those are not in your cabin, Europa 2 can arrange a guided tour to see the other works on board.

Enjoy the detail in the little things: Fresh flowers give your nose a break from the salt air. A professional golfer with experience on the European tour walks a world-class course with you, fine-tuning that erratic putter. Expensive and decorative Chinese porcelain features tributes to Bugs Bunny.

These are some of the little things that make Europa 2 so luxurious and unique. The list goes on and on. In the spa, there’s a private deck where guests can relax after their treatments. Guests also get instruction in how to cook from a top-notch culinary school.

Get a wide selection of gins: It might seem to be an odd choice, especially for a German-owned ship, but there are more than 200 different gins available on Europa 2. In fact, Hapag-Lloyd boasts that this is the largest gin collection in the industry —a nd it’s also constantly evolving. The crew frequently picks up local bottles in ports across the world so guests can taste how other cultures embrace the power of the juniper berry.

When it comes to picking a favorite, Monkey 47, which hails from Germany’s Black Forest and is named in part for the number of botanicals required to make it, is quite popular onboard. While sailing in France, however, guests might opt for a French export made of grapes.

For more information on Europa 2 and Hapag-Lloyd Cruises, call 011-49-40-3070-3050, email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or visit www.hl-cruises.com.



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Ricky Martin dolce

Puerto Vallarta, Jal.- Ricky Martin won’t be wearing Dolce & Gabbana any time soon. The Puerto Rican singer has added his voice to the growing celebrities supporting Sir Elton John in his outrage over the fashion pair’s use of the word “synthetic” to describe in vitro fertilization (IVF) babies.

They also said they are against gay adoptions.

Martin, who has twin boys born via surrogate, urged the fashion greats to think about their words, using the hashtag #BoycottDolceGabbana.

“@Dolcegabbana ur voices R 2powerful 2B spreading so much h8. Wake up. Its 2015 luv urselves guys,” he wrote on Twitter on Sunday.

Domenico Dolce and Stefano Gabbana, who are both gay and were previously a couple, spoke to Italian magazine Panoramaabout their objections to non-traditional families, calling children conceived via IVF “chemical offsprings” and “synthetic children.”

“We oppose gay adoptions. The only family is the traditional one,” the pair said in the interview. “No chemical offsprings and rented uterus: life has a natural flow, there are things that should not be changed.”

John, who has two children with husband David Furnish, called for a boycott of the fashion label in a scathing post on Instagram.

“How dare you refer to my beautiful children as 'synthetic.' And shame on you for wagging your judgemental little fingers at IVF — a miracle that has allowed legions of loving people, both straight and gay, to fulfil their dream of having children. Your archaic thinking is out of step with the times, just like your fashions. I shall never wear Dolce and Gabbana ever again. #BoycottDolceGabbana,” he wrote on Sunday.

In their interview, Dolce added that procreation “must be an act of love” and that “you are born to a mother and a father — or at least that’s how it should be.”

Gabbana added: “The family is not a fad. In it there is a supernatural sense of belonging.”

The duo has previously spoken out against same-sex marriage.

Joining Martin and John in their outrage are tennis great Martina Navratilova, singer Courtney Love and fashionista Victoria Beckham.

“Sending love to Elton David Zachary Elijah & all the beautiful IVF babies x vb,” the mother of four wrote on Twitter.”

Responding to the call for boycott, Gabbana issued a statement, attempting to clarify or explain their comments.

"It was never our intention to judge other people's choices. We do believe in freedom and love," the designer said. "We firmly believe in democracy and the fundamental principle of freedom of expression that upholds it. We talked about our way of seeing reality, but it was never our intention to judge other people's choices.”

He said he grew up in a traditional Sicilian family and that he is “very well aware of the fact that there are other types of families” that are as “legitimate” as his own.

“But in my personal experience, family had a different configuration. That is the place where I learnt the values of love and family,” Gabbana continued. “This is the reality in which I grew up, but it does not imply that I don’t understand different ones. I was talking about my personal view, without judging other people’s choices and decisions.”



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